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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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1. Review of the Day: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

WolfHollowWolf Hollow
By Lauren Wolk
Dutton Children’s Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1101994825
Ages 10 and up
On shelves now.

I am not what you might call a very brave reader. This is probably why I primarily consume children’s literature. I might puff myself up with a defense that lists the many fine aspects of this particular type of writing and believe it too, but sometimes when you catch me in a weak moment I might confess that another reason I like reading books for kids is that the content is so very “safe” in comparison to books for adults. Disturbing elements are kept at a minimum. There’s always a undercurrent of hope running through the book, promising that maybe we don’t live in a cold, cruel, calculating universe that cares for us not one jot. Even so, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes have difficulty with books written for, oh say, 10-year-olds. I do. I’m not proud of it, but I do. So when I flipped to the back of Wolf Hollow mid-way through reading it, I want to tell you that I did so not because I wanted to spoil the ending for myself but because I honestly couldn’t turn another page until I knew precisely how everything was going to fall out. In her debut children’s book, Lauren Wolk dives head first into difficult material. A compelling author, the book is making the assumption that child readers will want to see what happens to its characters, even when the foreshadowing is so thick you’d need a knife to cut through it. Even when the ending may not be the happy one everyone expects. And you know what? The book might be right.

It is fair to say that if Betty Glengarry hadn’t moved to western Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1943 then Annabelle would not have needed to become a liar later. Betty looks the part of the blond, blue-eyed innocent, but that exterior hides a nasty spirit. Within days of her arrival she’s threatened Annabelle and said in no uncertain terms that unless she’s brought something special she’ll take it out on the girl’s little brothers. Annabelle is saved from Betty’s threats by Toby, a war veteran with issues of his own. That’s when Betty begins a more concentrated campaign of pain. Rocks are thrown. Accusations made. There’s an incident that comes close to beheading someone. And then, when things look particularly bad, Annabelle disappears. And so does Toby. Now Annabelle finds herself trying to figure out what is right, what is wrong, and whether lies can ever lead people to the truth.

Right off the bat I’m going to tell you that this is a spoiler-rific review. I’ve puzzled it over but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I’d be able to discuss what Wolk’s doing here without giving away large chunks o’ plot. So if you’re the kind of reader who prefers to be surprised, walk on.

All gone? Okay. Let’s get to it.

First and foremost, let’s talk about why this book was rough going for me. I understand that “Wolf Hollow” is going to be categorized and tagged as a “bully book” for years to come, and I get that. But Betty, the villain of the piece, isn’t your average mean girl. I hesitate to use the word “sadistic” but there’s this cold undercurrent to her that makes for a particularly chilling read. Now the interesting thing is that Annabelle has a stronger spine than, say, I would in her situation. Like any good baddie, Betty identifies the girl’s weak spot pretty quickly (Annabelle’s younger brothers) and exploits it as soon as she is able. Even so, Annabelle does a good job of holding her own. It’s when Betty escalates the threat (and I do mean escalates) that you begin to wonder why the younger girl is so adamant to keep her parents in the dark about everything. If there is any weak spot in the novel, it’s a weak spot that a lot of books for middle grade titles share. Like any good author, Wolk can’t have Annabelle tattle to her parents because otherwise the book’s momentum would take a nose dive. Fortunately this situation doesn’t last very long and when Annabelle does at last confide in her very loving parents Betty adds manipulation to her bag of tricks. It got to the point where I honestly had to flip to the back of the book to see what would happen to everyone and that is a move I NEVER do. But there’s something about Betty, man. I think it might have something to do with how good she is at playing to folks’ preexisting prejudices.

Originally author Lauren Wolk wrote this as a novel for adults. When it was adapted into a book for kids she didn’t dumb it down or change the language in a significant manner. This accounts for some of the lines you’ll encounter in the story that bear a stronger import than some books for kids. Upon finding the footsteps of Betty in the turf, Annabelle remarks that they “were deep and sharp and suggested that she was more freighted than she could possibly be.” Of Toby, “He smelled a lot like the woods in thaw or a dog that’s been out in the rain. Strong, but not really dirty.” Maybe best of all, when Annabelle must help her mother create a salve for Betty’s poison ivy, “Together, we began a brew to soothe the hurt I’d prayed for.”

I shall restrain myself from describing to you fully how elated I was when I realized the correlation between Betty down in the well and the wolves that were trapped in the hollow so very long ago. Betty is a wolf. A duplicitous, scheming, nasty girl with a sadistic streak a mile wide. The kind of girl who would be more than willing to slit the throat of an innocent boy for sport. She’s a lone wolf, though she does find a mate/co-conspirator of sorts. Early in the book, Wolk foreshadows all of this. In a conversation with her grandfather, Annabelle asks if, when you raised it right, a wolf could become a dog. “A wolf is not a dog and never will be . . . no matter how you raise it.” Of course you might call Toby a lone wolf as well. He doesn’t seek out the company of other people and, like a wolf, he’s shot down for looking like a threat.

What Wolk manages to do is play with the reader’s desire for righteous justice. Sure Annabelle feels conflicted about Betty’s fate in the will but will young readers? There is no doubt in my mind that young readers in bookclubs everywhere will have a hard time feeling as bad for the antagonist’s fate as Annabelle does. Even at death’s door, the girl manages the twist the knife into Toby one last time. I can easily see kids in bookclub’s saying, “Sure, it must be awful to be impaled in a well for days on end . . . . buuuut . . . .” Wolk may have done too good a job delving deep into Betty’s dark side. It almost becomes a question of grace. We’re not even talking about forgiveness here. Can you just feel bad about what’s happened to the girl, even if it hasn’t changed her personality and even if she’s still awful? Wolk might have discussed after Betty’s death the details of her family situation, but she chooses not to. She isn’t making it easy for us. Betty lives and dies a terrible human being, yet oddly we’re the ones left with the consequences of that.

In talking with other people about the book, some have commented about what it a relief it was that Betty didn’t turn into a sweet little angel after her accident. This is true, but there is also no time. There will never be any redemption for Betty Glengarry. We don’t learn any specific details about her unhappy home life or what it was that turned her into the pint-sized monster she is. And her death comes in that quiet, unexpected way that so many deaths do come to us. Out of the blue and with a whisper. For all that she spent time in the well, she lies until her very last breath about how she got there. It’s like the novel Atonement with its young liar, but without the actual atoning.

Wolk says she wrote this book and based much of it on her own family’s stories. Her memories provided a great deal of the information because, as she says, even the simplest life on a Pennsylvanian farm can yield stories, all thanks to a child’s perspective. There will be people who compare it to To Kill a Mockingbird but to my mind it bears more in common with The Crucible. So much of the book examines how we judge as a society and how that judgment can grow out of hand (the fact that both this book and Miller’s play pivot on the false testimony of young girls is not insignificant). Now I’ll tell you the real reason I flipped to the back of the book early. With Wolf Hollow Wolk threatens child readers with injustice. As you read, there is a very great chance that Betty’s lies will carry the day and that she’ll never be held accountable for her actions. It doesn’t work out that way, though the ending isn’t what you’d call triumphant for Annabelle either. It’s all complicated, but it was that unknowing midway through the book that made me need to see where everything was going. In this book there are pieces to pick apart about lying, truth, the greater good, minority vs. majority opinions, the price of honesty and more. For that reason, I think it very likely it’ll find itself in good standing for a long time to come. A book unafraid to be uneasy.

On shelves now.

Source: Thanks to Penguin Random House for passing on the galley.

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2. Default: White

Alternate Title: The Call Is Coming From Inside the House

So yesterday at lunchtime I trotted out my neat little stack of periodicals to read while I munched a ham sandwich.  I picked up the latest Kirkus (1 May 2016) and there I saw the Vicky Smith article: “Unmaking the White Default”.  As many of you may have noticed recently, Kirkus made a significant shift in the way that they review.  Normally, a children’s or YA book review will eschew mentioning the ethnicity of a human character unless that character isn’t white.  The implicit message to this is that white is the default and anything that isn’t white is the exception rather than the rule.  To combat this problem, Kirkus has taken to mentioning the ethnicity of all human characters, or at least making note of their skin tones.  In this article, Vicky discussed the change.

When this switch was initially made, the responses were mixed.  I’ve listened to the Horn Book Podcast that discussed the decision, noted the mistake in the Kirkus review of The Night Gardener (the 2016 picture book, not the Jonathan Auxier gothic middle grade), and taken an interest in the SLJ reviewers’ online course on diversity & cultural literacy (so far they have 125+ registered).

Imagine me reading all this while twiddling my thumbs.  Dum de dum.  Toodle-oo.  Hum hum hum.  Not really thinking too hard.  I review for Kirkus so, like all reviewers there, I’ve been adjusting my reviews as I write them.  There’s an art to it, really.  Some folks have been concerned that this sort of thing just reinforces how obsessed we are over skin color.  I see that, absolutely.  And I look forward to the day a Kirkus editor writes an article rescinding this reviewing method because we’ve come so far as a nation that we don’t need it anymore.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure the publishing industry isn’t quite there yet.  Or, for that matter, the nation.

I suppose it’s because I review for Kirkus that it took me this long to come to a very personal realization.  First off, do I agree with what Kirkus is doing?  Actually, I do.  The white default is more annoying than the old italicize-all-foreign-languages trope and hardly less bothersome than the describe-darker-skin-tones-entirely-in-terms-of-food method.

As Vicky Smith mentioned, it’s hardly a change everyone likes.  I saw that one commenter on the Horn Book podcast site wrote, “Why stop at hair color, eye color, skin color, DNA? Perhaps in the digital book future, we will move toward even greater specificity. A child could be placed at the center of each book she reads, the details customized to be about herself, the most interesting subject in all the world.”  A comment placing the whole debate in the context of how personalized electronic information leads to narcissistic youth sort of misses the point.  There may be kids out there that only want to read books about kids of their own races, but Kirkus isn’t doing this for them.  Would you find fault in a review mentioning a character’s chosen gender?  As a librarian, I need to know precisely what each book I read or need to read contains.  Characters are more than their ethnic backgrounds, but at the same time your race informs your life.  Not everyone has the luxury of ignoring it.

So.  We come to it.  If I agree with Kirkus, would I apply their method of mentioning all skin tones to the reviews I write on this blog?

Huh.

Hadn’t really occurred to me before.

I mean, the reviews that I write for this blog are my brand.  If this blog dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, it would be the reviews I’d really miss writing.  And in the time that I’ve been writing them I’ve settled into a nice comfortable little format.  Opening paragraph, description of the book, mentions of writing, mentions of art (if applicable), concerns, closing paragraph.  Easy peasy.  And in my time reviewing I don’t think I’ve made an active change to the format at all.

Is white the default when I review?  Yes indeed.

Could I change this?  Yes indeed.

Now let me be clear about a couple things right off the bat.  When Kirkus first started applying this method to their reviews, it was awkward.  They got the details wrong on some books and shoehorned the mentions into some of the reviews.  I have a theory, and I could be completely off, that there’s been a learning curve since then.  There is an elegance to how you describe a character in any review.  Done correctly and with careful consideration and the mention feels natural.  Done wrong and it feels almost didactic.

In the end, and when you boil it all down, this is an easy switch to make.  I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.  Plus, I have a distinct advantage over Kirkus.  While they must bring up racial skin tones within a scant 225 words, I have all the time in the world in my own reviews to make the mentions.  In a way, bloggers are in a better position to try out this change than professional review journals.

Die, default.  Die.

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3. Interview Time! John Patrick Green in Conversation with Eric Colossal

Who? What? Where? When? Why?

It’s a blog tour, kiddos!  A tour of bloggy goodness.  More than that, it’s a graphic novel blog tour done to celebrate Children’s Book Week in all its fancypants glory.

The subject of today’s interview is none other than Eric Colossal.  Colossal, if the name is new to you, is the author of the danged funny RUTABAGA series.  I’m a big fan of those books as they combine two of my favorite things: quests and eating.  And in a bit of a twist, I won’t be doing the interview here today, though.  That honor goes to John Patrick Green, author of the upcoming HIPPOTAMISTER.

Take it away, John!


  • Colossal, EricYour series is about a plucky adventurer who constantly finds himself in sticky situations that he manages to get out of by cooking delicious foods. How did this concept come about?

Growing up, I loved fantasy stories filled with weird beasts and mystical magic but I was always confused about why no one talked about the food in these lands. I mean, here in the real world we eat some pretty strange stuff. We eat bee barf and call it honey, we grind up a rock and put it on our food and call it salt. How come people who live in these magical lands never eat the strange beasts they fight in the bottoms of dungeons? So I created Rutabaga to do just that!

 

  • At the back of each book are a few complete recipes that readers can cook. How do you come up with those? I’ll admit, even the fictional recipes Rutabaga makes on his quests look tasty! Where do you get the ideas for those?

There are two criteria I have for making a recipe to share: Does the recipe contain a fun activity and does the final product look unique. For instance, there’s nothing new about dipping grapes in chocolate but taking that idea and adding steps to the recipe that make the final product look like a chocolate spider with a big ol’ squishy butt, that’s a perfect recipe for Rutabaga! In fact, that recipe is in book 2 and it’s one of my favorites! 

 

  • What is your creative process like?

9781419716584I watch a LOT of documentaries on food and food culture. My favorite ones talk about why people eat what they eat. Sure it’s fun to find out HOW to cook something but if you tell me WHY a culture has the diet it has you don’t just learn about food, you learn about people, and stories are about people. Other than that, most of my time is spent at my computer writing and drawing. I make the entire book digitally which is really handy when you have 2 cats who like to chew on paper!

 

  • Which do you love more: food or comics? Please explain your answer in a piechart. Or maybe just a pie.

It’s a tough choice but I’m going to have to say I love food more. A comic can take up to a year to write, draw, and color but you can cook a huge 3 course meal in about 2 hours. Imagine if it took a year to make breakfast! And just for fun here’s that pie chart you asked for:

 

  • What else are you working on? Can we expect further adventures of Rutabaga and his trusty kettle, Pot? Maybe an entire cookbook?

I have so many Rutabaga stories to tell, you have no idea! I probably have enough material for at least another 8 books! As long as there are people who want to read about my goofy little chef and his metal pal, I’ll keep making them!

  • What comics or children’s books are you currently reading?

Below the RootThe last book I read was a young adult book called “Below The Root” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It’s an older book about a society of people who live in cities built on gigantic trees. They wear long flowing robes that allow them to glide around in the air to get from branch to branch. They’re an extremely peaceful race, they don’t eat meat, they don’t fight, they won’t even write on paper because it would hurt a tree to make the paper. The books follow a group of children as they uncover the history of their people and the sinister things that have been done in the name of protecting them. It’s a three book series and I greatly enjoyed it!


 

Thanks for the interview, guys!  And what a fantastic book to end on.  Honestly, it would have been even more awesome if you’d mentioned the Commodore 64 game of Below the Root that was based on the book (to the best of my knowledge, the ONLY children’s book to be adapted into the Commodore 64 gaming system format), but we’ll let it slide.

 

Want to read more of these interviews?  Here’s the full blog tour:

Monday, May 2ndForever YA featuring Gene Luen Yang

Monday, May 2nd  – Read Write Love featuring Lucas Turnbloom

Monday, May 2ndKid Lit Frenzy featuring Kory Merritt

Tuesday, May 3rdSharp Read featuring Ryan North

Tuesday, May 3rdTeen Lit Rocks featuring MK Reed

Wednesday, May 4thLove is Not a Triangle featuring Chris Schweizer

Wednesday, May 4thSLJ Good Comics for Kids featuring Victoria Jamieson

Thursday, May 5thThe Book Wars featuring Judd Winick

Thursday, May 5thSLJ Fuse #8 featuring Eric Colossal

Friday, May 6thSLJ Scope Notes featuring Nathan Hale

Friday, May 6thThe Book Rat featuring Faith Erin Hicks

Saturday, May 7thYA Bibliophile featuring Mike Maihack

Saturday, May 7thSupernatural Snark featuring Sam Bosma

Sunday, May 8thCharlotte’s Library featuring Maris Wicks

Sunday, May 8thThe Roarbots featuring Raina Telgemeier

Thanks to Gina Gagliano and the good folks at First Second for setting this up with me.

 

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4. Default: White

Alternate Title: The Call Is Coming From Inside the House

So yesterday at lunchtime I trotted out my neat little stack of periodicals to read while I munched a ham sandwich.  I picked up the latest Kirkus (1 May 2016) and there I saw the Vicky Smith article: “Unmaking the White Default”.  As many of you may have noticed recently, Kirkus made a significant shift in the way that they review.  Normally, a children’s or YA book review will eschew mentioning the ethnicity of a human character unless that character isn’t white.  The implicit message to this is that white is the default and anything that isn’t white is the exception rather than the rule.  To combat this problem, Kirkus has taken to mentioning the ethnicity of all human characters, or at least making note of their skin tones.  In this article, Vicky discussed the change.

When this switch was initially made, the responses were mixed.  I’ve listened to the Horn Book Podcast that discussed the decision, noted the mistake in the Kirkus review of The Night Gardener (the 2016 picture book, not the Jonathan Auxier gothic middle grade), and taken an interest in the SLJ reviewers’ online course on diversity & cultural literacy (so far they have 125+ registered).

Imagine me reading all this while twiddling my thumbs.  Dum de dum.  Toodle-oo.  Hum hum hum.  Not really thinking too hard.  I review for Kirkus so, like all reviewers there, I’ve been adjusting my reviews as I write them.  There’s an art to it, really.  Some folks have been concerned that this sort of thing just reinforces how obsessed we are over skin color.  I see that, absolutely.  And I look forward to the day a Kirkus editor writes an article rescinding this reviewing method because we’ve come so far as a nation that we don’t need it anymore.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure the publishing industry isn’t quite there yet.  Or, for that matter, the nation.

I suppose it’s because I review for Kirkus that it took me this long to come to a very personal realization.  First off, do I agree with what Kirkus is doing?  Actually, I do.  The white default is more annoying than the old italicize-all-foreign-languages trope and hardly less bothersome than the describe-darker-skin-tones-entirely-in-terms-of-food method.

As Vicky Smith mentioned, it’s hardly a change everyone likes.  I saw that one commenter on the Horn Book podcast site wrote, “Why stop at hair color, eye color, skin color, DNA? Perhaps in the digital book future, we will move toward even greater specificity. A child could be placed at the center of each book she reads, the details customized to be about herself, the most interesting subject in all the world.”  A comment placing the whole debate in the context of how personalized electronic information leads to narcissistic youth sort of misses the point.  There may be kids out there that only want to read books about kids of their own races, but Kirkus isn’t doing this for them.  Would you find fault in a review mentioning a character’s chosen gender?  As a librarian, I need to know precisely what each book I read or need to read contains.  Characters are more than their ethnic backgrounds, but at the same time your race informs your life.  Not everyone has the luxury of ignoring it.

So.  We come to it.  If I agree with Kirkus, would I apply their method of mentioning all skin tones to the reviews I write on this blog?

Huh.

Hadn’t really occurred to me before.

I mean, the reviews that I write for this blog are my brand.  If this blog dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, it would be the reviews I’d really miss writing.  And in the time that I’ve been writing them I’ve settled into a nice comfortable little format.  Opening paragraph, description of the book, mentions of writing, mentions of art (if applicable), concerns, closing paragraph.  Easy peasy.  And in my time reviewing I don’t think I’ve made an active change to the format at all.

Is white the default when I review?  Yes indeed.

Could I change this?  Yes indeed.

Now let me be clear about a couple things right off the bat.  When Kirkus first started applying this method to their reviews, it was awkward.  They got the details wrong on some books and shoehorned the mentions into some of the reviews.  I have a theory, and I could be completely off, that there’s been a learning curve since then.  There is an elegance to how you describe a character in any review.  Done correctly and with careful consideration and the mention feels natural.  Done wrong and it feels almost didactic.

In the end, and when you boil it all down, this is an easy switch to make.  I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.  Plus, I have a distinct advantage over Kirkus.  While they must bring up racial skin tones within a scant 225 words, I have all the time in the world in my own reviews to make the mentions.  In a way, bloggers are in a better position to try out this change than professional review journals.

Die, default.  Die.

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5. Children’s Literary Salon: The Art of Enthusiasm

We’re just hitting it out of the park now.  Fast on the heels of our last Salon with Jeanne Birdsall and N.D. Wilson (info below), this coming Saturday I managed to bring together the three kings of children’s book social media.  Behold!

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.09.33 PM

If you’d like to watch the discussion live, tune in 2:00 CST here.  And if you live in the area, you simply have to come.  Never before have these three been interviewed at the same time by . . . uh . . me.  Or possibly anyone else (note to self: check if this is true).

Curious about Travis Jonker’s picture, by the way?  As I recall it was made for him by video and film director Michel Gondry.  You can read Travis’s piece about it here.  John’s is by Dan Santat.  I’m going to need to ask Colby who did his.

By the way, did you miss our last Salon last Saturday when Jeanne Birdsall and N.D. Wilson spoke on the topic of how their personal belief systems inform their writing?  Good news!  Not only did I record the, quite frankly, killer talk but the sound quality was a lot better than last time.  Here’s the timeline of the video:

  • At 0:00 Nate is running a bit late but since it was a live feed I wanted to keep folks watching in the loop.
  • At 2:36 Jeanne Birdsall and I have a finger puppet show as we wait for Nate to show up.  I have flashbacks to my sock puppet interview from 8 years ago.
  • At 3:30 the talk begins.
  • And at 12:45 I tilt the screen back a bit so that it doesn’t look like our heads are all scraping the ceiling.

Enjoy!

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6. The Rabbit Hole or “It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can’t suck.”

Rabbit Hole 2This is big. Maybe the biggest idea in the realm of children’s literature I’ve seen in years.  Possibly my entire career.  I don’t like using the term “gamechanger” but I can’t think of a better word in this particular case.

Okay.  So imagine, if you will, a new children’s book museum.  But where that term would usually invoke images of adult-centric locations, The Rabbit Hole is going to be immersive.  They’re bandying about the term “Explorastorium” which gets you a bit closer to what they’re doing.  Think of a children’s museum or an exploratorium, but instead of water tables and those blue bendy foam construction pieces you have kids bouncing in and out of their favorite books.  Imagine you literally walk into what appears to be scenes from the book itself.  You might have seen similar ideas done when museums do exhibits on famous authors of the past.  When NYPL did its “The ABC of It” exhibit you found yourself in The Great Green Room of Goodnight Moon.  And when there was a William Steig exhibit at the Jewish Museum of New York, you walked into a room where everything looked like it had been drawn by his hand.

But think bigger than that.

To get the full flavor, you need to sit down and read this article from The Kansas City Star: Rabbit Hole aims to make KC world capital of children’s books, top U.S. publishers sign on. From it you’ll get an inkling of what this space will be (watch the video there as well).  Otherwise how else are you going to hear about how this fall the folks behind the project are going to transform a city bus into the bus from “Last Stop on Market Street.”

Rabbit Hole 1An ambitious project set for the fall is the so-called Mobile Storybook. In cooperation with the KCATA, The Rabbit Hole crew would transform a city bus into the bus from “Last Stop on Market Street,” a 2015 Newbery and Caldecott winner by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. The unveiling would coincide with the national conference of the Urban Libraries Council, giving The Rabbit Hole more exposure. The story would unfold along the route with digital animations on LED window glass, audio landscapes, and sculptures of characters inside the bus. As riders board the bus, they can pick up copies of the book to read along. They can also “check out” the books and return them at any public library. Cowdin hopes the magic bus will run on both a regular route and customized tours.

And I thought the Crossover float in Evanston’s 4th of July parade last year was impressive.  Sheesh!

Rabbit Hole 3Even as I read about the hopes and dreams going into this campaign (“permanent features such as, perhaps, a giant version of Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel, Mary Anne, rising out of a hole, or the forest from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ where children can swing on branches with Max”) I am filled with an odd mixture of complete joy and incredible seething envy and jealousy.  It’s a good kind of seething envy and jealousy.  The kind where you suddenly want to be a part of this project so badly that you’ll do anything to make that happen.  Including giving money.

To make this space happen, an Indiegogo campaign is in the works.  Go to their site and you’ll see video after video after video about this space.  The one with the authors (Jon Scieszka, Brian Selznick, Kate DiCamillo, and more!) is particularly good.

Additionally, in this fundraiser you can purchase lots of fun things donated by many writers and illustrators, though any donation would be appreciated.

Guys, I don’t give money to anything.  But I’m going to give to this.  And I don’t usually tell you to give your hard earned cash to anything, but I think that this is important.

For more information, check out this interview Pete conducted with The Groove Juice Special Radio Hour For Children & Other Brave Souls.

Also be sure to check out the YouTube channel for The Rabbit Hole.  Great stuff there.

Rabbit Hole Map

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7. Review of the Day: One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom

OneDayOne Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree
By Daniel Bernstrom
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of Harper Collins)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-06-235485-3
Ages 3-6
On shelves May 3rd

Like any children’s librarian, I like to assess each picture book that crosses by my eyeballs for readaloud potential. While every picture book (even the wordless ones) can be read aloud to a large group of children, only a select few thrive in that environment. It takes a certain magical combination of art and text to render a story readaloud-perfect. Books you can sing have a leg up. Ditto books with flaps or pull-tabs. But the nice thing about Bernstrom’s book One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree is that it doesn’t need to rely on those extra features to enrapture an audience. The book’s lilting rhymes, when practiced beforehand, have the potential to render an audience entranced. Add in the art of Brendan Wenzel, and how well it reads across a room, and you’ve got yourself the makings of what might possibly be the best readaloud picture book of the year.

A boy and his whirly-twirly toy are just the first things to disappear down the gullet of a hungry yellow snake. But rather than bemoan his fate, the boy gets to work in his new role as the snake’s inner id. Commenting on the sheer amount of room and space in the belly, the boy cajoles the snake into eating more and more and more. From birds and worms, to mossy sloths, to a single apple bearing a tiny fly, the creatures slide down the snake’s rapidly expanding throat. A final meal proves too much for the voracious viper and next thing you know boy, toy, and a host of other animals are upchucked back into the world from whence they came. A sly illustration at the end suggests that history may repeat itself soon.

OneDay1It’s not as if Mr. Bernstrom is the first person to find the word “eucalyptus” so exceedingly delicious to both tongue and ear, but he certainly seems to have been the most prominent in recent memory. As I read the book the language of the reading triggered something in my brain. Something long forgot. And though his name evokes strong feelings in every possible direction, it was Rudyard Kipling I thought of as I read this tale. Specifically the tale of “How the Elephant Got His Trunk”. Though that story does not realize how superb the word “eucalyptus” is when repeated, Kipling got a great deal of mileage out of illustrating thoughts with words. Terms like “great grey greasy Limpopo river”, “Kolokolo Bird”, and “the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake” make those of us reading the stories aloud sound good. Bernstrom is writing for a younger audience so he doesn’t flex his muscles quite as far as Kipling did, but at the same time you recognize that he has the potential to do so. One hopes his future publishing plans may include longer stories just meant for sharing aloud. Lord knows we need more authors like that these days.

The story itself sounds familiar when you read it, but that may have to do more with familiar tropes than a tale we’ve actually seen done. The book also taps into a very popular method of extracting eaten creatures from predators’ bellies: burping. Vomiting works too, though the word sounds more disgusting, so usually in cases like this book the critters are released in a big old burp. In this case, we’re basically seeing a nature-based version of that Monty Python skit where the diner is persuaded to eat one final item (“It’s wafer-thin”). It’s odd to enjoy so much a book where a kid tricks the animal it is within to throw up, but there you go. The storytelling itself is top notch too, though I had a moment of confusion when the snake ate the beehive. Seems to me that that moment is where the boy’s plan potentially takes a turn south. Being stuck in a snake’s belly is one thing. Being stuck in a snake’s belly with flying, stinging insects? Thanks but no.

OneDay2Illustrator Brendan Wenzel burst onto the children’s picture book illustration scene in 2014 but his rise in prominence since that time has been slow. The artist first caught everyone’s eye when he illustrated Angela DiTerlizzi’s Some Bugs but it was the cover art of Ellen Jackson’s Beastly Babies the following year that was the most eye-catching. That cover sold that book. An ardent conservationist, it makes a lot of sense to turn to Wenzel when you’ve a story chock full of sloths, snakes, and bees. With Bernstrom’s tale, Wenzel must render this tale in the style of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Which is to say, he needs to balance horror with humor. Books where the protagonist gets eaten are common. Books where the protagonist gets eaten and then continues to comment on the action are rare. Wenzel’s snake falls into that category of villains that must be vicious enough to serve as a legitimate threat, but tame enough that a four-year-old won’t fear them on sight. To do this, Wenzel’s art takes on a distinctly jovial tone that treads towards the cartoonish without ever falling in completely. The colors are bright but not overwhelming, just as the action is consistent without horrifying the audience. Most of the creatures handle being eaten with gentle good grace (though the sloth looks more than a little put out about the whole thing).

The idea of being eaten whole is as old as “Little Red Riding Hood”. Heck, it’s even older than that. Look at the Greek myths of Cronus devouring his children whole. Look at any myth or legend that talks of children springing unharmed or fully formed from within nasty beasties. Together, Bernstrom and Wenzel take this ancient idea and turn it into a trickster tale. Usually it’s the eater doing the tricking, and not the eaten, but One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree isn’t afraid to shake things up (or, for that matter, swallow them down). An oddly peppy little tale of surviving through another’s hubris, this is bound to become one of those readaloud picture books that teachers and librarians lean heavily on for decades to come. Look out, Bernstrom and Wenzel. You guys just went and created for yourselves a masterpiece.

On shelves May 3rd.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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8. Fusenews: I wouldn’t waste my time riding a bike

Hokey dokey.  Too much stuff here to cover very well, but try we shall.  Hold on to your hats, folks!  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.


 

saltFirst off, you know how I was talking the other day about constructing the ideal educator website of children’s literature resources?  Well, this might have to be one of said resources I’d include.  Called Uncover the Past, the site is dedicated to “helping library and education professionals teach history through children’s literature!”  The booklists are particularly interesting.
Thanks to Rebecca Redinger for the link.


 

Next up, one for the “how cute is this?” files.  I don’t know why the idea of Mary Blair tableware isn’t commonplace, but so far this is the first place I’ve seen it done properly.  Blair, as you may recall, worked as a Disney animator for years before becoming a children’s book illustrator.Take the survey and you might win a set of your very own.


 

Mmm.  Process.  Sweet, delicious process.  What’s better than watching an Art Director explain how they came up with a YA cover?  Watching an Art Director explain how they came up with a YA cover after considering LOADS of alternatives.  Chad Beckerman shows us how The Haters came to be.  I don’t usually do YA, but in this special case I am making an exception.  You bet I am.


 

auctionOo.  Auction. Now normally one wouldn’t have the money for such a thing, but this one’s special.  What we’re talking about here is a Refugee Benefit Auction, created by authors Shannon Hale and Mette Ivie Harrison.  100% of the proceeds go to Lifting Hands International, a charity that gets life-saving supplies directly to refugee camps.  As for the things you could get, they’re pretty fantastic.  My personal favorite?  A pole dance (or fan dance, they’re easy) performed by Shannon Hale and Daniel Handler.  “Negligible nudity assured”.  Oddly, this item has yet to secure an initial bid.  Would someone like to lend me $10,000?


 

The Fictional Book Characters Who Sparked Our Sexual Awakenings. Meh. None of these ranked in my book, but it’s interesting to see the fellers other gals were into.  And, happily, it reminded me of one of my favorite Toast pieces of all time: Things I’ve Learned About Heterosexual Female Desire From Decades Of Reading.


 

I think I’m the last one to link to the Alexander London piece Our Stories Are As Unlimited As Our Selves or Why I Came Out as a Gay Children’s Book Author.  A great piece and one that ties in nicely with the GLBTQ chapter of Wild Things.  Should we ever update that book, this is going in.


 

UndergroundAbductorOo!  Eisner Award nominees.  Love that stuff, I do.  And check it out!  Not only is Nathan Hale nominated in the Best Publication for Kids category (for The Underground Abductor, naturally) but he’s also in the Best Writer / Artist category as well.  He is the ONLY children’s book creator in that category, by the way.  Regardless of whether or not he wins, that is significant.


 

Travis Jonker. He comes up with so many good ideas.  Have you seen his Endangered Series, uh, series?  Well, it’s a great idea.  Series that once were strong but now are waning are given a close examination.  Cam Jansen was the latest to fall under scrutiny.  I suspect The Kids of the Polk Street School already hit the dust, but if not then this would be an ideal candidate for a future post.


 

Wow.  Two thumbs up to the ALSC board for voting to cancel the National Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina.  American Libraries Magazine has the scoop.  Thanks to Jules Danielson for the link.


 

How on this good green earth did I miss Rick Riordan’s letter to kids who are faced with the dire prospect of being shown one of the Percy Jackson movies in school?  I’ve seen authors dislike their books’ adaptations before, but nothing quite matches this.  Thanks to Monica Edinger for the link.


 

“With such a huge international variety of books and illustrators on display in Bologna, are there differences in illustration styles among individual countries?” Yep. Moving on.  Oh, wait . . . no, let’s dwell on this idea a bit longer.  Four German children’s book publishers were asked this question and they gave their responses.  The thing is, here in the States we’re seeing some remarkably high quality German children’s book fare on a regular basis and it’s GREAT!  I’d love this question to be regularly posed with folks from other countries as well.


 

The site Brightly has had a couple good articles up lately.  I liked 8 Surprising Facts About Your Local Librarian not the least because I knew the librarians quoted.  NYC pride!


 

Daily Image:

I almost never do images of books here for the Daily Image since it’s sort of a case of bringing coals to Newcastle.  But then I saw that one of my greatest picture readalouds, one of my core books, a title I’ve loved for years, is getting a sequel.  At long long last I have an answer for those kids who have been asking me, “Is there a sequel with the tractor?”

DuckTractor

Yes, children.  Yes there is.  And life is good.

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9. Surprising Jolts of Children’s Literature in Unexpected Places

It’s back!  I’ve been doing my thing, buying lovely adult titles for my library system, and time and again I’ve run across ideas or names that fall squarely in the children’s book realm.  Here then are some real beauties. Things you just might not know about otherwise.

Falling

I know and like Elisha Cooper but I’m ashamed to say that before this book was announced I was unaware of his previous memoir A Father’s First Year which was released in 2006.  Since that time, Cooper’s daughter was diagnosed at the age of four with pediatric kidney cancer.  This book examines her treatment, recovery, and what this all did to Elisha himself.  On my To Be Read Shelf.

SupposedProtect

Thus continuing my series of books about people I know or have met, and yet never had any idea about when it comes to their personal lives.  In this upcoming August memoir, Nadja (who penned Lost in NYC amongst other things) opens up about herself, her mother, and even her grandmother.  It’s a deeply personal work about someone I’m desperately fond of (Francoise Mouly, Nadja’s mother, is the founder of TOON Books, as well as serving as the Art Director of The New Yorker, and she is delight incarnate).  Also on the To Be Read Shelf.

InvisibleLife

This inclusion is a bit of a stretch.  I really only put it here because in the Library Journal review of the book it said, “Soviet-style medical ethics or lack thereof frame an intimate story that the publicist calls One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest crossed with The Fault Is in Our Stars.”  So there’s that.

Another Brooklyn

Jackie writes something for adults and people get very excited.  Book Expo America hasn’t even happened yet, but I’ve already been seeing this title showing up on lists of Best Books of the Summer and what have you.  I foresee some libraries have problems cataloging this title (the cover looks awfully similar to her YA novels and will be easily confused) but for all that, I suspect it’s going to be a book club hit and a New York Times bestseller.  Just you wait, just you wait . . .

Warlock Holmes

No further comments, your honor.

Noise of Time

For those of us floored by M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead last year, here is a new biography of its star, Dmitri Shostakovich.  And it’s a novel.  It’s out May 10th.  Look for it.

Garth Williams

A Garth Williams biography!  Whodathunkit? Seems pretty specialized and for a veeeery small market, but there you are.  I know the estate of Williams doesn’t exactly bend over backwards to allow folks to use his art (even his obscure art) in any context. They must have approved of this book from the start.  Heck, I’ll read it.

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10. Video Sunday: The Other Man in Purple

So many good videos to choose from today!  First and foremost, I begin with a very special message from Jon Scieszka.  It seems you still have two days to vote in the Children’s Book Choice Awards and . . . well . . . Jon would really like your kids to do so.  Seriously.

I own that suit!

I also enjoyed this video from Storycorps.  In it, a woman reflects on the bookmobile that changed her life:

Bookmobile

In other news, it’s been a good book trailer season. When I went to Zootopia the other day (and how cool was its Emmett Otter reference?) I got a couple before the show. In this first video I spent the bulk of it trying to figure out if it was an adaptation of the Mac Barnett / Jory John Terrible Two series. It is based on a book, but we just aren’t that lucky:

On the plus side, the new BFG trailer looks pretty darn good:

And there’s a new trailer for A Monster Calls that I really enjoyed.

Finally, for the off-topic video, I actually think you could make a case for this being on-topic.  I mean, have you ever seen a truer to life version of Are You My Mother?

It comes with its own Snort!

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3 Comments on Video Sunday: The Other Man in Purple, last added: 4/25/2016
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11. Children’s Literary Salon: On Beyond Narnia

Today a co-worker pulled me aside and asked about our next Children’s Literary Salon.  She wanted to know how I was getting such fabulous stars, particularly since the next Salon (a week from this Saturday) will be featuring not just Penderwicks scribe Jeanne Birdsall but author N.D. Wilson to boot.  Add in the topic (a little non-Christian Humanism with your kidlit, anyone?) and you’ve got yourself a slam bang killer talk.  I told her that authors are generous people and Jeanne and Nate particularly so.  As ever, there will be a live feed of the discussion here and this time I’ll try using my own personal laptop so that we don’t have to worry as much about the sound quality.

Here’s more information:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.42.27 PM

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12. Review of the Day: Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner

SamuraiRisingSamurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune
By Pamela S. Turner
Illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Charlesbridge
$16.95
ISBN: 9781580895842
Ages 10 and up
On shelves now

When you read enough children’s books published in a single year, folks tend to believe that you’ve an ability to spot trends in the general literature. Trend-spotting is easy enough when you’re dealing with picture books (hot in 2016: Bears rampaging through picnics and blobfish!) but books written for older readers are trickier. I think I’ve hit on at least one incredibly popular trend for the current year, however: Overwhelming depression and sadness. Whether it’s baby foxes are getting their legs blown off in landmines, dads being deadbeat, or girls falling down wells, 2016 is officially The Year of the Hankie. So you can imagine the glee with which I devoured Samurai Rising. “A samurai fights for honor and survival in a real-life Game of Thrones,” reads the blurb for the book (minus the torture and nudity, of course). In producing a fantastic look at the true story behind Japan’s most famous samurai, Turner doesn’t just cheer up an otherwise depressed literary year. She highlights a figure too long ignored in America. Say goodbye to boredom. Say hello to crazy-eyed heroics and an anti-hero for the young masses.

On the book’s title page is written a small alert. “WARNING: Very few people in this story die of natural causes.” No lie, just fact. This is the story of Minamoto Yoshitsune. A boy who “could not yet walk when his father left him a lost war, a shattered family, and a bitter enemy.” Yoshitsune’s father (not the brightest samurai of all time) throws away his family’s comfortable existence protecting Japan’s Retired Emperor when he decides to kidnap the guy instead. Swiftly defeated by his rival Taira Kiyomori, the man’s son, little Yoshitsune, is spared but eventually sent to train as a monk. Determined to win back his family’s honor, the boy runs away and with the help of a friendly lord becomes a full fledged samurai. Not a moment too soon either. Forces are brewing and Yoshitsune’s older brother Yoritomo needs his brother’s help to revolt against Kiyomori’s reign. Through it all, Yoshitsune doesn’t just show the heart of a warrior. He shows he has the guts and brains to carry out even the craziest campaign. But with trouble brewing at home, it may be his own family that proves the deadliest enemy of all. Author’s Notes, Time Lines, a Glossary, Chapter Notes, and a Bibliography appear as well.

I was at a conference recently where the terms “creative nonfiction” and “narrative nonfiction” got tossed about like so many ping-pong balls. These terms are generally produced when someone writes a work of nonfiction that reads like a novel. In order to do this and yet still retain even a modicum of historical accuracy, the author in question must bend over backwards to get everything right. Fifty-whopping-two pages, or so, at the back of the book are dedicated to Turner’s chapter notes alone. Here you’ll find every quotation and historical detail cited (Turner also writes an intro to these notes, marking this as the first time I’ve ever seen an author sell the reader on reading them, since who could resist trying to figure out, “why Yoritomo didn’t use ninjas”?). As for Turner’s writing, you forget almost instantly that this is a work of nonfiction. This is both a good and bad thing. Good, because it proves to young readers that there’s more to nonfiction than what you’ll find in a textbook. Bad because life, unlike fiction, doesn’t always adhere to our understanding of narrative rise and fall. When Minamoto’s enemy Kiyomori died without ever having confronted Yoshitsune, I was momentarily baffled. Of course Turner, skillful as she is, is able to naturally call upon Yoshitsune’s older brother as the new enemy, and it’s done with slow, exquisite care.

When you’re watching a musical, the songs have to serve the story. You can’t just have characters burst into a melody without a reason. Likewise, a nonfiction book can be laden with facts, but only if they serve the narrative to its best advantage. Turner has all kinds of tricks up her sleeves, and integrating facts into the story is one of her greater strengths. She can move from the story of Yoshitsune learning how to be a samurai to a description of the brilliant work of engineering that is a samurai’s armor or sword with aplomb.

Even with all this, Turner’s working at a natural disadvantage. Her story is set in the 12th century. Source material from that time? Not exactly copious. So she relies upon informed speculation, i.e. what a character may have seen or may have considered in one scene or another. A number of years ago I read a book called Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron which was a true history of a child who lived in the wild and was brought back to “civilization” near the end of the French Revolution. The author leaned heavily on a plethora of “probablys” which is no crime. Honestly, it informs the reader as to what they do or do not know. Still, it can prove distracting if too many are clustered in one spot. The only time I found myself irked in a similar way here was around the beginning of the book when Minamoto and a gold merchant were avoiding the samurai. From “the homey smell of wood smoke probably drew the weary travelers to wayside inns” to “The teenage runaway probably watched, mouth agape, as entertainers performed the popular tales of his time”, I found my willingness to go along with Turner’s speculations stretched, if never quite broken. Fortunately it’s the only time in the book I found Turner’s reliance on probability too overt. For the most part, she does a fine job of keeping everything copacetic.

I was also taken with the humor of the book. Judicious use of it in any nonfiction title is a delicate art. Here, the author has the advantage of time (no one’s going to read about the beheadings of the 1100s and think “Too soon!”). So when she pulls out lines like “News of severed heads travels fast,” you can’t but help but admire the wordplay’s moxie. Ditto, “If things went badly, Kiso had the usual samurai backup plan: kidnap the Retired Emperor” (this line works better after you see how many times the poor guy gets kidnapped in the course of his life – a calming retirement it is not).

The inclusion of Gareth Hinds’ art in the book was good planning on someone’s part (mostly likely Art Director Susan Sherman, according to Turner’s Acknowledgements). Though he’s illustrated the occasional title for other authors (Gifts from the Gods) generally Gareth sticks to his own graphic novel adaptations of classics like The Odyssey or Beowulf or King Lear. A meticulous hand, Hinds’ interstitial art keeps the narrative moving without distracting from it. And while it did have the odd personal problem of making me really want a Minamoto Yoshitsune graphic novel (ahem ahem!), for the most part I think it’ll be of greatest use to those students that need a little visual stimulation with their descriptive texts.

Here’s a pretty basic question for the book: Is Minamoto a hero? The comparison to Game of Thrones on the book’s blurb isn’t all that wrong. Things get pretty ethically dicey in the midst of power plays and wars. Honestly, coming out of this book I had particular sympathy for two people in particular and neither one of them was Minamoto. Minamoto’s heroism in terms of bravery cannot be called into question, but if we’re trying to figure out why he comes across as sympathetic, a lot of that can be attributed to our innate sense of fairness, or lack thereof. He starts off clawing his way up, already at a disadvantage thanks to dear old dad, and then just when everything seems to be working out for him his own brother stabs him in the back (figuratively and nearly literally). He deals decently at times, establishing law and order at critical moments. Then again, he’s not against lighting the occasional peasant village on fire like some insane 12th century version of streetlights. And so I say to teachers and the leaders of bookgroups, if you are doing this book with a group of kids and you need a topic of discussion, just ask this: What is a hero? You’re bound to get some pretty interesting answers after the kids read this book.

As I write this review, the hottest musical on Broadway right now is Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It seems to me that we’re seeing a lot of narratives right now that discuss scrappy youngsters, eager to make their mark on the world, no matter the cost to themselves or others. So hey, if you need an idea for a new musical, have I got a book for you! Bringing to the attention of American kids new historical heroes from cultures they may not have any familiarity with is a difficult proposition. Turner and Hinds tackle the challenge with a kind of manic glee. The end result is infinitely readable and downright fun. So pile on the other tear-drenched novels for the kiddos. As long as I have a plucky samurai kid not throwing away his shot I’ll be satisfied. More fun than it deserves to be and a great read.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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13. Never Gonna Sequel

It’s happened to us all.  You hear that one of your favorite books for kids or teens is being adapted to the silver screen and you are struck with a simultaneous feeling of hope and fear.  You go to see it and it’s even worse than you imagined.  Then you leave the theater and realize that this was based on the first book in a series. Are they honestly going to keep going, even if this is a flop?

Thankfully, the answer is usually no. But what happens is that you’re left with a lot of series just ah-blowing in the wind.  Here then is a tribute to those book series that are just not going to see any more sequels.  Unless, of course, they get a reboot.  Which, in at least one case, may happen.

The Seeker a.k.a. The Dark Is Rising

Seeker

 

Remember this?  Or has your brain done you a favor and allowed you to forget?  One of the more egregious adaptations out there.  In the midst of the Harry Potter films, studios were looking to recreate that same magic for themselves.  And lo and behold, here is a fantasy series starring a special boy who learns he has the power to defeat a dark and ancient evil! Perfect! So what did the studios do?  First, they made it American (one can only imagine the conversations that took place to make this happen – “I bet Harry Potter would have been MUCH more successful if he’d been from Jersey!”). Then they mucked with the plot so much as to render the film unrecognizable from the book.  No Under Sea, Under Stone for you, kids! Which, technically, should have been first anyway . . .

The Black Cauldron

Black Cauldron

Not that when Disney animated it they were really prepared to make any sequels.  Many consider this film the moment Disney animation hit rock bottom.  They also combined two of Lloyd Alexander’s books together to make it in the first place.  I heard a rumor the other day that a new version of The Book of Three is in the works somewhere, but was unable to find any proof of it online.

The Seventh Son

Seventh Son

Apparently this was years and years in the works, much good it did it in the end. A real pity since the book was so great.  What could have been a really good creepy film was instead yet another big budget war against an evil blahfest.  Ah well.

A Wrinkle in Time

Wrinkle-in-Time-A-poster

Oh yeah.  It was straight to television, so hopes couldn’t have been all that high anyway.  In a 2004 interview with Newsweek Madeleine L’Engle was asked if the film met her expectations.  She said it had.  She was pretty cheery about it.  “I expected it to be bad, and it was.”  Rumor has it that another is currently in the works.  I dunno, folks.  Mixing religion and science and fantasy into a single book is hard enough.  Short of animating it, I don’t know how a film could even come close to doing it right.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Dawn Treader

This one is unlike the others mentioned here for a number of reasons.  First off, these movies aren’t all that bad.  They seem fairly aware of the books that they’re based upon, for one thing.  And admittedly they managed to get through three books in the Narnia series, and even then only by the skin of their teeth.  Amazing that they got that far!  It’s too late to keep ’em coming at this point, so the series is pretty officially dead (sorry, Silver Chair, fans).

The Last Airbender

The-Last-Airbender-movie-poster

I’m cheating by including this since it’s not based on a book originally but a television series (Avatar: The Last Airbender). That said, the graphic novel sequels (penned in part by our current National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang) are fantastic and deserve mention.  The movie adaptation of the first season was problematic not the least because all the villains were people of color and all the people of color who were heroes were played by white actors. [My husband points out that if you look at the voice actors for the original TV show it’s not much different, but that’s only if you think Iroh and Zuko are villains, and anyway the true baddies were Mark Hammil and Jason Isaacs who are the whitest white guys to ever white a white].

By the way, notice how all these series star white kids, usually of a male persuasion, and are fantasies or science fiction. So while I’d love to see the One Crazy Summer books adapted, my hopes are not currently very high.

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20 Comments on Never Gonna Sequel, last added: 4/19/2016
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14. An Authorial Bookstore

Books and BooksYou may have seen the piece in Publishers Weekly. Judy Blume, Bookseller, it was called.  When I saw the title I just assumed it was just about one of those events when authors go into bookstores and take over for the employees for a day.  Instead, what I found was that Ms. Blume opened up an independent bookstore with her husband as recently as two months ago and she helps run it regularly.*

Ms. Blume is hardly the first author to go into the bookstore business.  Just off the top of my head I can come up with bookstores owned or started by Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett, and Jeff Kinney.  In fact, I was at an author dinner a little less than a year ago and the booksellers there were talking about Kinney’s store.  Some had applied to work there, but hadn’t gotten the job.  It was apparently the place to be.

It’s interesting to look at the state of the independent bookstore today.  For the first time in years they’re doing well.  In 2015 alone, 61 ABA (American Bookseller Association) stores opened up with 16 sold to new owners.  Used bookstores are making a comeback.  Even evil Amazon is trying to open up physical locations, in the wake of the death of Borders.

That said, there is room for more.  There is ALWAYS room for more.  So it gets me to thinking.  What if every ridiculously successful author opened a bookstore too?  James Patterson, I would argue, already does a great deal of literary good.  Still, shouldn’t he have a bookstore?  Where is Carl Hiaasen’s in Florida?  Sherman Alexie’s in Seattle?  Why doesn’t J.K. Rowling have one in Scotland or Stephanie Meyer in Forks, Washington?

IBD logoThe world needs more independent bookstores.  Obviously these authors (some of them anyway) want to be writing.  Well, who’s to say you can’t delegate?  So come on, ridiculously successful writers!  Take that cash you made and pour it back into the community.  And carry good scones.  I love a good scone.

By the way, don’t forget that Saturday, April 30th is Independent Bookstore Day.  Let’s all go out there and give these folks great gobs of money, hand over fist.

*If you read the piece in PW, please identify the book she is hand-selling for two points.

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1 Comments on An Authorial Bookstore, last added: 4/15/2016
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15. Review of the Day: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

RaymieNightingaleRaymie Nightingale
By Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8117-3
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

My relationship to Kate DiCamillo’s books is one built entirely on meaning. Which is to say, the less emotional and meaningful they are, the better I like ‘em. Spaghetti loving horses and girls that live in tree houses? Right up my alley! China rabbits and mice with excessive earlobes? Not my cup of tea. It’s good as a reviewer to know your own shortcomings and I just sort of figured that I’d avoid DiCamillo books when they looked deep and insightful. And when the cover for Raymie Nightingale was released it was easily summarized in one word: Meaningful. A girl, seen from behind, stands ankle-deep in water holding a single baton. Still, I’ve had a good run of luck with DiCamillo as of late and I was willing to push it. I polled my friends who had read the book. The poor souls had to answer the impossible question, “Will I like it?” but they shouldered the burden bravely. Yes, they said. I would like it. I read it. And you know what? I do like it! It is, without a doubt, one of the saddest books I’ve ever read, but I like it a lot. I like the wordplay, the characters, and the setting. I like what the book has to say about friendship and being honest with yourself and others. I like the ending very very much indeed (it has a killer climax that I feel like I should have seen coming, but didn’t). I do think it’s a different kind of DiCamillo book than folks are used to. It’s her style, no bones about it, but coming from a deeper place than her books have in the past. In any case, it’s a keeper. Meaning plus pep.

Maybe it isn’t much of a plan, but don’t tell Raymie that. So far she thinks she has it all figured out. Since her father skipped town with that dental hygienist, things haven’t been right in Raymie’s world. The best thing to do would be to get her father back, so she comes up with what surely must be a sure-fire plan. She’ll just learn how to throw a baton, enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, win, and when her father sees her picture in the paper he’ll come on home and all will be well. Trouble (or deliverance) comes in the form of Louisiana and Beverly, the two other girls who are taking this class with Ida Nee (the baton-twirling instructor). Unexpectedly, the three girls become friends and set about to solve one another’s problems. Whether it’s retrieving library books from scary nursing home rooms, saving cats, or even lives, these three rancheros have each other’s backs just when they need them most.

DiCamillo has grown as an author over the years. So much so that when she begins Raymie Nightingale she dives right into the story. She’s trusting her child readers to not only stick with what she’s putting down, but to decipher it as well. As a result, some of them are going to experience some confusion right at the tale’s beginning. A strange girl seemingly faints, moaning about betrayal in front of a high-strung baton instructor. Our heroine stands impressed and almost envious. Then we learn about Raymie’s father and the whole enterprise takes a little while to coalesce. It’s a gutsy choice. I suspect that debut authors in general would eschew beginning their books in this way. A pity, since it grabs your attention by an act of simple befuddlement.

Initial befuddlement isn’t enough to keep you going, though. You need a hook to sustain you. And in a book like this, you find that the characters are what stay with you the longest. Raymie in particular. It isn’t just about identification. The kid reading this book is going to impress on Raymie like baby birds impress on sock puppet mamas. She’s like Fone Bone in Jeff Smith’s series. She’s simultaneously a mere outline of a character and a fully fleshed out human being. Still, she’s an avatar for readers. We see things through her rather than with her. And sure, her name is also the title, but names are almost always titles for Kate DiCamillo (exceptions being The Magician’s Elephant, The Tiger Rising, and that Christmas picture book, of course). If you’re anything like me, you’re willing to follow the characters into absurdity and back. When Beverly says of her mother that, “Now she’s just someone who works in the Belknap Tower gift shop selling canned sunshine and rubber alligators” you go with it. You don’t even blink. The setting is almost a character as well. I suspect DiCamillo’s been away from Florida too long. Not in her travels, but in her books. Children’s authors that willingly choose to set their books in the Sunshine State do so for very personal reasons. DiCamillo’s Florida is vastly different from that of Carl Hiaasen’s, for example. It’s a Florida where class exists and is something that permeates everything. Few authors dare to consider lower or lower middle classes, but it’s one of the things I’ve always respected about DiCamillo in general.

Whenever I write a review for a book I play around with the different paragraphs. Should I mention that the book is sad at the beginning of the review or at the end? Where do I put my theory about historical fiction? Should character development be after the plot description paragraph or further in? But when it comes to those written lines I really liked in a book, that kind of stuff shouldn’t have to wait. For example, I adore the lines, “There was something scary about watching an adult sleep. It was as if no one at all were in charge of the world.” DiCamillo excels in the most peculiar of details. One particular favorite was the small paper cups with red riddles on their sides. The Elephantes got them for free because they were misprinted without answers. It’s my secret hope that when DiCamillo does school visits for this book she’ll ask the kids in the audience what the answer to the riddle, “What has three legs, no arms, and reads the paper all day long?” might be. It’s her version of “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Now let us discuss a genre: Historical fiction. One question. Why? Not “Why does it exist?” but rather “Why should any novel for kids be historical?” The easy answer is that when you write historical fiction you have built in, legitimate drama. The waters rise during Hurricane Katrina or San Francisco’s on fire. But this idea doesn’t apply to small, quiet novels like Raymie Nightingale. Set in the summer of 1975, there are only the barest of nods to the time period. Sometimes authors do this when the book is semi-autobiographical, as with Jenni Holm’s Sunny Side Up. Since this novel is set in Central Florida and DiCamillo grew up there, there’s a chance that she’s using the setting to draw inspiration for the tale. The third reason authors sometimes set books in the past is that it frees them up from the restrictions of the internet and cell phone (a.k.a. guaranteed plot killers). Yet nothing that happens in Raymie Nightingale requires that cell phones remain a thing of the past. The internet is different. Would that all novels could do away with it. Still, in the end I’m not sure that this book necessarily had to be historical. It’s perfectly fine. A decent time period to exist in. Just not particularly required one way or another.

Obviously the book this feels like at first is Because of Winn-Dixie. Girl from a single parent home finds friendship and (later rather than sooner, in the case of Raymie Nightingale) an incredibly ugly dog. But what surprised me about Raymie was that this really felt more like Winn-Dixie drenched in sadness. Sadness is important to DiCamillo. As an author, she’s best able to draw out her characters and their wants if there’s something lost inside of them that needs to be found. In this case, it’s Raymie’s father, the schmuck who took off with his dental hygienist. Of course all the characters are sad in different ways here. About the time you run across the sinkhole (the saddest of all watery bodies) on page 235 you’re used to it.

Sure, there are parts of the book I could live without. The parts about Raymie’s soul are superfluous. The storyline of Isabelle and the nursing home isn’t really resolved. On the flip side, there are lots of other elements within these pages that strike me as fascinating, like for example why the only men in the book are Raymie’s absent father, an absent swimming coach, a librarian, and a janitor. Now when I was a child I avoided sad children’s books like the plague. You know what won the Newbery in the year that I was born? Bridge to Terabithia. And to this day I eschew them at all costs. But though this book is awash in personal tragedies, it’s not a downer. It’s tightly written and full of droll lines and, yes I admit it. It’s meaningful. But the meaning you cull from this book is going to be different for every single reader. Whip smart and infinitely readable, this is DiCamillo at her best. Time to give it a go, folks.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Song to Listen to With This Book: King of the Road
Alternative Song: I Wanna Hold Your Hand

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16. Fusenews: In my next life I’m coming back as a “Rotraut”

A lot to say and so little time to say it.  Let’s get started!


 

LittlePrincessToday, if you are at all feeling blue, I suggest you read The Toast piece Jaya Catches Up: A Little Princess which is a killer breakdown of what is inarguably a problematic book.  The Marie Antoinette portions are particularly choice.


 

Next, the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award Winners were announced. What does that mean for you? It means you should be boning up on your international children’s book knowledge, of course.  Commit the names “Rotraut Susanne Berner of Germany” (who won for Illustration) and Cao Wenxuan of China (who won for Writing)” to memory. For more info on the books and the winners, go here.


 

If you were speaking to the man on the street (or woman, or child, or what have you) and they said, “Boy, those children’s books took the hardest left turn a series ever took”, what series would you assume the person was speaking about?  Here is your answer and it’s a heckuva amusing post to boot.


 

Seven Impossible Things features Gareth Hinds.  And all is right with the universe.


 

Lonely_Doll_CoverOh. In a weird way this makes sense.  They’re turning The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, the biography of Dare Wright, creator of the Lonely Doll book series, in to a film with Naomi Watts and Jessica Lange.  You know what that means, don’t you?  Lonely Doll fever is poised to sweep the nation.  Be wary. Be warned.  And buy stock in frilly underwear.


 

Remember when J.K Rowling said she had this “political fairytale” that was going to be her next non-Harry Potter children’s book?  Looks like it’s kaputski.  Which is to say, about 30 years after Ms. Rowling’s death someone will pull it out of that drawer and publish it anyway.  So it goes.


 

This next one’s roundabout three years old but I only just found it.  The mom from the Cat in the Hat finally speaks.  Quite frankly, I always found that polka-dotted dress of hers rather fetching (to say nothing of her keen shoes) but that may just be me.


 

If you had the great good fortune to see the NYPL exhibit The ABC of It then you would have noticed one section was dedicated to a fascinating array of Soviet children’s art.  I remember helping curator Leonard Marcus locate these books (of which NYPL owns a goodly number) and he picked and chose the best amongst them.  But where did they originate?  Having recently finished M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead, I took the little bit of context I’d acquired and applied it to this fabulous piece on tygertale called Revolutionary Russian Children’s Books. Now I’m just beginning to understand. Thanks to Phil Nel (I’m pretty sure) for the link.


 

Growing up my mom had a machine in the attic that could type out braille.  I don’t know why we owned it but I liked it a lot. Braille children’s books available in a mass market context have always been difficult to obtain, though.  With this in mind, I’m very pleased to see DK is now releasing a braille board book series.  Wow.  Way to go, DK!


 

All right.  My four-year-old is upstairs asleep and in her room are all my Harry Potter books.  Otherwise I would check this myself.  You see, they just released the first look of the new Jim Kay illustrated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  And I am staring and staring at this cover and I need your help.  Look at the cover right here:

HPChamber

Am I crazy or is that car chock full of Weaselys?  And doesn’t Harry drive to Hogwarts with just Ron?  At least that’s what the old British cover told me:

HPChamber3

So . . . huh?  [Note: Interestingly the Buzzfeed article has plenty of comments but no one is pointing this out so I may just be completely and utterly wrong about everything]


 

In other news, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy longlist was just released.  Frances Hardinge made the cut!!!  Wooty woot woot woot!!

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)


 

Oh, I absolutely love this. Children’s art.  Not art for children, mind you, but art by children and its ramifications when studying history.  Again, I think I have Phil Nel to thank for this one.  He finds all the good stuff.


Daily Image:

The Make Way for Ducklings statues are nothing new (nor are they the only ducklings as my old post on all the public children’s literature statues in America attests).  Nor is it new to put hats on them.  That said, this recent yarnbombing goes above and beyond the call of duty.  That’s some seriously good knitting!

DucklingsYarnBomb

Read more about them here.

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17. Video Sunday: Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

Today we begin with something depressing (happy Sunday, everybody!). On April 4th, all of five days ago, the lovely blog Geekmom (which appears to be an offshoot of Geekdad) premiered the new Adam Rex / Mac Barnett book trailer for their upcoming picture book How This Book Was Made. When you see this trailer you will think to yourself, “Dang. I wish I could make book trailers like this.” Then you’ll look at how many views it’s gotten so far and it’s a mere (as of this post) 567. Citizens of the world, this will not do. This is a good trailer. It deserves our love. Let’s see those numbers pump up a little. And ah-one, and ah-two, and ah- . . .

Let’s see, let’s see. I always collect the links for a week or two and try and figure out if they’re actually any good. Most of them I dump. Lots o’ talking heads fall by the wayside but amongst them you’ll find something good. Example A:

This next one’s a bit random. I moved to Chicago and then decided that maybe my kids would actually be able to see the odd play now and then. But before I came, one slipped out of town before I could do anything about it. I aspire to someday see it personally with kids in tow. They may be in their 30s before it happens, but it’s doggone happening, YOU JUST WAIT!

In other news, Tim Federle, children’s book author and now the man behind Tuck Everlasting on Broadway, poses the ultimate question to Times Square tourists.

That first one drawn out a bit more . . .

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link!

Recently I’ve been reading some YA and one of the better novels to cross my path is this nice Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit. Book trailers are all well and good but it’s nice to try something new. Not that talking to Times Square tourists is all that new (see: above Tim Federle videos) but it beats the usual iMovie schtick.

And for our off-topic video, this is pretty much my favorite thing right now. If you took my sense of humor, distilled it down to a fine liquid, dehydrated that liquid into a powder, and then sneezed it into the face of a clown, that might come close to approximating what this video means to me. Best. Thing. Ever.

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18. Trailer Premiere: The Ugly Dumpling by Stephanie Campisi

Let play a game.  I’ll write out a bit of a professional review from here at School Library Journal and you guess the book.  Here goes:

“A unique take on the classic tale ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ this is a humorous story of friendship and self-acceptance, set in a dim sum restaurant. … This narrative moves quickly, and the cheerful visuals do as much to tell the story as the text does. An amusing and fun addition for most collections.”

It’s about this point that you say to me, “Uh, Betsy? You just said in the title of your post that you were showing the book trailer for THE UGLY DUMPLING. Would that be the book?”  And then I’d glance up, see that you were correct, and say something like, “Right you are, fellow citizen!”

Yes, today we’re premiering the book trailer (the second this week) for THE UGLY DUMPLING by Stephanie Campisi, illustrated by Shahar Kober.  Just another average, everyday dumpling/cockroach friendship tale.

Enjoy!

Feel free to go here for more info on the book and some coloring sheets as well.  And many thanks to Mighty Media Press for the scoop.

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19. Politics and Mainstream Children’s Literature in 2016

You may have seen the Guardian article the other day ‘Oh, what a big gun you have': NRA rewrites fairytales to include firearms.  The title pretty much is the whole story, except that these are tales posted on the NRA’s website and not (at this time) actual published books.  I was looking at the post and the books themselves and for whatever reason it made me think about the current crop of picture books for kids today about the candidate for president.  Candidate singular, you see, because of the people running, only one has several picture book biographies to her name.

Flashback: The year is 2008 and I’m attending a Simon & Schuster publisher preview.  Here is my write-up from the time.  What you will not find in the write-up was what happened when the John McCain picture book biography was shown to the librarians in attendance.  They were . . . let us say less than pleased as a whole, though obviously I cannot speak for everyone.  The editor, incensed, stood and suddenly made a passionate speech about having to show both sides of every story.  That we owe it to our young readers to have picture book biographies of the candidates of both parties.

Fast Forward to 2016: Now I cannot say what the future holds in political publishing.  All I can say is that at this moment in time, there are at least three picture book biographies out about Hillary Clinton and only Hillary Clinton.  They are:

hillary-rodham-clinton-9781481451130_hr

HILLARY-jacket-final

I confess that it was a co-worker who pointed out to me the red, white, and blue streaks in her hair. Totally missed that on a first read.

Hillary hc c

I’ll not comment on these individually (though I do a fantastic one-woman show reenacting the opening of one of these three books – see if you can guess which one).  What I will say is that in the children’s book publishing industry few find themselves surprised when only one candidate gets a book.  I’m no psychic, but I think it’s safe to say that we probably won’t be seeing a Trump or Cruz picture book bio from a mainstream publisher in the next year.  Now I could be wrong, but the difference between McCain and these two potential candidates is immense.  Quite frankly, McCain was better suited to the format.

So what does this say about the publishing industry of 2016 and is it the same or different from 2008?  No idea.  One thing is certain, though.  No matter who secures the Republican nomination, picture book bios of that person will appear.  They’ll just be coming from smaller, conservative presses.

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20. What Was the First YA Novel?

Telemaque2Things are ah-brewing and ah-hopping on the child_lit listserv this week!  And though my blog is primarily a conduit through which one learns about children’s book news, I couldn’t help but get utterly fascinated by a discussion of origin.  Particularly, the origin of the YA novel.

Fun with semantics!  So what do we mean when we say that something is a YA novel?  Couldn’t you say that any novel read voraciously by teens (during the dawn of a book’s publication) is YA?  So wouldn’t that mean that classics like Robinson Crusoe or Pamela or what have you would count?  Maybe, but for the purposes of today’s post let’s say the key is authorial/publisher intent.  If an author writes a book specifically with teen readers in mind, it is YA.

All this is a bit tricky when you consider that even defining teens as a separate group is fairly new to history.  Still, if you take all these considerations into account, it was Jenny Schwartzberg of the Newberry Library who passed along this fascinating information:

“. . . the first novel for adolescents or YA novel in our terms is Francois de Fenelon’s Les Aventures de Telemaque (1699) . . .”

Never heard of it?  Nor had I.  Fortunately in a separate posting Jenny explained further:

Telemaque1Les Aventures de Telemaque was specifically written for an adolescent prince, the Dauphin of France.  Fenelon was his tutor.  I believe he was 14 at that time but I would have to check.  After it was published it was promoted Europe-wide as appropriate reading for adolescents.  It continued to be published in many languages and read by young students into the 19th century before falling out of favor.  It was also popular with adults and is still regarded as a French classic.

YA is a slippery term even today, and people certainly didn’t think in terms of separate literature for children and adults as we do today, but when books are specifically promoted in the contemporary reviews and critical literature as appropriate for certain ages, I’d certainly accept them as such.”

The more you know.  Thanks, Jenny!

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21. Ethics in Nonfiction for Kids

I’m not quite sure what it says about me that whenever I need to have a go-to Children’s Literary Salon I inevitably make it about ethics in nonfiction for kids. I think, technically, I’ve done this topic three times and each time it just gets more and more interesting. Case in point, this past Saturday’s Children’s Literary Salon in beautiful Evanston, IL. I hosted Barbara Rosenstock, Sally M. Walker, Candace Fleming, and Judith Fradin. And baby, we covered everything. Faux dialogue, what happens when the illustrations are inaccurate but the text is dead on, the world of nonfiction after A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON, the works!

Now I recorded the whole thing but I recorded it as a Google Hangout. That means the audio is a bit more digitized than I’d like. You can make it out, but it’s tricky. So, y’know. If anyone wants to make a transcript you shall earn my undying love and quite possibly a chocolate chip cookie to boot.

In the meantime, enjoy:

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22. Review of the Day: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Don'tCallDon’t Call Me Grandma
By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner)
$19.99
ISBN: 978-1-4677-4208-5
Ages 4-7
On shelves now.

In 2016 a picture book won a Newbery Award. Which is to say, a picture book was declared the best-written work for children between the ages of 0-14. After its win there was a fair amount of speculation about what precisely the Newbery committee was trying to say with their award. For that matter, there was a fair amount of speculation about what it meant for children’s literature in general. Are we, as a people, less tolerant of loquacious books? Considering the fact that a book with 592 pages was a runner-up, I think we’re doing just fine in terms of wordy titles. Just the same, I hope that if anything comes out of this surprise award it’s a newfound appreciation for the picture book’s art of restraint. A good picture book shows but doesn’t tell. Don’t believe me? Read the original manuscript of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are where he spells everything out for the reader. All these thoughts were in my head recently when I read the remarkable Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Tackling the almost nonexistent subcategory of grouchy great-grandparents, Ms. Nelson deftly encapsulates a woman’s personality and lifetime of experiences in a scant 32 pages.

“Great-grandmother Nell is scary.” You got that right, kid. She also does not hug, or kiss, or chase her great-grandchild for fun. Instead she sips an intoxicating beverage from a glass bedecked with a spider. She serves up fish for breakfast, buggy eyes and all. But she also has a vanity full of mysterious perfumes, lipstick as red as rubies, and memories as sharp and painful as the day they were made. And when her great-granddaughter sneaks a kiss, Nell is still scary. But that’s okay. “…I like her that way.”

Don'tCall2First and foremost, this is not a fuzzy grandparent (or great-grandparent) book. There are plenty of fuzzy books out there, filled to brimming with warm snuggly feelings. If that is the kind of book you require then grab yourself the nearest Nancy Tillman and content yourself accordingly. What we have here instead is a kind of character study. Whatever expectations you carry into this book, they will be upended by the text. Nell is an amazing character, one that I’ve never seen in book of this sort. Her prickly nature may well hide that “broken heart” she mentions obliquely, but it could just as easily hide more prickles. We get three distinct memories of her past, but it’s a single wordless two-page spread that probably says more about her than anything else. As an adult, I found myself speculating about her life. How perhaps she had dreams of dancing professionally but that she put those dreams aside when she had her children at a very young age. No kid is going to read into Nell what I have. That’s what makes reading this book so dynamic. Come for the prickly relative. Stay for the enticing, unknowable back story.

What I would really like to praise in this review, if nothing else, is just how deftly author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson parses words into sentences that swell with meaning. Take, for example, the moment when our heroine enters Great-Grandmother Nell’s bedroom. She considers playing with the cloth ballerina on the best but abstains, saying, “her expression makes me think she might tell.” Later she kisses her great-grandmother in her sleep. “Even asleep, Great-Grandmother Nell is scary. But I like her that way.” The very last line? “She won’t know”. It would be fascinating to see Nelson’s original manuscript. Was it just this sparse and spare? Or was it much longer and cut down to the bone in the editing process? Whichever it was, it works.

Don'tCall3The child in this book is much like the child who will be reading it with an adult. Both she and they sense that there is more at work here than meets the eye. And it is the art by Elizabeth Zunon that backs that feeling up. Elizabeth Zunon has been a force to reckon with for years. I first noticed her when she illustrated William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, though I unknowingly had already been a fan of hers when she illustrated Jeanne Harvey’s My Hands Sing the Blues. In Don’t Call Me Grandma she begins with a straightforward contemporary story. Even then, her endpapers start telling the tale long before the words do (not counting the title). She fills these early pages with strings of pearls. Fat pearls, small pearls, pink and gray and white pearls. Note that in the text there is just one mention of those pearls, and it’s in the context of a lot of other things on Nell’s dressing table. But Zunon is getting a grip on her personality in her own way. Because of her we get a distinct sense of Great-Grandmother’s style, poise, and dignity. There are fun little details too, like the family peering out through the window as Nell gives a singing bird what for and how to. Zunon also lends Nell a humanity on the sidelines. When her great-granddaughter looks around her room we see Nell observing affectionately from the sides (though she’d be the first to deny it if you accosted her with the evidence). Then there are the memories. Depicted as splotchy watercolors, Zunon subtly changes her style to indicate how some memories are crystal clear even as they blur and go soft around the edges. The two-page spread of objects representing other memories (everything from photographs of Civil Rights marchers to tickets to an Alvin Ailey ballet) will require giving child readers some context. Nothing wrong with that. Sit them down and explain each thing you see. Don’t recognize something? Look it up!

A woman of my acquaintance used to make a big show of objecting to any and all picture books that depicted grandmothers as white-haired, doddering old women, tottering on the very edge of the grave. To her mind, there should be at least as many books that show those women as resourceful, spry, and full of energy. Great-Grandmothers probably have few books where they’re wrecking havoc with the universe. Generally speaking they just dodder and die. There will be no doddering and certainly no dying in Don’t Call Me Grandma, though. Nell isn’t just a character. She comes off the page like a full-blown human being, warts and all (just an expression – Nell would take me to the cleaners if she heard me indicating she has any warts). Sharp and smart, this is one of those picture books I’d like to see more of. Which is to say, stories I’ve never seen before.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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23. Fan Art: From Sheinkin to Wicks

Here’s an idea for a series on this blog: Authors and illustrators paying tribute to other authors and illustrators in the form of fan art.  Oh, it could work.  Why do I think it could work?  Because that’s what we’re doing today, folks.

Consider the author Steve Sheinkin.  You may know him from his award winning nonfiction books (with the occasional Newbery Honor tossed in for spice) or you may know him from his Walking and Talking series here on the blog.  What you may NOT know is that he is capable of fan art.  Particularly in the case of Maris Wicks and Human Body Theater.  But I’ll let him do the explaining:

Maris Wicks is an absolute master at the tricky art of combining information and entertainment. I’m a big believer that nonfiction books should not get extra credit for being healthy, and that’s the genius of her work – she doesn’t need it. My son David (age 6) and I are such huge fans of Human Body Theater, we were inspired to collaborate on this fan art, based on one of the drawings from that incredible book!

Since I’ve a four-year-old daughter who also went gaga for the book, I concur.  Here is the art:

Wicks1

Thank you to Steve and David as well as Gina Gagliano for setting this whole thing up.  And, of course, a big thank you to Maris Wicks for her delightful graphic novel.  If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out.

HumanBodyTheater

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24. Book Trailer Premiere: Fluffy Strikes Back by Ashley Spires

My daughter is four going on five at the moment.  And though she still reads her fair share of picture books, recently she has become enamored of graphic novels.  Particularly those with “bad guys” in them.  For this reason, I give great good thanks for Ashley Spires.  Granted, in her Binky the Space Cat series the “bad guys” my daughter seeks are bugs . . . but what bugs they are!  Now a new addition comes to the Binky canon.  And it is fluffy.  Ladies and gentlemen, our book trailer reveal of the day:

Not enough for you?  Well there’s a website as well, you lucky ducks.  A tip of the old hat to Kids Can Press for the lovely reveal.  Anything involving the decimation of insects has my love and admiration.  A great little book for those seeking “bad guys” or just a plain good story.

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25. Eight Recent Children’s & YA Books Collectors Should Grab

The other day I had lunch with a lovely collector of children’s books.  Children’s book collectors have always struck me as a the last great unknowable group of people with an active interest in children’s literature out there.  Where educators or librarians or even scholars have blogs and annual meetings and newsletters, collectors remain mysterious and unknowable.  There are just so many things I want to learn about them.  What makes a children’s book valuable in some way?  How do you determine which books are more worthy than others?  And most importantly, what contemporary books are collectors looking at right now?

When I asked some of these questions to my lunch companion, the collector suggested that I write a blog post with my top guesses as to which books will be worth the most in the coming decades.

Now let me be clear.  I have absolutely zip, zero, zilch idea of how this all works.  I have this vague sense that there’s this unknowable individual out there who carries with them the secrets of the universe and that THEY actually know this stuff.  There must be an art to it.  You want things that will accrue in value, but accrue for a variety of different reasons.  I know what is new.  I know what is popular.  And I know what could, based on what I know, be valuable.  That doesn’t mean these books will be.  Still, my nickname is “Bets” so . . .

Bearing in mind that uncut manuscripts are probably the best way to go anyway, here’s the gist of what I’m thinking should be on any good collector’s list.

Twilight

  • Signed galley of TWILIGHT

True story.  Before Twilight was released, it was included in a Little, Brown librarian preview.  This was before my time, so I’m getting this secondhand.  Still, what I’ve been told is that Stephenie Meyer was the super secret guest at that preview.  Remember, the book had not yet come out so no one knew who she was yet.  She signed copies of the Twilight galleys at this event.  Many of the librarians who received them gave them away to their TAG (Teen Advisory Group) readers.  So somewhere out there are signed galleys of Twilight.  Rare indeed.

Moon Over Manifest

  • A galley of MOON OVER MANIFEST

Unexpected Newbery or Caldecott winners always make for excellent collecting fare.  The rumor about this book is that when the ALA Youth Media Awards announcement was made that it had won the Newbery, Barnes & Noble had to recall all the copies they’d been preparing to pulp that very day.  It was such an unexpected winner that I suspect you’d be able to find that its ARC is of particular note.

DiaryofaWimpyKid

  • A first edition DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. Galley preferred.

Most series aren’t super hits the minute they get on the market.  For Jeff Kinney’s, it took about 2-3 books before the child reading public realized how great the titles really were.  That means that there are undoubtedly signed galleys of the first book that could have potentially been lost to the sands of time.  If you have one, hold onto it.

FineDessert

  • An F&G of A FINE DESSERT

The usual folded and gathered picture book galley is ephemeral.  It’s not meant to be held on to.  I’ve seen them turned into birdhouses and buttons and all manner of interesting things.  Now initially A FINE DESSERT had positive reviews, so it’s possible a lot of people held onto its F&G.  I doubt it, though.  Though some might have held onto it because they thought the book had Caldecott changes, I bet it was tossed more often than not.

My Name Is Jason

Jason Reynolds is poised.  Poised to break like the star he is, man.  Smart, funny, and a helluva good writer.  If you haven’t heard of him by now, brace yourself.  Yet when he was first starting out, this was his debut.  It was an unassuming little YA in 2009 and now it’s out-of-print.  The fact that new, never read copies are starting at $65.40 online is significant.  This book is a collectable, pure and simple.

BirthdayCakeWashington

  • A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON signed by author or editor or illustrator

What is unclear to me at this time is whether or not there was ever an F&G (folded & gathered) version of the book for reviewers.  I certainly didn’t receive one, and I usually get the bulk of the Scholastic titles.  This leads me to think they trucked entirely in final copies.  Even so, before the book was pulled from publication there’s a chance that copies might have been available at the ALA Conference in January.  Any copy is going to be worth money but prices have dropped since the book was initially pulled, going for as low as $59.90 on Amazon.  This leads me to suspect that while the book will be worth something in the future, signed copies will be worth a lot more.

angelgirl

Do not think for a moment that Birthday Cake is the sole picture book that has ever been pulled from publication.  In 2008 Lerner pulled this Holocaust title.  The reason?  It had initially been sold as a true story.  When the facts came out that it was a myth, Lerner acted accordingly.  You can buy the book easily enough on Amazon (to the tune of $48) but considering its limited run and shaky history, I’d say it’s a good bet.

BigRedLollipop

With the dawn of Salaam Reads at Simon & Schuster (their Muslim children’s book imprint) there’s a marked increase of interest in Muslim-American books for kids.  One of the best is Rukhsana Khan’s.  It was included in NYPL’s 100 Great Books for Kids list and is a truly lovely title.  I’m thinking it may be one to watch, particularly first editions.

That’s all I’ve got, based on next to nothing at all.  I’d love to hear what else you think has a chance at monetary value in the future.  Always with the understanding that this is all just conjecture and speculation.

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