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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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, Best Books of 2014
, Reviews 2014
, 2014 picture books
, 2014 reviews
, Chris Appelhans
, funny picture books
, Jenny Offill
, picture books
, Schwartz & Wade
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By Jenny Offill
Illustrated by Chris Appelhans
Schwartz & Wade (an imprint of Random House)
On shelves March 11th
The sloth is not a noble animal. Few people spend time contemplating their heroic qualities and distinguished countenances. Had I an Oxford English Dictionary on hand I’d be mighty interested to learn whether or not the term “sloth” as in “a habitual disinclination to exertion” was inspired by the tropical, slow-moving animal or if it was the other way around. Perhaps it is because of this that we don’t see them starring in too many picture books for kids. Sure you’ll get the occasional Lost Sloth by J. Otto Seibold, A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke, or even Slowly Slowly Slowly, Said the Sloth by Eric Carle, but unlike other animals there is no great slothian icon. When you say “sloth” to the average person on the street, they don’t instantly think of a famous one. Sparky! may come close to changing that. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the sublime and subversive Jenny Offill pairs with first timer Chris Appelhans to give us a subdued but strangely content little tale about that most classic of all friendships: a girl and her sloth.
“You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” Our heroine’s mom probably regrets telling this to her daughter but it’s too late now. The minute she said it the girl headed straight to the library and there, in the S volume of the Animal Encyclopedia, she learned about sloths. In no time at all one appears via Express Mail and she names him Sparky (thereby giving away the fact that she harbors impossible sloth-related dreams). Her know-it-all neighbor Mary Potts is not impressed, so our heroine determines to show off her pet in a “Trained Sloth Extravaganza”. Naturally, this does not go as planned, but even after everyone has left and it’s just her and Sparky, she can’t help but love the little guy. With a quick tag to his claw she makes it clear that he is it. “And for a long, long time he was.”
I was talking with some folks about picture books earlier today and in the course of our conversation I discovered something interesting about the way I judge them. While art is definitely something I take into account when I decide to love or loathe an illustrated work for kids, it’s the writing that always tips the balance. I’d read some of Offill’s picture books before and while I liked them fine they did not inspire in me the kind of rabid fan response I’ve seen other librarians profess thanks to 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore. Sparky! is different. Here, the book cuts to the chase right at the start. Our heroine (who remains unnamed throughout) makes it clear that her raison d’être is to have a pet. When Sparky arrives she pours herself into his care, never mind that he’s about as needy as a houseplant in this regard. There was something so enticing about her cheery demeanor, even in the face of cold hard facts. Her mother right from the get-go also has this world-weary air that suggests more than it tells. As for the repeated lines of “a promise is a promise”, it’s a line that clearly reflects our heroine’s worldview. The combination of wordplay and story definitely made this one of the more interesting picture books I’d seen in a while.
Illustrator Chris Appelhans comes to us from the world of animation, having worked on such films as Coraline and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Comparisons to Jon Klassen, another animation escapee, are not entirely out of left field either. Like Klassen, Appelhans prefers a subdued style with a limited palette. He knows how to get a great deal of humor out of a character’s lack of movement and emotion. The sequence where the girl plays everything from King of the Mountain to Hide-and-Seek with Sparky would not work particularly well unless Appelhans utilized this technique. Add in the funny little story and I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of folks comparing this to Extra Yarn or something equally wry. That said, Appelhans is his own man. Emotion, for example, is something he alludes to beautifully. Note the bags of worry under Sparky’s eyes. I’ve never quite known what to call these, but they show up periodically in books and comics for kids. They’re great character reference points. The kind of bags that Charlie Brown would sport. Here, they suggest more about Sparky’s state of mind than anything else.
Note that Publishers Weekly was not charmed by Sparky! In fact, Publishers Weekly was pretty much bummed out by the whole experience of reading the book at all. Talking about it, they dowsed their review with words like “glum”, “lonely”, “miserable”, and (my personal favorite) “burdened with pathos”. A reading of this sort happens when you walk into the book expecting it to cater to your already existing expectations about what “pet” books should do. Where PW found the book depressing, I found it smart and serious. Yep, Sparky looks mildly perturbed for most of the book, but that’s only when he’s taken out of his natural environment. The very last image in the book of him finally getting to lie in his tree next to his girl is the only time we ever see him smile. As for the girl herself, she knows perfectly well what she got herself into and why her dream of getting him to perform fell through. And she’s a happier person than the seemingly self-assured Mary Potts, that’s for sure, having a fair amount in common with Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. As such, this isn’t the downer fare you’d necessarily expect.
The School Library Journal review, for that matter, did a small bit of hand wringing over whether or not children would come away from this book with the clearly misbegotten understanding that having a sloth for a pet would be fun. Since this is a work of fiction (and the underground sloth procurement market remaining, for the most part, elusive to their needs) I hardly think we need fret about whether or not kids will take the wrong message away from Sparky! After all, it makes sloth ownership look just about as appealing as whale ownership in Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem. Sparky is awfully cute but as our heroine is quick to learn, he’s not about to do much of anything he doesn’t want to do. The only time he does something the heroine suggests, it’s when he munches slowly on a cookie she’s offered him (and then proceeds to take back when it’s clear he’s going to take all day with it).
It’s a much quieter picture book than those full of glam and glitz, cluttering up our shelves. Like its color scheme Sparky! suggests that pet ownership is not a predictable path. Or maybe it’s saying that imposing your will on others, particularly the barely sentient, isn’t the way to go. Or maybe it’s just a funny book about a funny sloth. That works too. However you look at it, there’s no denying that though it’s a silly idea (telegraphed by the silly contrast between the title and explanation mark and the cover image) with a slow, steady feel and delightful premise. You read into the book what you want to read into it. For me, that means reading into it a great story with beautiful art (that final sunset is a doozy), and likable characters. What more need you in life?
On shelves March 11th
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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ARE THE HUNGRIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD!!!!
Sorry. But if it’s going to be caught in my head all day then I may as well share the love.
What has inspired today’s bout of cannibalism? A conversation at work, as it happens. Is it just me, or is there a whole lot more people eating in books for youth these days? Time was you could go through the stacks and not find a single title that referred to the devouring of human flesh without it having to do with animals, vampires, or zombies. These days it feels like you can’t get away from it.
Here then is a list that I can’t imagine you’ll have much use for. Still, in case you’re looking to do some interesting curricular tie-ins, consider the following examples of that strangest of diets:
The Secret of Ferrell Savage by J. Duddy Gill
This was my first clue that 2014 was shaping up to be more interesting than expected. First off, it wins points for its cover. As for the plot, it concerns a boy who has a crush on a girl. Nothing noteworthy there, until you discover that the boy’s ancestor sort of went off and ate the ancestor of said girl. Now he’s afraid someone will discover the family secret.
The Savages by Matt Whyman
This one isn’t quite sure what to call itself. On the one hand it seems to have a middle grade cover. On the other, it has a YA sensibility. Ultimately this one really isn’t for kids as much as it is teens. Like a contemporary Addams Family except that this follows a clan with a taste for people. Near as I can figure, this is the book to hand to the kid who really dug The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs. Hand it over then back away slowly . . .
Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale
A little nonfiction never hurt anybody. And this book, in spite of what we know about the story, is much more than just a bit of gnawing on bones. I still consider this the #1 best unknown series for kids out there. Read this then wait in anticipation with me for the next installment involving WWI!
The Lunatic’s Curse by F.E. Higgins
Like Nathan Hale’s book, this one came out a while ago. Though I was a big fan of the other books in this series, this is not Higgins’ best. The cannibalistic turn throws it over from mere penny dreadful to merely dreadful. Still, there are glimpses of brilliance, and I can honestly say that four years after I read it, I can remember parts of it vividly.
The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
This one’s YA so I didn’t read it myself, but when I was discussing this topic with some co-workers, mention was made of this book. The cannibalism appears to only serve as a threat, but I’m including it because as threats go it’s a pretty convincing one.
Anything I’ve forgotten? I feel like there may even be yet another 2014 title that touches on this subject area
Finally, should the title of this blog post be driving you slightly insane, you can exchange one cannibalistic ballad for another, if you simply listen to that old (and really not very p.c. but darn tongue-in-cheek) Flanders & Swann song The Reluctant Cannibal.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2014
, Reviews 2014
, 2014 nonfiction
, 2014 reviews
, 2015 Sibert contender
, Adrienne Mayor
, Marc Aronson
, National Geographic
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The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science
By Marc Aronson with Adrienne Mayor
Illustrated by Chris Muller
On shelves April 8th.
I remember back in 2007 when the American Museum of Natural History in NYC premiered a show called “Mythic Creatures”. It made a fair amount of press and with good reason. It’s not every day you see full-scale models of mythical creatures presented in a serious museum setting. The show got some nice write-ups but though I listened to the explanations of why it was going on, I didn’t quite catch the whole point. To me it just sort of sounded like a cheap ploy to lure more patrons into the museum’s exhibits. A bit of the old P.T Barnum, albeit with a classier imprimatur. Years passed and I forgot about the show right up until the publication of The Griffin and the Dinosaur. As I read the book, memories of the show came back to me, as did my complete and utter misunderstanding of what it had been trying to accomplish. Fortunately, I am happy to report that once in a while in this life a gal gets a second chance. With Marc Aronson and Adrienne Mayor’s hard work, now I have a book before me that clarifies the true connection between the prehistoric and the mythical. Focused through a single woman’s obsessive search, this book comes off as both a riveting historical mystery as well as a wonderful example of how a person’s passions might take them places they never imagined they might travel. The future isn’t written in stone but it might just be written in bones.
It was kind of a goofy idea. The sort of thing a person might consider off-handedly then forget about five minutes later. But for Adrienne Mayor, the idea stuck. It was simple too. You see, after doing lots of research at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Ms. Mayor noticed a strange pattern. Reading texts by ancient Greeks she noticed that when they discussed creatures like griffins they always sounded like they knew about these animals firsthand. Is it possible that these creatures were conjured up after the Greeks found some ancient bones of one kind of another? Not a natural born scholar, Adrienne always considered herself more of an artist than anything else. Still, this question about the griffin’s origins intrigued her. What she could not have expected was how her search would take her from Greece to Samos to The Museum of the Rockies to distant China. Infinitely interesting, illustrated with multiple photographs, sketches, ancient images and contemporary illustrations, Mayor not only shows where our ancestors got their seemingly goofy ideas, but gives these people a form of credit and respect that is certainly their due.
Every Marc Aronson book is different. Generalizing is not something you can really do when you discuss him as an author. I have found in the past that some of his books ran a bit on the long and lengthy side, but beyond that there aren’t any real connecting threads between one project and another. Yet if I found Mr. Aronson to be a bit more loquacious at times than he needed to be, no such objection could possibly be leveled at The Griffin and the Dinosaur. Coming in at a svelte 48 pages, a number normally associated with slightly longer picture books, Aronson wastes no time getting to the meat of the matter. Turn to the first page and there’s Adrienne, age six. Four pages later she’s studying in Athens while her fiancé works on his ancient Greek fortress research. Aronson cuts to the chase, helped in large part by his interviews with Adrienne. The result is a well-rounded portrait of a single woman going against the odds to prove something both interesting and odd. It’s research presented to kids as adventure in a format they’re going to actually WANT to read. How rare is that?
I know that one reviewer of this book was dismayed by an interpretation of Marc Aronson’s message here that says that people who closely observe the world around them are just as good as professional scholars in the field. For the record, I do not happen to agree that that is what Aronson is saying. I think it far more likely that Aronson is displaying the need for balance. You can sit behind dusty tomes all day long with your professional degree hanging up upon a wall, but if you don’t go out and try new ideas and speak to new people and even do a bit of exploring (of one kind or another) then you cannot be surprised when a woman like Ms. Mayor goes about making a fabulous, hitherto unknown (or unproved) discovery. By the same token, the person who observes the world around them closely but never picks up a book or does even rudimentary research is going to completely miss the potential connections out there that could justify their work. Mayor exhibited both a willingness to learn and a sharp-eyed curiosity that was willing to question. In an era when so much research is beholden to outside interests, it does the heart good to read a book about a woman who set out to discover what many might have considered impossible to prove.
The extra details turn out to be just as enchanting. The entire history of the Scythians and how they might have been an inspiration for some of the Amazon women tales out there is captivating. Even more so their gold, as well as the discovery of Megalopolis. And then there’s that amazing look at mammoth skulls and how they might have inspired the stories of the Cyclops. It all got me to thinking about the role of myths in the world and their beginnings. Maybe a kid will read this book and begin to wonder what the roots of other great myths might be. Will they start poring over Hindi and Norse myths, looking for clues to the past? Or will they simply get a better sense of one of the big themes of the book: that ancient people had reasons for making up the stories that they did. For me, that was a moral well worth taking away from the story. We have a tendency to look down our nose at our ancient ancestors, but as this book shows, these people had their reasons for thinking the way that they did. We should never be so egotistical as to believe that we are the first people to find the bones of long extinct creatures and to make up reasons for their existence.
As for the art, for the most part it’s okay but artist Chris Muller gets off to a shaky start. His presence in the book makes a lot of sense. I could completely understand the need to ratchet up the kid-friendly elements of the story, of course. If you name your book The Griffin and the Dinosaur then you better bloody well have a couple griffins in there (to say nothing of the dinosaurs). In fact, when Muller is working on the mythical, he is at his best. The cover, for example, is striking, as are his images of an Amazon fighting a griffin or a sleeping griffin protecting its nest. Where it all breaks down is when he has to deal with reality. The publication page says that the paintings were made with “traditional media – pencil and watercolors – and digital painting.” Traditional media is fine with me, but the digital painting proves to be occasionally painful. For example, a preliminary image of young Adrienne dowsing above the skeleton of a dinosaur is baffling partly because I couldn’t find any mentions of dowsing in the text and partly because the CGI cloud cover contrasts horribly with the drawn Adrienne. It feels like a cheap image in an otherwise classy book. Happily, it is the only moment when I felt that way. Other images in the book border or plunge right into the fantastical, and that’s appropriate for the moments they tend to illustrate.
This is the Possession by A.S. Byatt of children’s literature. An honest-to-goodness historical mystery complete with an early hypothesis, a likable heroine, multiple dead ends, and at the end? GOLD! Literally. It succeeds at doing many things at once, but never runs too long or bores the reader with its findings. Mayor is a likable and ultimately unintimidating subject for kids to follow. For those children obsessed with myths and legends, this might be the ideal way to transition them gently from the world of the fantastical into one of research and exploration. For Percy Jackson lovers everywhere.
On shelves April 8th.
Source: Final copy sent from publicist for review.
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Professional Reviews: Kirkus
- The American Museum of Natural History offers their own summary of the griffin/dinosaur connection.
Good old Symphony Space has two HUGE authors in the realm of children’s books coming to speak. And though you won’t see it in the press release below, I’m slated to interview the Newbery Honor winner amongst them. Woo-hoo! So take note:
Thalia Kids’ Book Club events with top authors
Tickets: $15/$12 members
Saturday, March 15, 4 pm: Kevin Henkes
Spend the afternoon with the beloved author of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, winner of the Caldecott Award, and The Year of Billy Miller, a 2014 Newbery Honor Book, as he discusses his creative process. His latest unforgettable character, second-grader Billy Miller, is the star of this new novel–a fast-paced and funny story about friendship, sibling rivalry, and elementary school. The Year of Billy Miller includes black-and-white art by Henkes and is perfect for fans of the Ramona books, Frindle by Andrew Clements, and the Clementine series. Ages 7 – 10.
Tuesday, March 18, 4 pm: Jeff Kinney
The #1 best-selling author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books shares with fans the good fortune that helped him get published and offers a look into some of his favorite moments, plus a peek into how he gets his ideas and puts new books together.
In the eighth Wimpy Kid book, Greg Heffley’s on a losing streak. His best friend, Rowley Jefferson, has ditched him, and finding new friends in middle school is proving to be a tough task. To change his fortunes, Greg decides to take a leap of faith and turn his decisions over to chance. Will a roll of the dice turn things around, or is Greg’s life destined to be just another hard-luck story? Find out at this super fun event with author Jeff Kinney! Ages 7 and up.
Note: This event is limited to 300 attendees.
- Avast! Tis me sister, me hearties! Finding yet ANOTHER fun and crafty way to work children’s literature into your lives. Children of the 80s and 90s (and perhaps the 70s for that matter) may remember the old board game Guess Who with fondness. So what about finding an old run-down copy at a garage sale and turning it into your own personalized version? Kate shows you how. She also works in Giant Dance Party while she’s at it. Kudos, sis.
- An ALSC Graphic Novel Award? No, I’m not saying they’re making one. I’m not even saying they’re discussing it (or a poetry award for that matter). But Travis Jonker considers the notion yet again and we’re mighty glad he did.
- Even more amusing than the French booksellers getting naked to protest the conservative politician that attempted to censor a children’s book about nudity (I think I noticed And Tango Makes Three as one of the strategically placed titles) was the comment by someone one Facebook (forgive me, I can’t remember where I saw this) pointing out that here in the U.S. some folks when coo-coo when SLJ ran a cover of grown adults (including myself) holding colorful alcoholic beverages. Imagine what they’d do if we’d posed in the buff!
This is what we call in the business burying the lede. So I’ve worked at NYPL for almost 10 years now and thanks to its history there’s just a swath of cool stuff hidden around every corner. Case in point, the librarian reviews. For quite some time, the children’s and YA librarians of the system would painstakingly and systematically type up in-house reviews of children’s books so that the materials specialists could consider whether or not to purchase for the system. Recently these card catalogs full of reviews were moved out of their home in the Mid-Manhattan branch to our archives division. I figured that would be the last I ever heard of them. That is, until Kiera Parrott informed me that the NYPL review cards are posted to Instagram every Tuesday and then collected on this Pinterest board. Scroll through and you’ll read fascinating conflicting opinions on books like Judy Blume’s Forever or the very funny review by a librarian going against an ancient Anne Carroll Moore lack-of-recommendation. One of these days I SWEAR I am getting a “Not Recommended by Expert” t-shirt or necklace or something. Big time thanks to Kiera for this find.
Awards You Should Be Award of, Consarn It: Did you remember that the NAACP Image Awards give out children’s literature honors? And in the field of Outstanding Literary Work – Children I am happy to report that the award went to Kadir Nelson’s Nelson Mandela with honors for Knock Knock (woo-hoo!), Martin & Mahalia, You Never Heard of Willie Mays, and (here’s a surprise) I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl, which I completely missed. Courage Has No Color won in the teen category, which was a huge relief since I was worried that book wouldn’t get any of the awards it deserved this year.
- CCBC-NET is the listserv where normally I can sit back, relax, and just take in the occasional comment for processing later in the day. Recently, however, it exploded as discussions of race and multicultural literature stayed hot but, for the most part, cordial. The post Taking Action to Make Children’s Literature Better for People of Color does a quick summary then offers solutions to the issues brought up in the past month. Very good and interesting reading for the day!
- Folks coming to NYC will ask me what there is to do in town that’s children’s literature related and recently all I’ve mentioned was the current NYPL exhibit The ABC of It and the Morgan Library’s Little Prince exhibit. This is because I routinely forget that The Grolier Club ALSO partakes of children’s literary events from time to time. So in case you missed it, you may wish to hop on over to “Pop-Ups From Prague: A Centennial Celebration of the Graphic Artistry of Vojtech Kubašta (1914-1992)“. Boing Boing highlighted some of the art and it really is gorgeous stuff. It runs until the 15th of this month so move fast!
- Meanwhile, in Wausau, Wisconsin there’s an exhibit up at the Woodson Art Museum called From Houdini to Hugo: The Art of Brian Selznick. Coo!
- After you’re done there you can swing by Hamilton, Ohio where the Heritage Hall Museum has its very own McCloskey Museum. That’s Robert McCloskey, folks. Word on the street has it that they have the original doughnut machine from Home Price there and that it works! Check out all the great March events they have going on.
- And just when you decided you couldn’t love the Darwin family any more (after reading Charles & Emma I, for one, wanted to adopt them as my own) you find out that his kids scribbled all over the manuscript of Origin of the Species as well as in Emma’s diary. Thanks to Phil Nel for the link.
- I was delighted to sit down with author/illustrator Hilary Leung last week as he came to town for the mid-winter SCBWI conference. Hilary showed me some of his works and stuff and then gave me this little delightful book of LEGO versions of classic and contemporary children’s books. It was so impressive that I just had to share it here. Check out the man’s Pinterest page of images. FANTASTIC!
- Sometimes BookRiot really gets a post right. Did you see their piece on bookmobile fashions? It sounds funny when I say it, but there’s really no better way. Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
- They’re putting exercise bikes out for teen patrons in libraries now? Patrons, heck! Can I have one in front of my own desk? In lieu of a walking desk I’ll take what I can get.
I’m not the first person to show it, but I didn’t want to be the last either. I think it was agent Steven Malk who posted it on Twitter. It’s Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume and Maurice Sendak.
Thanks to Warren Truitt for the heads up.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2014
, Reviews 2014
, 2014 middle grade fiction
, 2014 reviews
, 2015 Newbery contender
, magical realism
, middle grade fiction
, middle grade magical realism
, Nikki Loftin
, Add a tag
By Nikki Loftin
Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin)
On shelves now.
Magical realism in children’s novels is a rarity. It’s not unheard of, but when children’s authors want fantasy, they write fantasy. When they want reality, they write reality. A potentially uncomfortable mix of the two is harder to pull off. Ambiguity is not unheard of in books for youth, but it’s darned hard to write. Why go through all that trouble? For that reason alone we don’t tend to see it in children’s books. Kids like concrete concepts. Good guys vs. bad guys. This is real vs. this is a dream. But a clever author, one who respects the intelligence of their young audience, can upset expectations without sacrificing their story. When author Nikki Loftin decided to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Nightingale into a middle grade contemporary novel, she made a conscious decision to make the book a work of magical realism. A calculated risk, Loftin’s gambit pays off. Nightingale’s Nest is a painful but ultimately emotionally resonant tale of sacrifice and song. A remarkably competent book, stronger for its one-of-a-kind choices.
It doesn’t seem right that a twelve-year-old boy would carry around a guilt as deep and profound as Little John’s. But when you feel personally responsible for the death of your little sister, it’s hard to let go of those feelings. It doesn’t help matters any that John has to spend the summer helping his dad clear brush for the richest man in town, a guy so extravagant, the local residents just call him The Emperor. It’s on one of these jobs that John comes to meet and get to know The Emperor’s next door neighbor, Gayle. About the age of his own sister when she died, Gayle’s a foster kid who prefers sitting in trees in her own self-made nest to any other activity. But as the two become close friends, John notices odd things about the girl. When she sings it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before, and she even appears to possibly have the ability to heal people with her voice. It doesn’t take long before The Emperor becomes aware of the treasure in his midst. He wants Gayle’s one of a kind voice, and he’ll do anything to have it. The question is, what does John think is more important: His family’s livelihood or the full-throated song of one little girl?
How long did it take me to realize I was reading a middle grade adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen short story? Let me first tell you that when I read a book I try not to read even so much as a plot description beforehand so that the novel will stay fresh and clear in my mind. With that understanding, it’s probably not the worst thing in the world that it took a 35-year-old woman thirty-nine pages before she caught on to what she was reading. Still, I have the nasty suspicion that many a savvy kid would have picked up on the theme before I did. As it stands, we’ve seen Andersen adapted into middle grade novels for kids before. Breadcrumbs, for example, is a take on his story The Snow Queen as well as some of his other, stranger tales. They say that he wrote The Nightingale for the singer Jenny Lind, with whom he was in love. All I know is that in the original tale the story concentrates on the wonders of the natural world vs. the mechanical one. In this book, Loftin goes in a slightly different direction. It isn’t an over-reliance on technology that’s the problem here. It’s an inability to view our fellow human beings as just that. Human beings. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what Andersen was going for in the first place.
It was the writing, of course, that struck my attention first. Loftin gives the book beautiful sequences filled with equally beautiful sentences. There’s a section near the end that tells a tale of a tree that fails to keep hold of a downy chick, but is redeemed by saving another bird in a storm. This section says succinctly everything you need to know about this book. I can already see the children’s book and discussion groups around the country that will get a kick out of picking apart this parable. It’s not a hard one to interpret, but you wouldn’t want it to be.
As for the characters, there wasn’t a person here that I couldn’t recognize as real. I was quite taken with the fact that Loftin continually sidesteps a lot of the usual middle grade tropes. Gayle’s nasty foster brother Jeb, for example, could easily have been labeled the typical bully type character for this book. Bullies in children’s books, after all, have a tendency to be one-note characters. Jeb, in contrast, is capable of talking like a normal human being from time to time. He’s a horrible human being at other times, but at least you get the sense that he’s not just a walking two-dimensional caricature. It makes a difference.
The ending is going to be problematic for some folks. It is not, I should say, unsatisfying. I think even people who don’t have a problem with what it says will only have a problem with HOW it goes about saying it. But the end of the book goes so far as to make it clear that this story really doesn’t take place in the real world in which we live. The characters face real world problems, but that doesn’t preclude the presence of something magical. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .” and all that jazz. For some readers, this may feel like a kind of betrayal. As if the author didn’t have the guts to stay in the real world from start to finish, but instead had to rely on something otherworldly for her climax. I don’t see it that way. Loftin’s choices seem very deliberate here, from page one onward. Just because something is magical, that doesn’t mean you can’t interpret the book in other ways. Don’t like the supernatural element at the end? Then why are you assuming it’s real? After all, we’re getting this whole story through Little John’s perspective. Who’s to say he’s the world’s most reliable narrator? Just because a book is written for children, that doesn’t mean you have to take it at face value.
In any case, I don’t believe the magic detracts in the least from what Loftin is saying here about the banality of poverty. This isn’t a book that romanticizes what it’s like to be poor. It’s just Little John’s everyday existence, to a certain extent. And with the introduction of The Emperor, readers get to see firsthand how money, or the lack thereof, has a lot to do with self-worth and what you have to do with your pride and sense of self-worth when you’re indebted to another person. Little John witnesses firsthand his own father’s humiliation at the hands of the Emperor, and then finds himself in possession (in a sense) of something The Emperor wants. But rather than give him power, this just focuses the rich man’s attention on the boy, making him easy prey. Better that you never have something the wealthy think that they need. And as Little John says at one point, “What was right didn’t have a thing to do with what was.”
Reading the book, I found it enormously painful. But I at least had the wherewithal to realize that it was uniquely painful to me as a mother. Any parent reading this is going to instantly fret and worry and think about Gayle’s position in her foster home. But for kids reading this book they’re going to identify with Little John and Gayle as children, not as parents. This is a book about terrible decisions made, for the most part, by good people. This can, at times, make the story emotionally hard to follow, but I like to think Ms. Loftin had things well in hand when she came up with her tale. There’s a great comfort in knowing that even when you screw up royally, you can still find forgiveness. If kids take nothing else away from this book, I hope that they understand that much. Smart and beautiful by turns, The Nightingale’s Nest does one thing that few will contest. Once you’ve read it, you’ll have a hard time getting it out of your head.
On shelves now.
Notes on the Cover: It was indeed the cover that I noticed first about this book. Unfortunately the name of the artist has been difficult to find, but it’s lovely isn’t it? The girl, clearly Gayle, could be floating or flying or just lying on the ground, depending on how you look at it. Of course, most notable is the fact that she appears to be African-American. There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about showing black faces on our book jackets, so I applaud Razorbill for having the guts to do a cover that isn’t a silhouette. That said, I did notice that at no point in the novel does the book specifically say that Gayle is dark-skinned. In fact, it doesn’t really describe her skin at all. We get a sense of how soft her hair is and how beautiful her voice, but nothing much more beyond that. Could this be one of the very few cases in which a kid’s race isn’t mentioned in a book and yet that kid isn’t just assumed to be white? If so it’s a big step forward in the world of book jackets. Someone should conduct an interview with Razorbill’s art director about the decision to go with this cover. I’d love to know if this is indicative of books in the future. If so, it’s a trend I’ll be watching with great interest.
Source: Galley sent from the publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Other Blog Reviews:
Misc: Finally, you can read an excerpt over at I Read Banned Books.
BESTSELLING FANCY NANCY ILLUSTRATOR ROBIN PREISS GLASSER’S OFFICIAL 2014 CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK POSTER UNVEILED AT BOOKWEEKONLINE.COM
PREISS GLASSER’S OFFICIAL POSTER COMMEMORATES THE 95TH ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK (MAY 12-18, 2014), THE LONGEST-RUNNING NATIONAL LITERACY INITIATIVE IN THE COUNTRY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, NY — February 27, 2014 – The Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader have unveiled Robin Preiss Glasser’s official 2014 Children’s Book Week poster at bookweekonline.com, commemorating the 95th annual celebration of books for young people and the joy of reading. 175,000 copies will be distributed nationwide, and may be requested online at no cost beyond shipping. 2014 will be the largest celebration of Children’s Book Week yet, with official events –which give kids the opportunity to connect with their favorite authors and illustrators in person – in all 50 states for the first time in the initiative’s history.
Robin Preiss Glasser is the 2013 Children’s Choice Illustrator of the Year Award-winner for Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet, part of the Fancy Nancy series which has more than 50 titles and has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for more than 350 weeks. Her poster shows a group of children of all ages reading together on a chair quilted with the covers of classic children’s books including Eloise, Goodnight Moon, The Twits, The Purple Crayon, Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web, and other favorites.
“To be a part of Children’s Book Week, with its recognition of the joy of storytelling and importance of reading, is truly an honor,” says Robin Preiss Glasser. “In creating the poster for this year’s celebration, I follow in the footsteps of so many great children’s book illustrators, many of whose work enchanted me as a child. It is thrilling to have the opportunity to share my art with the libraries, schools, and book stores that are part of the Children’s Book Council’s and Every Child a Reader’s outreach, as together we share our love of storybooks with young audiences.”
Each year since Children’s Book Week’s inception in 1919, a distinguished children’s book illustrator has been called upon to create an official Children’s Book Week poster to be distributed nationwide. Over the literacy initiative’s 95 storied years, posters have been created by children’s literature icons including Brian Selznick, Ian Falconer, Jon J Muth, Maurice Sendak, Ezra Jack Keats, Richard Scarry, Ellen Raskin, Laurent deBrunhoff, Tomie dePaola, Rosemary Wells, Garth Williams, Marc Brown, and Jerry Pinkney. The Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader are honored to add Robin Preiss Glasser’s beautiful work to these historic commemorations of Children’s Book Week.
54 W. 39th St., Floor 14, New York, NY, 10018, 212.966.1990
About Robin Preiss Glasser
Robin Preiss Glasser is the #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator of the Fancy Nancy series, written by Jane O’Connor; America: A Patriotic Primer, A is for Abigail, and Our Fifty States by Lynne Cheney, and Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. She lives in Southern California with her family, puppy, and tiara collection. Learn more at robinpreissglasser.com.
About the Fancy Nancy Series
With more than 24 million books sold since the series launched in December 2005 and more than 350 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, the Fancy Nancy franchise shows no sign of slowing down. Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser have appeared on The Today Show, The Martha Stewart Show and on TLC’s Mall Cops and have been featured in over 100 daily newspapers. The Fancy Nancy series has been translated into 18 languages and has over 30 licensees to date. In 2008, Fancy Nancy was named the Book Character of the Year by Global License. Fancy Nancy also received two nominations for the Toy Industry Association’s Toy of the Year Awards, two nominations for the 2009 LIMA International Licensing Excellence Awards and was named the Best Character Brand Program of the Year.
About Children’s Book Week (CBW)
Established in 1919, CBW is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Each year, official and local commemorative events are held nationwide at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes — wherever young readers and books connect. In 2014, official events will be held in all 50 states for the first time in the initiative’s history. Learn more at bookweekonline.com.
About Every Child a Reader (ECAR)
Every Child a Reader is a 501(c)(3) literacy organization dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of reading in children. Every Child a Reader creates and supports programs that: strive to make the reading and enjoyment of children’s books an essential part of America’s educational and social aims; enhance public perception of the importance of reading. ECAR’s national programs include Children’s Book Week, a nationwide celebration of books and reading, and the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country; the Children’s Choice Book Awards, the only national book awards program where the winning titles are selected by kids and teens of all ages; and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Program, the country’s “Children’s Literature Laureate”. Please visit ecarfoundation.org for more information.
About the Children’s Book Council (CBC)
The Children’s Book Council is the national nonprofit trade association for children’s book publishers, and the anchor sponsor of Children’s Book Week. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations. Membership in the CBC is open to U.S. publishers of children’s trade books, as well as in some cases to industry-affiliated companies. The CBC is proud to partner with other national organizations on co-sponsored reading lists, educational programming, and literacy initiatives. Please visit cbcbooks.org for more information.
Senior Communications Manager
The Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader
By: Betsy Bird
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Everyone loves a good list but finding lists that reflect the intelligence of experts in a given field can sometimes be tricky. Consider, if you will, books about American Indians for the kiddos. I can’t tell you how many summer reading lists I see every year that have The Indian in the Cupboard, The Matchlock Gun, or even Rifles for Watie on them. Just once it would be nice to see a Top 100 list of books that could serve as guidelines for folks searching for good books about indigenous peoples.
You can imagine my interest, then, when Debbie Reese mentioned on the ccbc-net listserv that she had contributed to a list called “Top One Hundred Books by Indigenous Writers.” She also said that if anyone was interested in seeing this list, they could contact her and she’d pass it on. But with a list this good, it begs to be shared. I asked Debbie and her fellow experts in the field if it would be all right to post the list on this site and they agreed.
Here’s is some background, from Debbie, about the books:
As we worked on the list, we limited ourselves on # of books per author so that we could be as inclusive as possible. The list is a combination of our personal favorites and recommendations from peers.
We did not delineate or mark those that are in the children/YA category. We feel strongly that those who wish to write for adults or children/YA would benefit from reading what we’re calling masters. And, we think that those who wish to strengthen their ability to select/review books about American Indians would benefit from reading the books, too. So many authors who give talks and workshops tell people that in order to write, they have to read.
I have linked some of the children’s and YA titles to reviews and records. If I have missed any, please let me know.
Thank you Debbie, Susan, Teresa, and Tim for passing this along. I am very pleased and moved to host it here.
A Work in Progress: Top One Hundred Books by Indigenous Writers
Compiled for ATALM  2012, by
Susan Hanks, Debbie Reese, Teresa Runnels, and Tim Tingle 
Updated on February 24, 2014
After a year of informal surveys and queries, we offer a list of over 100 books that every museum and library should have on their shelves. Written by tribal members, these books are the foundation of our literature as Indigenous people. Just as Western culture promotes Shakespeare as a prerequisite to grasping the essence of Western word arts, we promote N. Scott Momaday, D’Arcy McNickle, and many, many others to insure that our future writers reference, in images and ideas, our Indigenous masters.
Among our list are books written for children and young adults. Though often seen as “less than” because of their intended reader, we believe books for children are as important—if not more important—than books for adults. The future of our Nations will be in the hands of our children. Books that reflect them and their nations are crucial to the well being of all our Nations.
Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene)
- The Business of Fancydancing
- The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Rilla Askew (Choctaw)
Beverly Blacksheep (Navajo)
Kimberly Blaeser (White Earth Ojibwe)
- Absentee Indians and Other Poems
Joseph Boyden (Metis/Micmac)
Jim Bruchac and Joe Bruchac (Abenaki)
Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
Ignatia Broker (Ojibwe)
Emily Ivanoff Brown (Native Village of Unalakleet)
- The Longest Story Ever Told: Qayak, The Magical Man
Nicola Campbell (Interior Salish)
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
Robert Conley (Cherokee)
Ella Deloria (Yankton Sioux)
Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Lakota)
- Custer Died For Your Sins
Jennifer Denetdale (Dine)
- The Long Walk: The Forced Navajo Exile
Echo-Hawk, Roger C. and Walter C. Echo-Hawk (Pawnee)
- Battlefields and Burial Grounds: The Indian Struggle to Protect Ancestral Graves in the United States
Walter C. Echo-Hawk (Pawnee)
- In the Courts of the Conqueror: the 10 Worst Law Cases Ever Decided
Heid Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe)
- Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems
Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe)
- The Last Report on the Miracles at No Horse
Jack D. Forbes (Powhatan Delaware)
- Only Approved Indians: Stories
- Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples
Eric Gansworth (Onondaga)
- A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function
Diane Glancy (Cherokee)
Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek)
- Reinventing the Enemies Language
Tomson Highway (Cree)
- Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing
Geary Hobson (Cherokee, Quapaw)
Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)
- Red Clay: Poems & Stories
- The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir
LeAnne Howe (Choctaw)
- Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story
Hershman John (Navajo)
- I Swallow Turquoise for Courage
Thomas King (Cherokee)
Michael Lacapa (Apache/Hopi)
- Less than Half, More Than Whole
Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe/Chippewa/Anishinabe)
- All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life
Adrian Louis (Paiute)
- Wild Indians and Other Creatures
Larry Loyie (Cree)
- As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer Before Residential School
Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee) and Michael Wallace
Joseph Marshall III (Lakota Sioux)
- The Journey of Crazy Horse
John Joseph Matthews (Osage)
Janet McAdams (Creek)
- After Removal (with Geary Hobson and Kathryn Walkiewicz)
- The Island of Lost Luggage
- The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing
Joseph Medicine Crow (Crow)
Carla Messinger (Lenape)
N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)
- The Way to Rainey Mountain
D’Arcy McNickle (Cree)
Nora Naranjo-Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo)
- Mud Woman: Poems from the Clay
Jim Northrup (Ojibwe)
Simon Ortiz (Acoma)
- The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa ‘Kashtyaa’tsi Hiyaani
- Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories
- The People Shall Continue
Louis Owens (Choctaw)
- Mixedblood Messages: Literature, Film, Family, Place
- Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel
Leonard Peltier (Anishinabe/Lakota)
William Penn (Nez Perce/Osage)
- All My Sins Are Relatives
Susan Power (Sioux)
Marcie Rendon (Anishinabe)
Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo)
Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki)
Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek)
Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche)
- Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong
Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (Lakota Sioux)
Allen J. Sockabasin (Passamaquoddy)
Shirley Sterling (Salish)
Chief Jake Swamp (Mohawk)
Luci Tapahonso (Dine)
- A Breeze Swept Through: Poetry
- Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories
Drew Hayden Taylor (Curve Lake Ojibwe)
Tim Tingle (Choctaw)
Laura Tohe (Navajo)
Richard Van Camp (Dogrib)
- The Moon of Letting Go: and Other Stories
Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Ojibway)
Velma Wallis (Athabascan)
- Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
Anna Lee Walters (Pawnee/Otoe)
James Welch (Blackfoot/Gros Ventre)
- Heartsong of Charging Elk
Bernelda Wheeler (Cree/Assiniboine/Saulteaux)
- I Can’t Have Bannock but the Beaver Has a Dam
- Where Did You Get Your Moccasins?
Robert A. Williams (Lumbee)
- Like a Loaded Weapon: The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, and the History of Racism in America
Daniel H. Wilson (Cherokee)
Craig Womack (Creek)
- Red On Red: Native American Literary Separatism
For further information and titles, contact Susan Hanks at Susan.Hanks@library.ca.gov, Debbie Reese at firstname.lastname@example.org, Teresa Runnels at email@example.com, or Tim Tingle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 The 2012 conference of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. ATALM Website: http://www.atalm.org/
 This list was compiled for presentation at the ATALM conference. We encourage all librarians to purchase a copy of every book by the writers on our list, and we encourage you to ask when out-of-print books will be back in print. In preparing our list, we limited ourselves to no more than four titles per author. The titles are our personal favorites. Our contact info is below.
For a blog that only does videos on Sundays regularly, I’m often surprised when folks offer to premiere their book trailers here. I am, however, always flattered, particularly when the trailers are as good as the one you’re seeing here today. The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern falls into the category of books-that-are-turning-my-youth-into-historical-fiction. This appears to be a big trend for 2014 (I’m looking at YOU, Riverman). In this case, the book is set in 1988 and follows one young woman as she navigates her life and the secrets that her family members keep from her.
Cute, right? Now let’s say you wanted to own such a book. Heck, let’s say you wanted to own a signed galley of the book! Well, I’ve never been much of a giveaway gal. Fortunately the Chronicle folks aren’t as lazy. Go here if you’d like to enter to win one of three signed ARCs of this book.
And just for the heck of it, let’s see if my blog is capable of hosting an excerpt of the book. Just in case you’re curious, you understand. Consider it your consolation prize, should you fail to win an ARC:
Meaning of Maggie by ChronicleBooks
Thanks to Lara Starr and the lovely folks at Chronicle for thinking of me for this.
Anna Carries Water
By Olive Senior
Illustrated by Laura James
On shelves now.
I was recently engaged in a high-energy search at my library to locate as swiftly and surely as possible a listing of any and all children’s books set in the Caribbean. We were eventually able to locate 21 picture books in my system, but when you consider how many picture books are published in a given year it was hardly an overwhelming number of titles. This happened about a month ago, so maybe that was what first drew my attention to the book Anna Carries Water. Or maybe it was the starred review in Kirkus that was the first draw. Or maybe it was the book itself when I saw it firsthand and actually gave it a read. Beautifully illustrated, printed, and written, author Olive Senior and illustrator Laura James together have tapped into a story instantly understandable to a child from any culture in this wide world in which we live. Sibling jealousy, the desire to be more grown-up than you are, and a good old-fashioned ridiculous fear combine to make this one of the more charming books I’ve seen this year.
Poor Anna. The youngest of six siblings she always joins her brothers and sisters after school to walk to the spring for water for their Jamaican home. And every day her older brothers and sisters get their water and place it on their heads, never once having to hold their buckets or cans or empty cheese tins to keep them in place. As for Anna, all she has is a dinky coffee can, and even THAT ends up soaking her clothes when she tries to emulate her siblings’ style. Though she asks her eldest sibling Doris when she’ll be old enough to carry water hands free like the rest of them, all Doris can tell her is that “It just happens . . . so don’t worry.” Little does Anna realize that her phobia of cows, never an asset before, will offer the key to her little problem.
There is a certain kind of well-meaning picture book that seeks to inform first, and tell a story second. These are books with the best of all possible intentions. You can recognize them instantly. They’re often rather lovely, but eminently purposeful. Books like Chandra’s Magic Light about Solar Tuki lamps in Nepal or Beatrice’s Goat about the Heifer Project International in Uganda. When I saw that Anna Carries Water was to be about a girl carrying water on her head (or at least wanting to) I just mentally filed it away as a book that would ultimately be about well drilling in one country or another. And there is nothing wrong with that kind of book, I just want to say. But what I like about Anna Carries Water and what sets it apart from those other books is that the characters in this story aren’t going out of their way to introduce you to their world. These are kids who are going about their lives and the problem at the heart of the book is therefore instantly relatable. What kid isn’t going to instantly understand what it would be like to be the youngest child in a family and the one person who can’t do something (but almost can) that her older siblings accomplish with ease? Anna’s desire is palpable and understandable. You could talk to me all day about “this is how we do things in Jamaica” but it is a LOT more interesting if you show, don’t tell. Just skip all the hoo-hah, plunge us in, and give us a universal story that is easy to relate to. Brava!
I’d not encountered artist Laura James before, but there was something about her thick set paints that immediately drew my attention. At first I had a hard time pinning down what it was that appealed to me so. Certainly the colors are nice. Each page is painted on canvas and is a vibrant collage of green, brown, red, yellow, you name it. The setting was also this lovely lush and green location, challenging those assumptions some adult readers of the book might have about areas of the world where people have to walk long distances to water. Ditto the modern appliances and recognizable contemporary clothing. Then I realized it was the people I gravitated to the most. James has a tendency to create kids and adults that you like upon contact. It’s something about the size of the eyes or the way their weight falls on one hip or another when they stand. After a while I also realized that James makes people with eyes that look a lot like those of fellow illustrator Meghan McCarthy (and she’s one of my favorites out there). Mystery solved.
On top of that, Ms. James works in these natural little details that never appear in the text but give the whole enterprise a ring of authenticity. In one of the early spreads Anna is watching her siblings as they lounge and work in front of their house. One of her brothers (Rohan, I believe) chomps down on a stick of sugarcane. Robbie, meanwhile, is sitting talking to Trevor, a small band-aid evident on one of his knees. There’s something so amazingly realistic about these slight, small details. It isn’t enough that James understands this country or its people. She understands how important it is to include realistic unspoken details in a picture book. Would that other illustrators did the same!
And yes, it has a couple problems here and there. I had a devil of a time understanding how Anna could be staring frightened at an impossibly long-tongued cow in one picture and then have the time (or wherewithal for that matter) to put her little cup of water on her head as she ran home in fear in another. It would have made a bit more sense of Anna had been trying to balance the water on her head yet again when the cow made its presence known. Another friend of mine read the book and liked it fine but wasn’t taken with the way in which Ms. James illustrates teeth. That didn’t bother me in the slightest, for the record. I like the teeth here. They actually remind me of when I was a kid and the ways in which I drew teeth on the people in my own drawings.
We (and by “we” I mean “people who work with children’s books in some capacity”) talk a lot these days about the need for more multicultural literature for kids on our bookstore and library shelves. The trick, it seems to me, is to look beyond the big six American publishers that make a hat tip to a different worldview every once in a while, but generally produce the same old, same old. Tradewind Books, a Canadian publisher, is the perfect example of a little publisher willing to try something fresh and new and good. Anna Carries Water stands on its own two feet and just happens to be better than 75% of the pablum I sift through on a daily basis. Funny and well told, great for storytimes (you can see these images a mile away) with a message I’m rather partial to, consider this a little gem that could easily get lost in the hubbub of your average publishing year. Worth discovering. Worth holding onto.
On shelves now.
Like This? Then Try:
Other Reviews: goARTkids
Interviews: A talk with illustrator Laura James on her work on this book.
- Curious about that list of 21 Caribbean picture books I alluded to earlier? You can find the fully tally of them here.
If you’re anything like me you probably found this video of the YOU WON calls given by the Caldecott, Newbery and Coretta Scott King committees to be a heckuva lot of fun. I could watch people getting good news all day, I could. Particularly when it’s people I like.
Tongue . . . tongue stuck so firmly in cheek it is difficult to remove . . .
Thanks to Lara Morris Starr for the link.
Ah, children. When you have your own you can make SUCH good use of them! For narration purposes, for example:
Apparently the animator on this one was one Jesse Schmal, a fellow who has worked for Mo Willems and Tom Warburton on Codename: Kids Next Door.
I’m going to have some difficulty explaining this next video any better than e.e. Charlton -Trujillo did in the Huffington Post piece The Clearance Kids. It’s part of the documentary At-Risk Summer which went to Fair View High School in Chico, California. As Ms. Charlton-Trujillo put it, “It’s an alternative education school that harbors the kids deemed by many as the criminals, the rejects and the misfits. These students inked with gang tattoos, dyed green punk hair, post teen pregnancy appearances or linebacker-sized guys with hidden identities who don’t conform to the norm of traditional high school, soon became my heroes.” Watch this and they might become yours too.
The film will also feature such authors as Kathryn Erskine, Matt de la Pena, A.S. King, Ellen Hopkins, Ned Vizzini (aw), Andrew Smith and many many more. FYI, folks.
This next is just too much fun. These are scenes of George Clooney getting seriously animated, both literally and figuratively, when recording The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Thanks to PW Children’s Bookshelf for the link.
How odd. We’ve posted only one book trailer today. Well, let’s switch that up (no pun intended). This here’s the latest from Barbara Brooks. Cat lovers of the world, rejoice.
If you have ever wondered what my voice would sound like approximately 5 decibel levels lower than their normal state, allow me to embed here my interview with the lovely Jordan Lloyd Bookey of Zoobean.
As for the off-topic video, we’re due to have more snow here in NYC on Tuesday and Wednesday. Whee. In embedding this final video I shall surprise no one. It’s the viral school closure vid that’s been making the rounds starring Durham Academy Principal Michael Ulku-Steiner and his deputy announcing the schools were closed on account of ice. Anyone else want to bet how many marriage proposals they’ve received in the last week?
Thanks to Alison Morris for the link.
Space Mountain: A Graphic Novel
By Bryan Q. Miller
Pencils and Inks by Kelley Jones
Letters by Rob Leigh
Colors by Brian & Kristy Miller
Disney Press (an imprint of Disney Book Group)
On shelves May 6th
It sounds at first like a bit of a joke. You take a typical Disney indoor roller coaster with a late ’70s look and name and you write a graphic novel for it. It appears to be silly, but then again look at the success of movies like The Pirates of the Caribbean. Maybe a graphic novel’s a good way to start. Sure as heck beats reading a GN about Splash Mountain, after all. Add in the fact that graphic novels are huge with kids but make up only a very small percentage of what gets published by trade publishers in a given year and you’ve a recipe for something pretty good. Disney Book Group decided the best tactic to take in this case was to hire a well-established comic book penciller and inker and pair him alongside a television writer. The results, alas, are mixed with some bright spots woven in between the hopelessly confusing narratives and odd art choices. Good enough for action adventure fans, but not one of the best of the year, there is at least a lot of potential. Think Buck Rogers meets Ray Bradbury and you’ve got the gist of the thing.
For Stella and Tommy it’s the field trip of a lifetime. Their class of space cadets is going to get to visit Space Mountain! No, not the Disney ride. As residents of the Cygnus X1 Colony they are lucky enough to be close to Space Mountain, the space station that uses the nearby black hole’s event horizon to experiment with time travel. And once on the station the two soon learn that they are the lucky winners of a contest to take a real trip through time with the fearless Captain Benjamin Cole and his hardworking crew. Granted it’ll just be 24 hours into the future, but that’s fine with the kids. Time travel is time travel, after all. And everything probably would have gone just fine had that mysterious probe not disconnected from their ship into the event horizon. Next thing they know it’s 24 hours into the future, but EVERYTHING has changed. The past, the people, everything. Seems that little probe managed to muck with history itself and now our heroes are standing trial for treason. When the adults are sent to different points in Earth history, it’s up to Stella and Tommy to not only rescue the crew, but also solve the mystery of how to get history back on track again.
Now as a writer Bryan Q. Miller is probably best known for his work on such superhero laden shows as Arrow and Smallville. In print he’s written for Teen Titans and Batgirl. Here, he has to sort of switch focus and hone in on his more sci-fi tendencies (which shouldn’t be too hard since he apparently wrote for the SyFy channel’s show Defiance). Trouble is, rather than be content with space travel and its usual perks (aliens, wormholes, etc.) Miller decided to kick it up a notch. He decided to introduce the notion of time travel. Now as a general rule, if you’re going to engage in a time travel narrative you have to keep it as simple as possible. Otherwise you’re going to run into the Back to the Future, Part 2 problem. Ray Bradbury? He knew how to keep it simple. Rebecca Stead? Ditto. And here’s where I give Bryan Miller some props. The man has chutzpah. He is not afraid to think big. Real big. If I were to put a stamp of a single word all over this book, that word would be “Ambitious”. Too ambitious. See, things start out just fine. Then they get absolutely friggin’ bizarre, and not in a good way either. Confusion reigns when it comes to the ways in which the kids rescue the crew, to say nothing of why one paradox happens and another does not. Add in the twist at the end involving Captain Cole that just throws the whole enterprise off balance and you’ve got yourself a narrative that will stump a good chunk o’ readers.
There’s also the odd use of exposition. Characters that consider space travel normal (that are actually known as “space cadets”) would probably know better than to open a water bottle in a spaceship. The fact that Tommy doesn’t understand the principal of zero gravity was a bit too much to fall for, let alone Stella’s teacher not knowing why their home was built as close to a black hole as it was. Some authors have a way of integrating information seamlessly into the text. This book has yet to master that particular art. Also, a show of hands. Who else thought Stella’s mosquito bite was going to turn into a much bigger deal than it was?
And I might throw my hands up and give the whole kerschmozzle up for lost if the writing didn’t contain so many specks of awesomeness. For one thing, many chapters begins with a pertinent, really interesting quote. Here are some samples:
“The only reason fro time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” – Albert Einstein
“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln
“The future ain’t what it used to be.” – Yogi Berra
Granted all the quotes come from white guys. That was sort of a bummer. The book does a bit better with two of our heroes being black and Latino, insofar as I could tell. Then there are the written selections. The first words of the story once things have begun are “Somewhere between a forgotten yesterday and a twisted tomorrow . . .” Show me the inventive 11-year-old reader who can resist THAT little sentence.
I was showing the book to my husband when he plucked it from my hands to see who did the penciling (as well as the inking, I might note). Just as he suspected, it was Kelley Jones. Jones has a particularly distinctive style, for those who are familiar with his art. Between Sandman, Deadman, and various forms of Batman, he’s kept busy over the years. I didn’t know who he was when I read this book, but I did have a palpable sense that this was someone important. It was the inking that gave it away. For example, there’s an early conversation between the Captain and Tommy where the adult is thinking dark thoughts about the past. Jones takes care to bring the shadows up on his face, purposefully obscuring in his features in at least three different ways in three different panels. Even reading a black and white galley of this book, I could see the time and attention taken on these images.
Trouble is, much like the writer Bryan Q. Miller, Jones had to reel himself in to write an appropriate comic for kids. And for the most part he is just fine. A-okay. Granted, the faces of Tommy and Stella prove oddly difficult for him. Adults he does just fine, but his pre-adolescents have a tendency to look just a little too much like adorable woodland chipmunks. By contrast, his villainess in one particular image exhibits all the problems with female characters in superhero comics today. Mainly, skin tight outfits with ridiculously gigantic boobs and a waist a Disney princess would envy. One particularly egregious image is found in the last panel before the start of chapter three and I couldn’t help but wonder why it was there at all. No one would blink twice if this was a Batman comic and she was Catwoman, but come on! In a GN for 10-year-olds? Reel it in, Jones, reel it in.
What I didn’t expect to enjoy quite so much was the overwhelming 1980s feel of it all. It’s not just the Space Mountain itself (though that doesn’t hurt). Both Stella and Tommy with their longish hair and thick glasses look like nothing so much as my fellow classmates in school circa 1988. It almost feels as if Jones has taken as his inspiration the look and feel of the original Star Wars films, sans aliens, and used that as his fashion inspiration. I like that. It sort of makes you think about the original opening days of the actual Space Mountain ride. Like a kind of kooky homage.
So it’s not perfect, no. Between the convoluted plotting and the boob-o-rific baddies, the whole enterprise feels like an adult graphic novel uneasily readjusting itself for a younger readership. Now none of this is to say that a certain type of kid fan won’t hanker for the sequels anyway. Miller leaves the reader wanting more and there’s definitely more to be had. It’s just hard not to think about how much better the book might have been with some judicious editing here and there. An impressive, big-scale romp through space that will leave some scratching their heads and others hankering for more. Not perfect but not the worst I’ve seen either. Salvageable.
On shelves May 5th
Source: Galley acquired at an ALA Conference for review.
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Illustration by Ali Douglass
By the way, I’m having a baby in late May. Did I fail to mention that before? Having a blog is so awfully odd, because you’re never quite certain how much to tell (and the case of Melissa Anelli just drills that home). That said, I’ve been running into a lot of friends and folks who have been struck with honest astonishment when they see the sheer size of my current girth. I am much with girth. I am girthified. As they say in Comedy of Errors:
“ANTIPHOLUS: Then she bears some breadth? DROMIO: No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe.”
But that’s not what I came to talk to you about today. No, I came to talk about readalouds. Particularly, reading aloud picture books. Because I think I may have just solved a mystery that many a children’s librarian should note. This is not my first pregnancy, it is my second, and so I’ve much to compare it to. Last time I was pregnant there were things I did better. Eating. Exercising. This time I’ve had a hard time keeping myself to task. Partly this is because I have a different job from the last time I was pregnant. In 2011 I was a children’s librarian working in the Children’s Center at 42nd Street. Not long after the birth of my child I became the Youth Materials Specialist for the system. On the plus side, this meant buying books for the system (something I had always longed to do). On the downside, I wasn’t seeing the kids anymore. And I was sitting on my rear for a lot more of the day. A typical children’s librarian, particularly one who works in a branch that is two city blocks long, can get a lot of exercise in just by doing desk work. A materials specialist has far less road to travel and a whole lot more time for butt to meet chair.
Most importantly, I was no longer doing storytimes. Why is this important? Well, it all boils down to a recent blog piece I saw on 100 Scope Notes. The title? I Have Read Aloud Hand. In his post, Travis Jonker identifies a problem that some of us may have faced, but few have put a name to. His readers were able to confirm his pain with similar tales of Read Aloud Shoulder and Read Aloud Arm (to say nothing of School Visit Voice). And as I read it slowly dawned on me . . . read aloud hand . . . read aloud hand . . . read aloud . . . OH MY!
You see, back in 2011 my pregnancy was awesome. I went to Bologna (note the pregnant me in the drawings) and, yes, my ankles and legs did swell up to the size of elephant calves but it was totally worth it!! Then I got back to the States, resumed my job, and found myself in a bit of a pickle. Apparently there’s a form of carpal tunnel syndrome that strikes pregnant women. It’s temporary and goes away a couple weeks after the pregnancy but brother it HURTS! I remember having to wear a brace on one of my hands, even when sleeping, it was so uncomfortable. Naturally at the time I blamed my typing and my blog (forgive me, little Fuse #8). And maybe that was part of the problem but you know what? Having to do multiple storytimes in a week, always with the same hand, probably didn’t do me much additional good.
So heed my warning, pregnant children’s librarians of the world! Though you may be as healthy as a horse thanks to your job, beware the Read Aloud Hand. Go to Travis’s blog and read the ways to avoid getting it. Because what they never tell you, and what I had to discover the hard way, is that carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnant women probably isn’t helped much by the fact that you’ve been holding up your books in an awkward position week after week after week.
All this was inspired by a reference question today asking if my readaloud reviews were cataloged somewhere on this site. Kinda. I will tag picture books I think make good readalouds. You can see a whole swath of them here: http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/tag/readalouds/
I also for a while did a series of YouTube videos of me reading my favorite picture books aloud. It was a series I called Storytime Suggestions. I did The Noisy Counting Book, Rhyming Dust Bunnies, Fortunately, Me Hungry, and Joseeica Souhami’s version of Old MacDonald. They give a good sense of how NOT to hold the books over and over again on the job.
I could not be more pleased with the news I am about to share. It is my great honor and privilege to introduce to you the next blogger-turned-children’s-author.
Minh Lê, the popular Kidlit blogger and opinionator (he has written for the Atlantic and Huffington Post, and is the voice behind such widely-shared features as “Put James Franco on All the Book Covers”) has sold his debut picture book. In collaboration with acclaimed illustrator Isabel Roxas, LET ME FINISH! is fittingly bookish in theme: it’s the first-ever picture book about spoilers, wherein one boy wants to be left alone to read in peace till the end of his book, but is continuously interrupted by animals who can’t resist sharing that infectious feeling we get when we love a story. Rotem Moscovich at Disney Hyperion won North American rights to the book, at auction, from Lê’s agent, Stephen Barbara at Foundry Literary + Media, and Elena Giovinazzo at Pippin Properties, who represented Isabel Roxas in the deal.
Woo-hoo! Go, Minh Lê, go!
I Kill the Mockingbird
By Paul Acampora
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan)
Ages 10 and up
On shelves May 20th
It’s probably fair to say that there is no American classic written with an adult audience in mind that is quite as beloved of children’s book authors as To Kill a Mockingbird. Just off the top of my head I can think of a fair number of middle grade books that directly reference it. Books like, Mockingbird, Also Known As Harper, Sure Signs of Crazy, and A Summer of Sundays, just to name a few. Taking it as a given that the book is a “classic” in the traditional sense, Paul Acampora works with a very tricky premise with fun but occasionally mixed results. I’ve not read many children’s books that have successfully tapped into viral marketing as a theme. Paul dares to go where few have gone before, and the result is a story that takes risks. I can pretty much guarantee that even if you’ve read every other Harper Lee-related middle grade children’s book out there, you ain’t never seen nothing like what Acampora has in store for you here.
Fat Bob was dead. To begin with. He died in the lunch line next to Lucy, telling her to be brave. As one of the school’s more beloved teachers, Lucy chews over his death, even as the summer arrives and she gets to spend more time with her best friends Michael and Elena. The next year they’ll be going to high school and the summer reading list they’ve just been assigned is the usual fare. The Giver. Ender’s Game. And, of course, Lucy’s favorite book of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird. That’s when it hits her. What if Lucy, Elena and Michael were able to begin a movement that would end with every literate kid and adult reading that book? But how do you increase demand when supply is so plentiful? Thus begins the ultra-secret “I Kill the Mockingbird” campaign. Together, these three kids begin something that makes the book not only desirable but irresistible. But will they be able to reign in their work when the time comes, or will this viral cause slip out of their control?
One friend of mine picked up the book and wondered if it was just yet another great big To Kill a Mockingbird lovefest. I told her that it was as much a surprise to me as anyone else the fact that Acampora was willing to offer some criticisms of the text. Michael, for example, isn’t afraid to say that the book is about “a little white tomboy who worships her father in a town filled with whacky racist Christians and lynch-mob farmers. It’s a comedy about old-timey southern people who treat each other badly.” And I loved the fact that Elena’s uncle later points out that “real mockingbirds are territorial and aggressive” and that as a result the title may be a joke. After a discussion of innocence vs. ignorance, it makes a pretty good case for why the book should actually have been called “HOW to Kill a Mockingbird.” Even in the midst of these thoughts, Acampora makes a strong case for the book’s merits, but it’s nice to hear an opposing viewpoint once in a while. So many I-love-To-Kill-a-Mockingbird books fail to even acknowledge that there might be another point of view on all this.
If Acampora has a secret strength it may lie in his dialogue. Folks looking for novels to adapt into stage plays would do very well with this book. The lines come fast and loose between the characters. They manage to have this incredibly believable easygoing rapport that many an author would envy. For example, at one point Elena attempts to persuade Michael to do something by saying, “You’d do it for Newman Noggs.” Newman Noggs, we are told, is Michael’s favorite character in Nicholas Nickleby. It’s a pretty fabulous line. Other random lines present themselves just as well:
“Honey . . . the Virgin Mary’s head should not look like a portobello mushroom.”
“There was also a matching ruffled shirt and a bow tie that looked like I stole it off Ronald McDonald.”
“I don’t think Ronald McDonald wears a bow tie.”
“Now you know why.”
“Another definition of wanting is to be missing something. . . When you want something . . . it’s like admitting that your life has a hole in it.”
Not that his descriptions aren’t fairly keen to boot. For example, when Lucy is physically describing herself and her friend Elena she writes, “ . . . she still looks like a little doll that Santa Claus would leave beneath a Christmas tree. I resemble one of those gawky stuffed giraffes that nobody ever wins at the carnival…” That’s good stuff.
Someone once pointed out to me that when it comes to images of families regularly attending church on television, your best bet is probably The Simpsons. And when it comes to middle grade novels with casually religious kids and families, it must be significant that I see almost none. Either the religion is the whole point of the book (or a significant chunk) or it’s just not there. Admittedly religious publishers like Zonderkidz will sometimes do a contemporary MG novel with religion not necessarily on the forefront, but even in those cases it’s not as casual as it might be. With I Kill the Mockingbird religion is a part of life but the author never caves to didacticism at any point. He’s also funny about it. A conversation between the characters dressed up like Mary and Joseph contains the lines “Joe, you couldn’t do a little better with the accommodations?” “You fell for the first angel that came along … This is what you get.” … “He looked like Johnny Depp, and he promised he’d show me heaven.” On the more serious side, later Lucy’s dad remarks, “Life is a gift. Going to church is like sending a thank-you card.” This conversation occurs in the midst of Lucy’s query about why her mother got cancer. Acampora handles it with aplomb too. He walks a fine line and produces a fine book as a result.
Of course, the book did have a very difficult concept to get across to the readers. For me, the trickiest part of the story was figuring out why it took place at all. What we have here is a book about an everyday revolution that has grown up in response to a mediocre problem. There’s no particular reason for the I Kill the Mockingbird campaign to take off in the first place. No bully has informed Lucy that they hate the book. There isn’t an entity in town that is actually actively attempting to ban it. Aside from the fact that the kids are responding to the death of a beloved teacher there’s not a huge impetus for the amount of work they’re poring into this project. Then there’s the rather optimistic view of viral sensations. The idea that such internet phenomena can be reigned in in any way is to fail to acknowledge their dark side. I will say that I was very much relieved when a plan to stage a fake book burning was cancelled. I wasn’t sure if the premise, nice as it was, could stand up to that level of symbolism. You can understand what the kids are going for, but the ultimate outcome is unclear.
There’s also the huge elephant in the room. The internet. The book relies on the existence of the internet. For any of this to work, the internet has to take the I Kill the Mockingbird campaign and make it famous nationwide. By the same token, if the whole idea is to make physical copies of To Kill a Mockingbird difficult to find in stores and libraries, what’s to stop people from just ordering it off of the internet? Admittedly, I am a children’s librarian and I have seen firsthand the sheer number of people who would rather not order a book online when it comes to summer reading. That said, if someone couldn’t find that book in a store, what would stop them from instantly ordering it off of Amazon without another thought? I think there could be a good workaround for this problem, but it wasn’t really seriously addressed in the book.
I cannot help but love the fact that our lead characters decide not to “hit” independent bookstores because they’re “just too smart for us.” Maybe it’s pandering, but it’s cute pandering so we’ll let it go. Then there’s the advice given on libraries weeding their collections. I can think of a LOT of specialists who are going to get a kick out of Elena’s definition of why people weed books. She compares one unloved book to “Having a rose bush in a vegetable garden. Do you know what that’s called? . . . A weed. It’s pretty to look at, but it won’t help you make a salad.” Put THAT on a t-shirt, stat.
Basically, the book is a pleasure to read. Adult readers (and a couple young ones) will ultimately have to suspend their disbelief in some areas if they are to believe in the I Kill the Mockingbird’s success rate. It’s an enticing premise and a fun book to read. Interestingly, I think it’ll appeal both to those kids who love the book and those who really don’t enjoy it (no small feat). And certainly, this is unlike anything else I’ve read in a very long time. In the end, I may have a qualm here or there, but I’m a fan and I think kids will like it as well. Straight up middle school fare. Get it where you can.
On shelves May 20th.
Source: Galley sent from author for review. And, if we’re going to be perfectly open and honest here, I’m thanked in the Acknowledgments. Which was a cool surprise, I admit it.
First Line: “My mother’s wheelchair does not fit through the bathroom door, and I don’t know what to do about it.”
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- Happy President’s Day! We’ve a lot of worthy links today but I’m going to begin with one that was sent to me by Dan Berenberg and that I’ve been enjoying ever since. Beginning with a caveat, Dan wrote to me and said, “You’ve probably been sent this by a ton of people already, but this series of posts on The Toast seems like something worth sharing. A series of really well-done rewritings of classic picture books to turn them into horror stories. Today was the Runaway Bunny: http://the-toast.net/2014/02/12/runaway-bunny/ but she’s also done a great job with The Giving Tree: http://the-toast.net/2013/11/13/gifts-giving-tree/ The Very Hungry Caterpillar: http://the-toast.net/2013/11/21/hunger-of-the-caterpillar/ and a few others: http://the-toast.net/tag/childrens-stories-made-horrific/.” So I figured I’d check it out and see what he was talking about, expected the usually kind of BuzzFeed-esque twaddle. Oh. My. No, not at all. This is good stuff. Good original stuff that I haven’t actually seen anyone do before. Wow. I think I’ve found my new favorite thing on the internet now. Warning: May not be suitable for children. Ironically.
- I don’t know if any of you were following, or are continuing to follow, the explosive conversation at the ccbc-net listserv regarding multicultural literature for youth. Regardless, it has made for fascinating reading and has directed me to all sort of things I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. For example, there was a year old piece by Joe Monti on book jackets and race that’s worth reading. And for those who might not be aware of it, The Middle East Outreach Council recently announced their 2013 Middle East Book Awards. And yes indeed, they have quite a few youth awards. Had you asked me to come up with eligible titles in 2013 I would have been hard pressed. Some of these books are 2012, but I hardly object. Check out what they’re honoring.
- Speaking of awards, I always feel like the ALA Notable Children’s Books list always gets completely lost in the shuffle when it’s released two to three weeks after the ALA Youth Media Awards. Maybe they could start releasing their titles beforehand? Probably won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be nice?
“The fugitive shadow of Peter Pan skitters all throughout Hokey Pokey without ever once needing to be mentioned.” Oo. Here is a thing I didn’t know I wanted until it appeared. Author Jonathan Auxier waxes eloquenton a great book that got zippo Newbery love this past year. He also reveals the artwork for the paperback cover, which is even better than the hardcover which, in turn, was even better than the galley.
- This is just fun. Back in June the New Yorker blog Page-Turner posted a piece entitled “The Lottery” Letters, which discusses the Shirley Jackson short story at length. Apparently there were more than a few folks under the impression when it was first printed that it was a work of nonfiction. Great reading, if you’ve a spare moment to yourself today. Thanks to Alison Hendon for the link.
- New Blog Alert: Very happy to see Lolly’s Classroom, the new blog over at The Horn Book website. There are some great posts up already, though I confess that I was probably most taken with the Valentine’s Day one that managed to work in nonfiction like Candy Bombers and The Great Molasses Flood in one fell swoop. Clever linking!
- New Podcast Alert: Now there’s a phrase I don’t get to break out very often. Well, I have Aaron Zenz to credit then. Twas he who directed me to the Let’s Get Busy podcast on children’s literature. A fascinating little site to begin with (and just LOOK at all those interviews!) I’ll be adding this to my regular children’s literature podcast roster from here on in. Cheers, Aaron!
- Me with the talky talk! I was delighted to be interviewed by Jordan Lloyd Bookey, owner of the world’s greatest children’s literature related last name AND creator of the Zoobean Experts on Air series. Note that there’s a reason I usually place the old Keep Mum She’s Not So Dumb poster behind myself for these things. I like to think of it in terms of an alternative interpretation of that old WWII warning. I am now a mum. I think you should keep me around. Ipso facto, keep Mum (me) I’m not so dumb. In any case (dragging myself back on topic) big time thanks to Jordan for the interview! It was awfully fun to do. Even with my dying voice and scratchy throat.
- It’s a little late for Valentine’s links, but I was rather partial to the Boys Rule Boys Read piece on Books That Guys LOVE (2014 edition) if only because it seamlessly incorporates the phrase “Hulk Smash Mushy Love Stuff” in it.
- Oh! Hey! I know these folks. Quite a few, actually. It’s a Slate piece called This Is What a Librarian Looks Like. Nothing surprising to those of us in the field, but still nice to see. Brooklyn in the house!
It’s not entirely related to children’s literature but Anthropomorphized paperbacks act out the stories between their pages has at least one arguable moment that would count. Well done, Terry Border!
Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Everybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family
By Susan Goldman Rubin
On shelves February 4th
For years it was my pleasure to work in the New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room, located in the Donnell Library. The Central Children’s Room was the crown jewel of children’s literature in the city, and amongst its many treasures (which included a parrot-headed umbrella owned by Mary Poppins/P.L. Travers and the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys) were N.C. Wyeth’s original paintings from the book Robin Hood. I might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure we owned them all. Certainly we didn’t put them all on display, but a fair number of them were available for the public and they turned out to be quite a draw for the local illustrators. Since those days the Donnell has been sold and the paintings transferred to the main branch of NYPL where they now grace the walls of the President of the library’s office. If you would like to see them it is not out of the question, but it is also not as easy as it once was. I, for my part, haven’t seen them in years. With that in mind, I think it makes perfect sense why I was drawn to Susan Goldman Rubin’s latest artistic picture book biography Everybody Paints! Not content to tell merely the story of one famous painter, Rubin dares to encapsulate the lives of three generations, with a particular focus on one painter in each. N.C., Andrew, and Jamie are presented to kids here in a clear-cut way that honestly displays their very interesting work.
Meet the bronco buster. That’s one name you might give to N.C. Wyeth. Born to parents that thought he’d be better suited as a farmhand than as an artist, N.C. set about to prove himself. Before long he was apprenticed to the great Howard Pyle and became his star student. Wyeth became adept at cattle round-ups as well as painting scenes of action and adventure. His talents brought his lucrative illustration projects like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Robin Hood. Along the way he sired talented offspring, each of whom had some kind of talent. Andrew Wyeth pursued his art with the same fervor as his dad, but while the fine art community had never officially accepted his father, Andrew was embraced almost immediately. In his footsteps followed Jamie, a painter who could work on everything from picture books to portraits of presidents. This is their story.
Writing a biography of the Wyeths for children isn’t as fraught with potential peril as writing a biography of other artists might be. Having cut her teeth on bios about Diego Rivera (Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People) and Andy Warhol (Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter) the Wyeths must have struck Ms. Rubin as a true relief. This is not to say that there haven’t been rumors floating around them for years, but vague rumors are far easier to elide than numerous confirmed affairs and “The Factory”. The content is presented in a very nice, straightforward style. We meet each Wyeth in turn, and the narrative will slip from one to another without so much as a herk or a jerk. The sections are not particularly long. Indeed, the book itself is infinitely readable at just a scant 112 pages. That means that if a kid wants to do a bit of serious research they may need to find some additional books to cover the material more extensively. That said, Rubin provides the basic overview and allows the reader to fill in gaps on their own. Nothing wrong with that when you’re dealing with children’s book biographies.
It was a Kirkus review of this book that sniffed that this particular book is “undersized and overdesigned.” The “undersized” criticism strikes me as particularly silly, perhaps in light of the fact that as a librarian I’ve seen too many art books rejected by child readers because they were “too big” to comfortably carry home. I’m a New York City librarian, so kids in my town have to lug and tote every book they take from the library themselves. There is no helpful waiting car to dump the load into. With that in mind our little patrons become quite savvy in the ways of pick up and retrieval. Imagine, if you will, that you are attempting to woo a kid with the assignment to read a book about a famous artist into reading this book. I can attest that there’s nothing worse than being cut off mid-spiel by a child who points out, quite logically, that the book is “too big”. I mean there’s no comeback to that! So yes, it’s true that the images in this collection aren’t the size that they are in real life. But that is more than made up for when it comes to the sheer number of images present.
To the second criticism, that of being “overdesigned”, the book actually one in a series of artistic biographies done in a “gift book” style. Some of you may recall the rather gorgeous Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz that came out a couple years ago by Beverly Gherman. Like this book it wasn’t afraid to play around with an eclectic design. Lots of large fonts, different colored pages, and images, images, images. In this book Rubin skillfully alternates between photographs of her subjects and their families and their paintings. To an adult, I suppose the layout of this book might feel jarring but I’m quite fond of it. It kept me awake, allowed my eye to travel from text to image and back again freely, and best of all when Rubin mentions a famous photograph it’s right there for you to look at.
You see, one complaint I’ve heard fielded at artistic biographies is that they don’t contain enough images of their subject’s work. How are you supposed to care about someone if you can’t see what it is that they themselves cared about? When Ms. Rubin wrote Diego Rivera I adored it. Some librarians, however, wanted a lot more images. Full paintings would be described but never seen. One might point out that in an internet age it’s fairly easy to see pictures of things whenever you want to, but the point stands. A book about an artist should do its duty and give its subject proper due. With that in mind, Everybody Paints! fairly pops with pictures. I don’t know enough about the rights to reproduce painted images in the way Rubin presents them here. What I do know is that she’s done a stand up and cheer job of it. Nothing major feels like it’s missing.
In spite of the fact that there’s been a real push to promote great nonfiction books with kid readers, it can be a hard sell. Adults that are my age or older have a hard time remembering any particularly great books of nonfiction from when we were young (and no, the Childhood of Famous Americans series does NOT count). Few of us are aware that we’re in a golden age of great children’s informational titles. What Everybody Paints! does is typify this kind of book. It’s a hard subject that requires a deft hand. And with her abundance of experience in this particular area, Susan Goldman Rubin does her subjects proud. As beautiful as you would expect, and three times as fun as you might think to read.
On shelves February 4th.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Some weeks can go by without a single solitary interesting video in sight. Other weeks, you drown in brilliance. This week inclines far more towards the latter than the former.
I could not lead off today with anything other than the latest bit of Bookie Woogie brilliance. You keened to their 90-second rendition of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. You hooted to their Black Cauldron encapsulation. And you had to rewire your jaw after it smashed to the floor after seeing their Frog and Toad Together video. Now behold the wonder that is . . . Charlotte’s Web!!!
Charlotte’s Web / Spider-Man Mashup (Bookie Woogie) from Z-Dad on Vimeo.
Naturally this was created for James Kennedy’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Those of you in the Chicago area will want to reserve your (free) seats for the February 1st screening here. If nothing else I urge you to check out the posters that Aaron Zenz created in conjunction with this.
Aw, shoot. I know for a fact I never put THIS 90-Second Newbery video up either (you see what happens when you try to post just one?). This is my favorite, bar none, version of The Giver. If I were a producer on a comedy show I would hire this kid NOW NOW NOW.
From this awesomeness we now turn to the ultimate delight. Self-deprecation. Marc Tyler Nobleman had a brilliant notion. He was watching Jimmy Kimmel Live! and saw the bit where celebrities read insulting tweets about themselves. It gave him an idea – what if children’s authors did the same with bad Amazon reviews? Though my temptation is to post all three videos here, I’m going to be a good pooky and only post one. If you would like to see the other two (which are just as good and feature just loads of famous folks) go to Marc’s blog right here. Here’s part one:
In book trailer news, or rather live-action book trailer news, Lorie Ann Grover’s YA novel Firstborn is coming out and the trailer looks pretty darn strong. To the point, well shot, the works. Love the brevity of it. Well played, folks.
If you like your trailers a little more nonfiction picture booky, try on for size this one for Patricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine about you-know-who:
And in this corner, stealing prodigiously from fellow SLJ blogger Travis Jonker (if you read his Morning Notes
you’ll do wonders for my conscience), here is Kate DiCamillo fresh outta National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature-ship, on the PBS Newshour.
The only cool video I could NOT find this week was something appropriately off-topic. So here’s a cat failing a jump. The internet, if nothing else, is good for a couple of these. Plus the cat’s clearly okay at the end.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
By Peter Brown
Little, Brown and Company
On shelves now.
Here’s a fun exercise to liven up a gloomy day. Find yourself a copy of the picture book Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. Now turn to the publication page. It’s the green one opposite the title page at the beginning of the book. Now scroll down until you find the Library of Congress subject headings for this title. The very first one reads, “Self-actualization (Psychology)”. I am no cataloger, nor do I particularly mind it when they attribute terms of this sort to picture books, but anyone can see that this is a pretty amusing way to describe a book about a tiger with issues with civilization. It is rare to find a picture book this easy to love on sight, but author/illustrator Peter Brown is beginning to perfect his form. Hard to believe that the man who started out with Flight of the Dodo and Chowder has figured out how one goes about writing and illustrating modern day classics. With influences as diverse as Rousseau and 1960s Disney animators, Brown creates a wholly believable universe in a scant number of pages. Now prepare to turn said pages over and over and over again.
No one expected Mr. Tiger to be such a troublemaker. At first he was like everyone else. Sporting starched collars and silk top hats. Attending dignified tea parties and engaging in the usual chitchat about the weather that day. But Mr. Tiger is bored. “He wanted to loosen up. He wanted to have fun. He wanted to be… wild.” But wildness is not tolerated in the city, a fact Mr. Tiger discovers when his explorations into wildness involve pouncing across the rooftops, roaring in public, and going au naturel. It’s that final sin that has him dismissed from the city to the wilderness, where he gets to completely let go. It’s great for a time, but soon Mr. Tiger misses his friends and his home. When he returns he finds more comfortable clothes and the fact that the people there have loosened up a bit themselves, thanks in no small part to his influence.
Now I know there are folks out there for whom The Curious Garden is the top of the pops and Brown will never be able to make anything that good again. And that was a very nice book, no question but here is a book where Brown has hit his stride. First off, he has tackled the old anthropomorphic animal question; If you put a tiger in a suit, is he even a tiger anymore? Kids are very used to seeing animals wearing clothes and fulfilling human roles. I’ve always said that if you ever want to write a book about adults for kids, all you need to do is turn those adults into furry woodland creatures (hey, it worked for Redwall!). The idea that an animal might want to return to its wilder roots is a novel one for them. Imagine if Donald Duck tore off his sailor suit to peck at bread on the water, or Mickey Mouse removed those red shorts and started hunting down some cheese rinds. It’s almost, but not quite, obscene. Brown taps into that seeming obscenity, and uses it to give kids a mighty original tale.
2013 was a very good year for picture books with wordless two-page spreads. When used incorrectly, such spreads stop the action dead. Used correctly, they make the child reader stop and think. In a particularly Miss Rumphius-ish two-pager, Mr. Tiger walks alone in a wide-open field. He isn’t prancing or running or leaping anymore. His expression is utterly neutral. It’s just him and the flowers and the scrub bushes. Little wonder that when you turn the page he’s lonely once more. Brown uses this spread to bridge the gap between Mr. Tiger’s catharsis and his desire for company. Without it, the sudden shift in mood would feel out-of-character.
It’s hard to find folks who dislike this book but occasionally one comes out. The only real criticism I’ve seen of it was when I heard someone complain that Brown’s style is just like a lot of books coming out these days, particularly those of Jon Klassen. Hardly fair, though you can see what they mean when you hold this up next to This Is Not My Hat. But Brown is quite capable of manipulating his own style when he sees fit. Compare this book to others he’s made and you’ll see the difference. The noir feel of Creepy Carrots or the folksy faux wood border of Children Make Terrible Pets are a far cry from Mr. Tiger’s Rousseau-like setting. Brown has culled his influences over the years, and in this particular book he flattens the images purposefully, emulating the backgrounds of 1960s Disney films like Sleeping Beauty. The colors here are particularly deliberate. There’s the orange of Mr. Tiger (and his speech balloons), the green of the wilderness, and the orange of the sun. Beyond these and the blue of Mr. Tiger’s new shirt and the water of the fountain/waterfall, the palette is tightly controlled. And that doesn’t feel like anyone’s choice but Mr. Brown’s.
Another criticism I encountered came from someone who felt that the ending didn’t make sense to them. The animals all criticize Mr. Tiger then emulate him in his absence? But I have read and reread and reread again this book to my 2-year-old enough times that I know precisely how to answer such questions. Look closely and you’ll see that while some animals are very vocal in their disapproval of Mr. Tiger’s free-to-be-you-and-me ways, others are less perturbed. For example, in one scene Mr. Tiger is leaping from rooftop to rooftop. As he does so a bevy of onlookers comment on his actions. True, a bear shakes his fist and declares the tiger to be “Unacceptable” but look at the rhino and bunny. One is saying “Wow” and one “Hmm.” Then there’s the nude sequence (perhaps the only picture book centerfold shot in the history of the genre). First off, the pigeons are riveted. I loved that. And yes, a bunch of animals are pointing out of town, indicating that he should leave. But there’s a young fox that is absolutely enthralled by his actions, you can tell. It’s clear he has a far-reaching influence. I wasn’t surprised at all by the changes in his absence then.
Every child is a battlefield. In them rage twin desires, compelling in different ways and at different times. One desire is for the wildness Mr. Tiger craves. To run and yell and just go a little wild. The other desire is for order and organization and civilization. What Mr. Tiger Goes Wild does so well is to tap into these twin needs, and then produce a kind of happy medium between them. To entirely deny one side or another (or to entirely indulge one side or another) is an unhealthy exercise. We’ve not many books that touch on the importance of balance in your life, but let me just say that the lesson Mr. Tiger learns here would probably be greatly appreciated by large swaths of the adult population. Kiddos aren’t the only ones that chafe under their proverbial starched collars. A grand, great book with a lot of very smart things to say. Listen up.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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Peter Brown introduces his book to you:
And here he talks about his process:
Author and Illustrator Peter Brown On His Process from School Library Journal on Vimeo.
Candlewick Press is Thrilled to Share News of theAppointment of Kate DiCamillo
as the New National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2014-2015
Via New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/books/kate-dicamillo-to-be-ambassador-of-young-peoples-literature.html?hpw&rref=books&_r=0
Via PW: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/60497-kate-dicamillo-named-next-national-ambassador-for-young-people-s-literature.html
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Kate DiCamillo Named New National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2014-2015, by the Library of Congress.
“Stories Connect Us” will serve as her platform.
Kate DiCamillo is not only one of our finest writers for young people but also an outstanding advocate for the importance of reading, said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
(PRWEB) January 02, 2014
Kate DiCamillo, Newbery Medal Award winner and honoree, was today named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. DiCamillo will serve in the position during 2014 and 2015, succeeding Walter Dean Myers and has chosen “Stories Connect Us” as the heading for her platform. The inauguration ceremony will take place on January 10 at 11 a.m. at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
“Kate DiCamillo is not only one of our finest writers for young people but also an outstanding advocate for the importance of reading,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “The Library of Congress is pleased to welcome Kate as a worthy successor to our three previous National Ambassadors.”
The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature is named by the Librarian of Congress for a two-year term, based on recommendations from a selection committee representing many segments of the book community. The selection criteria include the candidate’s contribution to young people’s literature and ability to relate to children. The position was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.
The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature initiative was founded by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) and Every Child a Reader. The program is administered by Every Child a Reader. Financial support for the National Ambassador program is provided by Penguin Young Readers Group, Scholastic Inc., The Lois Lenski Covey Foundation, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, HarperCollins Children’s Books, Random House Children’s Books, and Candlewick Press.
“Kate’s platform, ‘Stories Connect Us,’ coordinates perfectly with the mission of the Center for the Book, which works to promote books and reading nationwide,” said John Y. Cole, the center’s director. “We look forward to working with Kate as she travels the country with her message of stories and their ability to join communities.”
“Kate DiCamillo has an incredible ability to create memorable and relatable characters,” said Robin Adelson, Executive Director of the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader. “A skillful storyteller all around, Kate will inspire young readers and communities to read together and share their very own tales.”
Kate DiCamillo is the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (a Newbery Honor book), A Tiger Rising (a National Book Award finalist), The Tale of Despereaux (2003 Newbery Medal winner) and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (winner of the Boston Globe Horn Book Award), among others. Her most recent book, Flora & Ulysses, was published in September, 2013 and is a New York Times bestseller. DiCamillo was born in Philadelphia and raised in Florida. She currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
About The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress
Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to “stimulate public interest in books and reading,” the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress (http://www.Read.gov/cfb/) has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The Center provides leadership for affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s Read.gov website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center and its Poetry and Literature Center.
About The Children’s Book Council
The Children’s Book Council, established in 1945, is the nonprofit trade association of publishers of trade books for children and young adults in the United States. The CBC promotes the use and enjoyment of trade books for young people, most prominently as the official sponsor of Children’s Book Week, the longest running literacy event in the country. The goal of the Children’s Book Council is to make the reading and enjoyment of books for young people an essential part of America’s educational and social goals, as well as to enhance the public perception of the importance of reading by disseminating information about books for young people and about children’s book publishing. For more information about the CBC, please visit http://www.cbcbooks.org.
About Every Child A Reader
Every Child a Reader is a 501(c)(3)literacy foundation, the mission of which is to instill a lifelong love of reading in children. Every Child a Reader fulfills its mission by supporting positive programs and opportunities, such as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Children’s Choice Book Awards and Children’s Book Week, that help promote the enjoyment and importance of reading among America’s youth. For more information about Every Child a Reader, please visithttp://www.ecarfoundation.org.
For more information about the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, go to http://www.ChildrensBookAmbassador.com.
Media/Interviews Contact: Tracy Miracle, Sr. Publicist, Candlewick Press - 617-588-4404 - email@example.com
Huh! Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. In spite of the sheer swaths of time I’ve had since I completed my last Fusenews, I am surprisingly bereft of information for you this week. Whodathunkit? Ah well. NYC was recently hit with a bit of the old snowstorm, so while we stare mournfully at the unshovelled sidewalks in front of our homes, let me recount in the briefest of briefs the situation of the world as it stands.
- First off, The 2013 Cybils Finalists have been announced! I’ve panned through the books listed and they’re lovely. Not a single title I’d seriously object to being on a list (well… maybe one, but that’s still a pretty darn good track record). Well done to all the hard working judges that had to cull the endless submissions down down down.
- One of my favorite podcasts Pop Culture Happy Hour has a segment called “What’s Making Us Happy This Week”. If I might purloin their phrase, this, right here, is what has been making me happy for more than a week. Artist Mike Holmes came up with the concept of illustrating himself and his cat (Ella) in the style of a different cartoonist every day. I’ve seen folks do this sort of thing before. The difference with Holmes? He is AMAZING. Example A: This version of The Far Side. He even got the tone right.
Now please, someone go tap him for a picture book. I’ll just sit over here patiently and wait.
- A good In Memoriam piece here at SLJ. None of the losses make me happy but particularly painful was Ned Vizzini. It was one of those deaths you hear about on Twitter before you hear anywhere else. Doesn’t make it any less terrible.
- On a lighter note, SLJ also released its top posts of 2012 and one of my blog posts ranked at #5. Which one? The Complete Listing of All Public Children’s Literature Statues in the United States. Admittedly I haven’t finished posting all the suggestions I’ve received but I solemnly swear to get back to it one of these days (or anytime someone wants to offer me a book deal – ho ho!). In other news, the #1 post was also mine in a roundabout way. It was a link to NYPL’s 100 Great Children’s Books which I culled together with a co-worker. Small world, eh?
- The holiday gift giving season may be over, but if you ever want to see the most insane present in the world (and you have just oodles of time on your hands) then you must see how my sister put together a Personalized Monopoly Game. Dear God, woman.
Why, yes. I will take a library with my bathtub, thank you.
I’ll leave the specifications and, uh, payment to you. Thanks to Aunt Judy for the link.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Have You Seen My Dragon?
By Steve Light
On shelves April 8th
When I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan I would get this little thrill every time my city appeared in a children’s book. Which is to say, every time it was mentioned in Horton Hatches the Egg. Honestly, for all that it had a cool name it really didn’t come up anywhere else. New York kids must be rather jaded in this regard. Anytime a city book is set somewhere other than Manhattan or Brooklyn, they probably scratch their little heads in confusion (I can attest to this personally as my two-year-old calls any and all cities she sees in books “New York City” and will not be corrected). As a NYC transplant I’d probably mind this more if it weren’t for the fact that so many of these books are so doggone splendid. Take Steve Light’s latest, Have You Seen My Dragon? A riot of miniscule details, numbers, colors, familiar city elements, and a magnificent, fantastic creature always hidden in plain sight, Light gives us a city dragon worth remembering long after the pages are turned.
You would think it would be difficult to mislay a dragon. You would be wrong. When our story begins a young boy is asking a doorman whether or not he’s seen his dragon. “No? I will look for him.” Never you mind that if the boy merely turned his head 90 degrees to the left he’d see his ginormous pet sniffing an understandably wary pup. From here it’s a race across the city. Everywhere the boy goes the numbers go up. The dragon perches atop a hot dog stand where they are selling “2 Hot dogs”. It peers down from a roof at the “3 Buses” below. It gets a quick drink from one of the “5 Water towers.” On the endpapers you can see the circuitous path the dragon takes through a slightly compacted lower Manhattan until, at last, the boy spots him in Chinatown, smiling widely from between the “20 Lanterns”.
There is a perception out there that it is near impossible to publish a black and white picture book in today’s market. This may be so, but Light comes pretty darn close to doing so. Though there is a different color for every number in the book, most of what you’re seeing is just good old-fashioned pen and inks. More to the point, the man has gone rather wild in his details. I haven’t seen intricate work at this level since I read Mark Alan Stamaty’s picture book cult classic Who Needs Donuts? Whether he’s detailing the myriad wires that curl around the sewer pipes below the street or paying homage to the detailing on St. Patrick’s Cathedral, there’s a method to the man’s madness. Now add in the fact that Light isn’t afraid to go vertical with his two-page spreads and that he occasionally gets incredibly creative with his perspective (the “8 Fire hydrants” two-page spread is an exercise in internal logic) and you have a rather beautiful affair. Little wonder that he chose to only dot the pages with color. It’s lovely to watch how the artist uses these colors to direct your eye across the page.
If the name “Steve Light” has been triggering some kind of latent amnesia in your cranium, it probably has to do with his board books with Chronicle Books. Let me tell you right now that if you have not read Trucks Go, Trains Go or Diggers Go aloud to a small child then your life, nice as it is, is little more than a pale hollow shell of what it might someday be. In those three books Light used bright, thick paints to convey an array of vehicles. He then gave each and every one of them original, amazing sounds, ideal of reading aloud either one-on-one or to a large group. Have You Seen My Dragon differs widely from that series in terms of look and feel. But what it does have in common is the age of the audience (toddler heaven is what we have going on here) and the read aloud potential. Good readalouds are rarities. For every 100 picture books published in a given season, maybe four of them are titles you’d like to test on a group of squirmy squirmers. And this, ladies and gentlemen, should be one of those four. It’s simple and interactive and I can already hear a room of small fry screaming at you as to where the dragon is “hiding”.
There may be the occasional New York child that complains that the buses in the book are purple when, in fact, our buses are no such of a thing. Meh. I say purple buses would be a heckuva lot more fun, so if Mr. Light wants to bestow that particular hue to them, let him. And that goes for the blue subway cars as well. Slightly more problematic are the “monkeys”. You will find that for the number 6 one is supposed to find “6 Monkeys”. The zoo picture is, if you follow the map, sort of supposed to be the Central Park Zoo, but it doesn’t really resemble it. That’s okay too. Artistic liberties I am a-okay with. Far more of a problem is the fact that the monkeys in question have no tails. Yup, what we’re dealing with here is a page of six apes. It’s a classic Curious George problem and not one that sinks the book or anything. Still, wouldn’t mind a tail or two on those primates. It would be just the thing.
All told, I see a lot of New York City picture books in a given year. This one goes beyond our city’s borders. It’s the kind of book that’s going to appeal to any kid that’s drawn to the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan area. The words “New York City” never even appear in the text, allowing a lot of young readers to simply think of the location as an everycity. Lithe and lovely, overflowing with good will and copious details, expect the sentence, “Have you seen Have You Seen My Dragon?” to appear on the lips of parents and children everywhere. Because if you haven’t seen it, now’s the time.
On shelves April 8th.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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At the end of any given year you’ll see the occasional article or blog posting that talks about the forgotten gems of a given year. But what about those books that came out two, three, even ten years ago and yet remain unheralded? I’ve been reviewing books for kids for over ten years now, and when I look at the list of books I’ve reviewed I see titles that I still love and adore now, just as much as I did when they first came out.
So with this in mind I combed through my inordinately long listing of past reviewed titles and located the titles that still make me pound the table in my excitement. Problem was, there were so many I decided to just dedicate the occasional posting to this topic. Here then, are the picture books I’ve reviewed in the past and still think are the bee’s knees. This is just a smattering, but it’s a good smattering. A lot of these are out-of-print, but that doesn’t make them any less awesome.
Robert Louis Stevenson (ill. Julie Morstad). The Swing – Well, sure. I don’t often review board books, but this one still remains one of my favorites. One of the very rare board books I’d put on a Best Books of the Year list. The art elevates it, and it’s absolutely fantastic rhythmically.
Picture Books (Fiction)
Jairo Buitrago (ill. Rafael Yockteng). Jimmy the Greatest – Recently some colleagues of mine were attempting to come up with a list of great Caribbean children’s books. This one was #1 on my list. Because it originated in another country with an author and illustrator that aren’t American it wasn’t eligible for any of our major awards. Sort of fell by the wayside it did, but it remains one of my favorite books of all time. The sheer detail . . . just look at it sometime, won’t you?
Jonathan Emmett (ill. Poly Bernatene). The Princess and the Pig – We’re always looking for strong princess books, but to my mind this is the #1 most subversive princess book out there. The fact that it ends with a dopey prince being forced to marry a pig? The icing on the cake.
Janice N. Harrington (ill. Shelley Jackson). The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County – I was delighted beyond measure to find that this book appears to still be in print. This was the picture book I’d hand to those parental patrons who would reject my suggestions of certain books because they were too “urban”. Uh-huh. All right then. Try this one on for size. Can’t get much more rural than the countryside chasing chickens!
John Himmelman. Katie Loves the Kittens - Probably can’t exactly call this one a “forgotten” gem since the sequel came out just last year. Still, how many people realize what a great readaloud this is? Not just one-on-one but to large groups. Some of the most fun a person can have. I can get 40 first graders howling “Arooooooo!” in ten second flat with this book. And that’s a promise.
Rukhsana Khan (ill. Sophie Blackall). Big Red Lollipop – In this particular case I liked the book so much I helped get it on New York Public Library’s 100 Great Children’s Books list. Hopefully that’ll help its shelf life (and maybe give it a leg up in the old “canon” department). I do honestly believe that it’s the greatest picture book I’ve ever read about selfless grace in all my livelong days.
Thomas King (ill. William Kent Monkman). A Coyote Columbus Story – Occasionally I’ll stumble on a book I love so much that I become a little one-woman broken record. I think there were about three or four years there for a while where every Columbus Day I’d write a post about this book and how crucially important it was to own. It’s a combination of classic Coyote myths and the Columbus story done in a really fun, eye-popping manner. You will never find another book exactly like this one on your shelves.
Pija Lindenbaum. Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies - Speaking of books you’ll never find another title quite like, meet my favorite obscure import. I wrote about this for a Horn Book piece called Different Drummers. Basically, it’s weird, but it’s MY kind of weird. Speaking of which, I should see if that circulating copy is still available in my library system. I’d love for my kiddo to see this.
Pija Lindenbaum. Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle – Again with the Pija Lindenbaum. I wonder if she’s still making picture books? If so, she hasn’t been imported in quite a while. This title would constitute one of my favorite GLBT family stories of all time. Mia is desperately jealous of her darling uncle’s new boyfriend. It’s not a plotline I’ve seen done with a gay couple much of ever before. Maybe a little vaguely at a wedding here and there, but there’s something really realistic and raw about Mia’s emotions here. Memorable even.
Sebastian Meschenmoser. Learning to Fly – Where have you gone, Sebastian Meschenmoser? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Or maybe that’s just me, but for a while there this German (I think he’s German) illustrator could do no wrong. First we got to see this truly original and fun take on a penguin trying to learn to fly . . .
Sebastian Meschenmoser. Waiting for Winter - . . . and then we cast our peepers on this beauty. The man has TALENT! And quite a lot of other books too, if someone would just bother to bring them over Stateside. *coughs surreptitiously into hand*
Chris Monroe. Monkey With a Tool Belt – Though it spurned multiple sequels, the fact that Chico Bon Bon is not a household name rankles. It’s a monkey. It has a tool belt. What part of this isn’t fantastic?
Inga Moore. A House in the Woods – You know when you love a picture book to pieces but you’re not sure if your kids will ever dig it as much as you do? Well, I’m happy to report that my daughter is a big time fan of this gem. Gem is the only word to describe this book too, since I’ve rarely read anything with such an amazing tone. It’s cozy to its core, a really good autumnal story, and one of my favorite books of all time. It was published near the end of the publishing year, as I recall, so it never made it on to enough Best Of lists. Hopefully word of mouth will keep it alive.
Matteo Pericoli. The True Story of Stellina – One of the most heartbreaking out-of-print books on this list. A little picture book memoir of finding a baby bird on the streets of Manhattan, and of nursing it back to health. Pericoli is best known for drawing the skyline of Manhattan and then publishing it in big long books, but this foray in picture book fare should have been remembered better. Or, at the very least, kept in print.
Sergio Ruzzier. Amandina – Ruzzier’s done a lot of beautiful work over the years but my heart will always belong to Amandina, the sweet little dog with the golden eyes. We see a lot of books with “do your own thing” as the theme but this is one of the few where the message is “do your own thing even if nobody in the known universe seems to care.” I honestly think that’s an important message and this is one of the few books to acknowledge the fact.
Komako Sakai. The Snow Day – Remember this? It didn’t come out that long ago but sometimes I worry that it’s been forgotten. Wait a sec . . . just hold on . . . .
. . . . there . . .
That was me putting this book on hold with my library system. How I’ve managed to forget about it until now, I don’t know but my kiddo NEEDS to see this one. Nighttime snow scenes have never been this good.
Susan Schade (ill. Jon Buller). The Noisy Counting Book – Now and forever. Nuff said.
Laura Amy Schlitz (ill. Max Grafe). The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm – You DID remember that Newbery Award winner Laura Amy Schlitz penned this fairy tale picture book, did you not? You’ve read it multiple times, yes? You’ve loved it thoroughly? Because if the answer to any of these questions is no then you need to do some quick march rethinking, my friend. Wonderfully creepy, this is the book that reminds you that Ms. Schlitz once taught Adam Gidwitz, author of the A Tale Dark and Grimm series. See how it all comes together?
Patricia Storace (ill. Raul Colon). Sugar Cane: A Carribean Rapunzel – Rather than kvetch about the fact that this is out-of-print, let me point some things out about this book.
1. It is a Caribbean take on the Rapunzel myth.
2. Common Core State Standards specifically ask for folk and fairytales from multicultural perspectives.
3. This cover was featured prominently in the Eric Carle Museum’s recent exhibit on Latino children’s book artists.
4. Amongst its many honors it was on New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list. Heck, it was the cover of the list itself.
4. And yet, it is out-of-print. You do the math.
And that’s it from my end. Obviously I love many many books, but these were the ones that jumped out at me today. Howzabout you? What are some of your long gone but well remembered (by you) favs?
Ho ha! So yesterday I met with the good folks of SLJ to discuss a Newbery/Caldecott related . . . something. I can say no more at this time, but be prepared for a big time announcement on this blog soon.
But FIRST! It is at last time for my final Newbery/Caldecott/what have you predictions. The books have been percolating in my brain and by this time I’ve read most (I won’t say all since there might be a Moon Over Manifest winner lurking somewhere out there) of the contenders. I’ve seen the Mocks. I know what folks are saying. For a fun time, see how I did last year. It’s very fun picking out the winners on my lists to see where they rank. This Is Not My Hat was particularly off . . .
And so . . . onward!!
For the book that I feel has the number one best chance of winning the 2014 Newbery Medal, my selection goes to . . .
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
You may recall that I’ve been beating the drum for Doll Bones by Holly Black all this time. Now I leap into the air and do a complete spin, pointing instead at Henkes. This is very much going to be a case of what kind of committee we’re dealing with. I’d say that most Newbery committees are comprised of members who really enjoy complex and literary children’s books. And that’s fine. That’s natural. The danger is that simple books, books that have the ability to say quite a lot in a very few words, get lost in the shuffle. Billy Miller is one of these simple books. And the more I think about it, the more impressive it becomes to me.
And then there are the books that I think have a really good shot at an Honor or two. My thinking? Something along the lines of
Doll Bones by Holly Black – As you can see by this handy dandy chart, this is the book that has appeared on the most Mock Newberys around the country. Once my best beloved and surest chance, now I’m not so sure. Personally, I think it has the chops to go all the way, but some are iffy on it. In the end it may come down to something as simplistic as to whether or not the committee honestly thinks that Black was trying for horror or not. To my mind it’s obvious that she’s using the tropes but keeping it kid-friendly and with BIG themes in mind. We shall see.
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata – If I fell down on the job not reviewing a book this year, it would be this one. Its National Book Award win certainly gave me pause, and then I sat down and examined what my problem was with it. Basically, it’s the threshing. The interminable threshing. Kadohata occasionally stops the action dead to tell you, for pages at a time, about the process of threshing. To my mind, that pause in the narrative kills it for me Medal-wise. But then I went back and looked at the characters and over time I’ve been convinced that it really is a strong little number. So I’m calling it for an Honor. Don’t know if it’ll go all the way, but it would sure be nice. If it does win the gold it’ll be the first book to win both a National Book Award and a Newbery Award since Holes. So, y’know. No pressure.
Yup. I’m only seeing three potential winning books. We’ve had years like this, where the Honors are few and far between. My favorite years are the ones where there are as many Honors as possible, but they’re rare.
Note that while I’ve heard a lot of people say that 2013 was a strong year for nonfiction, they don’t mean in terms of Newbery books. The only title that would have a chance would be Courage Has No Color, and looking at past years I don’t see it getting the attention it deserves. But I would LOVE to be wrong, folks!
Then there are the Newbery Wild Cards that might take it all away:
Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli - Early in 2013 I would have said this was a shoo-in. Now? I’m not so sure. The question comes down to whether or not the committee understands what Spinelli is going for and, more to the point, thinks he succeeds. In a recent conversation with a buddy we came to the realization that if 2013 had a theme it was of children entering adolescence. This book discusses it. Doll Bones discusses it. Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff, for crying out loud, discusses it (we tried extrapolating this into the picture books for Caldecott but it didn’t really work). At any rate, I still think it’s a strong contender.
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – This has the feel of my The One and Only Ivan prediction of last year. I think it’s very strong but I’ve also heard from a lot of folks who don’t much care for what Ursu’s doing here. I think it’s stronger than Breadcrumbs (which I loved) so it has a real shot. At the same time, Ursu is usually ignored by award committees that should be lavishing her with pennies and praise. Then again again it was nominated for a National Book Award this year. Could this be The Year of the Ursu?
Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger – Don’t discount Monica. She may have debuted with a book that infused its fictional text with nonfiction but that’s to her credit. It was a risky game and the final product can only fulfill that most difficult of Newbery criteria: distinguished. It’s up to the committee to determine if the book works as a piece of writing.
Locomotive by Brian Floca – Because, and let’s face it, if it won a Newbery Honor (which it really and truly and honestly could) that would be an upset of the best possible kind.
Where the Heck Is . . . ?
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan – Definitely a strong debut, no question. And this book had moments in it that I’ll never forget, no matter how long I live (three words: closet of underwear). That said, there are some elements that don’t quite work for me on this one. Consider, for example, the ambiguous nature of Willow’s race which appears to have been thrown in solely to keep folks from complaining about the fact that people of every other race bend over backwards to help her. It’s just little things like that. Then again, the book racked up four starred reviews, so what the heck do I know?
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia – You know those Oscar Award winners who don’t win for their best work but later in their careers as way of apology? That could easily happen here. Let’s face facts. One Crazy Summer was a once in a lifetime book, and the fact that it didn’t take home the gold still makes me red in the face with anger. But what’s done is done. This book, which has a lot of lovely elements, didn’t punch me in the gut in the same way. I liked elements of it. Months and months later I can still remember it very well. But for Newbery? I’m not seeing it this time around.
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt – Over at Heavy Medals they’re have conniption fits over this book. Something about the voice, and they’re not the only ones. When I attended BookFest at the Bank Street College of Education this year, this book was included in a room discussion of “divisive” 2013 publications. I didn’t see it. To me, it’s simply a hugely charming animal story with a few Bonnie and Clyde hogs thrown in for good measure. Is it too cartoony to win a Newbery? Possibly. Bad guys defeated by snakes aren’t the threats they might be, after all. That said, if it does win a Newbery (and that would be awfully nice) I insist that the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet serve cane sugar pies as dessert. I am not joking about this.
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore – *sigh* Fine. I’ll take it off my list. I really and truly did love it. But I’ve faced down enough folks who don’t share my enthusiasm to know that it’s a bit of a long shot. Still, it warms the cold cockles of my heart to see it on so many Mock Newbery lists out there. That means it’s being read in droves. My job here is done.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – Folks wondered last time why I didn’t include this one, particularly since my review of it made it clear that I think it’s probably one of our newly minted National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature’s best. Well, maybe it comes down to what the committee thinks about humor on the whole. Usually when DiCamillo wins it’s for books that are a bit more serious. This one involves a superhuman squirrel with a penchant for poetry. But even that would be enough to carry it to the finish line . . . if it weren’t for the illustrated sections. You see, a Newbery winner has to rely on words alone. If there’s visual storytelling that shoulders the load of the plot at any point, it’s probably going to be considered invalid. Consarn it.
As for my number one Caldecott Award pick? I’m not going to surprise anybody out there when I say it’s all about the . . .
Journey by Aaron Becker – It has a pretty good chance. Weirdo concerns about concealed weapons aside, let’s consider the Caldecott Award criteria, shall we? The Medal is to go to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Now there are lots of books out there that were good. Some you could even call “excellent”. But for the lofty description of “most distinguished” I don’t know how you can look anywhere else. The question is, are we dealing with a Lion and the Mouse Caldecott year (which is to say, a year where everyone independently determines this to be the winner) or is it more of a This Is Not My Hat year where the book gets drowned in other possibilities? It all remains to be seen.
As for the Honors, there are some distinct possibilities:
Locomotive by Brian Floca – I haven’t seen such universal acclaim for a picture book work of nonfiction in years. There is a possibility that Floca could pull a Snowflake Bentley on us and win the Gold. I would not object one jot. History suggests that nonfiction Caldecott wins are rare beasties, but dare to dream, sez I! More likely, though, it’ll Honor. Not that the committees of years past have ever given Floca his dear due. I mentioned earlier that I’m still peeved about the fact that One Crazy Summer never won a gold. Well Moonshot, Floca’s brilliant (and I don’t use that word lightly) look at the Apollo mission got bupkiss the year it came out. No Caldecott in sight. Still fuming about that one.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – Actually, Peter could run away with the gold this year very easily. Who knew that in the final moments it would potentially all come down to a debut wordless book on the one hand and a dandified tiger on the other? The art is fabulous here, but it’s how well it pairs with the language that makes it as good as it is.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen – Klassen could potentially do a two year sweep of the awards, but I kind of hope he doesn’t. It’s not that I don’t like the guy. I adore him. And it’s not that this isn’t a good book. It’s really well done. Seemingly simple on a first glance, there are loads of details hidden that just make you gasp when you read through on a fourth or fifth or sixth look. I mean, were YOU aware of the lightbulb and how it relates to the lightbulb on the next page? That said, while it’s really clever I don’t know if it has the heart to pull off a gold win. An honor is far more likely.
The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, ill. Bagram Ibatoulline – Artists like Bagram Ibatoulline often get shunted into the category of Magnificent Artists Who Will Never Win Big Awards. Barbara McClintock and some other folks often find themselves there. To the best of my knowledge he’s never gotten a Caldecott of his very own. Well maybe this year will be the year! Pairing him with Fleischman was brilliant on somebody’s part. The technical artistry required to do this book is almost over the top (the fact that these aren’t photographs alone should be enough to cause one’s jaw to drop in a downward manner). But more than that, I felt like this book really had some serious heart. And isn’t that what picture books are all about anyway?
And the Wild Cards?
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner – Personally, I thought it was a hoot. Aliens and cats and ants and all that. Really a lovely piece of work from start to finish. The question is how well it reads from panel to panel. Though Wiesner’s books have always relied on visual storytelling to different degrees, this is the most cartoonish of his stories. And depending on how fond the committee is of comics, that’s going to make all the difference in the world.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – Because in a perfect world Ms. Pham would get at least SOME credit for how brilliantly she incorporated math into the art. Is that something a Caldecott committee will consider? Maybe not, but it sure as heck can’t hurt. It’s not easy, and this book is definitely “distinguished” as a result.
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger – How is this not better known? How are people not constantly talking about it? Why do I feel like I’m in an echo chamber over here? I’ve resigned myself to the fact that few love this book as much as I do, but y’all’re crazy. This book rocks!
The Mighty LaLouche by Matthew Olshan, ill. Sophie Blackall – One of these days, Sophie’s going to surprise us all and get herself a Caldecott. And maybe this is the year. Maybe . . .
The sad thing? I can’t be the only person who noticed that my Wild Cards are mostly women while my predictions are all male. Doggone it. Bad blogger! No cookie for you!
Where the Heck Is . . . ?
Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – I’m not sure why I can’t commit to this one. I love Bean. Have loved his work for years. I’m so happy to see him working again. But this book felt almost too personal to me. I’m not saying that certain kids won’t love it (I was actually thinking of checking it out for my kiddo, who’s into the idea of building houses right now). I just don’t know how it’ll stack up in the Caldecott committee discussions.
And that wraps that up.
Say, do you like charts? Then be sure to check out the following:
- And finally don’t forget this post, which culled info from all the available Mock Newberys.
So where have I erred tragically? Correct me!
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Under the Egg
By Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Group)
On shelves March 18th.
Let me ask you a question. You seem like an intelligent individual. Have you ever read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? And, if your answer is yes, did you love it? At the very least, do you remember it? I think it fair to say that for significant portions of the population the answer to both these questions would be yes. But before we go any further, consider for a moment precisely WHY you love the book. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s most probable that what you remember from the title was the whole kids-running-away-to-live-in-a-museum aspect. What you might have forgotten was that there was also a mystery at the heart of the book. The mystery had to do with a statue and had a solution that, let’s face it, was a bit contrived for its young audience. If you ever felt that Konigsburg could have done better in the whole solving-an-art-mystery department, allow me to lead you by the elbow over here to where I’m showing off my latest delight Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald marks a strong debut, daring to take the reader from contemporary New York City to WWII and back again without breaking so much as a sweat. It’s gutsy and ambitious by turns,
Things could be better. A lot better. When Theodora’s grandfather Jack was alive, the family didn’t have a ton of money but at least they got by pretty well on his salary as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was after Jack died in a freak accident that things took a downward slide. With a mother incapable of dealing with reality (and addicted to pricey tea), Theo knows their money is coming to an end. Soon they won’t have enough to live on. It’s when things look particularly dire that Theo accidentally spills rubbing alcohol on one of her grandfather’s favorite paintings. And as strange as it sounds, beneath his plain picture of an egg lies an incredibly old image of Madonna and Child. The more Theo starts to look into the painting and its history, the more determined she is to track down its story. Now with the help of the daughter of a pair of acting celebrities, a punk librarian, an Episcopalian priest, a guy selling nuts on the street, and more, Theo’s about to peel away not just the mystery behind the painting, but also her own grandfather’s role in one of the greatest WWII capers of all time.
The crazy thing about the mystery at work here is that Fitzgerald honestly makes you believe that a pair of 12-year-olds, with a whole summer of nothing to do, could indeed successfully identify a Renaissance painting and, with a little research and intelligence, determine its origins. There’s one moment that involves an x-ray machine that strains a bit of credulity, but the strength of the other elements more than make up for it. The professional reviewer at Kirkus also had a problem with a coincidence that arrives at the end of the book like a kind of Deus Ex Machina. Personally, this didn’t disturb me in the least, mostly because Fitzgerald does a pretty dang good job of justifying why it happens. It’s a little pat, but hardly a deal breaker.
As for the writing itself, I grew very fond of it. You’d have to have a pretty hardened heart not to enjoy lines like “Mother Nature had draped a wet wool sweater around the city’s shoulders that day.” As a character, Theo’s in a pretty nasty position. As caregiver and pseudo parent to a mother who can’t break out of her own brain, the stakes are fairly high. They’ve been selling this book on the premise that it’s about a loner who finds ways to connect with the characters, oddballs, and generally good people who’ve surrounded her all this time and that she never noticed before. That’s true to a certain extent, but I always found the relationship between Theo and her grandfather Jack to be the most interesting relationship in the book. He may be dead, but his character points are loud and clear, even from beyond the grave.
This book also managed to fulfill for me personally a wish I’ve harbored for about 10 years now. In that time I’ve been a children’s librarian and I’ve seen a lot of middle grade novels set in NYC. From time to time these books will mention libraries in the city. If they mention any library in particular, it tends to be the main branch of NYPL. This is understandable, but my first library job was in a branch of NYPL that I still to this day consider the best of them all. Called the Jefferson Market Branch, I served as its children’s librarian for about two years. During that time I became obsessed with the building and yearned to see it mentioned in a book for kids. I came closest when Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller was released, but was thwarted at the last minute when the author, for some ungodly and unknown reason, chose to MAKE UP a branch rather than have her characters walk over to Jefferson Market. Now, in the year 2014, I am happy to report that for the first time in my own memory, the branch has appeared in a book. And not just as a sly mention either. Under the Egg gives Jefferson Market the credit it has been long due. So if I sound a little gushy about this book, you can probably safely assume that my loyalty was, one way or another, kind of compromised along the way.
In terms of timing, Under the Egg could not be better situated. In February of this year (2014) our movie theaters will feature the film The Monuments Men with an all-star cast, based on a true bit of little known history. A bit of history that was SO little known, in fact, that I’d never seen it mentioned in a world of children’s books, whether fiction or informational. Now, practically on top of The Monuments Men, we have a title for 9-12 year olds that uses this bit of history as a pivotal plot point. Well timed, Ms. Fitzgerald!
It’s difficult to write a tense thriller of a middle grade mystery without a good antagonist. In this book, that part is played by one “Uncle” Lyndon, a man whose greatest crime is his desire to get art into museums. This is a bit of a tough sell for a reader who grew up with Indiana Jones’s cry of “It belongs in a museum!” ringing in her ears throughout her youth. To read this book in the way the author intends, you are put in the position of wondering who should own great art. The book, surprisingly enough, makes the argument that famous works of art can indeed belong to individuals and they can do whatever they want with them. If that person wants to hide the art away from the rest of the world, that is their right. And if that art is taken from that person by force and circumstance allows that the former owner can be tracked down, to procure it for a museum would be an immoral act. This is a bit of a stretch, to be sure. It is, however, excellent fodder for book discussion groups. The Under the Egg mentality versus the Indiana Jones mentality. Who should win?
When they tell you that the book is “From the Mixed-Up Files meets Chasing Vermeer” I suggest you not believe them. Yes, there is a famous piece of art and yes there is a mystery, but the mystery in this book is so much stronger than any art-related children’s book mystery I’ve read before that everything else just pales in comparison. If there’s a coincidence or two in this storyline, it has a strong justification beside it. Interesting from start to finish, even when it’s discussing the personal lives of 16th century painters, this won’t make every kid that reads it into an art fanatic, but what it may do is cause a whole bunch of them to start researching the painter Rafael on their own. Uniquely readable, entirely charming, and a pleasure from start to finish. Debuts this good are meant to be discovered.
On shelves March 18th.
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