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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!"
Statistics for A Fuse #8 Production
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What is it about the alphabet that gives artists the license to get weird? Historically, the alphabet book is one of the earliest American children’s book forms. You know. “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” That kind of thing. I’m certain someone has already written, or is in the process of writing, the full-blooded history of American abecedarian outings for the young, so I won’t delve into such matters to any great length.
Now every year we get some wacky alphabet titles in the mix. The usual art books. Coffee table picture books, if you will. I’m used to seeing one of them, two max, in a given year. So you’ll forgive me for being so surprised when I saw not one, not two, but a whopping FIVE esoteric picture books come out in 2014 to varying degrees of artsy fartsyness. They’re also rather hugely enjoyable in their own odd little ways.
With that in mind we’ll begin with the most accessible and work our way out from there.
Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
You may have heard me mention this Jeffers title in my recent Newbery/Caldecott prediction list for the fall. The book creates one short story per letter of the alphabet, making it a devilishly clever creation. Definitely falls into the older kid category of picture bookdom, but I’d argue that the stories and art are so much fun that it won’t have a hard time maintaining a child’s attention.
Take Away the A by Michaël Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
And you thought they couldn’t come up with an original concept for a picture book anymore? Ha! Check this puppy out. In it the book goes through the alphabet, taking away a single letter from each word so as to produce a new one. The text reads:
“Without the A
the BEAST is BEST.
Without the B
the BRIDE goes for a RIDE.
Without the C
the CHAIR has HAIR.”
Back me up on this when I say no one’s ever done this before. They haven’t, right? Just brilliant.
Work: An Occupational Alphabet by Kellen Hatanaka
Now we’re getting a little more design-y. The book is ostensibly a listing of different jobs by letter (though, as my husband pointed out, just try and make a living as an “explorer” or “mountaineer” these days). Hatanaka has this smooth digital style that’s easy on the eyes. I did actually attempt this one with my three-year-old, thinking (for some reason) that the lure of the jobs would hold her attention. It didn’t but that could just mean it’s for older children. Certainly there are a lot of visual gags in here that will appeal primarily to them.
Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology
by Patrick and Traci Concepcion, ill. Dawid Ryski
And here we go. Your first clue that kids may or may not be the primary audience for this book? Well, it contains a zombie smoking a cigarette (recall the recent cigar brouhaha with The Scarecrow’s Wedding?), a “sultry seafaring sailor” by the name of Stella, and a “hellacious Harley hog”. On the other hand it had an entry on “Gus the gregarious giant with geek-chic glasses” which definitely appeals to the Portlandia in me. This is sort of an Urban Outfitters alphabet book. Looks nice in a small studio apartment. Children need not necessarily apply.
Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses by Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky
Apparently these photos are from Radunsky’s personal collection with Raschka providing three line verses per letter. They primarily feature West European, white kids and Kirkus was down on the book because it found it too snarky. Not a problem I particularly had, though again I question whether or not an actual child would want to have anything to do with this book. Rather, I would hand this to teen fans of Edward Gorey that buy old photos in antique stores for fun (which is to say, myself circa age 15).
Any others I may have missed that are in the same vein? Surely there’s another one out there sporting a 2014 publication date. Surely.
When I say the word “mummy” what springs into your mind? Movies starring Brendan Fraser? Egypt and scarabs and rolls of crumbling papyrus? Absolutely. But what if I told you that recently the best-preserved mummy in the world was found? And what if I told you that not only was she a woman, not only was she surrounded by treasure, but she was also Chinese. Now I’ve known about mummies in South America and frozen on mountains. I know about bog bodies and bodies that were dried out naturally in deserts. But I had no idea that there even was such a thing as a Chinese mummy. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins breaks everything down for you, bringing us a story that’s part forensics, part history, part family story, and all interesting.
Same old story. One minute you’re happily munching muskmelons. The next you’re dead and your corpse has been interred with miniature servants, silk paintings, scrolls, and countless other treasures. And the story might stop right there, except that in two thousand or so years nothing changes. Your body does not rot. Your treasures stay complete and unchanging. So when archaeologists excavated the tomb of Lady Dai, they can be forgiven for being completely astonished by what they found. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins takes you not just into the mystery surrounding Lady Dai’s astonishingly well-preserved body, but also into ancient China itself. A more complete and exciting (and I use that word sparingly) glimpse into Qin and early Han Dynasties for children would be difficult to find.
Why do we love mummies as much as we do? I think it might be a mix of different reasons. Maybe we’re so attached to our own bodies that we find a weird bit of hope in the fact that they might last beyond the usual prescribed amount of time allotted to an average dead carcass. My husband, I should note, hasn’t been completely thrilled with the fact that I leave this book lying about as much as I do. As he rightly points out, what we have here is a bloated corpse book. He’s not wrong and it’s not a particularly attractive dead body either. So why the fascination? Why should I care that her joints were still movable when they found her, or that her fingerprints and toe prints were clear? I can’t rightly say, but it’s a curiosity that kids share with adults. We want to know what happens beyond death. The next best thing, it seems, is to find out what happens to our bodies instead.
There was a time when the television show C.S.I. inspired whole waves of kids to dream of jobs in forensics. Naturally the real world applications are a lot less fast-paced and exciting than those on television. At least that’s what I thought before hearing about forensic anthropology. Author Liu-Perkins brings it to vivid, fascinating life. It’s not all that’s alluring about this title though since the layout of the book is rather clever as well. Rather than just stick with a single narrative of the discovery of the body and tomb, the author punctuates the text with little interstitial moments that talk about what everyday life for Lady Dai might have been like. Liu-Perkins allows herself a bit of creative freedom with these sections. Obviously we have no idea if Lady Dai “sigh[ed] in weariness” while tending her silkworms. To eschew accusations of mixing fact and fiction without so much as a by your leave, Liu-Perkins begins the book with an Introduction that sets the stage for the interstitial Lady Dai moments. She writes how the artifacts from the tomb caused her to imagine Lady Dai’s life. From there it seems as though the historical fiction sections are directly tied into this statement, clearly delineated in the text from the longer factual sections. Authors these days struggle with making the past live and breathe for their child readers without having to rely on gross speculation. This technique proves to be one answer to the conundrum.
Admit it. A lot of booksellers and librarians are going to be able to hand sell this book to their customers and patrons by playing up the gross factor. Just show that shot on page 24 of the corpse of Lady Dai and a certain stripe of young reader is going to be instantaneously enthralled. Maybe they’ll take it home for closer examination. Maybe their eyes will then skim over to the text where phrases like “her eyeballs had begun falling out” lead to the factors that explain why the decay in the body stopped. They may then flip to the beginning and start reading front to finish, or they might skim from page to page. Honestly, there’s no wrong way to read a book of this sort. When you’re dealing with a title about the “best preserved body in the world” you’re already in pretty awesome territory. Credit then to Christine Liu-Perkins who gives the subject matter her full attention and presents it in such a way where many children will willingly learn about Chinese history in the process. A beautiful book. A heckuva mummy.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy checked out from library for review.
Now we’re in the thick of it. Do you hear that? That is the clicking ticking sound of the reanimation of the Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott blogs. They’re a little groggy right now, trying to get their bearings, figuring out which foot to try first. But don’t be fooled by their initial speed. Very soon they’ll be acting like well-oiled machines, debating and comparing and contrasting like it’s nobody’s business. But why let them have all the fun? Time for a little predicting on my end as well! I’ve been discussing these books with folks all year and through our debates I’m getting a better sense of the titles that are more likely than others to make it in the end. So, with the inclusion of some fall books, here’s the latest roster of predictions. Please note that as the year goes on I tend to drop books off my list more than I add them. This is also my penultimate list. The final will appear in December.
It’s so satisfying when you like a book and then find that everyone else likes it too. This was the very first book I mentioned in this year’s Spring Prediction Edition of Newbery/Caldecott 2015 and nothing has shaken my firm belief that it is extraordinary. It balances out kid-friendly plotting with literary acumen. It asks big questions while remaining down-to-earth. And yes, it’s dark. 2014 is a dark year. It’ll be compared to Doll Bones, which is not the worst thing in the world. I could see this one making it to the finish line. I really could.
You know what? I’m sticking by this one. Graff’s novel has the ability to create hardcore reader fans, even though it has a very seemingly simple premise. It’s librarian-bait to a certain extent (promoting a kid who likes to read Captain Underpants will do that) but I don’t think it’s really pandering or anything. It’s also not a natural choice for the Newbery, preferring subtlety over literary largess. I’m keeping it in mind for now.
Notable if, for no other reason, the fact that Nina Lindsay and I agree on it and we rarely agree on anything. As it happens, this is a book I’ve been noticing a big backlash against. It sports a complex and unlikeable heroine, which can prove difficult when assessing its merits. She makes hard, often bad, choices. But personally I feel that even if you dislike who she becomes, you still root for her to win. Isn’t that worth something? Other folks find the blending of historical fiction and fantasy unnerving. I find it literary. You be the judge.
The frontrunner. This is Woodson’s year and we’re just living in it. I’m waiting to hear the concentrated objections to this book. Waiting because I’m having a hard time fathoming what they might be. One librarian I spoke too complained it was too long. Can’t agree myself, but I noted her comment. Other than that, nobody disagrees that it’s distinguished. As distinguished as distinguished can be, really. If it doesn’t get the gold (look at all the nice sky-space where you could fit in a medal!) I will go on a small rampage.
Betcha didn’t see that one coming. You were probably expecting a discussion of Revolution or A Snicker of Magic or something, right? Well darling, I’ll confess something to you. I like simple books. Reeeeally simple books. Books so simple that they cross an invisible line and become remarkably complex. I like books that give you something to talk about for long periods of time. That’s where Hanlon’s easy chapter book comes in. What do I find distinguished about this story? I find the emotional resonance and sheer honesty of the enterprise entirely surprising and extraordinary. And speaking of out-there nominations . . .
Face facts. Jeffers is a risky Caldecott bid, even when he’s at his best. The man does do original things (This Moose Belongs to Me was probably his best bet since moving to America, though I’d argue that Stuck was the best overall) but his real strength actually lies in his writing. The man’s brain is twisted in all the right places, so when you see a book as beautifully written as this one you have to forgive yourself for wanting to slap medals all over it, left and right. A picture book winning a Newbery is not unheard of in this day and age, but it requires a committee that thinks in the same way. I don’t know this year’s committee particularly well. I can’t say what they will or will not think. All I do know is that this book deserves recognition.
Let the record show that the ONLY reason I am not including The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos in this list is because it does require a bit of familiarity with the other books in the series. I struggle with that knowledge since it’s long been a dream of mine to see a Joey Pigza book with the Newbery gold and this is our last possible chance to do just that. Likewise, I’m not including The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis only because knowledge of Elijah of Buxton makes for a stronger ending to the tale But both books are true contenders in every other way.
And now for the more difficult discussions (because clearly Newbery is a piece of cake….. hahahahahahahaha!!! <—- maniacal laughter)
I only recently discovered that if you take the jacket off of this book and look at it from left to right you get to see the entire story play out, end to end. What other illustrator goes for true emotion on the bloody blooming jacket of their books? Bean is LONG overdue for Caldecott love. He’s gotten Boston Globe-Horn Book love and Ezra Jack Keats Award love but at this moment in time it’s downright bizarre that he hasn’t a Caldecott or two to his name. Hoping this book will change all that.
I’m sticking with Floyd here. The man’s paid his dues. This book does some truly lovely things. It’s going to have to deal with potentially running into people who just don’t care for his style. It’s a distinctive one and not found anywhere else, but I know a certain stripe of gatekeeper doesn’t care for it. It’s also one of three African-American ballerina books this year (Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela and Elaine DePrince, ill. Frank Morrison and Firebird by Misty Copeland, ill. Christopher Myers anyone?) but is undeniably the strongest.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, photographs by Tim O’Meara
People don’t like it when a book doesn’t fall into their preexisting prescribed notions of what a book should do. Folks look at the cover and title of this book and think “picture book biography”. When they don’t get that, they get mad. I’ve heard complaints about the sparse text and lack of nonfiction elements. Yet for all that, nobody can say a single word against the art. “Stunning” only begins to encompass it. I think that if you can detach your mind from thinking of the book as a story, you do far better with it. Distinguished art? You better believe it, baby.
What can I say that I haven’t said a hundred times before? I’ve heard vague whines from folks who don’t care for this art style. *sigh* It happens. I’ll just turn everything over to the author for her perspective on the story behind the story then.
Okay, try to think of a precedent for this one. Let’s say this book won the Caldecott gold. That would mark the very first time in the HISTORY of the award itself that two unmarried artists got a medal for their work, yes? And yet the book couldn’t exist without the two of them working in tandem. Remy and Lulu is an excellent example of a book that I dismissed on an initial reading, yet found myself returning to again and again and again later. And admit it. The similarities in some ways to Officer Buckle and Gloria can only help it, right?
I don’t think I gave this book adequate attention the first time I read it through.
I heard an artist once criticize the current trend where picture book illustrators follow so closely in the footsteps of Jon Klassen. And you could be forgiven for thinking that animator Kenard Pak is yet another one of these. Yet when you look at this book, this remarkable little piece of nonfiction, you see how the textured watercolors are more than simply Klassen-esque. Pak’s art is delightful and original and downright keen. Can you say as much for many other books?
This is one of those years where the books I’m looking at have NOTHING to do with the books that other folks are looking at. For example, when I look at the list of books being considered at Calling Caldecott, I am puzzled. Seems to me it would make more sense to mention Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes, Go to Sleep, Little Farm by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, or Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg by Debi Gliori (wait . . . she’s Scottish and therefore ineligible?! Doggone the doggity gones . . .).
For additional thoughts, be sure to check out the Goodreads lists of Newbery 2015 and Caldecott 2015 to see what the masses prefer this year.
A message for school librarians: ALA is now accepting applications for the 2015 Sara Jaffarian Award. The award recognizes K-8 schools for exceptional programming in social studies, poetry, drama, art, language arts, culture, or other humanities subjects.
CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office is now accepting nominations for the 2015 Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for Exemplary Humanities Programming.
School libraries, public or private, that served children in grades K-8 and conducted humanities programs during the 2013-14 school year are eligible. The winning library will receive $5,000.
Applications, award guidelines and a list of previous winners are available at www.ala.org/jaffarianaward. Nominations must be received by Dec. 15, 2014. School librarians are encouraged to self-nominate.
Applicant libraries must have conducted a humanities program or program series during the prior school year (2013-14). The humanities program can be focused in many subject areas, including social studies, poetry, drama, art, music, language arts, foreign language and culture. Programs should focus on broadening perspectives and helping students understand the wider world and their place in it. They should be initiated and coordinated by the school librarian and exemplify the role of the library program in advancing the overall educational goals of the school.
Named after the late Sara Jaffarian, a school librarian and longtime ALA member, ALA’s Jaffarian Award was established in 2006 to recognize and promote excellence in humanities programming in elementary and middle school libraries. It is presented annually by the ALA Public Programs Office in cooperation with the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). The award is selected annually by a committee comprising members of the ALA Public and Cultural Programs Advisory Committee (PCPAC), AASL and the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC).
Funding for the Jaffarian Award is provided by ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund (CCF). In 2003, a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities kick-started a campaign to secure the future of libraries as cultural destinations within the community. Since then, CCF has grown to more than $1.7 million, serving libraries as they serve their communities through the highest quality arts and humanities programs. To contribute to CCF, visit www.ala.org/ccf.
About the ALA Public Programs Office
ALA’s Public Programs Office provides leadership, resources, training and networking opportunities that help thousands of librarians nationwide develop and host cultural programs for adult, young adult and family audiences. The mission of the ALA Public Programs Office is to promote cultural programming as an essential part of library service in all types of libraries. Projects include book and film discussion series, literary and cultural programs featuring authors and artists, professional development opportunities and traveling exhibitions. School, public, academic and special libraries nationwide benefit from the office’s programming initiatives.
About the American Association of School Librarians
The American Association of School Librarians, www.aasl.org, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning.
About the American Library Association
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 57,000 members in academic, public, school, government and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.
Not too long ago I linked to a letter Amazon had released regarding their spot o’ trouble (to put it mildly) with the publisher Hachette. In my post I encouraged authors to tell me what they thought about it and they did, but not on my blog itself. And why should they? With all the power Amazon wields it would be foolish to draw their ire so directly. As such, I received one email that particularly caught my attention. Together we decided that it was worth publishing, though it would have to remain nameless. Here then is one perspective on the Amazon letter from a writer caught up in the midst of it all.
“Hi, Betsy –
Per your request for opinions from Hachette authors on the Amazon/Hachette ebook pricing fight, here are some thoughts I wish I had time to shape into more concise/coherent form:
As best I can tell, Amazon’s larger strategic purpose in keeping ebook prices as low as possible — and what Hachette emphatically does NOT want — is for ebooks to become so much less expensive than physical books that they kill off bricks-and-mortar bookstores, making Amazon and ebooks pretty much the only game in town.
As a children’s book author without much name recognition, this is bad for me on two levels:
1. The ebook market for kids’ books is much smaller than for adult books.
Children’s books, especially MG, have been much slower to migrate to ebooks than adult titles in general and adult genre titles (romance, mystery, sci-fi) in particular. Since the large, large majority of sales of MG titles are still physical books, the death of real bookstores would likely be disastrous for MG kids’ book sales.
Amazon’s claims of price elasticity — the “we’ll sell x at this price, but 1.74x at the lower price” or whatever — are limited to the Kindle sales channel and don’t take into account the potential loss of sales from sources other than Kindle. If I sell 1.74 times more books on the kindle…but my sales at physical bookstores plummet because the bookstores no longer exist…am I better off? My guess is no.
I’m also skeptical that price elasticity is the same for kids’ books as it is for, say, adult mystery novels — not sure that 1.74 number would be true for a MG title. But again, that’s less important than the fact that Kindle sales represent a very small fraction of the total pie of MG book sales.
For an author like me without a James-Patterson-sized following, discoverability is huge. Fewer physical bookstores mean fewer opportunities for audiences to discover new writers both via hand-selling by booksellers and display space. A world in which Amazon is the primary gatekeeper is one in which the only new authors who break out are the ones Amazon promotes. Having had one of my books end up on Amazon’s “best of the year” list, I know that getting on an Amazon list definitely sells books…and not being on their list (as in the case of other books I’ve written) means you DON’T sell books.
All things being equal, I’d rather not leave the decision about whether my books get wide exposure in the hands of a single bookseller.
Some other observations:
Unless I missed something, none of Amazon’s public arguments in favor of its position have addressed the fundamental problem with lowering ebook prices — that if those prices fall far enough, the business model for physical bookstores will be unsustainable, and they’ll gradually disappear (or suddenly disappear, like Borders did). Amazon keeps bringing up the publishers’ resistance to adopting paperbacks half a century ago, but a hardcover-to-paperback transition didn’t fundamentally threaten the existence of physical bookstores the way books-to-ebooks does.
And while an all-ebook (or primarily ebook) ecosystem might be just fine for adult genre writers, it’ll almost certainly suck for MG writers. Can you think of a single MG kids’ book writer (Amanda Hocking comes to mind, but she’s YA) who’s launched their career or built a significant audience via ebooks? There are a bunch of successful examples in adult genre fiction, but none that I know of in MG. Rick Riordan and R.J. Palacio have both released ebook-only short works that hit the bestseller list, but those were companion pieces to works that had become phenomenally successful as physical books first.
As far as I can tell, kids and their parents just aren’t discovering new MG authors through ebooks. Maybe that’ll change in the near future, but I’m skeptical — based on my experience with both readers and my own kids, even digitally native kids seem to gravitate more toward physical books than ebooks.
On a semi-related note (since what’s at stake in the Amazon fight isn’t just the viability of traditional bookstores, but traditional publishers), I’d like to add that I’ve personally benefited enormously from having been traditionally published, both financially and creatively. My current book has a ton of illustration, which has meant a lot of heavy lifting in the graphic design department. While I could have self-published my more traditional, non-illustrated MG titles without sacrificing much in the way the audience experiences the story, if I’d tried to do the current book without the help of Hachette’s art department, the results would have been ugly.
Given how many kids’ books rely on illustration, I suspect the art and design support that traditional publishers provide is a much bigger deal overall for kids’ books than adult titles.
Moreover, Hachette’s marketing support, even for less prominent titles on their list, is much more substantial than I can accomplish independently, no matter how much I spend out of pocket on publicists, building a social media presence, etc.
Long story short, I’m on Hachette’s side. It may be that physical books and bricks-and-mortar bookstores are doomed over the long run, but as a non-prominent writer of middle grade kids’ books, anything that extends their lifespan — and keeps not just bookstores but traditional publishers healthy — seems to be good for me as an author.
As someone once said (was it a French guy? I can’t remember) — I apologize for not having the time to write you a shorter letter.”
Introducing the all new “Walking and Talking” series by Steve Sheinkin!
I’m always on the lookout for folks I consider double threats. In the children’s and YA book biz that translates to mean people who can both write and draw. Take someone like Kadir Nelson, for example. One day he’s doing his spectacular art, merry as you please, and the next he turns around and shows that he can write books like We Are the Ship. Is that fair? It is not! And now we have a similar situation in the case of National Book Award finalist / Newbery Honoree / even-more-honors author Steve Sheinkin. One moment he’s writing Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, and the next he’s drawing comics.
Comics? Comics! Why? Well, in his own words:
“I love to draw comics, and I meet lots of great writers at various events I go to, so I figured—why not combine the two? The idea is to interview children’s and YA authors and turn the interviews into short comics. Thanks to John Corey Whaley for bravely agreeing to star in this first one.”
Is it any wonder I leapt at the chance to host these? Here then is the first starring Printz winner John Corey Whaley (of Where Things Come Back and Noggin). It marks an entirely different way of interviewing some of the luminaries in the field.
For more info on Steve and his myriad works, head on over to www.stevesheinkin.com. And stayed tuned for more of these comics. This is only the beginning.
COLUMBUS CHILDREN’S BOOK FESTIVAL RETURNS SEPTEMBER 20
Authors, Illustrators and More to be Featured at Free Outdoor Event at the Columbus Public Library
(Columbus, GA) – The long-awaited Second Annual Columbus Children’s Book Festival returns to the grounds of the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road on Saturday, September 20th.
The event is free and open to the public.
The first event, held in 2013, brought thousands to the Library on a rain-soaked day to see authors such as R. L. Stine and Jane O’Connor.
This year’s Festival promises to be even bigger with well-known authors, illustrators and entertainers coming to town for free presentations and autograph sessions that are designed for the whole family. Books will be for sale, as will food, beverages and snacks.
Complete event information, including author and performer schedules can be found on the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries’ website www.cvlga.org. Interested parties may also contact the Library at 706-243-2669.
FEATURED AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS (detailed biographies at the end of this release)
The featured authors and illustrators represent some of the most famous and most highly-regarded talent working in the field of children’s literature and entertainment, including:
· Famed Muppeteer Caroll Spinney who has portrayed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in over 4,000 episodes of Sesame Street.
· Christopher Paul Curtis, the iconic author of the young adult classic The Watson’s Go To Birmingham – 1963 and other novels.
· Alyssa Satin Capucilli, creator of everybody’s favorite puppy Biscuit and author of over 100 books for children.
· Acclaimed international storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy, author of The Library Dragon and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach.
· Michael P. White, award-winning artist and illustrator of The Library Dragon and Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day.
· Galactic Quest Comic Books featuring Sonic the Hedgehog artist Tracey Yardley and Herocats creators Kyle Puttkammer and Marcus Williams.
MEET AND GREET WITH THOMAS & FRIENDSTM
A very special Meet & Greet will take place when Thomas & Friends™ pull into the station. Bring your friends and family, and don’t miss the opportunity to meet Everyone’s favorite No. 1 blue engine, and get your photo taken! Be sure to bring your camera to capture the special day.
ENTERTAINMENT AND OTHER EVENTS
Joining the Festivities will be entertainers such as Adam the Juggler, All Hands Productions Puppet Theatre, storyteller Mama Koku and Molly the Clown. Jubilee Farms Petting Zoo will be in operation onsite from 10:30am-12:30pm. There will also be character greetings from Biscuit, Where the Wild Things Are Monster, Skippyjon Jones and The Very Hungry Caterpillar throughout the day.
Additional activities during the event include Craft-O-Mania, a series of craft projects for children inspired by the Festival authors, and the Simple Steps Garden, an area of play, reading and crafts for babies, toddlers and the pre-schoolers.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
The Festival will run from 10:00am to 4:00pm on Saturday, September 20th. The event will happen rain or shine.
The Festival kicks off with an opening ceremony at 10:45am awarding area students who participated in the annual Children’s Book Festival Young Writers Contest.
The author’s appearances will be as follows. All authors will appear in the Festival Main Event Tent located on the front lawn of the Library, with autograph sessions immediately following their presentations:
11:00am CAROLL SPINNEY
12noon ALYSSA SATIN CAPUCILLI
1:00pm CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS
2:00pm CARMEN AGRA DEEDY
3:00pm MICHAEL P. WHITE
Thomas and FriendsTM will be greeting fans at 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm in the Library Auditorium.
Galactic Quest Comics will have their own tent and will be meeting fans throughout the day.
FRIENDS OF LIBRARIES BOOKSTORE
One of the Libraries’ support groups, The Muscogee County Friends of Libraries, will be running the Festival Bookstore during the event. Books from all of the featured authors, plus additional works, will be on sale. This will be a prime opportunity to pick up books to be autographed by your favorite author. The Store will accept cash and Visa, MasterCard and Discover credit cards.
SPONSORS FOR THE EVENT
A wide range of community organizations have agreed to sponsor the event this year, including:
The Muscogee County Library Foundation, Aflac, the Muscogee County Friends of Libraries, Pratt & Whitney, The Housing Authority of Columbus, GA, Publix Supermarket Charities, the Hughston Clinic, Muscogee Moms, WRBL News 3, theColumbus Ledger-Enquirer, Sunny 100, CBS Outdoor, and the Speakeasy and Twelfth Street Deli.
FEATURED AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIES
CAROLL SPINNEY - Named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, Big Bird has captivated children around the world for more than 30 years. A puppeteer since he was eight years old, Caroll Spinney has been the man inside the bird from the beginning. Also playing Oscar the Grouch, his characters have been seen on more than 4,000 shows in 148 countries.
Spinney is the author of The Wisdom of Big Bird (And the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers, an inspirational memoir in which he shares the wisdom that he has gleaned over the years from his work creating and portraying one of the world’s most beloved characters. In an honest and endearing tone, Spinney vividly recalls a life enriched by pursuing and attaining his childhood dream.
Starting with a show in his neighborhood barn, for which he charged two cents admission, Spinney set out to be “a puppeteer on the best kids’ show in the world.” After attending art school in Boston, he launched his television career in Las Vegas, where he created a show titled Rascal Rabbit in 1955. Returning to Boston, he first joined the Judy and Goggle Show as a puppeteer, and then moved over to The Bozo Show where he stayed for ten years.
Since achieving worldwide renown on Sesame Street, Spinney has made guest appearances on many other television shows, always as Big Bird and Oscar. He has performed in specials with Julie Andrews and Bob Hope, starred in his own 90-minute special, Big Bird in China, in 1982 and made appearances in the second and third Night of 100 Stars, Broadway’s televised tribute and fundraiser for fellow thespians. Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird marked Spinney’s motion picture debut in a starring role.
Spinney has earned four Emmy Awards, two Gold Records, and two Grammy Awards. Sesame Street has won numerous awards for its groundbreaking work.
CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS - The second oldest of five siblings, Christopher was born and raised in Flint, Michigan which has been used as a prominent setting in several stories including The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 and Bucking the Sarge. Graduating from Flint Southwestern High School, Christopher immediately did two things: 1) enrolled at Flint’s campus of the University of Michigan and 2) applied for a job at Fisher Body Plant No. 1, a General Motors assembly facility. This was extremely typical for many young adults. Most blue-collar jobs, particularly in the “Jungle” where Christopher worked, were often heavy-duty, hard-working tasks, requiring minimal educational skills at best. The pay and benefits couldn’t be beat, so for high school graduates that wanted a significant income right out of school, General Motors was the ticket.
Of all the various departments one could work, the “Jungle” was easily one of the worst. The Jungle was where the manufacturing process began, various sizes and shapes of metal being welded together at sequential work stations that eventually became the body frame of the automobile.
Once the car’s basic skeletal frame was established, one of the first things to get added were the doors. This was Christopher’s work station. During the 70s, Fisher Body produced three models – the Electra 225 (also known as a “deuce and a quarter”), LaSabre and Riveria. Because the doors were so big and quite heavy, the company set the job up for two men to alternate installing the doors on every other car coming down the assembly line. This went on each night for eight or more hours, about 60 cars per hour.
Christopher and his coworker decided that instead of working every other car, they would work every 30 minutes. This allowed Christopher time to do other things — besides reading novels (one of his great passions), he began writing to overcome the boredom. Some of the writings were letters; others were sketches of stories that, like his character Bud Caldwell (Bud, Not Buddy), began the colorful sojourn which led him to become one of America’s leading authors of children’s literature.
Christopher currently lives in Detroit, Michigan and in his free time still enjoys reading, playing basketball and collecting music.
ALYSSA SATIN CAPUCILLI - Alyssa Satin Capucilli is the imaginative author of books for both pre-schoolers and beginning readers. Her creations include lift-the-flap books for toddlers that feature gentle, lovable characters and easily identifiable objects as well as a series of beginning readers starring Biscuit, a rambunctious golden-haired puppy whose adventures are brought to life by illustrator Pat Schories.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Capucilli developed an early love of books, and looked forward to weekly trips to the library with her mother and sisters. “I could hardly wait to choose a special book from all of the books that lined the shelves,” she once recalled to Something about the Author (SATA ). “As a matter of fact, my sisters and I would often play library at home! We would take turns pretending to be the librarian, and we would recommend books to each other, check them out, and tell each other to ‘SSSSHHH!’” Among Capucilli’s favorite authors were Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, and Beverly Cleary, whose stories about Henry and his dog, Ribsy, she loved. “The funny thing was, although I loved to imagine myself as different characters in books,” Capucilli added, “I never imagined that the authors who created them were real people!”
Capucilli’s first published book was Peekaboo Bunny, a lift-the-flap book published in 1994. Illustrated by Mary Melcher, the book helps small children navigate in a garden, and it was popular enough to prompt a sequel, Peekaboo Bunny Friends in the Snow.
Capucilli introduced a new character to young readers in Biscuit. A small, soft-eared, lovable puppy the color of freshly baked, golden biscuits, Capucilli’s Biscuit bounds into the life of a young girl, quickly becoming her best friend as she interprets his “Woof, Woof” to mean many things. From wanting a small snack before bedtime to being tucked in snugly under layers of blankets, the activities of Biscuit and his young owner are depicted in “oodles of contextual clues,” easy-to-read sentences, and “repetitive word and phrases,” according to School Library Journal reviewer Gale W. Sherman. “I find that inspiration for stories and characters comes from so many places: our memories, our family, our friends, our pets, our own observations and our own wonderings,” Capucilli explained. “I first got the idea to write about … Biscuit after watching my daughter dog-sit a neighbor’s huge golden retriever! But deep inside, I think that the ‘Biscuit’ stories are really about that puppy I always imagined I would someday have, from when I was a young girl, reading and dreaming.”
The Biscuit books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in many formats throughout the world. She is also the author of dozens of other books, including the popular Katy Duck series.
CARMEN AGRA DEEDY - Carmen Agra Deedy has been writing for children for over two decades. Born in Havana, Cuba, she came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1964. She grew up in Decatur, Georgia, where she lives today.
Deedy began writing as a young mother and storyteller whose NPR commentaries on All Things Considered were collected and released under the title, Growing Up Cuban In Decatur, Georgia. The pithy collection of twelve stories soon garnered awards, among them a 1995 Publishers Weekly Best Audio (Adult Storytelling) and a 1996 Parents’ Choice Gold Award.
Her children’s books have won numerous awards.
The Library Dragon received various children’s state book awards and has sold near half a million copies. In 2003 the book was her home state’s choice to represent Georgia at the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival.
The Yellow Star was the recipient of the 2001 Jane Addams Peace Association Book Award (Honor), presented to Ms. Deedy at the United Nations by Mrs. Kofi Annan. It also received the 2001 Christopher Award, the 2000 Parent’s Choice Gold Award, the 2001 Bologna Ragazzi Award (for best international children’s book), the 2002 WOW Award (National Literary Association of England), among other notable awards and honors. It has been translated to over a dozen languages.
Martina the Beautiful Cockroach was presented with the 2008 Pura Belpre Honor Award, the 2008 NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Book Award, the 2008 Best Children’s Books of the Year (Bank Street College of Education), the 2008 International Latino Book Award, the Irma Simonton and James H. Black Award (Honor), the 2008 E.B White Award (Nominee), and the 2009 ALA Odyssey Audio Award (Honor), among others.
One of Deedy’s more recent children’s books, 14 Cows for America, is based on an astonishing gift Americans received from a Maasai village in Kenya, following the events of 9/11. The book was released in September of 2009 and is a New York Times Bestseller. The Wall Street Journal described it as a “. . . moving and dramatically illustrated picture book.”
Deedy is now expanding into the world of chapter books with The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. This is a story of deception, intrigue, and derring-do that reveals the unlikely alliance between a cheese-loving cat and the Cheshire Cheese inn’s mice in Victorian England.
Deedy has spent the past twenty years writing and telling stories. She has been an invited speaker at venues as varied as The American Library Association, Refugees International, The International Reading Association, Columbia University, The Smithsonian Institute, TED, The National Book Festival, and the Kennedy Center.
MICHAEL P. WHITE - Michael was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his Associate of Arts degree from The Art Institute of Atlanta. Michael spent many years doing local and regional art festivals before illustrating his first book. His artwork has been featured in many galleries including a show highlighting his book illustrations at the Hudgens Center for the Arts. He has illustrated four children’s books: The Library Dragon (winner of the 1997 Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award, an Honor Book for the 1997-1998 Florida Reading Association Children’s Book Award) and its sequel The Return of the Library Dragon, both by Festival author Carmen Agra Deedy; The Secret of Old Zeb (winner of an Award of Merit from the Southeastern Library Association) with Carmen Agra Deedy; and Harriett’s Horrible Hair Day with Dawn Lesley Stewart.
Michael loves having his dream job — working with students of all ages on how one idea can create a story. Michael lives in Atlanta with his wife, Traci, his daughter, the lovely and talented, Madeline; and five dogs.
You know, it’s not that I’m a big nonfiction reader or advocate in particular. It’s just the nature of children’s librarianship in this day and age. You simply cannot work in the field without encountering nonfiction and, as a result, sometimes you end up with granite hard opinions about the form. Take me, for example. My trajectory in matters of nonfictiony nonfictioness (why yes, I was an English major, why do you ask?) proceeded accordingly:
Fear nonfiction based on the books I recall from my youth which, each and every one, would at some point ask me what the major goods and services of, say, Iowa were.
Read nonfiction as part of my job with great initial reluctance.
Love nonfiction and discover that not only is it fun to read but I can now supplement my tawdry elementary/middle/high school education (to say nothing of college) with facts that at the very least make for good dinner party conversation.
Defend nonfiction against those that do not slot neatly into my understanding of the form since, as in any religion, it is the newest converts that are inevitably the most zealous.
Take myself down a notch.
At the moment I am transitioning between #4 and #5 with feet planted firmly in both spheres. This is exemplified in no better way than in the case of invented dialogue. For lo, when it comes to picture book biographies in which situations and characters are fleshed out through dialogue that has no basis in fact, I am unforgiving and cruel. Beautiful books with art that would make a blind man weep are crushed beneath my toes as I note and distain moments of verbal creativity. In general I stand by my anti-faux dialogue stance but recently I’ve been cajoled into softening, if not abandoning, my position.
You see this Saturday past I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL called “Personal Passions and Changes in Nonfiction for Children and Teens: A Conversation with Marc Aronson”. During the course of his talk Mr. Aronson gave a fascinating review of the history of American children’s nonfiction over the decades. It was absolutely engrossing. Afterwards we had a chance to engage in a bit of a Q&A and I got to bring up the subject of invented dialogue. Marc’s answer was to the point. Quote, “We should be honest about saying what we do and do not know.”
Simple, right? And yet it caused me a bit of soul-searching. There is a new crop of picture books out this year that make up dialogue left and right with scant backmatter to boot. I shall not name names. They know who they are. On the flip side, there are the books that are honest about what they do and don’t know. These books are hardly new. Consider a lot of Jonah Winter’s books like The 39 Apartments of Ludwig Van Beethoven or Here Comes the Garbage Barge. But we really don’t have a separate section for them. Heck, we don’t even have a name for them!
Consider the following books that use invented dialogue but are honest about it. These books are all shelved in my library’s Picture Book section and not the Bios or Nonfiction. Is that the best place for them? Impossible to say. Still, they represent an interesting phenomenon in the world of publishing. Mostly they are accurate, but when they are not they confess the fact. To wit:
The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, ill. Mary GrandPre – I confess that when I first read the book I was incensed at the unnecessary family dialogue in it. That was before I noticed the note in the back that makes plain the fact that Ms. Rosenstock felt obligated to include the section but that it’s made up. That’s honest. Of course if she hadn’t included it I am convinced it would have been a stronger book. As it stands, the GrandPre illustrations do much to elevate it above the pack.
Albie’s First Word: A Tale Inspired by Albert Einstein’s Childhood by Jacqueline Tourville, ill. Wynne Evans – This one’s so honest that the subtitle itself gives away the game. “Inspired by” is a smart way of putting it. You can’t blame Tourville for wanting to tell this story to the best of her ability. If Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was three then what was his first word? That’s the kind of question that could launch a thousand picture books. Thus far, this is the only one I know of.
Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention by Barb Rosenstock, ill. S.D. Schindler – Again with the honest subtitle. This one veers awfully closely to the true story, but Rosenstock (sound familiar? See: The Noisy Paintbox) confesses that there are just some things out there we cannot know. It’s an awfully engaging book too. I should note that the three books I’ve mentioned here thus far all received stars from Kirkus.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales – This one’s a little different than the other books here since I don’t think Morales sees this as a bio in any way, shape, or form. Frida Kahlo merely serves as the starting point. The real story here is one of inspiration in everyday life. Kirkus called it an homage to Kahlo’s art. Could be. All I know is that it’s awfully interesting but not the sort of thing you usually run across.
By the way, in case you’re curious about attending a Children’s Literary Salon, you can see our upcoming topics here. 2014 is closing out with a bang, I do believe.
And finally, this one’s for all the Dr. Who fans out there. It’s a faux retrospective of all the American Dr. Who’s. Beautiful (though maybe it’s just the presence of Gene Wilder that makes me so happy).
I don’t normally do this, but it is books like this one that make it clear that rules are meant to be broken. We children’s librarians are familiar with books we consider “for professional use”. These are titles that are of use primarily to library students, librarians, and teachers. They tend to have ugly covers. They tend to have dull, dry (if ultimately useful) language. They tend to be unmemorable. Well stop the presses and reign in the horses because I have seen what may be the MOST useful and beautiful professional use title in all my livelong days. Behold Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley. How would one use such a tome? Well, say you have a teacher that needs to do a science unit of some sort. This book recommends some really brilliant nonfiction titles for kids (and some nonfiction/fiction pairings that are rather good in their own right) and then works them into Common Core State Standards lesson plans. There are sample questions and worksheets and pretty much anything a K-2 teacher would need. It is also lovely on the old eyeballs and clearly well researched. I love it. You need it. No one has heard of it. Go get it.
You know, just when I feel like I can coast and rest on my laurels, there goes Travis Jonker raising the bar. Bar raiser!!! I mean who else would have come up with the brilliant idea of a Twitter handle author game, pixelated profile pics and all? I doff my hat.
Speaking of Twitter, all you folks out there with library degrees looking for a job may find the post 14 Twitter Feeds for Job Seekers to Follow of particular use. It does a nice job of including some non-library related job sites as well. Just in case. Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
Hey auction hounds! Those of you with a weakness for original art are in luck. The Carle Honors are fast approaching and that means the old 2014 Carle Honors Art Auction is on the horizon. Not attending the gala? No problemo. You can just bid on the items (or, if you’re like me, drool over them) here. The online portion of the auction will close at noon on September 18th, and leading bidders will be added by proxy bid to the silent auction at The Carle Honors gala in New York City later that same evening. In addition, all of the works will be on display at Books of Wonder (18 West 18th Street, NYC) from September 3 through September 17. All the more reason to visit NYC, yes yes?
Boy, are you guys some kind of lucky bums. Did you not know that the Cybils (the only blogger award for children’s and YA literature) call for judges ends today? You still have time to submit your name for a category. What are you waiting for? Go! Do! Read!
What are the 24 Best Baby Books of All Time? Parents Magazine asked a whole slew of librarians like myself and then published the results. Fact of the matter is, it’s a pretty darn good list. Steve Light and Mary Murphy and Nina Laden and all the other usual suspects. My own contribution might be the most esoteric, but I’ll stand by it till the end.
I was just so pleased to see that Jules Danielson had taken the time to talk to Kekla Magoon in light of her latest book (How It Went Down) and the events in Ferguson. I do hope that folks take time and all read Kekla’s novel. It could not be more timely.
This is one of those BoingBoing links that one prays is a hoax. Surely something this downright evil couldn’t be true, right? I mean . . . this is preposterous if accurate.
Hat tip to Brian A. Klems for his public service announcement / Writers Digest article The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs. Young Adult. It’s not just editors and agents that will thank you, sir. It’s librarians like myself that see the same manuscripts when authors ask us for feedback. We are in your debt.
Wondering what the authors out there thought about Amazon’s recent complaint about big old unreasonable Hachette and its ilk. Aw. Poor little behemoth. But I would love to hear from the Hachette authors and what they thought about the piece.
I’m pleased as punch to be today’s stop on the Ben Hatke Beastiary of Lost Creatures blog tour (and you know I almost never do blog tours so this book has gotta be good. Today Ben’s gonna highlight a creature for us himself and I’m gonna sit back and take it easy.
Ben Hatke’s Houseguest Beast of the Day: Goblins
No two goblins are alike. These wild gregarious beings appear most often as a collection of miscellaneous unwanted parts from other creatures and, indeed, perhaps that’s where goblins come from. They chatter constantly with each other, though to outsiders their language sounds like garbled nonsense. They eat all the time, and conduct themselves as if they are in a never ending circus parade.
Having goblins in your house can be fun at first, but after about ten minutes their presence tips everything toward chaos. You start to wonder where all your food went and why all your furniture has started shuffling around on its own.
Goblins also have the disconcerting ability to hide in impossibly small spaces. A goblin the size of a small child, for instance, could leap suddenly out of a teapot. So you see, goblins are among the least domestic of creatures and, as houseguests, a few goblins go a very long way.
PS: for goodness sake, whatever you do, don’t ever, ever let a goblin borrow your car! Even if they say they are just going to the store.
A Note from Ben: Gotta love goblins. When I was growing up, my dad helped in restoring the house/museum of Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley, who seemed to have an affinity for these odd creatures. See: Little Orphan Annie and Nine Little Goblins. I was pretty small when we visited that house, but you could definitely imagine goblins lurking about.
Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.
She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.
This is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.
For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.
It would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.
Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.
As a mother who recently spent the better part of twenty hours in a car with a three-year-old and a three-month-old baby, I feel a special kinship with parents who have also engaged in the ultimate endurance sport: travel with children. If you feel no particular sympathy for those engaged in this activity that is because you have not experienced it firsthand yourself. But even when my daughter was projectile vomiting regularly and even when the breast pump tipped to one side spilling milk all over my pants and EVEN WHEN I found myself wedged in the backseat between two car seats trying to change my son’s diaper on my lap while parked, I could still feel grateful because at least it was just a vacation. It wasn’t like we were moving to a new town or anything. Because if I’d had to deal with the abject misery of my three-year-old on top of the vomit/milk/diapers I don’t know how my sanity would have remained intact. And yet, other parents do it all the time. Every day someone somewhere packs up all their worldly possessions, their pets, and their miserable offspring and heads for a whole new life. It’s daunting. You can’t help but admire their guts. And boy, you’d sure like to hand them a book that they could use to show their kids that as scary as a move like that can be, ultimately it’s going to be okay. Enter a book so sparse and spare you’d never believe it capable of the depth of feeling within its pages. Deborah Underwood lends her prodigious talents to Bad Bye, Good Bye while artist Jonathan Bean fills in the gaps. The effect is a book where every syllable is imbued with meaning, yet is as much a beautiful object as it is a useful too.
“Bad day, Bad box” says the book. On the page, a boy wrestles with a moving man for possession of a cardboard box, doomed to be loaded into the nearby moving van. The boy, we see, is in no way happy about this move. He clearly likes his home and his best friend, who has come with her mother to bid him goodbye. On the road he and his little sister pitch seven different kinds of catfits before sinking into a kind of resigned malaise. Time heals all wounds, though, and with the help of a motel swimming pool, diners, and multiple naps, they arrive in their new town in the early evening. As the family and movers pile boxes and other things into the new house, the boy meets another kid who just happens to live next door. Together they collect lightning bugs and star gaze until that “bad bye” at the beginning of the book morphs into a far more comfortable “good bye” when the new friends bid each other goodnight.
This isn’t Underwood’s first time at the rodeo. The art of the restrained use of language is sort of her bread and butter. Anyone who has seen her work her magic in The Quiet Book is aware that she says loads with very little. I sincerely hope someone out there has been bugging her to write an easy book for kids. The talent of synthesizing a story down to its most essential parts is a rare one. In this book there is a total of 57 words (or so). These usually appear in two word pairs and by some extraordinary bit of planning they also rhyme. We begin with all “bads”. It goes “Bad day, Bad box / Bad mop, Bad blocks / Bad truck, Bad guy, Bad wave, Bad bye.” The book then slips into neutral terms as the initial misery wears off. Then, as we near the end the “goods” come out. “Good tree, Good sky / Good friend, Good bye.” Such a nice transition. You could argue that it’s pretty swift considering the depths of misery on display in the early pages, and that’s not too far off, but kids are also pretty resilient. Besides, motel swimming pools do indeed go a long way towards modifying behavior.
Jonathan Bean’s one to watch. Always has been. From the moment he was doing Wendy Orr’s Mokie & Bik books to the nativity animalia title “One Starry Night” to all those other books in his roster, he proved himself a noteworthy artist. Watching his work come out you have the distinct sense that this is the calm before the storm. The last minute before he wins some big award and starts fielding offers from the biggest names in the biz. In this book I wouldn’t necessarily have said the art was by Bean had I not seen his name spelled out on the cover. It’s a slightly different style for him. Not just pencil and watercolors anymore. A style, in fact, that allows him to try and catch a bit of Americana in the story’s pages. When Underwood writes something like “Big hair, White deer” it’s Bean’s prerogative to determine what that means exactly. His solution to that, as well as other sections, is layering. Time and landscapes are layered on top of one another. America, from diners and speed limit signs to windmills and weathervanes, display scenes familiar to traveling families. A great artist gives weight and meaning to the familiar. Jonathan Bean is a great artist.
Now the cover of this book is also well worth noting. I don’t say that about a lot of picture books either. Generally speaking a picture book’s cover advertises the book to the best of its ability but only occasionally warrants close examination. Jonathan Bean, however, isn’t afraid to convey pertinent information through his cover. In fact, if you look at it closely you’ll see that he’s managed to encapsulate the entire story from one flap to another. Begin at the end of the book. Open it up. If you look at the inside back flap the very first thing you’ll see underneath the information about the author and the illustrator is the image of the boy in the story straining against his seatbelt, his face a grimace of pure unadulterated rage. Now follow the jacket to the back cover of the book and you see the boy crying in one shot and then looking miserably back in another. The weather is alternating between a starry night sky and a windy rainy day. Move onto the front cover and the rain is still there but soon it turns to clear skies and the boy’s attitude morphs into something distinctly more pleasant. In fact, by the time you open the book to the front flap he’s lifting his hands in a happy cheer. The attitude adjustment could not be more stark and it was done entirely in the span of a single book jacket. Not the kind of thing everyone would notice, and remarkable for that fact alone.
People are always talking about “the great American novel”, as if that’s an attainable ideal. We don’t ever hear anyone talk about “the great American picture book”. I don’t know that Bad Bye, Good Bye would necessarily fit the bill anyway. This is more the picture book equivalent of On the Road than To Kill a Mockingbird, after all. It’s a road trip book, albeit a safe and familiar one. For children facing the frightening prospect of the unknown (and let’s face it – adults hardly do much better) it’s good to have a book that can offer a bit of comfort. A reassurance that no matter how things change, good can follow bad just as day follows night. They are not alone in this uprooting. Somewhere out there, in another car, with another family, there might be a kid just as miserable as they are and for the exact same reason. And like all humans this knowledge ends up being comforting and necessary. Therefore give all your love to Bad Bye, Good Bye. It has necessary comfort to spare.
On shelves now.
Like This? Then Try:
A New Room for William by Sally Grindley
Herman’s Letter by Tom Percival
The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon
Alexander, Who Is Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst
Tim’s Big Move by Anke Wagner
Misc: And I interviewed Ms. Underwood about the book here.
Today I am pleased as punch to premiere the brand spankin’ new book trailer for Dan Yaccarino’s middel grade novel debut Zorgoochi Intergalactic Pizza: Delivery of Doom (say that five times fast – I dare you). The video captures humor, pathos, and angry mushrooms. In other words, everything that makes life worth living.
I have never, in all my livelong days, been so proud of an illustrator. And Mary Engelbreit at that. For someone as well-established as she is the decision to create and sell a print with all proceeds going to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund, which supports the family of Michael Brown, the Missouri teenager who was gunned down by police two weeks ago. Here’s what it looks like:
Next thing you know Ms. Engelbreit is being blasted by haters and trolls for this work. You can read about the controversy and her measured, intelligent response here.
While we are on the subject of Ferguson, Phil Nel created a list of links and resources for teachers who are teaching their students about the events. I was happy to see he included the impressive Storify #KidLitForJustice, that was assembled by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.
iNK (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) that group of thirty authors of nonfiction books for children recently came up with an interesting notion. Thinking about how to best reach out to teachers and homeschooling parents they’ve come up with The Nonfiction Minute—a daily posting of intriguing tidbits of nonfiction designed to stimulate curiosity, with a new one published online every weekday. Say they, “Each Nonfiction Minute website entry will include an audio file of the author reading his or her text, so students can actually hear the author’s voice, making the content accessible to less fluent readers. The audio frees us from the constraints of children’s reading vocabulary, which is what makes textbooks and many children’s books designed for the classroom so bland. We can concentrate on creating a sense of excitement about our subject matter for our young listeners, readers, and future readers.” Right now they’re in the the early stages of crowdfunding via IndieGoGo so head on over and give them your support if you can. It’s a neat notion.
I’m not a Dr. Who fan myself but that’s more because I simply haven’t watched the show rather than any particular dislike or anything. So I was very amused by the theory posed recently that Willie Wonka is the final regeneration of The Doctor. And they make a mighty strong case.
And speaking of cool, I almost missed it but it looks as though 3-D printers are creating three dimensional books for blind children these days. The classics are getting an all new look. Fascinating, yes? Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link.
This is a bit of a downer. I was always very impressed that Britain had taken the time to establish a funny prize for kids. Now we learn that the Roald Dahl Funny Prize has been put on hold. It’ll be back in 2016 but still. Bummer.
You know, I love The Minnesotan State Fair. I think it’s one of the best State Fairs in the nation. But even I have to admit that when it comes to butter sculptures, Iowa has Minnesota beat. The evidence?
Hard to compete with that. Thanks to Lisa S. Funkenspruherin for the link.
Believe it or not, this year marks the 50th Anniversary of Roald Dahl’s beloved CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. This September, Penguin is celebrating with a week long Skype Tour of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre!
On the Skype tour:
• The Roald Dahl Museum’s Education Manager will lead your group around
the Museum virtually
• Kids will get a look inside Roald Dahl’s real Writing Hut, featuring
his famous chair and the unusual objects he kept on his desk
• Experience the world of Dahl and the inspiration behind his wonderful
• Participate in a Q&A with the Education Manager
Skype opportunities are available the week of Monday, September 29 – Friday, October 3, 2014 between 9:30am EST and 3:00pm EST/8:30am CST and 2:00pm CST/7:30am MST and 1:00pm MST/6:30am PST and 12:00pm PST.
Maybe it’s Common Core. Maybe not. I’m not always quite certain how far to place the blame in these cases. However you look at it, children’s nonfiction bios are getting weird these days. In some ways it’s quite remarkable. I’m the first one to say that nonfiction for kids is better now than it has ever been. I mean, when I was a young ‘un the only nonfiction I ever enjoyed was the Childhood of Famous Americans series. Not that it was actually nonfiction. I mean, it made these interesting suppositions about the youth of various famous people, complete with fake dialogue (I am the strictest anti-fake dialogue person you’ll ever meet). I enjoyed them the way I enjoyed fiction because, for the most part, they were fiction. Boy, you just couldn’t get away with that kind of thing today, right?
Meet three new “nonfiction” series of varying degrees of fictionalization and authenticity that caught my eye recently. I can’t exactly call them a trend. Rather, they’re simply interesting examples of how publishers are struggling to figure out how to tackle the notion of “nonfiction” and “high-interest” for kids. And it’s now our job to determine how successful they’ve become.
First up, let’s go back old Childhood of Famous Americans. They remain beloved, but they’re problematic. So what do you do when you have a product that slots into that category? You rebrand, baby!
Introducing History’s All-Stars from Aladdin (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Observe the following covers:
Look vaguely familiar? Pick up the book and you may find the words “Childhood of Famous American” in there individually, but never strung together in that particular order. The publication page only mentions that the books were previously published as far back as the 1950s (little wonder I’m worried about that Sacagawea title, yes). Yet the design, as you can see, isn’t far off so we had to wonder. Is it just the same series? A side-by-side comparison:
The publisher description calls this “a narrative biography” which is technically the accepted term for this kind of book. But there is no way you could use this for a report. They’re fiction, baby. A kind of fiction that doesn’t really have a designated place in a library collection at this time, though that could change. Which brings us to . . .
Ordinary People Change the World – A series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
It’s the series bound to wreck havoc with catalogers everywhere! They look like Charles Schulz characters. They read like nonfiction . . . sorta? Kinda? Kirkus said of I Am Rosa Parks that it was, “A barely serviceable introduction with far more child appeal than substance.” Yet they’re bestsellers and visually incredibly appealing. Published by Dial (a Penguin imprint), the books were a risk that appears to have paid off in terms of dollars. In terms of sparking interest in these historical figures it’s also a success. But is it factual? Is it accurate? Does it stand up to scrutiny? Does it matter? Why shouldn’t it matter? You see the conundrum.
Finally, there’s a series coming out from Scholastic that looks like it might be along similar lines to these, but that I haven’t seen firsthand quite yet:
Called the When I Grow Up series, again we’re seeing historical figures as children. But maybe these are entirely accurate in their retellings? They’re Scholastic Readers, made to meet the needs of early readers. It’s the title “When I Grow Up” that raises the red flag for me. Because, you see, they’re written in the first person. And as a librarian who has had to field reference questions from first graders asking for “autobiographies”, this is problematic. If a book is entirely accurate but seems to come from the lips of its biographical subject, what is it worth in the pantheon of nonfiction?
People will always say that worrying along these lines is ridiculous. If the books are good and spark an interest, isn’t that enough? Why do you have to require strict accuracy at all times? My argument would be that when biographies are written for adults, people are meticulous (hopefully) about maintaining authenticity. Why should we hold our kids to different standards?
It’s a debate. These books just crack it open wide.
Along the same lines (WARNING: Shameless plug looming on the horizon!) I’ve gotten out the jumper cables and restarted the old Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL. Babies have been born and it is time to get back in the swing of things. On that note, on Saturday, September 6th I’ll be hosting one of children’s nonfiction all-stars in a conversation that might very well touch on this topic. Behold!
Personal Passions and Changes in Nonfiction for Children and Teens: A Conversation with Marc Aronson
Author, professor, speaker, editor and publisher by turns, Marc Aronson’s love of nonfiction and his conviction that young people can read carefully, examine evidence, and engage with new and challenging ideas informs everything he does. Join us for a conversation about the changing role of nonfiction for youth, and the special challenges and advantages of this one-of-a-kind genre.
I’m a chick who loves Star Wars. I’m not ashamed of the fact. Feminist icon Princess Leia? I can get behind that (gold bikini or no). So when I saw a galley for that AMAZING Star Wars children’s book coming out with art from the original concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, I was blown away. Here, Tony DiTerlizzi (who did the writing in the book) talks about the film and the art. Geeks unite!
I love that he mentions that moment with the two suns. For me, that was undoubtedly the most iconic scene in the original film. I just loved the realism of it. I am SO reading this to my kids. P.S. For a fun time read the rants about the “Luke, I am your father” line. Or, better yet, don’t.
Now until about a day ago when my niece did it, I didn’t actually know what the Ice Bucket Challenge was. Dav Pilkey takes it on using Flip-o-Rama. Good man.
Ball’s in your court now, CeCe.
I think it’s safe to say that I have never seen an author promote a cinematic adaptation of their award winning book as much as I’ve seen Ms. Lois Lowry talk up the latest film of The Giver. Here she does it again:
How famous is J.K. Rowling? So famous that when she writes an incidental character, NBC News is willing to report on that character getting her own song. According to Salon this is an original song written for Pottermore starring Celestina Warbeck, Molly Weasley’s favorite singer:
And speaking of all things Potter, the thing about learning that there’s a documentary out there called Mudbloods is that you can’t believe you hadn’t seen a film of that name before. It’s an awfully good idea to make a movie about the rise of the real world Quiddich movement. It’s not the first Harry Potter documentary of course but it’s a cute idea. Here’s the trailer:
Man. It would weird to be J.K. Rowling and see this, wouldn’t it? Here’s some additional info.
A little me stuff. I conducted a talk with Mara Rockliff and Eliza Wheeler for Bibliocommons in honor of their latest book The Grudge Keeper. It was recorded, but rather than show our lovely faces the video shows some slides of what we’re discussing. In case you’ve an interest you can take a gander at it. A lot of talking about the process of writing picture books can be found here:
As for the off-topic video, this one’s been making the rounds. It’s one of those videos where you go, “Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Ooooooh!”
It often takes a while to figure out when you’re falling in love with a book. A book is a risk. You’re judging it from page one onward, informed by your own personal prejudices and reading history. Then there’s this moment when a shift takes place. It might be a subtle shift or it might be sudden and violent but all of a sudden it’s there. One minute you’re just reading for the heck of it, and the next you are LOVING what you’re reading, hoping it never has to end. Happily, that was my experience with Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee. Lots of books promise you that you’ll fall in love with their odd characters. They’ll say something along the lines of “You won’t like her – you’ll love her.” And usually that’s untrue. But in this case, I really do love Candice. How can you not? She wants to turn her fish atheist, for crying out loud. And on that note . . .
In Candice’s own words, her family could not be considered, “front-runners for Australian Happy Family of the Year.” Her baby sister died years ago, her mother is depressed, her father is angry with his brother (sure that the man got rich on one of his ideas), and her Rich Uncle Brian is a lonely cuss. She’s kind of an odd kid in and of herself. The kind that doesn’t have a lot of friends but doesn’t mind the fact. There are other problems, of course. She worries that her fish has set her up as a false god. She worries that her friend Douglas, who seriously believes he’s from another dimension, intends to throw himself into a gorge. But at least she has her pen pal (who has never written back, but that’s no problem) to write to. And as Candice says, “I want to pursue happiness. I want to catch it, grab it by the scruff of the neck, drag it home, and force it to embrace all the people I mentioned above. I’m just not sure how to accomplish this. But I am determined to try.”
The thing you have to admire about Candice is that she’s a remarkably proactive protagonist. When she’s sick and tired of the broken state of her family she sets out to correct their problems (sometimes with odd results). When she thinks there’s a possibility of a friend doing something stupid she will put herself in harm’s way (or at least, annoyance’s way) to help him out. She’s smart as a whip, a fact that no one around her notices. And Candice is also a relentless optimist, but not in an annoying way. She has no interest at all in what you think of her. Early in the book she mentions that she has lots of friends as far as she’s concerned but that, “As far as everyone else was concerned, I didn’t have a friend in the world. Does that make a difference? I’m not sure.” Kids have so many bully books these days that it’s a huge relief to read one where the mean girl teases Candice and the words have absolutely zippo effect on her whatsoever. Like Teflon in a way, is this kid. Bullied kids make for dull reading. Candice is never dull.
She’s also not autistic. I feel like that kind of statement shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it is. Heck, it’s practically self-explanatory. We’re so used to kids on the autism spectrum in our children’s literature these days that we have a hard time remembering the ones that are just plain old weird. But they exist. In fact, Candice self-diagnoses as weird. When she was young she witnessed her beloved baby sister’s death from SIDS and it mucked her up in a couple ways. Not as many ways as her mother and father, but a lot of ways just the same. So there’s a wonderful scene where a friend’s mother makes the assumption that Candice is autistic. When she says that she is not the friend’s mom asks, “Then what are you?” “I’m me.” That could come off as cute. Here, for whatever reason, it does not.
I’ve already heard a couple people compare this book to Holly Goldberg Sloan’s book Counting By 7s which is understandable, if somewhat misleading. There are some major differences at work. First off, there’s the language. There’s a distinct deliciousness to Candice’s speech patterns. When her uncle wins her a stuffed toy at a fair that “might have been a gnu or a camel with severe disabilities” she tells him in no uncertain terms that it is “vile”. And then the descriptions in the book are also out of his world. A forced smile is described as “one of those smiles when someone has pointed a camera at you for half an hour and neglected to press the shutter.” Her friend Douglas is described as, “His eyes crowd toward the middle, as if they are trying to merge together but are prevented from doing so by the barrier of his nose, which is larger than you’d wish if you were designing it from scratch.” Her mother’s bedroom where she spends much of her time when depressed “smelled of something that had spent a long time out of the sunshine.”
Candice’s problems don’t just disappear miraculously in a puff of smoke either. By the end of the book she’s figured out how to mend some of the bigger problems that have been undermining her family’s happiness, but her sister is still dead, her mother still has depression, and her father still resents his brother. Things are significantly better, but there’s a long road to hoe. It is amazing that a book with this many potentially depressing subplots should be as upbeat, cheery, and downright hilarious as this. Jonsberg’s writing gives the book a skewed one-of-a-kind view of the world that is unlike any other you might encounter. You’ll like this book AND love it. And for what it’s worth, kid readers will too.
[SPOILER ALERT: This whole review pretty gives away every plot point in both the book and film versions of The Giver. Abandon ship all ye who wish to remain surprised.]
On Sunday night I had an extraordinary experience. I was sitting in a theater, just about to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, and seeing what had to be the lamest run of movie trailers I have ever experienced. I’m talking horrible stuff. The Annie trailer (which ends with a prostitute joke), the Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day trailer (which may rival the Paddington film for Worst Trailer of the Year), and others that made my brain shut down. However it was the last trailer that was particularly interesting to me. It was for the film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver. For the first time in my life, I was watching a trailer in a theater for a film I had already seen. Since Guardians of the Galaxy is a mighty popular film these days, you may find yourself seeing the same trailer. Don’t believe it, though. The movie, believe it or not, is MUCH better than its preview. Much.
Because I’m currently on maternity leave with a small baby boy I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be able to see an early screening of the film. Fortunately Walden Media was accommodating and so, a week or two ago, I sat down with two buddies and a 10-week old child to see the onscreen adaptation of Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award winning book. And let me tell you, if you had to pick a movie to watch while holding a baby, this probably wouldn’t be your first choice.
I had reason to be skeptical, by the way. When children’s novels make the transition to the big screen they have a tendency to go a bit wonky. Remember Madeleine L’Engle’s straight to DVD Wrinkle in Time (NOT to be confused with the recently announced version)? Or what happened to Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising? And yes, I knew that Ms. Lowry had not only put her stamp of approval on this film but had been actively promoting it, but what did that really mean? So when I sat down and watched it I noted that one of my compatriots had read the original book as an adult when it published and the other had never read the book at all. Their insights proved invaluable.
The thing to remember when you watch The Giver is how long this book has been in the making. Jeff Bridges wanted to do it so long ago that he cast his father, Lloyd Bridges, in the title role with Bud Cort on narration. With the book originally publishing in 1993, this was middle grade dystopian long before Hunger Games came around. As such, a lot of the tropes you’ll find in the film won’t remind you of the current wave of YA dystopias as much as it will dystopias of the past. I’m talkin’ Planet of the Apes / 1984 / Soylent Green / Zardoz stuff (well . . . maybe not Zardoz). The kind where people aren’t quite certain how to use conjunctions anymore. I suspect we may see some reviews of this film that say it’s derivative of the current dystopias, but can you really be derivative if you came first?
The film begins with what looks like a slightly cleaner gated community than you’d usually find. Perfect lawns. Lots of circles. The occasional drone. And zero sexy clothes. We meet Jonas, our hero, and his two bestest buddies Fiona (ten years ago she would have been played by Kristen Stewart) and Asher (one of my compatriots pointed out that he was essentially Rolfe from The Sound of Music). They’re all white. Heck, all the major characters in this film are white. You might chalk that up to flaws in the dystopia, but I dunno. Seems like they could have had Jonas’s mom or dad be of color (after all, they’re not his birth parents or anything).
As for the kids, they are all older teens, a fact that was lamented wildly when it was first announced. However, as much as I’m for films to stay strictly faithful to their books, this change makes a lot of sense. I never quite understood those books where kids find out their lifelong jobs when they’re 12. The age appears to be there solely to allow the book to be shelved in the children’s rather than the YA section. In life, teenagers are more often told to pick their career paths. Plus the themes of the film fit adolescence so well (example: the desire to be the same as everyone else, even if it removes you from your own identity). Plus, kids watching the film at this point will certainly be thinking that this is a pretty great place to live. Teens will be the ones who first see the cracks.
Of course there is no picking in this world. Jonas is on the cusp of finding out what his job for life will be. Played by Brenton Thwaites, it’s a thankless role. A whole lotta yearning, which would try any actor’s patience. Brenton does a good job of it, though, and there’s a faint creepiness to the sunny happy-go-lucky interactions between him and his friends. Very Disney Channel-esque, if less risqué (if such a thing were possible).
When Jonas returns home we meet his mother and father, played by Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård. To have Katie playing a teenager’s mother is, sadly, par for the course with Hollywood. She’s over 30? Cast her as a mom. But in this society you get the distinct feeling that it makes a lot of sense. If she was handed a baby when she was 18 then sure, she could be Jonas’s mother. It makes sense within the context of the film. Holmes, however, is a bit overshadowed in her role by Skarsgård who ends up being one of the finest actors in the movie. He plays the part of a very earnest, nice guy who would seriously kill you without a second thought if told to do so. This disconnect could tap nicely into a teen’s hidden fears about their own parents. You trust them implicitly when you are a child, but as you grow older you begin to see some character defects (some MAJOR character defects in this case).
We get to know the world a bit better when we hear about people being “released”. That’s where the Soylent Green similarities start to crop up (and if you haven’t seen that film, I assure you that it is MUCH better than one would expect it to be). Then we witness the ceremony where the kids get assigned their jobs and as each one is named a little montage of them over the years plays on a kind of live feed. It becomes clear that these images are plucked from the constant surveillance technology that inundates the place, which gives a nice eerie vibe to what would otherwise feel a lot like those videos parents make for their kids’ graduation ceremonies.
When Meryl Streep arrives via hologram (there are a lot of Star Wars-esque holograms to be found here, partly because Streep’s schedule didn’t allow her to travel to Australia where much of the movie was filmed) she steps into the role of white-haired-woman-in-charge. This is a popular role for great, older film actresses. Heck, the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy even had one in the form of Glenn Close. In Streep’s case, her role is as the Chief Elder, an embodiment of the problematic leaders of this society. The nice thing about casting Streep is that she’s able to give a bit more nuance to what would otherwise be a two-dimensional part. The Chief Elder is honestly conflicted by the choices she has to make, but there’s an understanding that society itself wouldn’t have her any other way. Plus, only Streep could give the line “Thank you for your childhood” the right edge. Mind you, I would bet you really good money that as I write this Anthony Lane is wracking his brain to come up with an appropriately cutting line to use to describe her bangs. They didn’t bug me though.
Jonas is assigned to be The Receiver to Jeff Bridges, the titular Giver. Like Streep, Bridges is fantastic to watch. Of course, he has an advantage over her in that he’s the only real person in the whole film for quite some time. A guy who doesn’t waste his time with b.s. Half the time he’s talking you’re not certain if he believes what he says. He’s also the kind of guy willing to play with the whole “chosen one” trope for fun (a fact that I appreciated). He lives in a little house near “the edge” of society itself in a house that’s sort of Dr. Calgari meets M.C. Escher. As The Giver, Mr. Bridges hands Jonas memories of the past via a kind of Vulcan mind meld. The first memory is of a sled, effectively making this film Citizen Kane for kids.
At this point the Garden of Eden references start to crank up big time. Jonas peers into the mist at the edge where nothing is supposed to exist and sees a tree. The first thing he officially sees in color is an apple (Fiona’s pretty red hair notwithstanding – though I suppose you could argue that it had some Biblical significance as well). As Jonas starts to learn more he decides not to take his inoculations, so he puts a bit of blood on a red apple and bypasses the system that way. And, naturally, he uses this apple to try to convince his friend Fiona to do the same. One naturally wonders if sex is going to come up since these are teenagers we’re talking about, but the most you get is some very chaste kissing after the two have plunged into a man made waterfall (now entering metaphor city).
Now did I fail to mention that until this point the film has been in black and white? It has indeed, and that’s fine. It certainly gives the film a kind of Wizard of Oz feel when Jonas at long last begins to see colors.
I watched with great interest how the film handled the darker elements of this society. First off, it’s been a while since I read the book so I couldn’t remember what the first memory of cruelty The Giver would give. In this case it’s a mighty realistic elephant safari. Can you train an elephant to fall down like that? You must. And that was one well trained animal. As for the shockingly horrible memory Jonas accidentally taps into, they went with Vietnam. A clever choice since Vietnam is sort of the perfect American nightmare in and of itself. But as well all know, there is one particular element to the book that causes it to be banned with shocking regularity in schools nationwide. I wondered if the film would show it or skip it entirely, but it’s so essential to the plot that you really can’t take it out. I am referring of course to the murder of a baby.
These days you can’t really kill a dog onscreen anymore. They will never remake Old Yeller for this very reason. But a baby? James Kennedy, the man behind the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, once told me that when he gets a submission for The Giver there is usually one thing he can count on. The film may skip one part of the book or another but kids ALWAYS include the dead baby scene. They will reenact it with teddy bears or baby dolls or what have you, but it’ll be there. And fair play to the filmmakers. There’s Alexander Skarsgård, all soft sweet talk and pretty eyes, and he friggin’ kills a baby onscreen. If you are in the audience holding a baby at this time it is all the more harrowing. People are going to freak out about this when they see it, but it is probably the #1 most effective method of showing that this world is awful. Even kids and teens will understand that much.
I should note that there are the occasional lighter moments, though it would be a stretch to call this film comedic. You’re so desperate for some lightness, in fact, that the moment when Jonas’s father is telling his daughter that a stuffed elephant is a “mythical hippo”, it works. Plus Jeff Bridges is himself a great source of humor.
As we near the end we gear up for the big escape of Jonas and baby Gabriel. Now for the screenwriter there was a very big dramatic problem at the core of the original book. You want to have an exciting climax to the film where your hero is attempting to do something big. In this case, it isn’t enough for Jonas to be running to safety with Gabe. You can only take that so far. So they’ve added that he must also free everybody’s memories as well, something that can apparently be done by crossing some kind of border. It’s not really explained but since the whole transference of The Giver’s memories isn’t explained in the book either, you can’t really sweat it. Mind you, by crossing this border everyone in society will have as many memories of the past as The Giver himself. And on top of that they alternate Jonas’s flight with the upcoming execution of a friend, which also allows for a dramatic conversation between The Giver and The Elder about knowledge and choices.
Those of us familiar with the original book know that one of the great debates surrounding it for years was the ending. In fact, you could credit much of The Giver‘s success to the fact that the finish was open ended (sequels that settle the matter and Ms. Lowry’s own protests aside). Some people would interpret the end to mean that Jonas and Gabe died while others were convinced that they lived. The question in my mind, upon entering the theater, was whether or not the film would also be open to interpretation in this way. Final conclusion: Probably not. For one thing, Jonas is narrating the whole time and he’s speaking in the past tense. And sure, this might be Ghost Jonas talking, but from what he says you get the feeling that he’s defending himself from people who don’t like how he changed their society. The ending of the film isn’t really cut and dried, though. Jonas and Gabe hear the Christmas carols. They see the sled. They see the house where the songs are coming from. (Gabe also sports what may well be the most authentically runny nose in cinematic history.) They approach and the film ends. But what was the carol they were hearing? “Silent Night”. And what line in the song was clearer to the audience’s ear than any other? “Sleep in heavenly peace.” Hmmmm. I say, the jury is still out.
I mentioned before the whitey whiteness of the film, which really wasn’t necessary. The society itself isn’t all-white, just the major characters in this film. Then there are the women. Were in not for Fiona and Jonas’s rather charming little sister we’d be drowning in a sea of disapproving shrews (Katie Holmes, Meryl Streep, etc.). As it stands, it could be better (Fiona’s more a symbol than a person) but it’s not terrible by any means. As I said before, Streep’s a pro and gives her character a great deal of nuance. She’s not cackling with malicious glee or anything (ala Jodie Foster in Elysium). There are also the flashbacks into the past that Jonas witnesses through his sessions with The Giver. These are sometimes so well done that the last one in particular made me tear up a little. Sadly, while it shows families and protests and other meaningful elements (Nelson Mandela gets some serious screen time) there were no gay families or alternative families in the mix. A bit of a missed opportunity there, folks.
When we consider the pantheon of book to film adaptations, few are word-for-word carbon copies of the books. Even the faithful Harry Potter films had to make the occasional change. Much of what has been done to The Giver is entirely logical. In the end, the best way to judge a book-to-screen situation is to look at the book’s theme. Is this a case like The Lorax where the film upsets the very moral of the original source material? Or will it be more like The Fantastic Mr. Fox and preserve the beauty of the book’s thematic core while clearly establishing itself as its own beast? The Giver happily falls into the latter category. It is most faithful to the book in terms of the themes, the morals, and way in which it confronts the problems with conformity. Over the next few decades millions of children will be shown this Newbery Award adaptation in school. And I, for one, am grateful.
I considered closing this post by embedding a trailer for the film, then thought better of it. For the record, the trailers of The Giver are all universally awful. The initial one made it appear as if the film was in color. After public outcry the studio rushed to assure people that it had simply been cut to look that way. Then came the second trailer which acknowledged that parts were in black and white, but at the same time it contained about five different misleading moments. Rather than watching these trailers I suggest you see the film itself. Or, in lieu of that, this delightful 90-second version created for James Kennedy’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Bonus: No dead babies.
Many thanks to Walden Media for allowing me my own little preview!
Okay. So we’re still in the thick of book promotion here. As such, I’ll be taking a trip to my home state on Saturday. Yup! It’s a Michigan appearance at Book Beat, the bookstore beloved of my deceased co-writer Peter Sieruta. The Oakland Press did a nice little write up of what’s to come and barring floodwaters (a real concern) I shall be there with Jules Skyping in. Here’s Book Beat’s info on the matter.
Enough me stuff. Let’s look at some other books for adults about children’s literature. Now here is a book I can guarantee you have not heard of, but should. Called Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books (out on September 16th), this is the title I’ve been waiting for for years. A show of hands – how many of you are a bit intimidated when called upon to critique the art in a picture book? Mmmhmm. Yep, me too. It’s not like we all got fine arts degrees or anything. So what qualifies us to say that one piece of art is any better than any other? Authors Gail Nordstrom and Heidi Hammond (a.k.a. my profs in grad school) have written a book that not only explains the process by which the Caldecott Awards are chosen, but that also looks at past award and honor winners and explains why their art is so extraordinary. This book is INVALUABLE and should be considered must-reading for any Caldecott committee hopefuls, folks participating in Mock Caldecotts, or just about anyone interested in picture book awards. That’s my plug and I’m standing by it.
Mallory Ortberg is a genius. I don’t use the phrase lightly. If you haven’t been reading her Children’s Stories Made Horrific on The Toast, you are missing out. Unless you don’t like horror. True horror. I’m still haunted by her version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I may craft new nightmares out of her Bradbury-worthy version of The Little Prince. And the Madeleine . . . oh dear god, the Madeleine!!! I have no plans to sleep for the next decade or so.
I think by this point we’re all aware of the brouhaha surrounding the abominable new UK edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for adults, yes? No? Well, if you missed it, the BBC summarized the situation here and the cover itself is here:
To my mind the real problem isn’t the Lolita-esque little girl, necessarily (though I’m no fan). I rather dislike it immensely when publishers feel a need to stick a cover on a book that doesn’t reflect diddly squat about the content inside. Which is to say, this girl is not in the book. She’s not Veruca Salt, since Veruca came to the factory with her dad and not her mom. And she’s certainly not one of the other girls, which means the publisher was just going for some kind of campy look. So ladies and gentlemen if you click on no other link in this round-up today, it is well worth your time and attention to go to the 100 Scope Notes piece Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Was Just the Beginning. Without question this is undoubtedly the most amazing bit of satire I’ve seen on a children’s literary blog since the days of Peter Sieruta.
Let this be a lesson to you, my children. If you write something for your library system and 50 years pass, your words may well be bandied about and mocked on whatever future version of the internet exists. Case in point, my library’s staff reviews of children’s books. They’ve been going online. I’m just grateful they’ve been archived at all.
Currently I am maxing and relaxing in Stratford, Ontario enjoying a play or two. Just kidding. By my calculations what I’m actually doing as you read this is driving hell-for-leather out of Canada back to New York City while seated in a rental car’s back seat next to a 3-year-old and a 13-week-old. For hours. And hours. And hours.
As you digest that pleasant little mental image (fun fact: someone in this car gets carsick regularly and it’s not me) I’m going to do you a solid. In case you missed it, we’ve been soliciting authors for special behind-the-scenes tidbits and facts about their 2014 books. These appear one a day on our Wild Things blog (the blog that celebrates Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature). So enjoy what we’ve posted so far and stay tuned because there’s a LOT more where these came from!
First up, a video so good you’d swear we paid to have it made. It’s N.D. Wilson talking gators, football, burning sugarcane fields, and there’s a live recitation of Beowulf in here to make the ladies swoon (the Beowulf lovin’ ladies . . . which is to say my friend Lori Ess):
Christian Robinson was up next and he brought some thoughtful consideration to the depiction of nontraditional families:
Bethany Hegedus followed and her talk touched on spelling errors and matchmaking:
When authors and illustrators asked what kind of video to do I always pointed them to this video of Steve Light. His talk involves runaway primates, which is as awesome as it sounds:
And speaking of primates, Katherine Applegate was a true class act, appearing alongside primate keeper Jody Carrigan to discuss Ivan the gorilla’s more mischievous streak:
How great is Jack Gantos? We asked the man to plug his book and he plugged ours instead! Class act, that one:
Greg Neri came by to talk about the five things you might not know about Johnny Cash, Letterman style:
Jon Scieszka put on a fez. Would that everyone did. A fez just makes everything good:
Lisa Brown’s art may contain the only time in history this particular piece of furniture has appeared in a picture book:
Aaron Starmer told a magnificent story from his own youth that will honestly make your heart bleed a little:
And today we have Lauren Castillo, featuring an editor beloved to many:
Like I say, there are many more to come. Perhaps your favorite will be up soon!
The advantage of having a bookstore in the library is when it has a tendency towards brilliance. Take this recent list the employees of the Schwarzman Building of NYPL came up with. I can take no credit for this. It’s just smart stuff (and very useful for my ordering as well). With mild tweaks on my part:
READ the book: Alexander and the No Good Horrible Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, opening in October
READ the book: Here Be Monsters! by Adam Snow
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called The Boxtrolls, opening in September
READ the book: A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called Paddington, opening in December)
READ the book: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called Home, opening in November
Plus, read How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell before the DVD of How to Train Your Dragon 2 hits the shelves in November.
READ the book: Dracula by Bram Stoker
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called Dracula Untold, opening in October
READ the book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, called The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, opening in December
READ the book: The Maze Runner by James Dashner
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, opening in September
READ the book: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
BEFORE YOU SEE the movie, opening in November
Plus, pick up John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, then make plans to catch the DVD when it’s released in mid-September
We appear to exist in a golden age of children’s graphic novel memoirs. Which is to say, there are three of them out this year (El Deafo, Sisters, and The Dumbest Idea Ever). How to account for the sudden tiny boom? If I were to harbor a guess I’d say it has something to do with publishers realizing that the genre can prove a profitable one (hat tip then to Smile). We’re beginning to enter into an era where the bulk of the gatekeepers out there, be they parents or teachers or librarians, are viewing comics not as a corrupting influence but rather as a new literary form with which to teach. Memoirs are particularly interesting and have proven to be a wonderful way to slowly ease kids into the big beautiful world of nonfiction. That said, not everyone’s youth is worthy of a retelling. To tell a memoir well you need to have a narrative arc of some sort. One that doesn’t feel forced. For CeCe Bell, her first foray into graphic novels is also telling the story of her youth. The result, El Deafo, is a remarkable look at a great grand question (What to do when you can no longer hear and feel different from everyone you know?) alongside a smaller one that every kid will relate to (How do you find a good friend?). Bell takes the personal and makes it universal, an act that truly requires superhero skills.
Until the age of four CeCe was pretty much indistinguishable from any other kid. She liked her older siblings. She liked to sing to herself. But a sudden bout with meningitis and something changed for CeCe. All at once her hearing was gone. After some experimentation she was fitted with a Sonic Ear (a device that enabled her to hear her teacher’s voice) and started attending classes with other kids like herself. A family trip to a smaller town, however, meant going to a new school and trying to make new friends. When faced with problems she reverts to her pretend superhero self, El Deafo. With subtlety Bell weaves in knowledge of everything from reading lips and sign language to the difficulties of watching un-captioned television. At the same time the book’s heart lies with a single quest: That of finding the absolute perfect friend.
The rise of the graphic novel memoir of a cartoonist’s youth with a child audience in mind really hit its stride when Raina Telgemeier wrote, Smile. That dire accounting of her at times horrific dental history paved the way for other books in the same vein. So where did my library choose to catalog that graceful memoir? In the biography section? No. In the graphic novel section? Not initially, no. For the first year of its existence it was shelved in nonfiction under the Dewey Decimal number 617.645 T. That’s right. We put it in the dental section. So it was with great trepidation that I looked to see where El Deafo would end up. Would it be in the section on the hearing impaired or would the catalog understand that this book is about so much more than the Sonic Ear? As it happens, the book appears to be primarily cataloged as a memoir more than anything else. Sure the information in there about the deaf community and other aspects of living as someone hearing impaired are nonfiction, but the focus of the story is always squarely on CeCe herself.
The real reason I found the book as compelling as I did was due in large part to the way in which Bell tackles the illogical logic of childhood friendships. So many kids are friends thanks to geographical convenience. You’re my age and live within a certain radius of my home? We’re besties! And Bell’s hearing impaired state is just a part of why she is or is not friends with one person or another. Really, the true arc of the story isn’t necessarily CeCe coming to terms with the Sonic Ear, but rather how she comes to terms with herself and, in doing so, gets the best possible friend. It’s like reading a real life Goldilocks story. This friend is too bossy. This friend is too fixated on Cece’s hearing. But this friend? She’s juuuuuust right.
So why bunnies? Bell could easily have told her story with human beings. And though the characters in this book appear to be anthropomorphized rabbits (reminding me of nothing so much as when guest stars would appear on the children’s television program Arthur) there is no particular reason for this. They never mention a particular love of carrots or restrict their movements to hop hop hopping. They are, however, very easy on the eyes and very enticing. This book was sitting on my To Be Reviewed shelf when my three-year-old waltzed over and plucked it for her own perusal. The bunnies are accessible. In fact, you completely forget that they even are bunnies in the course of reading the book. You also fail to notice after a while how beautifully Bell has laid out her comic panels too. The sequential storytelling is expertly rendered, never losing the reader or throwing you out of the story. One librarian I spoke to also mentioned how nice it was to see that the dream sequences with El Deafo are always clearly delineated as just that. Dream sequences. Fantasy and reality are easily distinguishable in this novel. No mean feat when everyone has a twitchy little nose.
Maybe we’ve peaked. Maybe we’re seeing as many graphic memoirs for kids as we’ll ever see in a given year. But that can’t be, can it? We all have stories to tell, no matter what our upbringing looked like. There’s always some element in our past that’s relatable to a wide audience. It’s the clever author that knows how to spin that element into a storyline worthy of a younger audience. There isn’t a jot of doubt in my mind that CeCe Bell’s book is going to be vastly beloved by nearly every child that picks it up. Engaging and beautifully drawn, to say nothing of its strength and out-and-out facts, El Deafo is going to help set the standard for what a memoir for kids should be. Infinitely clever. Undeniably fun. Don’t miss it.
Celebrate Reading This Fall with Thalia Kids’ Book Club at Symphony Space
The always popular Thalia Kids’ Book Club includes lively discussions between top children’s book authors and their fans, with special guests and a behind-the-scenes look at how books are written and produced. The interactive series is co-presented with the Bank Street Bookstore.
For more information and tickets, visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/tkbc .
Wednesday, September 10, 7 pm Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller: Nightmares! Tickets: $22 members, non-members $25 Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother, The Muppets), an actor, writer, and musician, teams up with New York Times bestselling author Kirsten Miller (Kiki Strike) to discuss their hilariously frightening middle-grade novel Nightmares!, the first book in a trilogy about a boy named Charlie and a group of kids who must face their fears to save their town. Ages 8 and up. Note: The special ticket price includes a copy of Nightmares! (retail priced at $16.99).Ticket holders will get a copy of the book at the door on September 10. Books will not be available for early pickup.
Sunday, September 21 at 1 pm Pseudonymous Bosch: Bad Magic Tickets: members $12, non-members $15
The mysterious author of the New York Times-bestselling The Name of This Book is Secret goes behind-the-scenes of his new adventure series Bad Magic. The author will be in conversation with Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm). Ages 9 to 12.
Tuesday, September 23 at 6 pm An Evening with Patricia Polacco Patricia Polacco, the beloved author and illustrator of Thank You, Mr. Falker, and dozens of other favorite picture books, discusses her life and award-winning works. The author and illustrator of more than 70 books for children, Polacco has won every award imaginable in children’s literature. Her latest book is Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, an inspired-by-true-life story about overcoming the fear of speaking in public. Ages 6 & up.
Sunday, October 19 at 1 pm An Afternoon with Lois Lowry Tickets: members $12, non-members $15
Reading and conversation with the treasured author of Number the Stars, The Giver, and many other favorite works for kids and teens. Number the Stars, the Newbery Medal-winning novel about the Occupation of Denmark in the Second World War, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Ages 9 and up.
Sunday, November 16 at 5 pm A Celebration of E. B. White All Tickets: $25 (ticket sales benefit First Book).
Stars of Broadway and Hollywood celebrate the work of the beloved writer whose humorous and poignant stories and poetry include Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Special guests include White’s granddaughter Martha White. Jarrett J. Krosoczka (The Lunch Lady series) will host the event, and actor David Hyde Pierce will also read from the stories. First Book, a non-profit organization, connects book publishers to community organizations to provide access to new books for children in need. Ages 7 and up.
Symphony Space is located at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street in Manhattan, New York City. The box office number is (212) 864-5400. A note to editors: Symphony Space Literary Department presenters are available for interviews. More detailed information about each group and photos are available upon request. Visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/tkbc for updated information.