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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: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies
By Tracey Baptiste
Algonquin Young Readers
ISBN: 9781616204143
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” So sayeth Leo Tolstoy (at least in theory). Regardless of whether or not it’s actually true, it is fun to slot books into the different categories. And if I were to take Tracey Baptiste’s middle grade novel The Jumbies with the intention of designating it one type of story or another, I think I’d have to go with the latter definition. A stranger comes to town. Not quite true though, is it? For you see, in this particular book the stranger isn’t coming to town so much as infesting it. And does she still count as a stranger when she, technically was there first? It sounds a bit weird to say, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a creature comes to a village where it is the people who are the strangers” but you could make a case for that being the tale The Jumbies brings to light. Far more than just your average spooky supernatural story, Baptiste uses the underpinnings of a classic folktale to take a closer look at colonization, rebellion, and what it truly takes to share the burden of tolerating the “other”. Plus there are monsters. Gotta love the monsters.

Corinne La Mer isn’t what you might call a superstitious sort. Even when she chases an agouti into a forbidden forest she’s able to justify to herself why it looked as though a pair of yellow eyes followed her out. If she told other people about those eyes they’d say she ran across a jumbie, one of the original spooky denizens of her Caribbean island. Corinne’s a realist, though, so surely there’s another answer. And she probably would have put the whole incident out of her mind anyway, had Severine not appeared in her hut one day. Severine is beautiful and cunning. She’s been alone for a long long time and she’s in the market for a loving family. Trouble is, what Severine wants she usually gets, and Corinne may find that she and her father are getting ensnared in a dangerous creature’s loving control – whether they want to be or not. A tale based loosely on the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree.”

A bit of LOST, a bit of Beloved, and a bit of The Tempest. That’s the unusual recipe I’d concoct if I were trying to describe this book to adults. If I were trying to describe it to kids, however, I’d have some difficulty. Our nation’s library and bookstore shelves aren’t exactly overflowing with children’s novels set in the Caribbean. Actually, year or so ago I was asked to help co-create a booklist of Caribbean children’s literature with my librarian colleagues. We did pretty well in the picture book department. It was the novels that suffered in comparison. Generally speaking, if you want Caribbean middle grade novels you’d better be a fan of suffering. Whether it’s earthquakes (Serafina’s Promise), escape (Tonight By Sea), or the slave trade (My Name Is Not Angelica) Caribbean children’s literature is rarely a happy affair. And fantasy? I’m not going to say there aren’t any middle grade novels out there that make full and proper use of folklore, but none come immediately to mind. Now Ms. Baptiste debuted a decade ago with Angel’s Grace (called by Horn Book, “a promising first novel” with “An evocative setting and a focused narrative”). In the intervening ten years we hadn’t heard much from her. Fortunately The Jumbies proves she’s most certainly back in the game and with a book that has few comparable peers.

My knowledge of the Caribbean would fit in a teacup best enjoyed by a flea. What I know pretty much comes from the children’s books I read. So I am not qualified to judge The Jumbies on its accuracy to its setting or folkloric roots. When Ms. Baptiste includes what appears to be a family with roots in India in the narrative, I go along with it. Then, when the book isn’t looking, I sneak off to Wikipedia (yes, even librarians use Wikipedia from time to time) and read that “Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian are nationals of Trinidad and Tobago of India ancestry.” We Americans often walk around with this perception that ours is the only ethnically diverse nation. We have the gall to be surprised when we discover that other nations have multicultural (for lack of a better word) histories of their own. So it is that Corinne befriends Dru, an Indio-Trinidadian with a too large family.

The writing itself makes for a fun read. I wouldn’t label it overly descriptive or lyrical, necessarily, but it gets the job done. Besides, there are little moments in the text that I thought were rather nice. Lines like “Corinne remembered when they had buried her mama in the ground like a seed.” Or, on a creepier note, “A muddy tear spilled onto her cheek, then sprouted legs and crawled down her body.” What I really took to, more than anything else, was the central theme of “us” and “them”. Which is to say, there is no “us” and “them”, really. It’s a relationship. As a local witch says later in the story, “Our kind? What do you know about our kind and their kind, little one? You can’t even tell the difference.” Later she says it once again. “Their kind, your kind, is there a difference?” This is an island where the humans arrives and pushed out the otherworldly natives. When the natives fight back the humans are appalled. And as we read the story, we see that we are the oppressors here, to a very real extent. These jumbies might fight and hit and hurt and steal children, but they have their reasons. Even if we’ve chosen to forget what those might be.

I have a problem. I can’t read books for kids like I used to. Time was, when I first started in this business, that I could read a book like The Jumbies precisely as the author intended. I approached the material with all the wide-eyed wonder of a 10-year-old girl. Then I had to go and give birth and what happens? Suddenly I find that everything’s different and that I’m now reading the books as a parent. Scenes in The Jumbies that wouldn’t have so much as pierced my armor when I was younger now stab me directly through the heart. For example, there is a moment in this book when Dru recounts seeing her friend Allan stolen by the douens. As his mother called his name he turned to her, but his feet faced the other way, walking him into the forest. That just killed me. Kids? They’ll find it nicely creepy, but I don’t know that they’ll not entirely understand the true horror the parents encounter so that later in the book when a peace is to be reached, they have a real and active reason for continuing to pursue war. In this way the book’s final resolution almost feel too easy. You understand that the humans will agree on a peace if only because the jumbies have them outnumbered and outmanned. However, the hate and fear is going to be lingering for a long long time to come. This would be an excellent text to use to teach conflict resolution, come to think of it.

In her Author’s Note at the back of the book, Tracey Baptiste writes, “I grew up reading European fairy tales that were nothing like the Caribbean jumbie stories I listened to on my island of Trinidad. There were no jumbie fairy-tale books, though I wished there were. This story is my attempt at filling that gap in fairy-tale lore.” And fill it she does. Entrancing and engaging, frightening but never slacking, Baptiste enters an all-new folktale adaptation into our regular fantasy lore. Best suited for the kids seeking lore where creatures hide in the shadows of trees, but where they’re unlike any creatures the kids have seen before. Original. Haunting.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Misc: Read several excerpts here.


And here’s the book trailer for you:


1 Comments on Review of the Day: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, last added: 4/28/2015
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2. Christian Children’s Literature in the Library: A Quick Accounting

So I’m sitting at my desk the other day, paging through some children’s books I was sent from who knows where (my records are spotty at best and comparable to what happens when a raccoon is set free in a paper factory at worst) when I stumble across this book Stories of the Saints by Margaret McAllister, illustrated by Alida Massari.  I don’t need to tell you that here in New York there is a HUGE need for books on saints for kids.  The local Catholic schools regularly assign such a project to their students and I well remember sitting at the reference desk, stumped, as the kiddos asked for books on one obscure saint or another.  So I pick up the book and start reading and lo and behold it isn’t just beautifully illustrated (which it is) but written with a funny, not snarky, style.

Why am I so surprised?  Because great Christian literature for kids, that has been reviewed in professional journals, is very hard to come by. The need is there but the reviews are far and few between.  In New York we try to serve patrons of every religion, but it can be tricky when we’re talking about Christian publishers. Certainly I’ve been rather impressed by Lion Children’s Books as of late, and I’ve always admired the work of Eerdmans Children’s Books.  Add in Zonderkidz and you officially exhaust my knownledge of Christian children’s book publishers.

With this in mind I tapped my friend and author/illustrator Aaron Zenz and began to discuss with him those children’s authors and illustrators that work in the Christan book market.

The first thing Aaron informed me was that there are WAY more of them working in both the Christian and the secular publishing market than you might initially assume.  Here’s a quickie roster of some mainstream author/illustrators that straddle both fields:

N.D. Wilson – One of my first encounters with Nate came when I reviewed his book Leepike Ridge and his father linked to my review.  My blog stats skyrocketed.  Turns out his dad is Calvinist minister Douglas Wilson, who is a big time deal.  Nate writes Christian books for adults like Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and has a series of interviews and lectures online as well as children’s book titles.  Aaron turned me onto a Lewis / Narnia one shown here:

John Hendrix – According to Aaron, John’s next book with Abrams is about the miracles of Jesus and is due out in 2016.  As it happens, John illustrates his church’s sermon notes and shares his sketchbooks online.  Naturally I hope they’ll be a book in and of themselves someday.

Doug TenNapel – This one I knew.  Turns out that the guy behind books like Bad Island and Cardboard is responsible for a whole lotta VeggieTales and has even been nominated for an Emmy.

Steve Bjorkman – I know him from a variety of picture books he’s illustrated though he may be best known for illustrating Jeff Foxworthy’s books.  Turns out he’s illustrated a bunch of Christian books as well.

Molly Idle – Surprise!  It’s true!  The Caldecott Honor winner actually was better known to Aaron as a Christian book illustrator long before Flora.  Did you know that?  I sure as heck didn’t.

Ben HatkeZita the Spacegirl rocks, but she was hardly Ben’s first work.  Turns out he worked on a couple other things first.

But that is not all, oh no. That is not all.  Aaron was kind enough to give me a rundown of some recommended Christian titles for kids that he can vouch for. And since I found it useful I thought you might like to see it as well.  Here are sixteen of his recommendations with his comments:

1. Tip of the Top, the absolute best of all time are the “Adam Raccoon” books by Glen Keane.  Yes, Glen Keane the animator behind Ratigan, Ariel, Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Silver, Rapunzel.  There are 10 Adam Raccoon books, but I don’t know their print status, I have no idea if you can still get them.  If they are unavailable, it’s a huge shame.

2. “You are Special” by Max Lucado.  All of Max Lucado’s children’s books tend to be pretty good.  But his six(?) “Wemmicks” books are the best, and the first in the series “You are Special” is far and above.

3. “Tales of the Kingdom” by David and Karen Mains.  There are two other books that follow this one that I haven’t read but have heard aren’t quite as good.  But I’ve read Tales of the Kingdom to hundreds of kids countless times in multiple settings over the years.

4. “Hymns for a Kids Heart” by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada.  Four volumes – 2 regular, a Christmas one, and an Easter one.  Great stories behind classic hymns with wonderful illustrations.

5. “Noah’s Ark” by Peter Spier.  Classic, and a Caldecott winner, and one of the few shining stars.

6.Parable” — this is a collection of 17 graphic novel stories, just like the Flight series.  It includes work by Ben Hatke (Zita) and Stephen McCranie (Mal&Chad)

7. There are 3 books by Karma Wilson and Amy June Bates that are amazing: “I Will Rejoice,” “Make a Joyful Noise,” and “Give Thanks to the Lord.”

8. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” by Kadir Nelson.

9: Two gorgeous books illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson: “Psalm 23″ and “The Lord’s Prayer”

10: Some favorite Biblical Chrstmas ones: “Through the Animal’s Eyes” by Christopher Wormell, “This is the Stable” by Cynthia Cotten and Delana Bettoli, “The Little Drummer Boy” by Ezra Jak Keats

11. There are some beginning readers just now coming out from Zonderkids illustrated by David Miles that are fantastic.

12. There are also some beginning readers from Zonderkids about a bear named Barnabas that I like.

13. “The Nicene Creed” by Pauline Baynes (yep, Narnia’s Pauline Baynes)

14. “Psalm 23″ by Barry Moser

15. “Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise” by Tomie dePaola

16. “Sidney and Norman” by VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer

Aaron’s Bookie Woogie blog has always been one of my favorites out there, partially because it’s one of the only successful review blogs I’ve seen to incorporate children’s comments about books.  I hadn’t noticed all his Christian children’s book reviews out there.  So just in case you need an opinion on some of the titles he recommended, try the following out:

Many many thanks to Aaron Zenz without whom this post would not be possible. As librarians we seek to serve all our patrons, even when the means are difficult.  Information like this can prove invaluable.  Cheers to that.


10 Comments on Christian Children’s Literature in the Library: A Quick Accounting, last added: 4/27/2015
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3. Review of the Day: On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant: An Inuit Folktale
By Neil Christopher
Illustrated by Jim Nelson
Inhabit Media
ISBN: 978-1-77227-002-0
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

My daughter is afraid of giants. She’s three so this isn’t exactly out of the norm. However, it does cut out a portion of her potential reading material. Not all giants fall under this stricture, mind you. She doesn’t seem to have any problem with the guys in Giant Dance Party and “nice” giants in general get a pass. Still, we’ve had to put the kibosh on stories like Jack and the Beanstalk and anything else where getting devoured is a serious threat. Finding books about good giants is therefore an imperative and it walks hand in hand with my perpetual search for amazing folktales. Every year I scour the publishers for anything resembling a folktale. In the old days they were plentiful and you could have your pick of the offerings. These days, the big publishers hardly want to touch the stuff, so it’s up to the smaller guys to fill in the gaps. And no one stands as a better folktale gap filler than the Inuit owned company Inhabit Media. Producing consistently high quality books for kids, one of their latest titles is the drop dead gorgeous On the Shoulder of a Giant. Funny, attractive, and a straight up accurate folktale, this is children’s book publishing at its best. And as for the giant himself, my daughter has never run into a guy like him before.

“…if there is only one Arctic giant story you take the time to learn about, this is the one to remember.” Which giant? Why Inukpak, of course! Large (even for a giant) our story recounts Inukpak’s various deeds. He could stride across wide rivers, and fish full whales out of the sea. In his travels, there was one day when Inukpak ran across a little human hunter. Misunderstanding the man to be a small child, the giant promptly adopted him. And since the man was no fool he understood that when a giant claims you, you have little recourse but to accept. He went along with it. The giant fished their dinner and when a polar bear threatened the hunter Inukpak flicked it away like it was no more than a baby fox or lemming. In time the two became good friends and had many adventures together. Backmatter called “More About Arctic Giants” explains at length about their size, their fights, their relationship to the giant polar bears, and how they may still be around – maybe right under your feet!

I’ve read a lot of giant fare in my day and I have never encountered a tale quite like this. Not that the story really goes much of anywhere. The only true question you find yourself asking as you read the tale is whether or not the hunter will ever confess to the giant that he isn’t actually a child. But as I read and reread the tale, I came to love the humor of the tale. Combined with the art, it’s a lighthearted story. In fact, one of the problems is also a point in its favor. When you get to the end of the tale and are told that Inukpak and the hunter had many adventures, you want to read those immediately. One can only hope that Mr. Christopher and Mr. Nelson will join forces yet again someday to bring us more of this unique and delightful duo.

I’m no expert on Inuit culture so it doesn’t hurt that in the creation of “On the Shoulder of a Giant” author Neil Christopher has the distinction of having spent the last sixteen years of his life recording and preserving traditional Inuit stories. Having seen a fair number of books of Native American folktales where the selection of the tales is offhanded at best, the care with which Christopher chooses to imbue his book with life and vitality is notable. The book reads aloud beautifully, and would serve a librarian well if they were told to read aloud a folktale to a group. Likewise, the pictures are visible from long distances. This story begs for a big audience.

I’ve seen a lot of small presses in my day. Quality can vary considerably from place to place. Often I’ll see a small publisher bring to life a folktale but then skimp on the artist chosen to bring the story to life. It’s a sad but common occurrence. So common, in fact, that when it doesn’t happen I’m shocked out of my gourd. Inhabit Media is one of those rare few that take illustration very seriously. Each of their books looks good. Looks not just professional but like something you’d want to take home for yourself. On the Shoulder of a Giant is no exception. This time the artist tapped was freelance illustrator Jim Nelson. He’s based out of Chicago and his art has included stuff like Magic the Gathering cards and the like. He is not, at first glance, the kind of artist you’d tap for a book of this sort. After all, he works with a digital palette creating images that would seemingly be more at home in a comic book than a classic Inuit folktale. Yet what are folktales but proto-superhero stories? What are superhero comics but just modern myths? Inukpak is larger than life and, as such, he demands an artist who can bring his physicality to bear upon the narrative. When he’s fishing for whales I wanna see that sucker fighting back. When he strides across great plains I wanna be there beside him. Nelson feeds that need.

Since Nelson isn’t Inuit himself, the question of how authentic his art may be arises. I am willing to believe, however, that any book published by a company operating with the sole intent to “preserve and promote the stories, knowledge and talent of Inuit and northern Canada” is going to have put the book through a strict vetting process. It would not be ridiculous to think that Nelson’s editor informed him of where to research classic Inuit clothing and landscapes. I loved every inch of Nelson’s art on this story but it was the backmatter that really did it for me. There’s a section that is able to show the difference in size between a inukpasugjuit (“great giant”), a inugaruligasugjuk (“lesser giant”), and a regular human that does a brilliant job of showing scale. That goes for the nanurluit (giant polar bear) in one of the pictures, relentlessly tracking two tiny hunters in their boats. But it is the final shot of a sleeping giant under the mountains as people walk on to of him, oblivious that will really pique young imaginations.

I’m not saying that On the Shoulder of a Giant has the ability to single-handedly rid my daughter of her fear of giants as a whole. It does, however, stand out as a singularly fun and interesting take on the whole giant genre. There’s nothing on my library shelves that sounds or feels or looks quite like this book. It could well be the poster child for the ways in which small publishers should examine and publish classic folktales. Beautiful and strange with a flavor all its own, this is one little book that yields big rewards. Fantastico.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:


0 Comments on Review of the Day: On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher as of 4/24/2015 5:01:00 AM
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4. Displays Every Day! An April 23rd Sampler

Yesterday was Earth Day, and I suspect a fair number of you librarians out there did some killer Earth Day displays of books for the kiddos, teachers, and parents out there.  I love thematic book displays.  But who says you need an official holiday to create one?  Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you wanted to do a really eclectic display on (just to pick a random date) April 23rd.  Honestly you could make a truly crazy but interesting series of books if you wanted to.  After all, April 23rd is . . .

Shakespeare’s Birthday – Apparently last year was his 450th so 451 just doesn’t quite have the same panache.  I’m looking forward to 2064 when it’s his 500th.  We are gonna party hearty then, m’dears!  Until then, there are lots of different ways to do a Shakespeare display in a children’s room.  Consider the following:

Just for starters (and I’m completely cheating with that last image since that book isn’t out until September).

World Book Day -  I’m sort of amused that even though World Book Day was originally a British creation, somehow or other James Patterson still managed to become this year’s spokesperson.  Americans, truth be told, don’t pay a lot of attention to World Book Day (see the recent SLJ article We Need More International Books, Kid Lit Experts Say for some thoughts on the U.S. and our relationship to world literature for children), but it practically makes its own display.  Find books originally published in other countries and then translated here.  You’ll have to search a bit more for African and South American stories, but they’re out there.

President James Buchanan’s Birthday – Well why not?  We actually have some books on him in the library, after all.

Okay, fine, he’s boring.  Dull as dishwater.  But they haven’t made a Shirley Temple bio for kids yet (and wouldn’t THAT be a complex challenge?) nor one about Nobokov (yet) so we take what we can get 4/23 birthday-wise.

Comics Out Loud Day – Ostensibly a day to celebrate reading comics out loud in the classroom, the timing couldn’t be better.  After all, they just announced the Eisner Award nominees yesterday and the inclusions are marvelous.  Gownley! Bell! Hale!  The list goes on and on.  Pluck a couple from your shelves and put ‘em up for display.

The day Cervantes was buried – Okay, it’s a stretch but I like the randomness of it. Plus there are some interesting children’s books out there that use Quixote as a starting point.

By the way, I’m closing with this DVD.  Because when I searched my catalog for Don Quixote this came up.

Here’s the description, in case you doubt.

Ride to the rescue and share a love of reading books along the way with Lady Knight Dora, in these two knightly adventures, featuring the legendary Don Quixote!

A couple things about this image. First off, as a knight this is a uniquely bad costume. Sure her upper half is adequately covered by armor but ballet flats?  Come on, Dora!  Extra points for the steel tiara, though.  A nice touch.  Note too the windmills in the background.

Happy 4/23!


5 Comments on Displays Every Day! An April 23rd Sampler, last added: 4/24/2015
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5. A Call for Art! Judy Blume Art! Celebrate the ABFE

So you think you love Judy Blume?  Prove it.  As you know, each and every year The American Booksellers for Free Expression has a book art auction.  It’s where people go to get really really good stuff.  And this year, since the ABFE is celebrating Judy Blume, they’re not only looking for artists willing to do something in her honor but also people willing to buy those selfsame pieces.

Think about it.  You probably know a die-hard Judy Blume fan already.  Now imagine you give that person some awesome art that celebrates her.  I honestly can’t think of a present that would be cooler than that.

Here is the official press release thingy.  And artists, don’t be shy.  If you have something in mind you just get on that thing.  Details below:

If you’re going to BEA in NYC this year, please join The American Booksellers for Free Expression(ABFE) on May 26th from 5:30 to 7:30 at The Grand Hyatt Hotel to celebrate children’s book art with Judy Blume and leading artists! More than 100 pieces of original art by luminaries such as Rosemary Wells, Jon Agee, LeUyen Pham and Chris Raschka will be auctioned to support the free speech rights of kids. This year ABFE is honoring Judy Blume for her anti-censorship work and is asking artists to create a piece inspired by one of her books. Artists interested in donating art should email inessa@bookweb.org for more information.


0 Comments on A Call for Art! Judy Blume Art! Celebrate the ABFE as of 4/22/2015 5:07:00 AM
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6. Fusenews: “It’s like a shoe of flesh”

  • Mmm. Vanity straight up. So I never quite know how to post “me stuff” news when it’s particularly nice. On the one hand I could post the link with the typical “I’m not worthy” statement attached, but that always sounds as if I doth protest too much.  Or, I could go the other route, and just celebrate the link with a whole lotta hooplah and devil take the consequences. I think, in the end, I’d prefer to just preface the link with a long, drawn out, ultimately boring explanation of why these links are problematic in the vague hope that your eyes glazed over and you skipped to the next bullet point.  That accomplished, here is a very nice thing I was featured in recently at Bustle.  I think Anne Carroll Moore probably should have taken my slot, but insofar as I can tell, she is not around to object.
  • There comes a time in every girl’s life when she realizes that all the funny stuff on the internet was written by a single person.  That person’s name, it turns out, is Mallory Ortberg.  And if you doubt my words, read her recent Toast piece The Willy Wonka Sequel That Charlie’s Mother Deserves.  It’s applicable to the book as well, though in that case it would be “The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Sequel That Charlie’s Mother and Father Deserve”.
  • It was Jarrett Krosoczka who alerted me to the fact that Jeanne Birdsall has a blog.  Jeanne, you sly devil!  Why didn’t you tell us?
  • Are discussions of children’s book illustrations given adequate attention when people interview authors about the books that influenced them when they were young?  Mark Dery at The Ecstasist doesn’t think so.  In a recent interview with Jonathan Lethem, the two discuss, amongst other things, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a psychedelic children’s book by popular shrink, Dr. Eric Berne (who wrote Games People Play) called The Happy Valley, The Goops, Rabbit Hill, and the odd thickness (and hidden erotic meanings) behind Ferdinand the Bull’s neck.
  • I don’t usually advertise journal’s calls for contributions, but this seemed special.  Bookbird (a journal close to my heart for obvious reasons) is calling for contributions for a special issue exploring Indigenous Children’s Literature from around the world.   So if you’ve a yen . . .

Recently I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon on Jewish children’s literature, its past, present, and future.  It was a really great talk and has inspired, I am happy to note, a blog post from one of the panelists.  Marjorie Ingall of Tablet Magazine recently wrote the piece Enough With the Holocaust Books for Children!: Yes, we need to teach kids about our history. But our history constitutes a lot more than one tragic event.  It quotes me anonymously at one point as well.  See if you can find me!  Hint: I’m the one who’s not Jewish.

  • And to switch gears, the cutest children’s librarian craft idea of all time.  A teeny tiny traffic jam.  Alternate Title: Dana Sheridan is a friggin’ genius.
  • Not too long ago I helped usher into completeness a brand new children’s book award.  Behold, one that’s all about the math!!  Yes, like you I was an English major who thought she feared the realm of numbers.  Now I see the true problem: there were no good math books for me as a kid (and subsisting entirely on a diet of The Phantom Tollbooth doesn’t really work, folks). Now worry not, interested parties!  The Mathical Award is here and the selections, not to put too fine a point on it, are delightful.
  • Out: Dark Matter.  Five Minutes Ago: Gray Matter.  In: White Matter.  At least when it comes to how children learn to read.  The New Yorker explains.  Extra points to author Maria Konnikova for the Horton Hatches the Egg reference buried in the text.
  • Full credit to Aaron Zenz for turning me onto the site Sketch Dailies.  Cited as a place “that gives a pop culture topic each week day for artists to interpret” there are plenty of children’s literature references to be found.  Draco Malfoy. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Hedwig (more owl than Angry Inch).  Warning: You will get sucked in, possibly for a very very long time.  Three of the Very Hungry Caterpillar winners recently were here, here, and here.
  • Oop!  The end of the voting on the Children’s Choice Book Awards is nigh. Your last chance to “voice your choice” is looming. Voting for @CBCBook’s Children’s Choice Book Awards closes at ccbookawards.com on May 3rd.  And, if I might be so bold, you may notice something a little . . . um . . . interesting about this year’s hosts of the CBC Gala.  *whistles*
  • Daily Image:

This one’s going out to all my Miyazaki fans.  In the event that you ever needed a new poster for your walls.  The title is “And Made Her Princess of All Wild Things:


9 Comments on Fusenews: “It’s like a shoe of flesh”, last added: 4/22/2015
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7. Video Sunday: “You fill me with inertia.”

Hallo, folks!

So today is the last day of National Library Week.  In celebration, enjoy this delightful video from Common Craft for your average non-library literate layman.  If you are a librarian, show this video to those members of your family who heard you had to get a Master’s degree and asked you, “What? So they teach you how to put your hair in a bun and go ‘Shh’ all day?”

More info here.

There is a saying in my family: A music video isn’t viral until soldiers perform a version of it.  Admittedly it’s a relatively new saying.  The same might also be said for librarian parody videos, though.  When they’re doing a song you haven’t heard of, you best be looking that puppy up.  Case in point . . .

The moment he’s reading Beloved sort of stands out.  Otherwise, perfectly fine.  The ending is pitch perfect.  Thanks to Melanie for the link.

One more.  This time with a Taylor Swift-centric vibe.  Author Patricia Hubbell ought to be well pleased:

In other news I was so pleased to see James Kennedy and his 90-Second Newbery shenanigans appear on this recent episode of Kidlit TV.  You should watch it if, for no other reason, the fact that you get to see Ame Dyckman briefly prance.  And prance she does!!

Next up, the Mazza Museum!  I love that place, but the smiling blonde is way way way perky.

Speaking of perky, Scholastic ups the ante with a professional announcer talking up their summer reading challenge.  Not a bad idea.  Offer kids the chance to be in a world record and watch your participation numbers skyrocket.

And for our off-topic video, this week this post alerted me to the existence of this movie scene from the film Bedazzled.  This constitutes my new favorite thing.


3 Comments on Video Sunday: “You fill me with inertia.”, last added: 4/20/2015
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8. Press Release Fun: The 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference (Professional Development Credit!)

Howdy, folks.  You may recall that in the past I’ve mentioned that there’s a lovely 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference coming to NYC this June.  Well, for those of you with professional development credits to accrue, guess what?  You can get one by attending.  See below for more details:


presented by

21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference™

Teaching Literacy Through Nonfiction

Sunday, June 14, 2015 • Manhattan College, NYC • Smith Hall

8:30 AM – 2:30 PM

1 CEU Professional Development Credit from Shippensburg University


The program includes these presentations:

-          Dr. Juliana Texley,  President of National Science Teachers Association, on …

The NSTA’s Online,Searchable Database of 10,000 Teacher-reviewed Books and the NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book List

-          Dr. Myra Zarnowski and Dr. Susan Turkel, Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Queens College, on …

Creating a Science Curriculum that Incorporates Nonfiction Literature and Standards

-          Dr. Christine Royce, Teacher Education Department, Shippensburg University, on …

Teaching Science Through Nonfiction Trade Books

-          The United Federation of Teachers Teacher Center /Library of Congress on …

Teaching with Primary Sources: Connecting the Library of Congress Resources to the Common Core and Other Standards

PLUS … Continental breakfast, lunch, author signings, publisher exhibits, and Continuing Education Credit


Registration and details are at:  http://teachers.21cnfc.com/


Sally Isaacs

Co-chair, 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference



0 Comments on Press Release Fun: The 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference (Professional Development Credit!) as of 4/17/2015 4:07:00 AM
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9. Fuse #8 TV: Aaron Starmer and Reading (Too Much) Into Easy Books

YES!  It is time for yet another episode of Fuse #8 TV and today we have a doozy.  A fair frolicsome, lithe and lovely episode wherein I take Are You My Mother? and destroy your ability to ever read it again.  And if I fail to do even that, just read this version over at The Toast and voila.  Instant nightmares.

But enough about other sites.  Today our special guest is the marvelous Aaron Starmer.  If you read his 2014 book The Riverman then you might want to know a bit about the brains behind the book.  This year the sequel, The Whisper, is coming out and so we chat about the cover, the inspiration, and what’s next in Starmer’s future.  Enjoy!

All other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.

And a big thank as well to the good people at Macmillan for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.



2 Comments on Fuse #8 TV: Aaron Starmer and Reading (Too Much) Into Easy Books, last added: 4/18/2015
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10. Review of the Day: Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon

Beastly Verse
By Joohee Yoon
Enchanted Lion Books
ISBN: 978-1-59270-166-7
Ages 3 and up
On shelves now

Poetry. What’s the point? I say this as a woman who simultaneously gets poetry and doesn’t get it. I get that it’s important, of course. I only need to watch my three-year-old daughter come up with an ever increasing and creative series of bouncy rhymes to understand their use. But what I don’t get is Poetry with a capital “P”. I have come to accept this as a failing on my own part. And to be fair, there are works of poetry that I like. They just all seem to be for the milk teeth set. With that in mind I was particularly pleased to see Beastly Verse, illustrated by Joohee Yoon. Full of fabulous classic poems and art that manages to combined a distinctive color palette with eye-popping art, Yoon’s creates a world that takes the madcap energy of Dr. Seuss and combines it with the classic printmaking techniques of a fine artist. The end result keeps child readers on the edge of their seats with adults peering over their shoulders, hungry for more.

As I mentioned, the resident three-year-old is much enamored of poetry. This is good because it makes her an apt test subject for my own curiosity. I should mention that my goal in life is to NOT become the blogger who uses her children to determine the value of one book or another. That said, the temptation to plumb their little minds can sometimes prove irresistible. Now Beastly Verse is not specifically aimed at the preschooler set. With poems like William Blake’s “The Tiger” and “Humming-Bird” by D.H. Lawrence, the verse can at times exceed a young child’s grasp. That said, none of the poems collected here are very long, and the art is so entrancing that the normal fidgets just tend to fade away as you turn the pages. My daughter did find that some of the more frightening images, say of the carnivorous hummingbird or the spangled pandemonium, were enough to put her off. Fortunately, each scary image is hidden beneath a clever gatefold. If the reader does not want to see the face of a tiger tiger burning bright, they needn’t open the fold at all. Not only is it a beautiful technique, it makes the book appropriate for all ages. Clever.

One might not associate Yoon’s particular brand of yellows reds, oranges, greens, and blues with evocative prints. Yet time and again I was struck by the entrancing beauty of the pages. Yoon’s traditional printmaking techniques can bring to life the hot steam that rises even in the coolest shade of a tiger’s jungle. Another page and Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” lingers below the surface of the water, his innards heaving with “little fishes”. Yoon saves the best for last, though, with a poem I’d not come across before. “Dream Song” by Walter de la Mare is set in the gleam of “Sunlight, moonlight / Twilight, starlight” when the sun is just a sliver of a white hot crescent on the horizon. All the forest is lit by the orange and red rays, and out of a tree pokes the head of a single owl. The hypnotic verses speaking of “wild waste places far away” mix with the image, conjuring up the moment moviemakers call “magic hour”.

Mind you, there is always a nightmarish mirror image to each seemingly sweet picture. The eyeless caterpillar all maw and teeth is turned, on the next page, into a beautiful but equally unnerving butterfly. Only Yoon, as far as I’m concerned, could have brought us the horrific implications of “The Humming-Bird” and its existence “Before anything had a soul.” Even the last seemingly innocuous image of Captain Jonathan cooking himself an egg takes on a dire cast when you realize it’s that of a pelican (of the poem “The Pelican” by Robert Desnos) he’s about to devour.

This is by no means the first collection of animal poetry to grace our shelves. It was only two or three years ago that J. Patrick Lewis helped to collect the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. Many of the poems found in this book can be found in that one as well. However, while that book seemed to be going for sheer girth, Yoon’s selections here are carefully positioned. I was interested in the layout in particular. You begin with the aforementioned Carroll poem (which seems appropriate since a manic smiling cat graces the title page) and then transition into a nursery rhyme, a bit of typical Ogden Nash flippery (only three lines long), and then Blake’s best-known poem. Variety of length keeps the poems eclectic and interesting to read. They keep you guessing as well. You never quite know what kind of poem will come next.

Having read the deliciously multicultural Over the Hills and Far Away, collected by Elizabeth Hammill, it is difficult to pick up a collected work of poetry without hankering for a similar experience. Aside from artist Joohee Yoon’s own name and the fact that Robert Desnos was Jewish, there is very little in this collection that isn’t white and American/European. The reasons for this may have something to do with permissions. Every poem in this book, with the exception of a few, is in the public domain. None were commissioned for the book specifically. Mind you, it would have been possible for the book to follow Hammill’s lead and locate international public domain animal poems of one sort or another written specifically for children. It is therefore up to the reading public to ascertain if the book stands stronger as a collection of similar types of poetry or if it would have benefited from a bit of variety here and there.

In the end, it’s a beautiful piece. Children’s rooms are no strangers to beautiful art in their poetry collections, but Yoon’s distinctive style is hard to compare to anyone. The only poet/illustrator with the same energy that comes to mind (and that writes for kids) would have to be Calef Brown. And as debuts go, this is a stunner. A truly inventive and original collection that deepens with every additional read. Kids like it. Adults like it. It could have benefited from some diversity, absolutely. Overall, however, there are few things like it on our shelves. An inspiration.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: A Year of Reading

Professional Reviews:

Misc: Years ago, it was Jules at Seven Impossible Things who alerted the children’s book world to Ms. Yoon’s presence.  Here is the post.


5 Comments on Review of the Day: Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon, last added: 4/16/2015
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11. Searching for the Real: Children’s Literature When Fiction and Reality Intersect

Eventually it will become clear that the bulk of my posts these days are inspired by Radiolab discussion topics of one sort or another.  In today’s case, there was a recent show that made a close examination of those moments when fiction and reality intersect in interesting ways.  The show began with a look at professional wrestling and the moment it became the entertainment it is today.  Then it transitioned into Don Quixote (naturally) and the fact that it had a lot of fun going meta when its sequel was released.

What I took away from the show was the fact that people love discovering the little hints of reality hidden in their media.  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about reality shows or great works of literature or one man/woman shows on the stage.  When you get a hint of the story behind the story you feel a little thrill.

How then to apply it to children’s literature?

I’m not going to be particularly systematic about this.  What follows here is just a random mishmash of books and topics where reality and fiction intermingle.  Here’s what I came up with off the top of my head:

Real World Fairy Tales: The Pied Piper of Hamelin – We all know that the Grimm Brothers collected some fairly wacky tales.  We know too that they tended to add their own very particular spin to the stories, watering some down and building others up.  But in some ways I find their recounting of The Pied Piper of Hamelin the eeriest of tales.  If you encountered the beautiful version illustrated by Elizabeth Zwerger last year then you may have noticed the odd little note in the back.  The Grimms take care to say that this tale is based on a true legend and that these children really did disappear.  1284 is the usual date given, and there are multiple theories about what the Piper myth represents.  For some fun reading I recommend the Wikipedia entry on the same.  There’s lots of fun to be had there.

Namesakes: Alice/ Peter Pan / Wind in the Willows, Christopher Robin, etc. – What do these classic books and characters all have in common?  Each and every one was based on real children.  Sometimes that worked out fine but more often than not the kids grew up to be displeased with their tributes. The most extreme example would be Christopher Robin, who outright disliked the appropriation of his name (though a sad case could be made for the Peter Pan kids, done away with one by one).  Far better to just vaguely base your characters off of real people, yes?  Hat tip then to . . .

The real people in Harry Potter – Periodically throughout the years Rowling would mention one person or another in her life who contributed to specific Harry Potter characters.  There was the teacher who may or may not have been Severus Snape.  The childhood friend who, along with a couple others, created the composite Ron Weasley.  Other authors have done similar things with their books.  It’s fan service, to a certain extent.  Suggest that there’s a real world version of one character or another and watch as your adoring hoards track those poor people down.

Masquerade / The Clock Without a Face - These are just two examples, but there are quite a lot more in the world (39 Clues comes to mind).  What we have here are children’s books where clues are hidden in the art and it’s up to the readers to track down the real world treasures.  Inevitably the puzzles are too complex for kids, but that hardly matters.  In the case of Masquerade there was a bit of a scandal regarding the solution.  In the case of Mac Barnett & Co.’s The Clock Without a Face, I’m not sure what the final score was or how many treasures were found.  However, there does appear to be a little wiki of the solutions here.  A pity the blog that contained the stories behind the treasure’s winners is defunct.

Real locations – Not the same thing as the puzzle books, but related.  I think there’s a great deal of hometown pride that comes out when a book is set in a real place.  Even in NYC, denizens take a great deal of love in children’s books that sport recognizable locales.  It makes for fun reading and there’s a true advantage to including a town that’s likely to buy many a copy of your book.  To say nothing of the tourism as well.

Other examples are, of course, welcome.


4 Comments on Searching for the Real: Children’s Literature When Fiction and Reality Intersect, last added: 4/14/2015
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12. Fusenews: Spring is here, spring is here / Life is skittles and life is beer

  • The weather!  She has warmed here in NYC!  The crocuses and daffodils and purple flowers that I can never identify are blooming in my front yard.  The birds are singing and there are buds on the trees.  Tis spring spring spring!  To celebrate, we begin today with a poetic celebration of baseball (a very spring thing) written by none other than my father.  You may have known that my mother was talented in this manner.  So too mon pere.  Enjoy!
  • News That Did Not Make a Sufficient Splash in America: How is it that we are not ALL aware that over in Bologna the small Brooklyn publisher Enchanted Lion Books won the prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year in the U.S. category?  I do not recall seeing this in my PW Children’s Bookshelf (though perhaps I missed it) nor on my tweets.  Come on, people!  Big time honor here and it couldn’t have gone to a nicer company.  Well done!
  • There are few things the British like more than rereleasing new Harry Potter covers.  They just revealed the new Jim Kay cover and while it does resemble some of the European covers I’ve seen, I think it is the very first time I’ve ever seen a hog associated in any way with Hogwarts.

Harry’s hair is actually messy!  And here is a nice interview with the artist in question.

  • I say this in all sincerity: The Bay Area Children’s Theatre may be the coolest theater of all time.  Yes, I love the New Victory Theatre in here NYC and my heart will always have a soft spot for Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, but check out this upcoming season.  It was Rickshaw Girl that drilled it all home for me.  Rickshaw Girl!  That would work brilliantly on the stage.
  • This one’s interesting.  There’s an extension (I think they’re called extensions, though I’m a little hazy on that point) that once installed on your computer allows you to browse Amazon.com and see the availability of the items there in your local library.  The applications, should they get out, could be enormous.  Using an online retailer to search your local library (which could be useful if your library’s search engine is archaic).  Curious how people feel about this one.  It’s called Library Extension.
  • We’ve seen books written by children reach various levels of popularity over the years.  Swordbird, Eragon, She Was Nice to Mice, etc.  And we’ve seen celebrity children’s books flood our shelves whether we want them or not.  Now the two have come together with an upcoming release and it’s . . . um . . . well, it’s kind of the ULTIMATE celebrity child author of all time.  This I’ll pass on, though.
  • What kinds of children’s books would you like to see?  Where are your pet personal gaps?  Marc Aronson begins the conversation.
  • Daily Image:

I don’t usually show tweets that amuse me, but this one had me laughing aloud in public for days.


4 Comments on Fusenews: Spring is here, spring is here / Life is skittles and life is beer, last added: 4/15/2015
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13. Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail
By Ursula Vernon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Group)
ISBN: 978-0803741294
Ages 8-11
On shelves April 21st

These are dark times for children’s fantasy. Dark times indeed. Which is to say, when I pick up a fantasy novel for kids, more often than not I find the books filled with torture, violence, bloody blood, and other various unpleasant bits and pieces. And honestly? That is fine. There are a lot of kids out there who lap up gore like it was mother’s milk. Still, it’s numbing. Plus I really wish that there was more stuff out there for the younger kiddos. The ones who have entered the wide and wonderful world of children’s fantasy and would rather not read about trees eating people or death by cake. Maybe they’d like something funny with lovable characters and a gripping plot. Even Harry Potter had its dark moments, but in the early volumes the books were definitely for the younger readers. Certainly we have the works of Eva Ibbotson and Ruth Chew, but newer books are always welcome, particularly if they’re funny. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Castle Hangnail blew me away as much as it did. Here we have a story that knows exactly what it is, what it wants to do, and manages to be hilarious and charming all at the same time. If you like your children’s fantasy novels full of psychotic villains and mind-numbing action sequences, seek ye elsewhere. This one’s for the kids.

To some, Castle Hangnail might appear to be a “pathetic rundown little backwater” but to the minions who live there it’s home. A home desperately in need of a new Master and Mistress. After all, if they don’t get someone soon the castle might be sold off and destroyed. Maybe that’s why everyone has such mixed feelings at first when Molly appears. Molly is short and young and wearing some very serious black boots. She looks like a 12-year-old kid and Majordomo, the guardian of the castle, is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s supposed to be their new Wicked Witch. Yet when he gives her the necessary tasks to make Castle Hangnail her own, Molly appears to have a couple tricks up her sleeve. She may have her secrets but everything seems to be okay . . . that is until the REAL master of Castle Hangnail arrives to claim it.

Basically what we have here is Downton Abbey for kids, albeit with significantly more dragon donkeys (and isn’t Majordomo SUCH a Carson?). This raises the question of where precisely this book takes place. Remembering that author Ursula Vernon herself is not actually British, one supposes that the story could be read as a U.S. tale. Due to its distinct Eva Ibbotson flavor, the initial inclination is to see the book as British. Our picturesque little towns pale in comparison to their picturesque little towns, and we’ve far fewer castles lying about the place. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t be American. After all, I’ve seen many an American author fall into the trap of putting cockney characters into their books for no apparent reason. Vernon has a good head on her shoulders. She’s not falling for that game.

Truly a book like this hinges on the characters created. If you don’t believe in them or don’t like them then you won’t want us to follow them into your tale. You have to sympathize with Majordomo, even when he does some unfortunate things. You have to like Molly, even when you don’t initially understand her back-story. It takes a little while but Vernon also makes it clear how someone can be wicked as opposed to evil. “Wicked was turning somebody into an earwig and letting them run around for a week to give them a good scare. Evil was turning someone into an earwig and then stepping on them.” An evil heroine is tricky to love. A wicked one is on par with your average 12-year-old reader.

Speaking of characters, Vernon makes some very interesting narrative choices as well. For example, our heroine is introduced to us for the first time on page six. However around Chapter 33 she disappears from the storyline and really doesn’t appear again until Chapter 39. You have to have a very strong supporting cast to get away with that one. It would be a lot of fun to ask kid readers who their favorite character was. Did they prefer Pins or his neurotic goldfish? The minotaurs or the moles? Me, I like ‘em all. The whole kooky gang. For a certain kind of reader, there’s going to be a lot of allure to having minions as lovable as these.

Even the lightest bit of middle grade fluff needs a strong emotional core to keep it grounded. If there’s nothing to care for then there’s nothing to root for. For me, the heart of this particular tale lies in Molly’s relationship with the evil sorceress (and teenaged) Eudaimonia. Lots of kids have the experience of wanting to befriend someone older and meaner. The desire to please can lead a person to act unlike themselves. As Molly says, “It’s like a weird kind of magic . . . Like a spell that makes you feel like it’s all your fault.” Molly also wrestles with being different from her kittens and sparkles loving twin and so the theme of finding yourself and your own talents come to the fore.

And now a word in praise of humor. Funny is hard. Funny fantasy? That’s even harder. Vernon has always blown away the competition in the hilarity department. Pick up any “Danny Dragonbreath” comic and you’ll see what I’m talking about. She can sustain a narrative for an early chapter book, sure, but full-blown novels are a different kettle of fish (is that a mixed metaphor?). So how does she do? You’d swear she’d been churning these puppies out for years. Here are three of my favorite lines in celebration:

- “Harrow was one of those people who is born mean and continues to lose ground.”

- “Magic was a requirement in a new Master, unless you were a Mad Scientist, and Molly didn’t look like the sort to hook lightning rods up to cadavers while wild Theremins wailed in the background.”

- “For there are very powerful spells that are very simple, but unless you happen to be the right sort of person, they will not work at all. (And a good thing too. You can raise the dead with five words and a hen’s egg, but natural Necromancers are very rare. Fortunately they tend to be solemn, responsible people, which is why we are not all up to our elbows in zombies).”

Parents wander into the children’s room of a library. They ask the librarian at the desk to recommend a fantasy novel for their 8-year-old. “Nothing too scary”, they say. “Maybe something funny. Do you have anything funny?” Until now the librarian might try a little Ibbotson or a touch of E.D. Baker. Perhaps a smattering of Jessica Day George would do. Still, of all of these Castle Hangnail appeals to the youngest crowd. At the same time, it can be equally enjoyed by older kids too. Smart and droll, it’s the fantasy you’ve always wanted to hand to the 10-year-old Goth girl in your life (along with, let’s face it, everybody else you know). A true crowd pleaser.

On shelves April 21st.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: Views From the Tesseract

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus



3 Comments on Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon, last added: 4/12/2015
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14. If you could change any rule . . .

Let us say that the gods have decreed that you shall now be The Supreme High Muckety-Muck of the American Library Association, hitherto allowed to command your librarian minions throughout the Americas.  Let us say that in your infinite wisdom you have decided to use this power for only good, and not evil.  Now you are seated at the great High Table of Librarianitude.  Your faithful hoards await your simplest command, you need only utter it.

The question before you then is this: You have the power to change any rule pertaining to the Youth Media Awards.  You can change only one.  So what do you do, what DO you do?

This is a game I like to play with myself from time to time.  We all have things we’d like to change, but short of acquiring High Muckety-Muck status, the likelihood of actually getting any of the following changed is strictly in the realm of the fantastical. Today, I think I’ll just break my own rule of “only one” and play around with different scenarios for the heck of it.

Here are some of my top choices:

- Create a graphic novel award.  More specifically, an award for “illustrated novels”.  Because of you just say “comics” or “graphic novels” then you leave yourself wide open for future librarians having to parse semantics as they relate to books with different degrees of illustration.  Would a book like Hugo Cabret count?  Would Diary of a Wimpy Kid?  Use the term “illustrated novels” and all is well.  That just leaves the name of the award.  I’d propose either The Selznick or The Bell (alternate name: “The Cece”).

- Create a poetry award.  Because, quite frankly, it’s weird that we don’t have one.  Really very weird.  The only thing I can figure is that the sheer lack of poetry in a given year written for children and teens might contribute to folks thinking that such an award shouldn’t be around.  But the Pura Belpre Award got over that problem by initially coming out every other year.  Surely the poetry award could do the same.  But what to name it?  I know she doesn’t strictly do children’s poetry, but she’s done enough of it that I think The Giovanni has a lovely ring to it.  The Nikki Giovanni Award for Children’s Poetry.  How is this not a thing?

- Change the age range on the Newbery.  Of course, even as I write this, there’s a children’s book out this year that is clearly in the 13-14 year-old age range that I’m stumping for.  Still, I feel like the Newbery age range criteria of “up to and including fourteen” is a relic of the pre-Printz Award days.  I have heard the defense for this age cap, one being that books that fall in the range of my own beloved frontrunner would be lost come award season.  Entirely possible.  That’s why we should consider the idea to . . . .

- Create a middle school award.  Pity the middle school books.  Occasionally they do very well for themselves (see: this year’s Newbery Award winner) but a lot of the time they fall between the cracks.  And considering all the middle school/junior high librarians out there, wouldn’t it be nice if there was an award out there for them?

- Create a Batchelder-like award for foreign illustration - We have a great award for translation, no question.  But year after year the most beautiful imports pass by, unnoticed.  Think of books like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.  I’d be willing to settle for a generalized “import” award.  Australia.  England.  Mexico.  South Africa.  It would all be up for grabs.  Now at this point folks might say that we have entirely too many awards.  All right, then.  Why not consider getting rid of one or two?

- Remove the Carnegie Medal.  This is probably the most contentious proposal listed here.  I’m sure the Carnegie has its supporters.  However, it’s a bit of an unfair game.  Of the twenty-five winners since the award was established in 1991, fourteen of those have been Weston Woods.  Indeed in the last ten years Weston Woods has won eight times.  Initially I think there was more competition for the award.  These days, it’s mostly how I learn about the newer Weston Woods releases.  That said, I’m fairly certain that someone who has served or is serving on the Carnegie committee is reading this.  If so, please tell me straight out why this is an important award.  Failing that, fans of it please rally behind your flag.  Don’t mince words.  Explain why it should stick around for the rest of our natural born lives.

Those are my particular fantasy changes.  We all harbor them from time to time.  How about yourself?  What would you like to mess with, if given the ultimate supreme power to do so?


11 Comments on If you could change any rule . . ., last added: 4/7/2015
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15. Press Release Fun: The Kids Author Carnival Returns!

Here in New York there’s a Teen Authors Festival that makes the rounds once a year. Inspired by David Levithan’s style, a Kids Author Carnival was created. It’s now in its second year. Check out that line-up!



The 2nd annual Kids Author Carnival will take place at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library on Saturday, May 30, 2015. The event begins at 6:00 pm and lasts until 8:30 pm. Doors open at 5:30pm.


Last year, the inaugural Kids Author Carnival (KAC) at the Jefferson Market Library enjoyed great success. The event featured thirty-eight children’s authors, and over 200 readers attended—the majority of them kids in elementary and middle school.


The goal of KAC organizers—founder Claire Legrand, Lauren Magaziner, and Heidi Schulz, all authors themselves—has always been to create an event geared toward the interests and attention spans of young readers. Instead of typical, hour-long Q&A panels, the KAC offers several 20-minute stations through which children rotate in groups. The stations include book-themed games like Charades and Pictionary, as well as miniature writing workshops. These stations give kids a chance to interact with their favorite authors in a fun, informal setting.


This year, the KAC will showcase thirty-six incredible middle grade authors, including Aaron Starmer (The Riverman), J. A. White (The Thickety), Kirsten Hubbard (Watch the Sky), and Sage Blackwood (the Jinx trilogy).


The event will begin at 6:00pm and last until 8:30pm, with a mass signing concluding the event. Beloved independent bookseller Books of Wonder will once again handle the book sales.


Below is a full list of the KAC 2015 authors:



Patrik Henry Bass

Rebecca Behrens

Sage Blackwood

Jessica Burkhart

Isaiah Campbell

Angela Cervantes

Clay McLeod Chapman

Matthew Cody

MarcyKate Connolly

Elisabeth Dahl

Tara Dairman

Jen Swann Downey

Paul Durham

Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Paula J. Freedman

David Fulk

Andrew Harwell

Veera Hiranandani

Kirsten Hubbard

M.P. Kozlowsky

Claire Legrand

Dana Alison Levy

Matt London

Lauren Magaziner

Jen Malone

Jeff Miller

Gail Nall

Ammi-Joan Paquette

Adriana Brad Schanen

Heidi Schulz

Michelle Schusterman

Tricia Springstubb

Aaron Starmer

Mary G. Thompson

Danette Vigilante

J.A. White


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16. Video Sunday: From Argentina to Germany, It’s a Worldwide Trip!

Happy Easter, folks!  Tis a bonny Easter Video Sunday . . . . not really.  One of these videos does show a bunny at one point, though.  Can YOU find it?  The answer is at the end of this post.

First up, my co-writer Jules Danielson was in town recently and managed to get herself on national television while here.  I’ve been in New York for 11 years and haven’t managed such a thing once.  So well done to her!  She’s the second person in this video to stuff their mouth full o’ Peeps.  It’ll make sense when you see it:

Technically this next video is an ad but you have no sense of that until you reach the end anyway. Plus it’s cute:

Weapons of Mass Instruction: A 1979 Ford Falcon Converted in a Tank Armored with 900 Free Books from Colossal on Vimeo.

Of course, as a librarian I want to know how those books were chosen and what the titles are that he hands to the kids. Curation! Curation! Curation! Thanks to Mike Lewis for the link.

I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but Nathan Hale, of the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, has started his own YouTube series.  You may have seen his previous video about drawing war hats.  Well, video #2′s out and it’s about drawing everybody’s favorite character, The Hangman.  I love this format for doing videos.  Very nice for illustrators.  Take note, folks.

We’ve been saying for years that someone out there in network television land should interview the Newbery and Caldecott winners again. So PBS Newshour picked up the slack and did a great interview with Kwame Alexander. Of course, they make a rookie mistake right at the start by saying the Newbery is for “young adult literature” (does no one VET the news over there, PBS?) but I’m cutting them slack for doing this at all. Now about Mr. Santat . . .

Next up, Voldemort.  Because what is Easter without something that has NOTHING to do with Easter?

There’s an app out for the amazing book Lindbergh by Torben Kuhlmann.  And, as you might expect, it looks gorgeous.  Torben will be in town while I am in Austin so I am drowning my sorrows in this app.  *sigh*

And for our off-topic video, something appropriately Easterish:

So which video had the bunny?  If you said it was the Nathan Hale post, you’re correct!  Go eat yourself a chocolate.


5 Comments on Video Sunday: From Argentina to Germany, It’s a Worldwide Trip!, last added: 4/7/2015
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17. Of Bunnies and Blood

Morning, folks!  I’ve two spring-like things to draw your attention to today.  Nothing particularly heavy or consequential.  Just light, airy, early April tidbits.

First up, New York Public Library is doing a wonderful 30 Days of Poetry feature where every day of the month a different staff member reads a selection from one of their favorite poems.  Today’s reader?  Myself!  I take a piece out of my favorite poem by Ogden Nash “Don’t Cry, Darling, It’s Blood All Right”, the full text of which you can find on an old post of mine here.  I explain in the recording why I’m fond of that particular bit of verse.

Second, about a year ago, when my sister was still creating her fabulous How To, How Hard, and How Much blog (sadly, no longer in operation) she decided to create bunny biscuits for Easter.  The results were . . . fluffy.  Yes, let’s call them fluffy.




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18. The Rise in Latino Children’s Literature: A 2015 Accounting

So we need diverse books, which at this point in the proceedings shouldn’t really be news to much of anyone.  You know it.  I know it.  But ascertaining progress can be tricky in these matters.  Anyone who works in publishing knows that it takes years and years for books to reach publication.  Read through any copy of PW Children’s Bookshelf and you’ll have the enormously satisfying experience of noting all the diverse authors being announced there.  Yet it will take some time before their books hit our shelves.  What is there for the kiddos in the interim?

To answer this, I turned to one of the smaller subsets of children’s literature: books starring Latino characters.  In the past this has been a lamentable experience.  Most of what was out there got a Pura Belpre nod and that was it.  There’s a reason the Pura Belpre used to be every other year, folks.  But 2015 has been different.  We’re seeing the number of titles going up up up and I like what I see. Please note however that there is still a lot of work to be done.  In the grand scheme of what is being published (and when we compare the number of books here to the number of Hispanic Americans residing in the States) there is work to be done.

With that in mind, here are the 2015 books starring Latino and Latino-American characters.  I know that there are titles that I have missed.  Feel free to chime in with them in the comments.

Picture Books

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Still kicking myself that I didn’t include this in my last Caldecott prediction round-up.  There’s time enough.  By the way, if you want to play the how-many-books-does-Margarita-Engle-have-out-in-2015 game, now’s the time to start counting.  Read the Seven Impossible Things interview with the creators here.

Papa Gave Me a Stick by Janice Levy. Illustrated by Simone Shin

A very simple story about a boy who wants a guitar and the folktale-esque way in which he acquires one.  In a lot of ways it had many similarities to the far more serious . . .

Finding the Music / En Pos de la Musica by Jennifer Torres. Illustrated by Renato Alarcao

Again we have a kid obsessed with getting a guitar (and mariachis too, come to think of it).  However, this book was far more realistic and for an older readership in general.

Hens for Friends by Sandy De Lisle. Illustrated by Amelia Hansen

In 2015 hens are hot.  SLJ recently highlighted three of them, but I’ve seen far far more than that so far.  Case in point this sweet little tale.  It’s a story about keeping backyard chickens and would pair nicely with fellow 2015 release Millie’s Chickens by Brenda Williams.

Little Chanclas by Jose Lozano

If you want to talk about the publisher who’s been putting out Latino children’s literature with the greatest consistency, you’d be amiss in not pointing to Cinco Punto Press.  Each year they’ve a plethora of titles.  If the company’s name sounds familiar that may be because of their recent runaway YA hit Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.  This year they’ve at least two titles that caught my eye.  This and . . .

My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford. Illustrated by Antonio Castro L.

. . . this.  An intergenerational tale, not too different from . . .

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez

I know at least two women who hiss and growl every time they see a picture book where the grandmother is portrayed in the stereotypical old lady manner.  So I love how the abuela here is a very realistically aged woman.  The story of how she and her granddaughter overcome their language barriers makes it one of the lovelier books this year.

Salsa: Una Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta. Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

I’m fairly certain there are more bilingual picture books out in 2015 that I’m simply blanking on.  With Mr. Tonatiuh’s rise in fortunes thanks to his ALA Youth Media Award wins for Separate Is Never Equal, I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of this fella in the future.

The Sock Thief by Ana Crespo. Illustrated by Nana Gonzalez

Note the boy character.  I was happy to see a pretty even split between the boys and the girls in the picture book sphere.  Unfortunately that equality takes a bit of a nose dive as we go up in reading levels.

Early Chapter Books

In many ways, this is the area that has seen the most improvement.  When it comes to Latino characters in early chapter books, you pretty much have Zapato Power or nothing.  This year we’re seeing three new series and one new standalone title.  Unfortunately, the gender tilts a little too far in one direction.

Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure by Jacqueline Jules. Illustrated by Kim Smith

Look at the attitude on that girl!  Smith’s art goes a long way towards selling Sofia as a character.  You look at this book jacket and you want to know more about her.  Fortunately, you’ll have your chance.  Future Sofia titles are being produced left, right, and central.

Emma Is On the Air: Big News by Ida Siegal. Illustrated by Karla Pena

This one’s a little different since author Ida Siegal is (at least according to Wikipedia) “an American television journalist news reporter who has been an on-air reporter for NBC New York since January 2003″ (you can tell she’s a kind of celebrity because illustrator Karla Pena’s name is nowhere to be found on the cover, at least in this edition).  No complaints here, mind you.  The more the merrier.

Lola Levine is Not Mean! by Monica Brown

Like Drum Dream Girl, which features a Chinese-African-Cuban heroine, Lola Levine is one of the finer heroines sporting a dual heritage.  Peruvian/Jewish, I like this cover particularly since it shows Lola doing what she does best while her brother lies at her side.

The Best Friend Battle by Lindsay Eyre

If you noticed that all the prior books were sporting girls and not boys, that is true. We certainly need more boys in all areas but particularly in the early chapter book and middle grade novel areas. In this case, Georgie Diaz isn’t the focus of the book.  No, the heroine is the girl on the far left, and she’s just trying to hold onto her best friend in spite of the (very platonic) friendship overtures Georgie’s engaged in.

Middle Grade Novels

Canned and Crushed by Bibi Belford

When boys do make covers we don’t always see their faces.  Example B:

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

There are, of course, exceptions to the rules.  This gorgeous cover for one . . .

The Amazing Adventures of Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Considering that the boy lives in England, I’m still gonna count it.  It’s such a great book, after all.

Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco by Judy Rose

Quite possibly one of the best book jackets of the year.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Illustrated by Katie Kath

See?  Chickens!  They’re everywhere!

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson

Graphic Novels

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

A good example of casual diversity.  Astrid’s ethnicity is never called into question or even becomes a point of the book.


Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares

Last year I had a devil of a time finding good picture book sports bios.  They’re out there, folks and they vary in terms of content.  This is one of the winners.

Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba by Alma Flor Ada

Brown Girl Dreaming set loose the publisher wheels.  I have no doubt Ms. Engle was working on this for years.  The time is now perfect to release it.  It is, I do believe, a middle grade memoir.  Oh, rarest of beasts.

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Aliona Bereghici

By my count this is Ms. Engle’s third book out this year.  There may be more in the works.

So what have I missed?  We’ve an entire season on the horizon.  Surely this is just a drop in the ocean, yes?


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19. Video Sunday: Movie, book, library, and audiobook trailers trailers trailers!!

Morning, folks. We’re beginning this Sunday morn with stuff that’s good for the soul.  How often have you said to yourself, “I’d love to own some original art from illustrator Matthew Cordell but I’m too busy spending all my cash on children’s literacy foundations”?  Well, fear not!  Now you can do both.  In celebration of their book Special Delivery, Messrs. Cordell and Philip Stead are going to hold a raffle for five pieces of awesome art.  You win by donating money to good causes.  The details are here and the video here:

Next up, the American Hogwarts.  I mean, it is if by “Hogwarts” you’re referring to a well-established university setting with a clear cut amazing children’s collection, staff, program schedule, and more.  Princeton finally decided to create a little trailer for the Cotsen Children’s Library, and I have to say I’m stunned. First off, there’s my girl Dana Sheridan killing it with the storytimes.  Then there’s the just wide range of services they provide.  And the furniture, dear GOD the furniture!!  I’m fascinated by the Cotsen Critix program too since bookclubs for 9-12 year-olds are my weakness.  Wish I lived closer to it!  Here’s more background information and here’s the trailer:

Someday I shall teach a course on the art of the book trailer. In it I will show all the different myriad styles and techniques one can utilize when coming up with your very own.  And always assuming that I remember, I shall include this simple, lovely trailer for The Mystery Hat by Rune Brandt Bennicke and Jakob Hjort Jensen .  Sometimes it’s all in the soundtrack, folks.

There go Scieszka and Biggs.  I’ve suspected for years that they were in the pocket of Big Audiobook but never had the proof . . . until now!!

Seriously, though, I’m-a wanting that crazy white wig.

So this year we are seeing not one but TWO different early chapter book series about Latino girls. This is a good thing since the running tally before 2015 was . . . um . . . yeah, it was zero.  Zero series in total.  The first is the Emma Is On the Air series by Ida Siegal and illustrated by Karla Pena.  The second is the Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kim Smith.  But only one of these (as of this post) has a book trailer:

It’s not a children’s book.  It’s not even a YA novel.  It’s (*gasp* *shudder*) an adult book . . . but its book trailer is adorable.  I can resist it, not at all.

Thanks to Alison Morris for the link.

I had not yet taken the time to see the trailer for the Lena Dunham/Hilary Knight documentary. Nothing too surprising to see here, but it’s certainly a very clear cut case of a famous person attempting to shine their light on someone they admire who might not be a household name (though Eloise certainly is).

Thanks to educating alice for the link.

And I’m not feeling too creative on the off-topic video of the day.  And when the going gets tough, the tough links to cat/dog videos.  So goes the world.  So goes the world.


3 Comments on Video Sunday: Movie, book, library, and audiobook trailers trailers trailers!!, last added: 3/23/2015
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20. Where the Wild Books Are: Addressing the State of Global Publishing in America

It’s amazing what a blog post can do. About a year or so ago I wrote some thoughts about picture books created in other countries, and how they are received when they are brought to American shores.  I’ve a great deal of experience with librarians considering some types of illustrations too “weird” to promote to children and parents and it rankles.  Likewise, there are many publishers that eschew a certain kind of look that comes with picture books from other countries.  My blog post sparked something, it seems.  The great illustrator Etienne Delessert caught on to it and the result is the following program, coming this April 18th.  If you are in town and around, I highly suggest you check it out.  The line-up is AMAZING! Plus it’s free and you can register here for it.