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The Horn Book editor's rants and raves. Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996
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Vampires, werepeople, and yetis — oh my! In this month’s Notes from the Horn Book newsletter, I get to ask Cynthia Leitich Smith five questions about her (ahem) tantalizing new series Feral, a spin-off to her Tantalize quartet. Other goodies in this issue:
• more YA fantasy series entries
• picture books about the big city
• recommended reading for National Poetry Month
• intermediate books about wartime
Read the issue online here, or subscribe to receive Notes from the Horn Book newsletter (and its supplement Nonfiction Notes) in your inbox. Find more recommended books and interviews in the newsletter archives.
The post April Notes on the way appeared first on The Horn Book.
Here Comes the Easter Cat
by Deborah Underwood;
illus. by Claudia Rueda
Preschool Dial 80 pp.
1/14 978-0-8037-3939-0 $16.99 g
Cat discovers an advertisement for the Easter Bunny’s arrival on the front endpapers of this witty offering, and from the very first page he is unhappy about it. The text addresses Cat directly throughout the book, and he responds using placards, humorous expressions, and body language to convey his emotions to great effect. When asked what’s wrong, Cat explains that he doesn’t understand why everyone loves the Easter Bunny. To assuage Cat’s jealousy, the text suggests that he become the Easter Cat and “bring the children something nice too.” Intrigued, Cat plans his gift idea (chocolate bunnies with no heads), transportation method (a motorcycle faster than that hopping bunny), and a sparkly outfit (complete with top hat). But multiple naps are an important part of Cat’s daily routine. When he discovers that the Easter Bunny doesn’t take any naps while delivering all his eggs, a forlorn Cat devises an unselfish way he can instead assist the hard-working rabbit. Rueda expertly uses white space, movement, and page turns to focus attention on Cat and the repartee. The combination of Underwood’s knowledgeable authorial voice and Rueda’s loosely sketched, textured ink and colored-pencil illustrations make this an entertaining, well-paced tale for interactive story hours. And if he isn’t going to usurp the Easter Bunny, then clever Cat will just have to take over another ho-ho-holiday.
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As de facto administrative assistant for the office, I’ve been hearing the name “UNICCO” (the facilities management company here at the Simmons College campus) quite a bit as we get settled into our new space. And it makes me think of nothing so much as…
That is, The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, an early anime film about — surprise, surprise — a baby unicorn with the ability to bring happiness to everyone he meets. I remember Unico fondly and vividly from my ’80s childhood, but by the time I was in college I was convinced I had invented it, since no one else I knew had ever heard of it. (Same with The Adventures of Mark Twain, another weirdo ’80s movie.) Happily, internet searching has proved it’s not a figment of my imagination, and maybe I’ll even get around to watching it again.
In libraries, bookstores, and on sites like “Stump the Bookseller,” there’s an abundance of people hoping to be reunited with a half-remembered book from childhood. Often what hazy memories they do have are of the book’s appearance or their emotional experience of it rather than the more prosaic bibliographic information that would help a bookseller or librarian with the literary detective work. And, like me with Unico, they may eventually conclude it never existed.
Are there any stories or books from your childhood you’ve been looking for? Or have you been reunited with any long-lost loves? A few of mine: The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts, The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew, and The Wild Swans retold by Amy Ehrlich and illustrated by Susan Jeffers.
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Cynthia Leitich Smith’s urban fantasy series the Tantalize quartet did indeed tantalize readers with its vampire-themed eatery Sanguini’s: A Very Rare Restaurant (and, of course, the vampires and other supernatural beings involved therein). Her latest novel, Feral Curse (Candlewick, 13–16 years), is the second book in the Tantalize spinoff series Feral, which brings various species of werepeople (a preferred term for “shifters”) to the forefront with intrepid werecat protagonists Yoshi and Kayla. Despite the palpable suspense as her characters face bewildering magic, anti-were prejudice, and scheming yetis, Smith keeps the tone light and witty — a catnip-like combination for fans of smart supernatural romance.
1. The Tantalize and Feral series are populated with vampires, werepeople, angels, and yetis — a motley crew, to be sure. Any other supernatural creatures we should look out for?
CLS: My inner Whedonite relishes geek-team protagonists in a multi-creature-verse. Along the way, I’ve also unleashed hell hounds, dragons, ghosts, and sorcerers. Writing the series finale, I’m showcasing diva demons and my heroes’ metaphorical demons within. Not to mention the diabolical governor of Texas. But pffft! You probably saw that coming.
2. What kind of shifter would you be and why?
CLS: I’ve been saying werecats, in light of their starring role in the Feral series. But as of late, I’ve become intrigued by wereorcas and Dolphins. I’ve lived a largely mid- to southwestern, landlocked life, so even though most of our world is covered by water, to me it’s as alien and fantastical as anything we’d find in fiction.
3. Will Quincie, Kieren, Zachary, and Miranda of the Tantalize books cross paths with Yoshi and Kayla?
CLS: Isn’t that what finales are for? Yes, they’ll all be back in Feral Pride (2015) along with heaven’s bureaucracy, Italian-Romanian-Texan fusion cuisine, and — of course — senior prom.
4. We can’t resist asking: what’s your favorite item on the menu you created for Sanguini’s? (And would you actually eat it?)
CLS: Chef Bradley’s signature dish: chilled baby squirrels, simmered in orange brandy, bathed in honey cream sauce. And I might, absent Brad’s secret ingredient. By the way, it’s inspired by a real-life historical Romanian recipe involving mice.
5. If you could live in the world of another YA fantasy series, which would it be?
CLS: The world of Ellen Jensen Abbott’s Watersmeet books, after Abisina saves it.
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Feral Curse [Feral]
by Cynthia Leitich Smith
High School Candlewick 259 pp.
2/14 978-0-7636-5910-3 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7040-5 $17.99
Secret werecat Kayla chooses Valentine’s Day to reveal her true nature to her boyfriend, Ben. He reacts badly, to put it mildly: he runs away from Kayla, is hit by lightning on the antique carousel in Town Park while staging a ritual to “cure” her, and dies. Her small town of Pine Ridge, Texas, decides to dismantle the carousel and sell off its wooden animal figures. Soon after, Yoshi, the hottie Cat from Feral Nights (rev. 3/13), touches the hand-carved cougar for sale in his Grams’s antiques store in Austin and is instantly transported to Pine Ridge. He’s not the only shifter to suddenly appear there. Darby, a Deer; Peter, a Coyote; and Evan, an Otter, show up within a few days—each having touched the carousel animal corresponding to his shifter form—and they’re all inexplicably drawn to Kayla. This second entry in the Feral series (a spin-off of Smith’s Tantalize quartet) features as kooky a cast of supernatural characters as ever (including a juvenile yeti in addition to the various werepeople and the occasional human), but they’re all relatable in various ways and easy to root for. Debut character Kayla — level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature — holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness. Witty banter peppered with pop-culture references keeps the tone light even as the stakes ramp up.
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He Has Shot the President!:
April 14, 1865: The Day John
Wilkes Booth Killed President
Lincoln [Actual Times]
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Intermediate Roaring Brook 64 pp.
4/14 978-1-59643-224-6 $17.99 g
This fifth entry in Brown’s Actual Times series (including All Stations Distress, rev. 9/08) begins on April 14, 1865, the day Lincoln was assassinated. Brown introduces both major actors, Lincoln and Booth, and then begins the tricky task of chronologically following each man to his death. He does so successfully, switching back and forth between the actions of both men with impeccable transitions. The text is matter-of-fact and detailed. “At about 10:00 PM, Booth reentered Ford’s through the front entrance and made his way to the second floor and the president’s box.” The illustrations, in Brown’s slightly impressionistic style and rendered in somber shades of brown, blue, and gray, create drama. There’s the despair on Dr. Charles Leale’s face as he attends Lincoln and sadness in the posture of mourners watching Lincoln’s funeral train moving slowly through America’s farmlands toward its final destination. But there’s also menace in Lewis Powell as he attempts to kill Secretary of State William Seward and in the stance of a soldier questioning eleven-year-old Appolina Dean, an innocent boarder at Mary Surratt’s house. A bibliography completes this fine book.
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Pour the wine (or grape juice) and chop the nuts and apples. Here are some new books for Passover. (And here are two more.)
Two Shalom Sesame series entries, written by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer and illustrated by Tom Leigh, follow Sesame Street characters in Israel as they learn about doing good deeds. In It’s a Mitzvah, Grover!, Grover and friends clean up a playground after a storm, though Moishe the grouch hesitates to participate. In Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration, Big Bird joins Grover and learns about Passover as they do mitzvot en route to a seder. The tone is un-preachy and preschoolers will recognize the friendly cast of characters. (both Kar-Ben, 2013)
The rabbit family that celebrated Hanukkah in author Linda Glaser and illustrator Daniel Howarth’s Hoppy Hanukkah! now joyously observes Passover. In Hoppy Passover!, siblings Violet and Simon participate in traditions such as reciting the Four Questions and preparing the Seder plate. The rabbit-children’s infectious excitement comes across in both text and illustrations (though the cheerful, pastel-colored palette and bouncing bunnies may bring to mind another springtime holiday).
David A. Adler follows up 2011′s The Story of Hanukkah with the The Story of Passover . The straightforward text touches on Jacob and the Children of Israel; slavery and Pharaoh’s cruelty; Moses’s encounter with the burning bush; the ten plagues; and the Red Sea escape. Jill Weber’s expressive, rich-hued acrylics play up the drama (ew, lice) but also offer reassurance and even some humor through small, eye-pleasing details. (Holiday, 2014)
Stone Soup with Maztoh Balls: A Passover Tale in Chelm begins with a stranger arriving in Chelm on Passover. Let “all who are hungry come and eat,” sure, but the villagers don’t have much to share. The stranger produces a stone, promising to make matzoh ball soup…and you know the rest. Linda Glaser’s well-cadenced text and Maryam Tabatabaei’s digital-looking art are as light as the Chelmites’ matzo balls (“…so light they can almost fly”). (Whitman, 2014)
Who will help make the Passover matzah? When Sheep, Horse, and Dog prove unreliable, stereotypical Jewish mother Little Red Hen (somewhat grudgingly) takes up the reins. The good-natured cadence of Leslie Kimmelman’s text for The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah extends the mother-hen comparison, while Paul Meisel’s affectionate ink, watercolor, and pastel illustrations keep things from going too far over the top. An author’s note about Passover and a matzah recipe are appended. (Holiday, 2010)
Miriam, protagonist of Linda Elovitz Marshall’s The Passover Lamb, is looking forward to singing the Four Questions at her grandparents’ Passover seder. But when a newborn lamb on the family’s farm is abandoned by its mother, Miriam worries she’ll have to miss the seder to care for the unwanted baby. Her solution is unsurprising but charming; soft illustrations by Tatjana Mai-Wyss reinforce Miriam’s affection for the (particularly cute) baby sheep. (Random House, 2013)
In A Tale of Two Seders by Mindy Avra, a young girl has gone to six different Passover seders in the three years since her parents’ divorce. At the sixth seder, attended by both her mom and dad, the girl’s mother likens families to different varieties of charoset, a traditional dish: “Some have more ingredients…But each one is tasty in its own way.” The realistic story is accompanied by Valeria Cis’s pattern-filled illustrations. Charoset recipes are included. (Kar-Ben, 2010)
A young Jewish slave describes the ten plagues and the Israelites’ hurried flight from Egypt in The Longest Night: A Passover Story. Illustrator Catia Chien’s dark, expansive acrylic paintings are well matched with Laurel Snyder’s impeccable rhyming couplets (although some illustrations, such as a full-page, open-jawed wolf, may be too intense for very young readers). The concluding spreads, featuring the parting of the Red Sea and a gorgeous sunrise, are a treat. (Random House/Schwartz & Wade, 2013)
In a small village long ago, the once-close Lippa and Galinsky families feuded. With the rabbi, their children (who loved one another) enacted a plan to bring their families together for Seder so that Passover could truly be celebrated. How the whole village participates makes Linda Leopold Strauss’s The Elijah Door: A Passover Tale a warmhearted story of reconciliation and togetherness. Strikingly painted woodcuts by Alexi Natchev illustrate the Passover tale. (Holiday, 2012)
In 1865, a Jewish family in Virginia hosts an unanticipated Passover guest: a Yankee soldier. The “festival of freedom,” here celebrated by people with conflicting beliefs but a common cultural history, has great meaning. Elka Weber’s The Yankee at the Seder, a well-told tale based on actual events, is accompanied by Adam Gustavson’s richly textured oil paintings. Endnotes provide more information about the real-life figures and the Passover holiday. (Tricycle, 2009)
Harriet Ziefert’s appealing Passover: Celebrating Now, Remembering Then presents contemporary Passover rituals alongside a retelling of the festival story. Left-hand pages include “Now” information while right-hand gatefold pages open to reveal the “Then” side: additional details about the Passover tale. Karla Gudeon’s unfussy illustrations against natural-paper-textured backgrounds help illuminate events. The decorated endpapers are adorned with holiday symbols. (Blue Apple, 2010)
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Preschool-perfect nursery rhymes, a potpourri of new-reader-friendly seasonal verse, a presidential history lesson in rhyme, and a picture book biography about a famous poet — these new books offer unique avenues for celebrating National Poetry Month.
Editor and illustrator David McPhail’s My Mother Goose: A Collection of Favorite Rhymes is an affable collection of sixty-three nursery rhymes plus seven interspersed short sections of concepts (counting, “Getting Dressed,” “Action Words”). McPhail portrays a classic, though updated, Mother Goose world, populated with people (not all white) and anthropomorphized animals. Each spread is devoted to one or two mostly familiar poems, and the playful illustrations are afforded plenty of room to interpret the verses, giving the whole an uncluttered, approachable look. (Roaring Brook, 2–5 years)
Melissa Sweet’s child-friendly mixed-media illustrations — loosely rendered, collage-like assemblages in seasonal palettes — enhance the thirty-six excellent poems showcased in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, the verses — some as brief as three lines or a dozen words — are largely by familiar poets (Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes), including those known for their children’s verse (Alice Schertle, Charlotte Zolotow). (Candlewick, 4–7 years)
Natalie S. Bober draws on her own 1981 young adult biography A Restless Spirit for her new picture book Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost, focused on the pivotal years (1900–12) when Frost lived in Derry, New Hampshire. Skillfully, Bober introduces Frost’s idiosyncrasies along with his gifts, and frequently incorporates lines from Frost’s poems. Rebecca Gibbon’s acrylic, pencil, and watercolor art quietly captures the era’s essence. Quotes from Frost on poetry and a dozen iconic poems inspired by those Derry years are included. (Ottaviano/Holt, 5–8 years)
For slightly older readers, Marilyn Singer’s Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents offers thirty-nine poems for our forty-three presidents, touching on sophisticated subjects such as political ideology, foreign policy, and domestic programs. A quote from George Washington in a bold hand-lettered font opens the book, and with the poem positioned on the facing page, readers have space to contemplate its meaning. John Hendrix’s expansive, richly colored art captures each man’s likeness, and brief biographical notes give pertinent background information. (Disney-Hyperion, 6–10 years)
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Every fantasy fan knows the exquisite agony of anticipating the next entry in a favorite series — particularly if that entry will be the last. These four new novels continue (and in some cases, complete) popular trilogies.
In The Cracks in the Kingdom, the follow-up to Jaclyn Moriarty‘s BGHB Fiction Award Honor book A Corner of White, Madeleine (in Cambridge, England) and Elliot (in the Kingdom of Cello) continue to communicate through letters they send through a “crack” between their two worlds. At the behest of Princess Ko, whose parents and siblings have disappeared into Madeleine’s world, Madeleine and Elliot attempt to cross into each other’s worlds and avert the threat of war in Cello. They achieve a measure of success and give readers a tantalizing hint of romance to come. This wholly entertaining book outdoes the first — not an easy task. (Levine/Scholastic, 13–16 years)
Marissa Meyer’s fairy tale/sci-fi hybrid Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet) continues with Cress, a “Rapunzel”–inspired story. Cress, taken from her Lunar parents as a baby, is forced to live alone on a satellite spying on the Earthens for Queen Levana. But her real loyalty lies with cyborg Cinder’s plan to protect Earth by dethroning Levana. After an attempt to rescue Cress goes awry, Cinder and an injured Wolf head to Africa; Scarlet becomes Levana’s prisoner on Luna; and Cress and Thorne survive a crash landing on Earth and desert trek. This action-packed page-turner is sure to please series fans. (Feiwel, 13–16 years)
In The Klaatu Terminus, Tucker and Lia (The Obsidian Blade, The Cydonian Pyramid) join together for their final confrontation with the murderous religious sect known as the Lambs of September. Born in the same geographic locale hundreds of years apart, the two have been drawn to each other since Tucker first spotted Lia with his father, Reverend Adrian Feye (soon to become Father September). Other characters, similarly intertwined, also cross paths again in wholly unexpected ways. Author Pete Hautman pulls together the elaborate strands of the previous Klaatu Diskos books, rewarding readers with a surprising yet satisfying chronicle across time. (Candlewick, 13–16 years)
An uneasy truce between chimaera and seraphim allows Laini Taylor‘s star-crossed lovers Karou and Akiva (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Days of Blood & Starlight) the chance to reconcile. This sets the stage for looming confrontations with the despotic seraph Jael, the mysterious Stelians, and a new threat that the pair could never have imagined. For all the well-made trappings of fantasy and horror, the amalgamation of myth and legend, the machinations of plot, and the colorful menagerie of characters, Dreams of Gods & Monsters — the final entry in the trilogy — remains, at heart, a tender, satisfying romance. (Little, Brown, 13–16 years)
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Visiting big cities can foster both excitement and anxiety. Whether young children are already well traveled or just curious about new places, these four picture books can provide them with excellent armchair tours of New York City and Europe.
A little girl traveling on the subway counts from one (“1 MetroCard”) to ten (“10 friends sway, boogie and bop…”) and back down again in Count on the Subway. Paul DuBois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender’s pleasantly rhyming text is full of the sights and sounds of a subway ride. Shout-outs to some New York City stations and train lines (“Find the 7 at Times Square”) give readers their bearings, but familiarity with the city isn’t a necessity. The clean page design encourages young children to participate in counting the objects and people mentioned in the text. Dan Yaccarino’s graphically dynamic illustrations pop with crisp lines and solid blocks of dazzling crayon-box colors. (Knopf, 3–5 years)
Join a little boy and his father In New York, an enthusiastically busy story-book guide to New York City. Just about all of Manhattan’s child-pleasing sites get a place in Marc Brown’s stupendously detailed gouache and watercolor pictures, including the Empire State Building at sunset, Rockefeller Center at Christmas, the Statue of Liberty, the dinosaur gallery of the American Museum of Natural History, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The minimal text is inviting, the endpapers offer additional child-friendly vignettes and facts, and appended info includes phone numbers and websites for all the highlights. (Knopf, 4–7 years)
In City Cat, a small smoky-gray cat follows a family on its trip through Europe, making herself supremely comfortable wherever she goes. Kate Banks’s text is confident and rhythmic, dotted with rhymes and half-rhymes that bounce off the tongue. “She sits on piers with perked-up ears / and gazes out to sea.” Lauren Castillo’s drawings capture both the grandeur of great cities and their human dynamism. In each picture, we look for the family, and the family looks for the cat. An appended spread, both child- and cat-oriented, identifies the cities and the sights, and a map lets us trace the family’s eight-city journey. (Foster /Farrar, 4–7 years)
Salvatore Rubbino (A Walk in New York, A Walk in London) showcases another iconic city in A Walk in Paris. This time, a small girl and her grandpa tour sites such as Notre-Dame and the Pompidou Center; a bistro and an outdoor market; and the Métro. Following streets medieval and modern, they finally arrive, with a foldout, at the Eiffel Tower, “fizzing with lights!” It’s an amiable amble, the child’s travelogue nicely extended with extra facts in discreetly tiny type (“book stalls have lined the river since the mid-sixteenth century”). Rubbino’s evocative mixed-media art is full of gentle tones enlivened with verdant greens and a pâtisserie’s inviting raspberry-reds. An endpaper map details the route, and major sites are indexed. (Candlewick, 4–7 years)
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Yesterday I was tidying up my new office and found these little origami items left by my marvelous spring semester design intern, August Lah. Most of the time I keep her pretty busy, but on days when there’s a lot of scanning, it’s hurry-up-and-wait time. Place the book on the scanner, click on Preview, crop, then wait 20-30 seconds while the scanner captures the image. Multiply by 90 images in the book review section. Ugh.
What to do during that brief down-time? August says she is a fiddler by nature, so anytime she can get her hands on a scrap of paper (post-it note, gum wrapper) she folds it into something better. August is waaay beyond me in origami intelligence. She says she’s only memorized a few shapes, but she’s good enough to be able to improvise new forms, too.
This little find just reinforced for me how much we all depend on our interns. Not only do they help us with on some of the more mundane tasks in our jobs, but most times I also learn from them — a new Photoshop shortcut, a cool website with free grunge fonts…or a new origami animal. Most of us here were once interns ourselves, some for this very company, and it’s still the best way to get started in the field.
The deadline for summer intern positions is April 15, which is next Tuesday. There are two or three editorial slots available and one design slot. Check out the application information here.
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Twice in the past week I’ve been asked to opine publicly about the future of books and libraries for children, first at the NYLA conference in White Plains and then at the investiture of Eileen Abels as the new dean of the Simmons GSLIS. I had far fewer answers than questions, which I present to you for possible mastication:
Whenever I worry about the future of publishing and, in particular, the demand for professional book reviews in an increasingly Amazoned world, I think, “well, I could always go back to being a librarian again.” I’m twenty-five years out from the Chicago Public Library but I still hold my union card in the form of an MA from Chicago’s Graduate Library School (itself gone for almost a quarter century as well).
But then I think, could I? My library school curriculum included no courses in electronic reference, never mind the web, which did not yet exist. In Don Swanson’s required computer class, we learned assembly language and how to program IBM punch cards. As a children’s librarian in the early 80s, I worked at a branch that boasted the first public-access microcomputer in a public library, the brain child of branch manager Patrick Dewey. Adults used it to access BBS networks; kids used it to play Pong-like games and use very elementary, black-and-white, educational programs. For story hours, our idea of high-tech was a filmstrip projector.
Still I tell myself that the basics of library work with children remain the same as when I was working in the 80s and in fact when Anne Carroll Moore and Alice Jordan, cheered on by the Horn Book’s Bertha Mahony Miller, were establishing children’s librarianship as a profession a century ago: Library service based in book collections and storytelling, presided over by librarians with deep knowledge of literature and methods of bringing children and books together. Last week I was at the White Plains Public Library in New York and while the place was so high-tech that I expected lasers to shoot from the ceiling, books—regular old print books—were everywhere.
How long will this remain true? As reading becomes increasingly at one with the ether, will librarians have a place? As even reader’s advisory becomes more automated and egalitarian, to whom do we give advice? If there is no physical collection of books to maintain and promote, what do our jobs become? I would like to believe that there are 21st century Alice Jordans ready to colonize and civilize the brave new digital world, and I hope that our library schools are getting these pioneers packed and ready.
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The Poetry App (Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, 2012) may not be specifically geared toward kids, but I think it has a lot to offer younger users. First and foremost, the app presents over one hundred classic poems from sixteen of the world’s greatest poets — including W. H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, William Butler Yeats, and Sylvia Plath. Additionally, each poem available to read is paired with an audio recitation performed by one of thirty critically acclaimed actors and performers.
The lineup of contributors is a veritable who’s who of British thespian elite, which includes — and let me preface this list by saying that each is known for a host of memorable roles; I’ve simply boiled them down to their most kid/teen-relevant, pop-culture characters — Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), and Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge) from the Harry Potter franchise; Ian McDiarmid (The Emperor/Senator Palpatine) from the Star Wars movies; Roger Moore (James Bond); Dan Stevens (aka Matthew Crawley) and Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley) from Downton Abbey; Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) and Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle) from Game of Thrones; and Jeremy Irons (aka Brom from Eragon, Macon Ravenwood from Beautiful Creatures, and Scar from The Lion King).
The main menu is straightforward and simple to navigate, featuring a cozy living room setting warmed by a crackling fire and six section icons to click through. Unfortunately, once you’re actually exploring the poems organized by poet or actor, the interface becomes over-conceptualized. Animated hot air balloons float across pictures or portraits of actors and poets, all pasted in front of the scrolling background of a starry night sky. It’s too busy to be effective. Good thing the recitations are so impressive and beautifully done. This is one of those apps with incredible content — if you can get past its appearance.
Introductions and essays by the late author Josephine Hart accompany various poems, providing context and some explication. There is also a composition tool, so users can compose their own poetry if inspiration strikes. Easter eggs are hidden throughout the app, some featuring video clips of actors reciting poems. Click around to find them all.
Available for iPad (requires iOS 5.0 or later) and Android devices (requires Android 2.3.3 and up); free.
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Where to begin with how important Harriet the Spy has been in my life? I guess I’ll have to start with my childhood. I was in fourth grade, at a school book fair. I’d forgotten to bring money that day, which was a problem because there was one book I was desperate to have. It had a bright orange cover with bold yellow type and a girl wearing glasses climbing all over it. And somehow I knew I was going to love it and I had to read it. AND IT WAS THE ONLY COPY AT THE FAIR. So I did what any right-thinking person would do under the circumstances: I hid it. Specifically, I put it at the bottom of a pile of very drippy-looking books (I’m guessing they were Winnie-the-Pooh; I detested Winnie-the-Pooh back then) and kept my fingers crossed that no one would find it and I could buy it the next day. Which I did. And Harriet has been a part of my life ever since.
It occurs to me now that this is probably the sort of thing Harriet herself would have done in a similar situation. And that in turn tells you why she’s a character who has endured for so long. She’s resourceful, quick, a little unscrupulous, and entirely recognizable. A real person, in other words. You might not like her (and I’m still not sure I do), but you know this girl.
That school book fair was the first time I remember Harriet being important to me. The second time came much later. I was a young assistant editor, starting out in children’s books. I’d been promoted and assigned a mass market series to edit. It was a steady-selling series for the publisher, and I was excited to be working on something so substantial. Needless to say, I took my responsibilities very seriously. This manuscript was going to be IN PRINT, after all. It was going to be a book! It had to be good! The future of the nation’s youth and the success of the series were resting on my shoulders alone! (I’m exaggerating just a bit, but I really did feel this way.) Unfortunately, the manuscript was about the worst thing I’d ever read. I couldn’t even articulate why it was so awful, but it was complete dreck, and I had to fix it. Or at least make it readable and enjoyable enough to sell ten thousand copies. And I had absolutely no idea how to do this.
Okay, I said to myself. Think about some other books, books you love. What makes them so great? That’s when I remembered Harriet. And I went back and read it — really read it, this time. I took it apart, technically. I began to understand how good it is. And even though the manuscript I was working on was a YA book and Harriet was a middle-grade novel, I learned things from Harriet about dialogue, structure, character, action, and pacing that I was able to apply, in a different way, to the problematic manuscript I had to edit. Harriet saved my bacon that time, and also made me think about books and reading and writing in a new way. It’s actually ironic that Harriet helped me edit a conventional YA romance, because Harriet is the complete opposite of that; it is in fact a wildly subversive novel. Which of course only makes me love it more.
What’s so revolutionary about it? Let’s start with the fact that Harriet is not a nice little girl. She does illegal things when she spies. If she doesn’t actually break into Mrs. Agatha K. Plumber’s house, for instance, she comes pretty close. She writes terrible things about people — not just the people she spies on, but also her best friends. The thing is, she’s not doing it because she’s mean (although she certainly has her mean moments). She’s doing it because she’s honest and because she’s compelled to do it. The note-taking is part of who she is, what she is training herself to be: a writer and observer. It’s work, and she takes it very seriously. And her friends accept this about her, even after she hurts them with her brutally honest observations. They know she can’t change. Even when she’s forced to apologize, she does it out of practical necessity, because she wants to keep her friends, not because she really means it. And then she goes back to doing exactly what she was doing before. She hasn’t changed one bit, and her friends know it.
Just think about all of this! It’s a giant raspberry to the school of thought that says, A-character-in-a-children’s-book-must-change-and-grow-throughout-the-course-of-the-story. Or to the school that says, A-character-must-be-essentially-good-and-lovable. In fact, any rules or precepts or cutesy-poo ideas you might have had about children’s books fly right out the window when you read Harriet the Spy. There is no great moral lesson to be learned, no transformative change that happens to the protagonist. Above all, there is no tidiness. Harriet is real life in all its messiness and ambiguity, populated by real people who are also messy and ambiguous.
There is yet another reason to love Harriet, and it’s another editorial story, this one about its origin. In the book Dear Genius, the great Ursula Nordstrom, the visionary editor at Harper & Row during its golden era, writes about how Harriet the Spy came to be published. It all started with a reader’s report from Charlotte Zolotow, who was then a senior editor, urging Ursula to read the manuscript. “You have to get this writer to come in and talk. This isn’t a book, but it could be,” she wrote enthusiastically. And on what did she base her enthusiasm? Pages of Louise Fitzhugh’s drawings and disconnected narrative, which seemed to consist mostly of Harriet’s spy entries. Somehow Charlotte was able to see past this jumble of words and envision a book. She and Ursula worked with the author and helped her find the characters and story that became Harriet.
In this age of acquiring manuscripts from debut authors that have to be perfect or nearly perfect to be signed on, I find this story to be an inspiration, and most of all a reminder: you have to keep an open mind about the creative process. It’s messy and unpredictable and risky. But the rewards of taking that leap of faith are boundless.
Just read Harriet again and see.
From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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In the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, the dystopian city of Chicago is run through a personality-based system of grouping. The five factions, to one of which every person belongs, are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Abnegation, with its focus on humility and selflessness, acts as the political power; Amity, the good-natured, peaceful types, are the city’s farmers; Candor, those who value truth above all else, work as the judging body; Erudite are the thinkers and creators; and Dauntless, the bold, are what amounts to a standing army. Children are raised within the faction of their birth but, when they come of age, take a test to tell them where they truly belong. Beatrice (a.k.a Tris) from Abnegation takes her test only to find that she is Divergent — that is, she displays traits characteristic of more than one faction. Divergence is rare, and considered shameful and very dangerous. Tris is forced to dedicate her life to one faction (she chooses Dauntless) and keep her Divergence a secret.
The movie adaptation, directed by Neil Burger (Summit, March 2014), stars Shailene Woodley (from The Descendants and The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Slight and unremarkable-seeming at first, Woodley looks the part of the self-abnegating teen. As the story goes on, she grows into her role as a good YA dystopian female protagonist: sensitive but tough, and the consummate underdog. Woodley is a strong actor, reaching the emotional depths necessary for a character as out of her element as Tris. As the stakes get higher and the situations all the more impossible, Woodley’s Tris remains a hero to root for.
Theo James plays The Love Interest, Four, exactly as we would want him to be played: moody, strong, sexy, vulnerable, and surprisingly funny. Kate Winslet is intelligent and devious as the power-grabbing Jeanine, Tony Goldwyn (Scandal‘s POTUS) is totally believable as an ascetic politician, and Jai Courtney’s Eric is just plain scary. Altogether, the cast delivers an engaging and downright exciting performance, their stories developed over the backdrop of a surreally beautiful dystopian world. I also appreciate some of the content decisions — especially the depiction of sexual assault (in a controversial scene created for the movie) as a very real and constant fear in this society and Tris’s capable, Dauntless response to it.
But I have so very many questions. And while some of them are questions about gaps in the world-building (How does the train keep running? Can anyone be kicked out of a faction at any time? Who is behind all the technological advances in what appears to be a fairly stagnant society?), others raise more problematic issues.
If there is a line between bravery and recklessness, Divergent smashes it to bits. The movie defines bravery as actively choosing to do something scary even though you’re afraid. And yet, the film also portrays Dauntless characters doing scary and downright reckless things without thinking and without fear. I ask you, how can an individual be considered “dauntless” by being both thoughtful and thoughtless at the same time? What is up with the Dauntless, anyway? Why do they run everywhere whooping and pounding their fists? Is that what bravery looks like?
As to costuming — the use of color palettes for the individual factions is very well done, clearly delineating the five groups with visual representation. But… of course the Dauntless are shown as pierced, tattooed, and primarily black-clad. Coming from an individual who is both tattooed and pierced (and who also wears primarily black), I must tell you that tattooing, piercing, and dressing all in black do not a badass make. (Honestly, I’m pretty sure I would be placed in whichever faction is the most cowardly.) Isn’t it time to find another way to show an audience that a group of characters are “dangerous”?
Divergent was an entertaining movie with strong acting, beautiful visual effects, and an exciting plot. Yes, I have questions. Hopefully, the second movie will clear them up for me — because I will definitely be checking it out.
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Eye to Eye:
How Animals See the World
by Steve Jenkins; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Houghton 32 pp.
4/14 978-0-547-95907-8 $17.99 g
The origins of the eye lie in the need for animals to detect light, as Jenkins explains in the opening to this excellent presentation of the structures animals use to see. After a brief description of the four major types of eyes that have evolved in animal species (eyespots, pinholes, compounds, and cameras), we get to the eyes themselves, prominently featured in well-designed layouts that serve both as study guide and display for the beautifully rendered and reproduced cut-paper artwork. Each page features a single organism in two images: a main close-up of the animal’s eye area(s), carefully framed to illustrate position and function relationships; and a smaller, full-body image of the animal itself. The juxtaposition is very useful — readers can use both images to make sense of the text, filled with fascinating information about eyes that are large (colossal squid), odd (stalk-eyed fly), all over the head (jumping spider), and extremely mobile (ghost crab). Additional field guide–like facts about the twenty-two featured animals are listed at the end of the book.
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I feel like the Fisherman’s Wife here–now that I have a window in my office, I want sunshine.
But we are getting accustomed to our new quarters, scary warnings in the cafeteria about noroviruses notwithstanding. We even managed a star meeting! The following books will receive starred reviews in the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine:
The Baby Tree; written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Paulsen/Penguin)
Gaston; by Kelly DiPucchio; illus. by Christian Robinson (Atheneum)
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom; by Angela Johnson; illus. by E. B. Lewis (Simon)
The Last Forever; by Deb Caletti (Simon Pulse)
We Were Liars; by E. Lockhart (Delacorte)
West of the Moon; by Margi Preus (Amulet/Abrams)
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker; by Patricia Hruby Powell; illus. by Christian Robinson (Chronicle)
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The Emmy and Peabody–award winning Reading Rainbow, hosted by LeVar Burton, ran for twenty-three years on PBS. Now young readers can explore the Reading Rainbow app (RRKidz, 2012), which retains a similar style to the show complete with its signature, catchy theme song: “Take a look, / it’s in a book, / a reading rainbow…” The app contains a library of hundreds of children’s e-books in addition to book-related activities and live-action “video field trips” narrated by Burton.
When children enter the app, they are prompted to create a profile including name, age, gender, and three things they like — I chose wizards & fairies, things that go, and animals. These choices allow the app to tailor reading options for each child (accounts can be created for up to five children). The app is geared toward kids ages 3–9 and includes fiction and nonfiction book titles, with new e-books and videos being added every week. There is also a web- and app-accessible parent dashboard where a parent can monitor their child’s reading progress, search for specific e-books by title or author, and manage their subscription. There are three subscription options with this app: a free subscription for five e-books and seven videos, a monthly recurring subscription for $9.99, or a six-month recurring subscription for $29.99.
The app itself is very easy to navigate. The home screen allows access to everything in the app, the most important of which is a portal to different themed floating “islands” where kids can explore “worlds of reading”: Action Adventures & Magical Tales, Genius Academy, Awesome People, National Geographic Kids, Animal Kingdom, My Friends My Family, and Music Mountain. Simply scroll to the island of your choice and tap on it to enter. Once inside, you’ll see two scrolling rows full of theme-connected e-books and videos. There is also a scrolling row of videos to watch about fascinating people, places, and things related to the theme (and all of the videos are also available via a button on the main screen). Within the scrolling row of e-books, some are marked as new or recommended e-books “just for you” (based on the child’s age and interests as chosen in their profile). And some e-books will fit more than one category, so you may see an e-book on several islands’ lists. After you select an e-book, there is a sneak peek description to introduce the e-book to a reader. If you want to get the e-book, just click yes when prompted and it will download in your “backpack.”
A child’s backpack is reachable via the home screen, where you’ll also have easy access to everything in the app. You can see the e-books you’ve checked out when you click on the backpack (the design of which is customizable — I chose the sports theme). You can only have five e-books in your backpack at a time, so when you’re finished reading an e-book just “return” it through the return slot so you can check out another e-book. There are also helpful “how-to” videos in your backpack. Once you click on an e-book in your backpack, it’s time to read!
There are two modes of reading: “read to me” and “read by myself.” While reading an e-book, there is the option to browse through the page spreads, pause the narration by touching the text, and play a game (although I was only able to play a matching game with each of my five e-books). When you want to leave an e-book, just click on your backpack and it will bring you back out of the e-book so you can continue exploring the app. If you come back to an e-book you haven’t finished yet, the app will return you to the page where you stopped reading. After you’ve completed an e-book, sticker rewards are given to motivate further reading.
Right now the available e-books are from publishers including Charlesbridge, Holiday House, National Geographic Kids, Kindermusik, Abrams, Sleeping Bear, Shenanigan, Peachtree, Kane, and Little, Brown. While there’s nothing flashy to be found within the app’s e-books, the extensiveness of this collection makes it an invaluable resource that will provide children with hours of education and entertainment. “But,” as LeVar Burton says, “you don’t have to take my word for it” — check it out yourself.
Available for iPad (requires iOS 5.1 or later); free. Monthly subscription to content is $9.99, or a six-month subscription is $29.99. Android and web versions coming later this year.
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For our class on April 3, we are reading four books and one article. I like combining these two genres because both need to be read aloud in order to really appreciate them.
Folklore has to have a strong voice, as it comes from an oral tradition where storytellers have individual styles, just as today’s popular singers have their own ways of putting songs across. Poetry, too, needs to be heard to appreciate the sound of the words — and spoken aloud to feel their combinations in your mouth. And of course poetry needs to be seen on the page because the line breaks, indentations, and even the leading are as important. Each of these four books is expertly illustrated, as well. So there is lots to analyze and discuss this week!
Representing folklore stand-alone picture books, Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile is a hybrid of two story types: the trickster and the noodlehead. This story probably originated in northeastern Liberia where it was collected by Won-Ldy Pay. The second folklore book is Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, Paul Fleischman’s compilation of tales from a variety of origins, all of the Cinderella story type — persecuted heroins with supernatural helpers.
Representing poetry, we are reading Poetrees, one of Douglas Florian’s themed poetry books, this time about trees. For our poetry compilation, we have the über-collection of poetry forms compiled by Paul Janeszco, A Kick in the Head. There are plenty of compilations for children that feature one poetry type — haiku, concrete poems, etc. This one has one of everything — or as close to everything as I’ve found for an elementary-aged audience.
Finally, we are reading Susan Dove Lempke’s Horn Book article, “Purposeful Poetry” from our May/June 2005 special issue on poetry.
We invite all of you to join our discussion this week in the comments of the individual posts linked above.
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There’s lots to celebrate this month: National Poetry Month, D.E.A.R. Day, World Book Night, Poem in Your Pocket Day, El día de los niños/El día de los libros — and let’s not forget much nicer weather! See below for children’s lit–related events coming up in the greater Boston area. Be sure to check our monthly events calendar for all the details.
April is National Poetry Month!
Paleontologist Barnas Monteith will read from his new book The Furious Case of the Fraudulent Fossil and lead paleontology activities at Wellesley Books this afternoon at 4:00 pm.
Also today at 4:00 pm, Vermont’s cartoonist laureate James Kochalka will celebrate the publication of The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza at the Cambridge Public Library. Pizza included (while it lasts).
The Phantom Tollbooth author Norton Juster will speak as part of the “Gateway to Reading” Lowell Lecture Series tonight at 6:00 pm at the Boston Public Library main branch.
The John F. Kennedy NHS and John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum will hold “To Light the World: Stories of Hope & Courage for Challenging Times,” a conference for educators and librarians for grades 3-8, tomorrow, April 3rd, beginning at 8:00 am. Registration is $100.
The Writers’ Loft will host its new Middle Grade Morning Critique group tomorrow and on Thursday, April 17th, at 10:00 am. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in submitting a middle-grade manuscript in progress for critique.
Nonfiction author Susan E. Goodman will speak about and sign her space travel guide How Do You Burp in Space? at The Clay Center Observatory at Dexter Southfield school at 6:30 pm tomorrow.
The Writers’ Loft’s picture book manuscript critique group meets Thursday, April 10th, at 10:00 am. Manuscripts for critique should be submitted by the Monday prior to the meeting.
Trident Booksellers and Cafe will host a panel on self-publishing — including YA author Brendan Halpin and middle-grade author Meg Wilson — at 7:00 pm on Thursday the 10th.
Writers interested in breaking into nonfiction freelancing work or critiquing a nonfiction manuscript are welcome at the Loft’s new Nonfiction Think Tank, which meets this month on Friday, April 11th, at 10:00 am.
The annual Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Day, inspired by Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8, will be celebrated on Saturday, April 12th.
The Foundation for Children’s Books will hold their spring half-day conference “What’s New in Children’s Books?” on Saturday the 12th, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm at Lesley University. Authors Steve Sheinkin, Jason Chin, Kathryn Lasky, Michael Tougias, and Melissa Stewart will be special guests. Registration is $65 for individuals, $25 for students, and $40 for each member of an institutional group.
The Writers’ Loft will host a historical fiction panel with Alisa Libby, Susan Meyer, and Marissa Doyle at 2:00 pm on Saturday the 12th.
Learn about Simmons College’s satellite MA and MFA Children’s Literature programs at the Carle Museum by attending an informational session at the museum on Sunday, April 13th, at 12:00 pm.
On Sunday the 13th at 2:00 pm, Caldecott Medal winner Mordicai Gerstein will read and discuss his latest picture book The First Drawing at the Carle Museum. A drawing demonstration and book signing will follow.
Frances Driscoll will read and sign her picture book The Swan Boat Ride at the Boston Public Library main branch on Sunday the 13th at 2:00 pm.
Also at 2:00 pm on Sunday the 13th, the Belmont Gallery of Art will host an opening reception for its new exhibition “Books on the Charles,” a celebration of illustration in Boston-based publisher Charlesbridge’s picture books.
Meet more than twenty children’s book authors and illustrators at Authorfest, held at Winchester Town Hall on Tuesday, April 15th, from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. The authors will also be visiting Winchester schools during the school day.
Author/illustrator Tad Hills will read and sign his latest picture book Duck & Goose Go to the Beach at the Burlington Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, April 16th, at 10:00 am.
The monthly YA Think Tank writing group will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 19th. Participants will workshop their YA works-in-progress; manuscripts for critique should be submitted one week prior to the meeting.
Susan Schwake, author of 3-D Art Lab for Kids, will lead a free paper sculpture activity for children at the Carle Museum on Saturday the 19th at 1:00 pm. A book signing will follow.
Hampshire College Theatre’s Seedling Productions presents Lily Plants a Garden by José Cruz González at The Carle on Saturday the 19th with performances at 1:00 and 3:00 pm. Tickets are $4 in addition to museum admission.
This year’s World Book Night will be celebrated on Wednesday, April 23rd.
CactusHead Puppets presents The Bremen Town Musicians at The Carle Museum with performances at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm on Wednesday the 23rd, Thursday the 24th, and Friday the 25th. On Saturday the 26th, performances will be held at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Tickets are $5 (members $4.50) in addition to museum admission.
On Wednesday the 23rd at 7:00 pm, YA author Laini Taylor will celebrate the publication of Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the final entry in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, at the Brookline Library.
Poem in Your Pocket Day will be celebrated on Thursday, April 24th.
Grub Street instructor Jane Kohuth will lead a three-hour crash-course in picture-book writing at Wellesley Books on Thursday the 24th at 6:00 pm. Registration is $55 for Grub Street members and $65 for non-members.
The Massachusetts chapter of the national kidlit book club Chapter & Verse will meet in the Stevens Memorial Library at 6:30 pm on Thursday the 24th. This month, author Anne Broyles and librarian Marina Salenikas will lead discussion of poetry collection What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski and verse novel Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.
Instructor Emily Prabhaker will guide participants through the history of the Caldecott Medal in The Carle Museum’s workshop “A Caldecott Celebration” at 9:30 am on Friday, April 25th. Registration is $34 for Carle members and $40 for non-members. (3 PDPs)
Author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka will read and sign his new picture book Peanut Butter and Jellyfish at The Carle on Saturday, April 26th, at 2:00 pm. A drawing activity is included.
On Saturday the 26th, at 2:30 pm, Timothy Young will present the 2014 Annual Barbara Elleman Research Library Lecture entitled “Extinct Monsters: What Scholars Learn from Children’s Books” at The Carle. (1 PDP)
Join acclaimed children’s poets Jane Yolen, Richard Michelson, Jeannine Atkins, Heidi Stemple, and Steven Withrow for The Carle’s Family Poetry Jam on Sunday, April 27th, at 1:00 pm.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series author/illustrator Jeff Kinney will speak as part of the “Gateway to Reading” Lowell Lecture Series on Sunday the 27th at 2:00 pm at the Boston Public Library main branch.
Annie Cardi will present and sign her debut YA novel, The Chance You Won’t Return, at Porter Square Books on Tuesday, April 29th, at 7:00 pm.
El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) will be celebrated on Wednesday, April 30th.
Local author Michelle Chalmers will lead a diversity workshop for children at the Boston Public Library main branch on Wednesday the 30th at 4:00 pm. The workshop includes a reading of Chalmers’s picture book The Skin on My Chin, discussion of diversity, and a craft activity.
On Wednesday the 30th at 7:00 pm, The School for Good and Evil #2: A World without Princes author Soman Chainani will discuss fairy tales and literature with fairy tale/folklore scholar Maria Tatar and Wicked author Gregory Maguire at the Harvard Coop.
Do you have the inside scoop on more upcoming Boston area children’s book–related events? Let us know in the comments or email email@example.com.
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I hope you jumped on those Sutherland Lecture tickets yesterday because they are gone baby gone–I understand that even the waiting list is full. A big fan of John Green’s books, I am nevertheless nervous about being in an auditorium filled with John Green Girls, beautiful, complicated and ka-razy creatures that they are. Or do I infer too much? Come say hello–I’ll be the flustered chaperone in the corner.
In the meantime I am off to White Plains today to visit Brian Kenney’s library and speak to the Youth Services Section of NYLA tomorrow morning. Then a weekend with our lovely Dutch friends in Rye, taking the adorable Julia, Mads, and Lizze to see Matilda on Broadway, for what else are fee peetvaders for?
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You Can’t Have
Too Many Friends!
by Mordicai Gerstein;
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Holiday 32 pp.
4/14 978-0-8234-2393-4 $16.95 g
e-book ed. 978-0-8234-3101-4 $16.95
This retold French folktale (“Drakestail”) stars a farmer duck who, in this absurdist version, is wealthy in the jelly beans he has grown. When the little-boy king “borrows” his jelly beans and doesn’t return them, Duck sets off on a quest to get them back. Along the way, he meets a large, friendly, shaggy green dog who “shrinks and hops into Duck’s pocket”; “Lady Ladder” who does the same; a burbling brook that Duck carries in his gullet; and some wasps transported in Duck’s ear. These new friends all come in handy when the king declines to give back the candy. Listening children will anticipate the role of each of Duck’s pals and will enjoy seeing the king’s nasty acts rightfully rewarded, especially when he’s chased naked out of his bathtub by the wasps. This is anything but a heavy-handed moral treatment, though — Gerstein’s pen-and-ink, acrylic, and colored-pencil illustrations employ a cheerful palette, with scribbly lines and dialogue bubbles. Each picture includes humorous details such as the web-footed claw bathtub and the queen’s fuzzy slippers. And in the end, the king makes reparations, sitting down to a jelly-bean feast with Duck and his odd group of friends.
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The last book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, publishes today. In honor of that occasion — and in case you need something to tide you over (and excite you further) until you can get your copy of Dreams — here’s a review of Taylor’s digital original Night of Cake & Puppets (Little, Brown, November 2013).
Laini Taylor’s YA fantasy trilogy Daughter of Smoke & Bone focuses on a never-ending war between chimaera and seraphim in the world of Eretz and the fraught relationship between a chimaera resurrectionist, Karou, and her star-crossed love interest, Akiva, a seraphim soldier. E-novella Night of Cake & Puppets takes place between the first two novels and focuses on two secondary characters, Karou’s best friend Zuzana and her love interest, “violin boy” Mik. This is the story of their meet-cute in Prague, and fans of this couple will relish a closer look at the beginning of their decidedly unstar-crossed relationship. While book two, Days of Blood and Starlight, does reference how Zuzana and Mik became a couple, Night provides all the details from that fateful evening.
Zuzana has had a crush on Mik for three months, but has up until now been too bashful to even talk to him — she doesn’t even know if he knows she exists. Zuzana finally takes the initiative one night at the theater where they both work on the weekends to enact her intricate plan for them to meet. She leaves a treasure map in his violin case in hopes that he’ll follow it to the locations where she’s left objects and clues for him to find. The treasure at the end of his hunt? Zuzana. Mik has a few tricks up his sleeve to surprise Zuzana, too.
As always, Taylor’s lush descriptive language paints a vivid picture for readers, and series fans will be happy to see familiar characters and settings. While Karou herself is not present in the novella, her humorous texts offer support to Zuzana. Karou’s ex Kaz makes an entertaining (unwanted) appearance. The story alternates between Zuzana and Mik’s perspectives, and their endearing insecurities allow their lovable personalities to shine. It’s a night full of puppets, magic, cake, music, and the hope of romance. While readers of the novels already know there will be a happy outcome to this story, the inherent anticipation during its unfolding makes the novella a satisfying page-turner. Carpe noctem!
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More of Monkey & Robot
by Peter Catalanotto; illus. by the author
Primary Jackson/Atheneum 58 pp.
3/14 978-1-4424-5251-0 $14.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-5253-4 $9.99
Monkey and Robot are back (Monkey & Robot, rev. 1/13) in four stories for new readers. Monkey continues to make a mess, and Robot patiently helps him fix things. First Monkey worries about what to be for Halloween. No one wants a repeat of last year when he went as a dentist and stuck his fingers into people’s mouths. He ends up putting a pot on his head, pretending to be Robot (he wants to dress up as “something that everybody likes”). In the second chapter, Monkey and Robot are at the beach, but Robot can’t go into the water, and Monkey won’t go swimming without his friend. In the third, the two figure out the best use for a tire Monkey finds in the front yard. In the final story, Monkey is confused by the clock and unsure whether it is morning or nighttime. Catalanotto weaves humor into each easy-to-read story, inviting the reader to help Monkey with his confusion…and to feel a little superior at the same time. It’s unusual to see such clear personalities in a book for the very young, but Catalanotto has created two distinct and likable characters — unlikely pals who understand each other. Black-and-white pencil illustrations that provide helpful visual cues and lots of easy-to-decode text fill each page, making this the perfect bridge to chapter books for new readers looking for the next book.
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