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Viewing Blog: The Children's Literature Book Club, Most Recent at Top
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26. Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland retold by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Mary Blair

With a title like Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland, you might be expecting a watered down version of the Disney movie accompanied by illustrations ripped straight from the screen, but that's not what you will find when you pick it this book up.

Mary Blair was the concept designer behind the Disney movies Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan.  Her was was never intended to be passed along to an audience, it was a semi-rustic design to shape the movies she worked on.  Blair was visionary, and I'm so glad Disney decided to showcase her original works.  Last year, they published Blair's Cinderella artwork with a retelling by Cynthia Rylant.  Who do you hire to follow that one up?  Who could possible capture Lewis Caroll's clever sense of humor and world of wonder?  No one but Jon Scieszka, of course, and lucky Disney signed him up!

There was some debate over whether or not this fit into the fiction picture book category because it's so much longer than your average picture book, but I'm so glad we got to keep it in our category and even happier that the publisher didn't attempt to cut it down to the length of a regular picture book.  Since the artwork was designed for the Disney movie, the text closely follows the plot of the Disney movie and not Carroll's original works.  

It had me from the beginning when Scieszka started with, "Have you ever tried to listen to a long schoolbook on a warm, lazy day?  And have you ever wondered why anyone would make a book so boring? Then you are just like Alice."  Scieszka manages a retelling of Alice that most will find much more approachable than the original.

Now I just hope that 2009 will bring Walt Disney/Mary Blair's Peter Pan!  Who would you choose to author that retelling?

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27. All's Well That Ends Well

I know I've mentioned it a few times, but I absolutely love serving on a Cybils Committee and I know a few of you are curious about the whole process so here's my update.  After some reshuffling to get a few books into the categories where they properly belonged, we ended up with a total list of 186 books in the fiction picture book category (most of our additions came from books nominated for the non-fiction category that didn't actually belong in the non-fiction category).  Of those 186 books, I read 159 and my committee members all did about the same.  I would have loved to read all of them, but there were several independent or self-published titles that could not be located. Believe me, we made valiant efforts to find each and everyone that we could.  We searched our libraries and local bookshops, where I'm sure we became familiar faces. Sheila from Wands and Worlds did a fantastic job contacting publishers and self-published authors for review copies and maintaining the database so we could see what was coming and what others on the committee were able to read or found.  

My book shelf of Cybils review copies ended up looking like this (minus a few that might have been on my desk at the moment).  That's over a 100 titles there!  Thanks to the publishers who sent review copies because it made discussions a lot easier when we could pull a copy off the shelf and refresh our minds.  I also kept a large stack of all the library copies I could get my hands on so I had direct access to most of the books during discussion.

As we read the books, there was a space in the database for each judge to leave a comment and mark whether or not they wanted the book on their shortlist of books they considered top contenders.  We all ended up with about 18 titles on our shortlists and it was clear that we were not all in agreement because the compiled list of all our shortlists was anything but short.  The week before our final discussion, Mother Reader asked everyone to narrow down their shortlist to 12 books.  Her judging criteria that directed the discussion covered five things: Story, Illustration, Kid-Appeal, Parent-Appeal, That Something Special that makes it Unforgettable.

The final discussion took place in a group forum over IM.  I think each committee does this differently, as my first time serving the discussion took place via voting over email for a few weeks.  Before discussion even started, we could see from the database that there were two books that everyone shortlisted so there automatically became finalists.  Oh, I wish that I could tell you what those two titles are, but we don't want to influence the judges trying to select the winner for our category!  You may think it wouldn't matter, but I think it would.  When I served on the middle grade fiction committee, we had an easy time agreeing on the first four finalists but really struggled to come up with a fifth title so we were all surprised when the fifth title was the book that won!

Once we were all in agreement on the first to books, we started down the shortlists starting with those most of us had listed and working our way down to those the least had shortlisted.  We went through one title at a time and everyone had a chance to make their case for why a book should or should not make the list.  We'd go through the criteria and argue that one book was excellent, but in all honesty would not appeal to a kid which was why the Cybils started; another had huge kid appeal, but wasn't what we'd called a literary achievement and we were trying to pick books that had both, etc.  We also tried to include some diversity in culture, style, and reading level.  As you might guess, there was a lot of disagreement, but it was great to get five very different perspectives. 

A few short hours later, we were all relatively happy with the list.  Were we all in agreement on every single book that made the list?  No way, I'd be worried if we were. In the end, each of us had some favorites that we fought for that did not make the list (ahem, Patrick the Somnambulist, Little Hoot, and Dinosaur vs Bedtime, I promise, I did try!) and each of us did not absolutely love a book or two that made the final list (and again I can't tell you mine, but I wish that I could), but there were no books on that list that anyone strongly objected to and each judge had several books that they loved make it on the final list.  I'm glad to say that as discussion ended, each judge seemed happy and approving of the final list. I hope that the rest of you pick them up and enjoy them too!

Now I just have to sit on my hands and wait with the rest of you to the winner to be announced on Valentine's Day

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28. Cybils Finalists Announced!!!!!!!!

I have a few more details for you on the judging side of things, but the Cybils finalists were announced today so I can finally reveal the finalists my panel chose for the fiction picture book category!

Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek : A Tall Thin Tale by Deborah Hopkinson illustrated by John Hendrix
Big Bad Bunny by Franny Billingsley illustrated by Brian KarasChester's Back by Melanie WattHow to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob GrahamKatie Loves The Kittens by John HimmelmanThe Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater illustrated by Catia ChienA Visitor For Bear by Bonny Becker illustrated by Kady MacDonald DentonWabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein illustrated by Ed Young
Congratulations to all of the finalists!  I want to share more with you, but I need to make sure there's not anything I'm not supposed to say so check back for updates.  In the mean time, hurry over to the Cybils site for the lists of all the other finalists.  I trust my fellow bloggers so much that these lists of finalists always go straight to the top of my must read lists.  I also love seeing how many I have already read and feeling smug that I have such great taste choosing books from the library ;)  It's so fun to read along and root for favorites before they are announced on Valentine's Day.  Happy reading!

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29. For the Love of Oliver Jeffers

Now you know that I love anything by Oliver Jeffers, but I wasn't sure what to make of the news that his picture book Lost and Found was being made into a short animated film.  I mean, how could you make that a film without losing a bit of its Jeffers essence?  Well, after seeing the preview I think maybe it's been done!  My son asked to watch it five times in a row.  I wish I could have been in London of Christmas Eve to see the whole 25 minutes on TV.  I guess the rest of us will just have to wait.

You can see the preview here and more images from the film here.

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30. Advent Calendars

Have you noticed all of the cool advent Calendars based on children's books that are out right now?  Here are a couple that I think are cool.24 Penguins Before Christmas by Jean-Luc Fromental

Eric Carle's Dream Snow
Olive The Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold
I'm tempted to buy them all!

I also think that it would be really fun to to fill a normal advent calendar with christmas book titles to read each day.

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31. Patrick the Somnambulist - written and illustrated by Sarah Ackerly

I fell in love with a penguin today.  His name is Patrick.  He may seem like a normal penguin because he eats normal food like spaghetti and he plays normal games like chess, but sometimes Patrick wakes up in the middle of the night to find himself doing things that are anything but normal.  At first, when his parents find him in the middle of the night hiding in the mailbox or wrapped in toilet paper wearing a plunger on his head, they think Patrick is just weird, but as his antics go on, they worry there might really be something wrong with him.  

After a trip to the doctor, Patrick discovers 
that he is a Somnambulist (AKA a sleepwalker).  Patrick is not distressed by this title, he's claims it with pride and is perfectly happy to be not-quite-normal after all.  With his newfound confidence, he begins to do amazing 
things.  You really have to read this book to see what that clever penguin is up to.

Sarah Ackerley's beautiful pen and watercolor illustrations add so much to her witty text.  I was amazed by how much emotion she was able to convey with such simple drawings of penguins.  Just look how anguished Patrick's parents appear to be in this illustration.  

Kids will get a big kick out of the funny things Patrick does in his sleep, while parents will be laughing out loud as the recognize penguin versions of the human world (my favorite is the Conan O'Brianesque penguin interviewing Patrick on a talkshow).

The downside to this book is that this is Sarah's first book, so you can't rush out to pick up another book about Patrick, and believe me, you will want to.  To tide you over in the meantime you can check out her online portfolio or her blog.

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32. Ducks Don't Wear Socks by John Nedwidek

Emily is a serious, no-nonsense kind of a girl so one day, when she's taking a serious walk and she meets Duck riding a unicycle, dressed in a pair of socks, she feels it is her duty to inform him that ducks do NOT wear socks. Does duck get embarrassed? Does he take his socks off or try to cover them up? No! He simply replies, "Cold feet!" and continues on his way.
Day after day, Emily continues to run into duck around the city and day after day he's wearing some ridiculous item on clothing that he always has a good explanation for (of course he need a tie, he's on his way to a big meeting). The readers see Emily transform from a serious girl to one who giggles at the site of duck and find a way to make duck giggle too.
Lee White's comical illustrations add much to the text as readers see Emily dragging her cello to her lesson and duck proudly sailing in his underwear. The way duck always has one eye visible off to the side of his face enhances his comical nature. Duck's statements are always displayed in a different
font that's bold and slightly bigger than the rest of the text, which should help encourage young readers to add a little emotion when the read the book aloud.

I can't help but feeling like everyone needs a silly, confident friend like duck. My friend's second grader came home before Halloween to inform her that he could not wear his magician costume on Halloween; the other second graders told him that second-grade boys only wear scary costumes like goblins and skeletons and they would make fun of him and scare him if he came dressed as a magician. If only Duck could have been there to prove that boys CAN pick whatever they want be for Halloween, girls CAN indeed play football on the playground, and of course, ducks CAN wear socks.

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33. Can I have Martha Stewart's job?

Ok, I'm not interested in some of the things featured on her show, but I've noticed recently that Martha gets to have a lot of amazing children's authors and illustrators on her show. Have you noticed that?

Matthew Reinhardt and Robert Sabuda have been on the show multiple times. You can learn how to make Christmas cards with them here, and Valentine's Day cards with Matthew here.

Matthew Van Fleet was recently on the show making moving Dog cards.

Fancy Nancy Author Jane O'Connor made felt purses with Martha

Last week David Macaulay was on talking about his new book The Way We Work.

Jon Sciezska was on the show in August discussing some suggestions for way to make reading fun for your kids (fast forward through the video clip a little bit to see the segment with Jon).

The video clips are a fun way for kids to see some of their favorite authors, and the projects are pretty fun too.

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34. Dinosaur Vs Bedtime - by Bob Shea

Ok, I know, I alluded that I would be reviewing some of the lesser known fictional picture book Cybils nominees, but I have to start with Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime because my toddler has adopted it as his own so I've had ample opportunities to examine this book (every morning before breakfast, every morning after breakfast, every morning before we put on our shoes . . . ) Besides, I'm shocked at how many of my friends have not already snapped up this title.

You may know Bob Shea from the beautifully designed picture book No Socks or the text he wrote for Big Plans, a little book that came out this year illustrated by some guy named Lane Smith (maybe you've heard of him?). Well, Bob is at his best with his latest title Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime.

At the beginning of the book, a little dinosaur boldly declares that nothing can stop him. Readers then follow him on some of his big matches: dinosaur vs. leaves, dinosaur vs. a big slide, dinosaur vs. a bowl of spaghetti. Little dinosaur conquers them all, that is, until dinosaur vs. bedtime.The illustrations are simple, beautiful, and guaranteed to entertain preschoolers. If you mixed Mo Willems' pigeon and Lauren Child's Charlie and Lola, you would end up with dinosaur. Dinosaur is a simple character with a black crayon-like outline much like Pigeon with elements of real photos and textures mixed in to add details of the fabric of his pajamas and spaghetti, mush like Lauren Child's illustrations. Shea seems to be a master of typography. There is so much emotion behind the way the text is laid out that it's hard to resist reading aloud and I daresay you'll be roaring right along with dinosaur.

Shea also has a great website that's not to be missed, especially because you can flip through most of the book there and experience it for yourself right now. And funny that I should compare him to Mo Willems, there is an audio clip there from Mo stating how much he hates the book and it's beautiful illustrations because he didn't think of it first.

But wait there's more! Noggin featured a video of Shea sharing Dinosaur vs. Bedtime so you can actually watch it right now!

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime from bob shea on Vimeo.

Another reason to check out Shea's site is the bio that made me laugh right out loud multiple times. How can resist a bio that begins like this?
"Here's a photo of a bear I fought this one time. I totally won. Yeah, I know, I'm pretty brave."

Oh, that Bob Shea, he's one funny awesome guy!

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35. A Day in the Life of a Cybils Judge

So each committee is a little different and I'm not an expert on the subject or anything, but I know a few of you are wondering about behind the scenes of the Cybils Awards. Two years ago, I was on the middle grade fiction committee and this year, I'm on the fictional picture book committee. Both years, I opted to be a judge on the first panels that takes all of the books nominated for their category and narrows it down to a few finalists. After the finalists are announced in January, a different panel of five judges in each category will take the finalists and come up with a winner.

I like being on the first committee for several reasons. Most of all, I think it's less pressure than coming up with one winner. Debates can be very heated, and I think it's a lot easier to come up with several finalists than one winner. Plus, being the book lover that I am, that would be like choosing my favorite child (ok, I only have one child so that would be easy, but you know what I mean!). I also love the extra motivation to be up-to-date on what's out there this year. Anyone can read all the nominates, but I would probably skip several if I wasn't a judge and it's good to be forced to branch out a little and make some new discoveries.

There is a designated leader for every panel, and for the most part, they decide how they want to run that category. This year, Sheila from Wands and Worlds has set up a database for all of the Cybils judges so every judge can log in and see an organized list of all the nominees in their category. Each judge is constantly updating which books they've read and which books they've received free review copies of from publishers, as well as adding comments about them. Publishers do not have to send review copies to judges in order for their books to be considered, but it certainly makes it easier on the judges so many of them do send review copies.

I love opening my door to find this site most days (although most days, it's a padded envelope with one or two books, not a box full of several of them, and how appropriate that my little helper made it in the shot).

This year, I really wanted to get a headstart so I wouldn't feel crunched for time around the holidays so as soon as nominations closed, I started reserving as many titles as I could from the library. I make biweekly trips hauling books back and forth. I take notes on each book before I return it, and I hold on to some of my favorites as long as the library will let me. They are nestled in a pile in the corner at this very moment.

This year there are 186 nominees in the fictional picture book category (it was originally 175, but a few books were sifted over from other categories because they are a better fit in our category. It's up to the categories' leaders to make those calls so I'm not involved in those debates). After serving on the middle grade fiction committee, I feel like we have it easy. Right now there's a tally that shows up with you log into the database for Cybils judges that tells you which judges have read the most and my name is at the top of the list at 68, but I feel like a cheat because reading 68 picture books doesn't exactly take as much time as reading 68 young adult novels.

As you might imagine, in some categories it just isn't possible for all five of the judges to read each and every book, but they sure do try. In general, I think each category makes sure at least two judges have read each book, and if they think the book may be a contender then all the judges are sure to read it. That was the case when I was on the middle grade fiction committee, but on the picture book committee I would not be surprised if all five of us read each and every book on our list (at least as long as we can manage to get our hands on copies).

So far a lot of the review copies that I've received are from small publishers or even self-published books. It always makes me smile to see these packages on my doorstep because I love that the Cybils are all about helping good books get the notice they deserve, whether they are from big publishers with big budgets or books hardly anyone has seen at all (and oh yes, that means some of them are not so good, but it's worth it to come across a few lesser known gems).

My panel has been busy reading away, but soon the debates will begin. The first step is that each judge will put together short lists of their favorites so far and the debates will begin from their. I'll keep you posted on any other interesting tidbits along with reviews of some of my favorites so far that I'm excited to share. I won't be highlighting the book I don't like here because who wants to waste time on that when I could be telling you about books you must check out yourself.

Happy reading!


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36. Happy Halloween from the Pigeon

Since Mo Willems' pigeon books are cherished by my one-year-old, of course we knew what he had to be for Halloween (I based it on a photo I saw on Mo's blog last Halloween) I hope you see some of your favorite characters around town!

Have a Spooky day!

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37. National Book Award Finalists and some interesting tidbits about the judges

The National Book Award Finalists were announced last week and I forgot to mention the finalist for "Young People's Literature" (Seriously, who calls it that?). And the finalists are:

Laurie Halse Anderson, CHAINS

See! I told you that you will LOVE Frankie Landau-Banks! Now you can bet I'll be reading the rest of the list.

Almost as interesting at the finalists, is the list of judges for this award: Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket of the Series of Unfortunate Events, Holly Black of The Spiderwick Chronicles Fame, not to mention Angela Johnson and Cynthia Voight (ok, and Carolyn Mackler, but I can't say I've ever read any of her books). Wouldn't you love to meet with just one of them, if not all of them?

Did you know judges for the National Book Awards have to be published authors of literature in the category that they are judging? I find that interesting because that doesn't necessarily make you knowledgeable about that category. Judges are nominated by past winners, finalists and judges. Each judge is paid $2,500, which is especially odd considering that the award finalists only receive $1,000. At least the winner gets more, $10,000.

After judges select five finalists, their job is done and a jury selects the actual winner. The NBA site states, "Jury members are chosen for their literary sensibilities and their expertise in a particular genre". Each year the jury completely makes up their own criteria for the winners so there is no telling who will win. The most interesting part is that the jury meets on the day of the awards ceremony to pick the winner. Talk about pressure to come to a quick agreement! No one tells the National Book Foundation members until the ceremony to the award winner is a surprise to everyone.

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This month, we will be reading Young Adult action/adventure novels about some extremely talented high schoolers. Here's the reading list:
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow - This is the most Young Adult of the three and does have some language and a sex scene (think the latest Twilight books, not graphic, but certainly there) it should make for an interesting discussion on what age you think the book is appropriate for and the direction YA books are heading these days.

As promised, here is the info on some local Utah author signings coming up:
Laurie Keller and The Scrambled States of America Talent Show at the Kings English on Tuesday, October 21st at 7:00..More info here

James Dashner signs the 13th Reality at The King's English on Monday, November 3rd at 7:00. Info here.

Megan MacDonald will be signing Judy Moody and Stink books at The Kings English Friday, November 7th at 4 p.m. Info here.

Also coming up is the Utah Humanities Book Fesitval at the City Library downtown, Saturday October 25th, A.E. Cannon will be speaking from 11 to noon in conference room A/B. From 12:30 to 1:30, Richard Peck will be speaking in the main auditorium. From 2 to 3 p.m. Sarah Zarr and Paul Fleischman will be speaking in Conference room C, discussing "Current Trends in Adolescent and Children's Literature." Pretty amazing lineup, eh? And it's all FREE! There are also all sorts of other things going on so get all the info here

Happy reading!

Come back for discussion questions later this month.

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39. Witch of Blackbird Pond Discussion Questions

Our new Utah chapter of the book club met last night and it was so great to be together with a room of people who are excited about children's books. As previously mentioned, we read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and The Widow's Broom by Chris Van Allsburg and we each shared some other books about witches. Most of the discussion focused on The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I found most of these discussion questions here.

  1. What do you think the main themes of this book are?
  2. What if people suddenly expected you to behave differently from what you are used to? What are some ways you, or others, might respond if the rules of acceptable behavior suddenly changed?
  3. It is obvious that men and women play different roles in The Witch of Blackbird Pond and, by implication, in colonial society. This is a basic historical fact. But what is striking about the novel is how Elizabeth George Speare reveals two truths: how men as well as women are trapped by their roles, and the emotional implications of these strict gender roles for all characters. Can you come up with some examples from the book?
  4. Who do you feel the most sorry for in this novel and why?
  5. In her attempt to help both Prudence and Hannah, Kit sometimes disobeys community and family rules. Was that the right thing to do and does that make her a good friend?
  6. When did you first suspect there might be something between Nat and Kit? How did Speare craft things so this relationship made sense?
  7. In the end, do you think Speare is saying Keeping secrets is a good thing or a bad thing?
  8. As Kit adjust to life in her new community, she must often ask herself whom must I be loyal to? How does that parallel our lives in this country today?
  9. In New England, witchcraft was a crime punishable by death.The first such trial and execution took place in Connecticut in 1647. Ten other similar trials and executions took place in Connecticut in the twenty years following. Three of those "witches" were from the real town of Wethersfield. Speare said, "I do not believe a historical novel should gloss over the pain and ugliness." Do you think the novel's conclusion was realistic for that time period?
  10. In the end, Matthew shows himself to be law-abiding, even though he is prejudiced against those with different ideas. Do you think it is possible for a good and decent person to have prejudices?
  11. This book was written a long time ago, do you think it would still interest kids today? What books of our time might interest kids just as much on 50 years?

You can also find some really interesting points about the themes and main conflicts of the novel here.

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40. Live, Laugh, Vote

Just a reminder that nominations started for the Cybils today. Head on over to nominate your favorites or get some great recommendations.

I'm struggling to to whittle my nominations down to just one book for each category!

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41. October book list - Witches

The Utah Chapter of the Children's Literature Book Club is just getting started and Since it's the bewitching season, we're reading books about witches. We're starting things slowly so the list is short. We're reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare And The Widow's Broom by Chris Van Allsburg
I've also asked each member to read at least one other book about witches and bring it to share. Here are a few titles that came to mind as possibilities:
Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson
Well Witched by Frances Hardinge
The Frog Princess Series by E.D. Baker
Witch Child by Celia Rees
The Witches of Dredmoore Hollow by Riford McKenzie
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Look for discussion questions later this month along with a list of the books members brought to share.

What's your favorite witch book?

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42. Not so into dragons

I love Robin McKinley's fairytale adaptations (as far as I'm concerned, Beauty is a must read and the Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword deserved the recognition that they got), so I was willing to read Dragonhaven, even though it did not sound like my kind of a book. I mean, a novel about dragons in a contemporary world, no thanks, but if anyone could pull it off, it would be Robin McKinley. Unfortunately, it lacked the magical sense that captivated me in McKinley's other novels. I kept waiting to get into the story, but I never did.

14 year-old Jake grows up the son of the head of a national park designed to protect two hundred of the world's remaining dragons. On his first solo hike through the park, Jake finds a dying dragon, next to the poacher who fatally wounded her and was torched to death by the dragon in return. Even more shocking, the dragon had just given birth and only one of her dragonlets was left alive. It was clear to Jake that the dragonlet wouldn't last much longer on its own so he took it into his care even though it's a felony to help save a dragon. Jake's mother died when he was twelve so he sympathizes with the dragonlet and can't bear to let it die. He struggles home and begins the dangerous process of trying to raise a dragon, which he has to keep secret from the tourists visiting the park. The death of the poacher brought an uproar from the public against the dragons and Jake knows that if he's discovered, the park would be shut down.

It sounds exciting when you read it in one paragraph, but try 342 pages and then tell me what you think. It would have been so much better if it had been edited into a shorter novel.

It seems odd that this books is classified as a children's book at all. Jake's young in the beginning, but he's 25 at the end of the book. The last third of the novel takes place much later and seems incongruent with the rest of the story. There's a lot of language and some references to sex that surprised me. Jake is clearly an adult dealing with adult issues like whether or not he should have kids, and I don't think many kids would feel any connection to his problems.

I have much higher hopes for Chalice, McKinley's new novel just released this month. It sounds more in line with The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, and is already receiving rave reviews.

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43. Board Stiff? Not anymore!

So I reviewed some board book basics the other day, but I wanted to talk about some of the innovative things happening with board books. I spotted the newest Sandra Boynton board book today and it is a great example to begin with. It's called Fifteen Animals! and it follows a boy introducing all fifteen of his pets. Boynton fans may not be surprised to note that all but one of the pets are named Bob. It may just look like a regular board book, but not so my friends! Sandra's well-known for two things really, her board books and her kids' music, and now she's found a new way to combine them. In the front of Fifteen Animals there is a link to go online and download a free copy of the song Fifteen Animals! Now some of Sandra's other board books included a hard copy version of the music in the back, but providing a link with a free copy of the song is wonderful for non-musically talented parents like myself who cannot read notes and have been forced to make up any old tune knowing someday their child will hear the real version and feel conned. So thanks Sandra, for helping keep my son out of therapy. You can check out the song and download it for free here. Next, Charley Harper's ABC's, ok so maybe vintage illustrations are not exactly innovative, but I have noticed how board books have developed and now many are illustrated beautifully? Kid absorb art in the world around them and begin to develop artistic tastes at an early age so why are there so many cheesy cartoony illustrations out there. Babies deserve real art too so I'm in love with Charley Harper's ABC's
And I'm excited for the November 1st release of Charley Harper's 123's
Gallop by Rufus Butler Seder has taken kid lit world by storm because it's something new and different. My son loves moving the pages back and forth to see the animals move and visiting adults even have a hard time putting it down. Many toddlers love the movement that pop-ups provide, but they aren't quite ready with the gentle hands pop-ups require. Gallop provides the movement in a much sturdier format (although it's not a true board book so if they really work at it, these stiff pages can be torn)
Well, on October 15th, I'm sure fans will be pleased to see a new title by Rufus Butler Seder, Swing! It's all about children moving this time. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy to see kids jump, swim, and swing.
It's nice to see board books evolving because they certainly are getting better and better.

2 Comments on Board Stiff? Not anymore!, last added: 10/5/2008
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44. Princess Ben - by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I must confess that I'm a sucker for a princess story, but I am picky; I don't love ALL princess stories. Luckily Princess Ben is one of the better princess novels that I've read recently, and I'm happy to recommend it to you.

With a title like Princess Ben, you might expect this story to be about a tomboy sort of princess, but it's not. Ben is just short for Princess Benevolence, but Ben is highly unusual in other ways. Her parents shielded her from court life and training as a princess and allowed her to have a simple childhood (that was maybe just a little too relaxed). After eating herself sick and catching a chill at her fifteenth birthday party, Ben is forced to stay home during the ceremonial, semi-annual visit to her grandfathers grave. Her parents and her uncle, the King of Montagne, carry on without her.

That evening, she receives terrible news that her mother and uncle were murdered at the grave and her Father has gone missing. After extensive searches, her Father cannot be found and Ben is left as a charge of her Aunt Sofia, the Queen of Montagne. Sofia has never approved of Ben's upbringing and immediately puts Ben on a strict diet to counteract her chubby frame and forces her to begin new lessons on being proper royalty as Ben is now officially set to inherit the throne as soon as she is deemed worthy.

Queen Sofia is cold and makes it very clear that she thinks little of Ben and would happily marry her off. When she discovers that Ben has been sneaking food behind her back in order not starve, she forces Ben to live in a small inhospitable tower that can only be reached through the Queen's chambers. Ben is truly miserable until she discovers a magic chamber with a spell book and beings magical training. Soon she's sneaking about the castle through secret passages by night and snoozing through her lessons by day.

Ben pays little attention to the fact that her kingdom is being threatened by a neighboring kingdom Drachensbett, until she learns that her aunt hopes to create peace by marrying her off to the prince of Drachensbett. The plan quickly goes awry when the prince dislikes sulky Ben and the king of Drachensbett declares Ben will never be fit to be queen and the kingdom should be turned over to him. Ben is left desperate for a way to help save her kingdom.

The story is told first person and I enjoyed Ben's narrative voice. I did have a few problem with the book, the first being that this is another one of those books where the princess is transformed into a much thinner beauty before she is accepted by all and happy with herself. The second is that magic plays a large part of Ben's life and is completely left behind and it doesn't seem to be a sacrifice for her.

Overall, I'd still highly recommend this book. It especially appealed to me because it's a fairytale where no one is all good or bad, we see faults and strengths of all of the well-developed characters. And rare is the princess story where the Princess realizes that much of her predicament is due to her own foibles, and she has to fix them herself. Be sure to share this one with any princess lover that you know!

3 Comments on Princess Ben - by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, last added: 9/17/2008
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45. Building a library for your child

My friends know that I have a ridiculously huge children's book collection (as in, it warrants its own room with multiple bookshelves) so it probably seems silly that it's very important to me to start a personal children's book collection for my son. Here's my reasoning: I inherited very few of the cherished books from my childhood because I have three siblings who also loved the same books and on top of that, my mom now has four grandchildren to read to. Now that I'm thinking about it, I don't think we had any copies of my parents' childhood favorites. So many memories are tied to those books, and I would love to have a little library of them. I also would like to use my collection to read to my someday grandchildren and I have this idea that someday, I'd like to leave my own collection of children's books to a women's & children's shelter as part of their library or to be divided up and sent with families to their new homes because every child should have access to great books.

I don't neccessarily want my son to have boxes and boxes of books to lug from home to home as I do, but I do want him to have a few favorites so I did two simple things to start his collection.

  1. I started a birthday tradition that every year I will give my son either a new book that I know he will love (like the new Mo Willems Pigeon book that comes out right after his first birthday) or his favorite book that we've enjoyed from the library that year (This year it was a tie between Dear Zoo and Where's Spot). He gets the book for his birthday and then we take a picture of him reading the book (this year, courtesy of my photographer sister Candice, it was a picture of him sitting on our laps while we read it to him). I glue a copy of the picture into the book along with a longer list of his favorite books from the year. It will be fun to interview him to create the list when he gets older. I think Kristi of Everything Pink buys her girls each a Christmas book every year and then writes brief synopsis of each child's year in their book so this is sort of a different twist on that.

  2. I try to attend local book signings and buy copies of books to be signed for my son even if I already own my own copy. Then I take a picture of my son with the author/illustrator and tape it into the book with the signature so my son will know when he met the author/illustrator. I love to see his collection grow and I have visions of him bringing books like his signed copy of Knuffle Bunny Too to show and tell so he can tell everyone about the time he actually met Mo Willems, etc.

Two simple ideas, but hopefully that will get you thinking about your own book collections.

8 Comments on Building a library for your child, last added: 9/20/2008
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46. Who needs to picture books when you've got a computer?

My son is only one. He doesn't know how to type, he hasn't figured out the mouse, but he loves to sit on my lap and play with the computer. We live in a digital age, so I don't want to discourage his explorations as he pokes the keys and watches the monitor, but I want to start the habit of using the computer in a positive way form an early age. That's when I remembered Looky Book, it's an website that lets you view picture books from cover to cover. It was featured here back when it was in beta form, and it's collection has grown quite a bit since I last saw it. Although I still prefer to hold a real book in my hand, this is a great place to be in my little one MUST spend time online. You can create your own saved shelf of bookshelves and when you finish a book, Looky Book will recommend other similar books. They don't have the most extensive collection, but who can resist a glimpse at Little Pea or ABC3D or First The Egg (and aren't you curious to see how they handle all the cutouts in First The Egg?)

And speaking of picture books online, have you seen Storyline Online? It's a program run by the Screen Actors Guild. They have recordings of actors reading picture books with some animation added to the illustrations. It's the next best things since Reading Rainbow (ok, it's not, but it could be if they keep it up and add more books and make it a little easier to access a list of all of the books offered). It's also very worth your time to check it out. You'll find some oldies but goodies like The Polar Express, A Bad Case of the Stripes, and William Steig's Brave Irene.

0 Comments on Who needs to picture books when you've got a computer? as of 9/14/2008 4:02:00 AM
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47. Savvy - by Ingrid Law

Mibs Beaumont anxiously awaits her 13th birthday because in the Beaumont family, that's when your savvy strikes. Her brother fish caused a hurricane on his 13th birthday, which was why they had to move to Kansaska/Nebrasas (the border between Kansas and Nebraska) while Fish learned to "scumble" (control) his power over water and the weather and Mibs' brother Rocket learned to scumble his electric current savvy.

There are all sort of savvies; Mibs Grandpa creates land and ended up creating Idaho on his 13th birthday. Her mom's savvy was being perfect. Some people had a small savvy that they weren't even aware of so they could do things like make the best jam or never get splashed by mud. Mibs hoped her savvy would be something cool like x-ray vision or the gift of flight until her dad gets in an awful car accident and ends up in the hospital in a comma.

The morning of her birthday Mibs starts the day sure that her savvy is something that will wake her papa up and save his life, if only she could get to the hospital a few hours drive away. Unfortunately, Miss Rosemary, the preacher's wife left in charge of the Beaumont children while oldest brother Rocket and their Mother are at the hospital, has other plans. She drags Mibs to a makeshift party at the church, where all of Mibs despised classmates are forced to attend.

When Mibs spots that the pink-bible salesman's bus at the church is from the same town she's trying to get to, she decides it's fate and sneaks aboard, followed by the preacher's son, Will Junior, who supports her crazy idea; Rocket, who feels responsible for Mibs; and Will's sister Bobbi who doesn't want to miss out on any trouble caused; along with Mibs younger brother Samson who was hiding on the bus.

By the time the bus driver discovers the kids, he decides he cannot turn back and still make his deliveries, so he heads on, IN THE WRONG DIRECTION! It turns out Mibs and her travel companions are in for much more of an adventure than they bargained for.

Truthfully, the storyline about the magical savvies didn't really appeal to me much, but I picked up Savvy anyway based on others' recommendations, and Ingrid Law's writing just reeled me in. Her characters were wacky, but their relationships with each other seemed powerful and real and I worried about what would happen to each of them.

Ingrid Law said, "When I started Savvy, I wanted to create a different kind of magic—one that called to mind the feel of a modern American tall-tale. I wanted to break away from the traditional tales about magic and find roots in the soil around me. What would magic look like if it sprang up in the small towns of America? And what in the world would it be called if I didn't want to call that distinctive know-how magic?"

I wouldn't quite call Savvy a tall-tale, but I could see the Beaumont family in a tall-tale of their own. It turns out that Ingrid actually did write a tall-tale explaining how the Beaumont family got their savvy and you can read it here.

The official Savvy website also provides a link to a teacher's guide to Savvy with some great discussion questions like:

  • “Perhaps Samson’s strengthening touch was just an ordinary sort
    of human magic, the kind of magic that exists in the honest, heartfelt
    concern of one person for another.” (p. 113) Explain “ordinary human
    magic” in your own words. Give another example of “ordinary human
    magic” you find in Savvy.
  • Fish and Rocket have a terrible time scumbling their savvies. How does
    this cause a ruckus for the Beaumont clan and others who know them?
    Are there any parts of your own personality that you have a difficult time
    controlling? Is it better to tone down parts of yourself so that you fit in
    society or is it more important to be yourself completely?
  • Momma warns Mibs that, “You can’t get rid of part of what makes you you
    and be happy.” (p. 186) What makes you you? How do you let that special
    part shine through?

The movie is slated for 2011 so we're sure to be hearing more about Savvy from Walden Media.

1 Comments on Savvy - by Ingrid Law, last added: 9/21/2008
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48. Do you heart Greg Heffley?

I know The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is beloved by many, but when I read it a few months ago, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I wanted to love it because I love that it's a graphic novel/traditional novel hybrid in diary format. I think that's a new format a lot of visual readers could really get into.

My problem with the series (the first two books are out with three additional books in the works) is that I didn't like the main character, Greg Heffley. To put it bluntly, he was kind of a jerk sometimes. Greg is a middle schooler just trying to blend in, boost his popularity, and avoid bullies, but in the meantime, his own blunders and his nerdy friend Rowley hold him back. There are times in the book when Greg clearly makes the wrong decisions, which I could live with, but he is often so mean to Rowley and seems oblivious to it. It may be a realistic portrayal of a middle school boy, but does that mean that I have to like it? (I fully admit my dislike of Greg is coming from the mother in me).

I recently came across two interviews with Jeff Kinney that sort of clarified why I feel the way I do about the Greg. In "Stuck (In The) Middle" in September's Parent & Child Magazine, Kinney says, "Greg often thinks he's been redeemed when he hasn't. In the first book, [his friend] Rowley gets in trouble for something Greg does. Greg's mother tells Greg he needs to do the right thing. Greg thinks the right thing is to let Rowley take the fall this time around because it's best for both of them. He comes home and Greg's mother asks, 'Did you do the right thing?' and Greg says yes. He's rewarded with ice cream, and he's very proud of himself for having done the right thing." Not exactly a character you want your kids to look up to.

Then in an interview posted in the Wimpy Kid website, Kinney is asked if he thinks Greg is a good role model. Kinney answered, "No, not really. Greg is self-centered and can be kind of clueless. I don't think Greg is a bad kid, necessarily; but like all of us, he has his faults. Hopefully, readers will understand that Greg's imperfections are what make him funny. I think that stories with characters who always do the right thing are a little boring. I wanted to create a character who was more realistic." Now, there are a lot of books out there that I love where the main character makes huge mistakes, but later tries to make it up or take responsibility so I guess that's what really gets me; not that Greg makes mistakes, but that he doesn't regret them.

I guess it's possible to dislike the main character and still like the series, because that's the conclusion that I've come to on this one, and it makes me feel a little better to know that Kinney thinks Greg isn't role-model material. Greg's portrayal of his life is very funny and his voice reads like that of a true middle schooler without shadows of a grown-up behind it so I'm sure many a kid will treasure the series.

I've had several talks with parents who don't like certain kids books because the main characters are poor role-models. Personally, I think you have to give kids some credit that they know right from wrong and can enjoy a book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and appreciate the humor without wanting to follow in Greg's footsteps. In fact, it's Greg's ignorance to the flaws of his moral compass that make parts of the book so funny.
The third book of the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw is due out on January 13th.

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49. Hip, hip, hooray!

I just got word that I will be on this year's picture book judging committee for the Cybils! Yippee! What are the Cybils some of you may wonder (but I hope many of you already know)? It's the award that was started three years ago when many children's and YA lit bloggers questioned the award winners: many of the ALA (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) didn't really seem like books kids would enjoy and the Quill winners were sort of a joke, just whatever the publisher sold the most of whether it showed literary value or not. It seemed like there should be an award out there that took the middle ground for literary books that kids would love. Thus, Kelly Herold and Anne Boles Levy gathered the kidlitosphere and started their own awards, The Cybils.

Beginning October first anyone can nominate one book for each of the Cybils categories. Then once the nominations have closed, I'll be on the committee narrowing down all the fictional picture books to five finalists. We'll pass the finalists onto another judging panel to decide the winner.

I love being on the first judging panel. Two years ago I served on the panel for middle grade fiction, and it was so fun to be in on the debate over the finalists. I never envy the final judging panel that has to choose the winner because the five finalists are always so fantastic that it would be too hard for me to decide.
I am so, so excited to be judging this year with some truly amazing people! I can't wait to get start so be sure to head over to the Cybils site on October first to start nominating!

(If you picture me prancing around right now and periodically doing my best Mary Katherine Gallagher, kneeling on one knee with both arms in the air yelling, "Cybils Judge!" I'm not saying that you'd be wrong)

4 Comments on Hip, hip, hooray!, last added: 10/20/2008
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50. Local book signing

Yesterday, my son and I made it to Marc Brown and Judy Sierra's book signing at The Kings English. We arrived late because my son is one and had we arrived early, no one would have been able to hear the presentation. It was lovely meeting both of them and they were both as wonderful and warm as you'd expect them to be. The part that I found annoying is that to receive a ticket for a place in line for the signing, you had to purchase either Born to Read or Wild About Books. I had no problem with purchasing books there to be signed, I'm all about supporting my independent bookstore, but why those two and not others? Both books are good, but they are not my favorites by either author/illustrator so there were many others I would rather have purchased there. The salesclerk told me that they weren't happy about the policy either, but they had to agree to those publisher stipulations in order to book the signing.

Ok, rant over, at least I only had to buy one so I also picked up the extremely clever Mind Your Manners B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra and had that signed for my son's book collection too.

The sad part was that my camera was missing so I ended up with blurry cell phone pictures. These pictures make me laugh because after waiting in a very long and hot line, my son doesn't look too impressed, does he?
We'll chalk it up to teething because, hello? Who wouldn't be thrilled to meet Marc Brown and Judy Sierra?

Alright, I totally admit that right now, we attended the book signing because I wanted to meet them, but I truly think that one day my son will think it's cool to see these pictures tucked into his signed copies. There was a little boy in front of us who could not believe he was meeting the man who could draw Arthur better than his mom, and it's moments like that that make book signings so fun.

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