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Reviews of children's books, comic strips and Harry Potter commentary from a library grad school student, parent, and children's bookseller.
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1. Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony

Several years ago, I tuned into the Tony awards telecast eager to find out whether Ragtime was going to beat The Lion King. (It didn't.) I made my new boyfriend watch the whole thing with me, even though he didn't care at all about the results. The next day at his work, his colleagues were talking at lunch about what they had watched on television the night before. "Anyone watch the World Cup?" someone asked. Several people had. "How about the NBA Playoffs?" Again, a lot of murmurs of agreement. My boyfriend said, "Hey, did anyone watch the Tonys?" Dead silence.

I've always loved that story because I think it's a fairly good representation of the Tonys in popular culture. They have a very limited audience- you have to physically go to New York and see the original productions. You really can't tell who is going to win Best Choreography if you listen to the cast album. This is completely different from the Oscars, because you can see the nominated movies anywhere.

Also, that boyfriend is now my husband, and I still make him watch the Tonys with me every year. 

This year, I'm particularly excited to find out how Hamilton will do at the Tonys. Let's start with this question: How many Tonys can Hamiltonactually win?

It's eligible for the following 13 categories:

1. Best Musical
2. Best Book of a Musical
3. Best Original Score
4. Best Orchestrations
(These four categories can only be won by new musicals).

5. Best Direction of a Musical
6. Best Choreography
7. Best Scenic Design of a Musical
8. Best Costume Design of a Musical
9. Best Lighting Design of a Musical
10. Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
11. Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
12. Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
13. Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
(These nine categories can be won by either new musicals or revivals- which means the field is much larger for these awards.) 

The current record is held by The Producers, which won 12 Tonys and was nominated for 15. The Producers won every single category for which it was nominated, which is a rather incredible acheivement. The three nominations that The Producers didn't win were in the acting categories because multiple actors from the show were nominated for the same category. The one category it didn't win, is also the only one it wasn't nominated for:  Leading Actress. 

The Tony Administration committee has ruled on eligibility for certain parts in Hamilton, and whether they belong in the Lead or Featured Actor categories. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr.  and Phillipa Soo will all be considered in the Lead categories.

If Hamilton gets nominated in all thirteen categories- then it is within striking distance to go for the record. The Producers only had three eligible performer categories, but with the decision to put Phillipa Soo as a Leading Actress, Hamilton now has all four performer categories available.

Also, don't be surprised if it receives more than thirteen nominations. Hamilton is likely going to have the same problem as The Producers. If multiple actors get nominated in the same category (which I would expect), it won't be possible for Hamilton to win all of its nominations. 

How many possible Tonys could Lin-Manuel Miranda personally go home with? If he was nominated for every available category andhe won all of them, I see four Tonys on the list above that could wind up on his mantel. Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and Best Orchestrations (which he collaborated on). The award for Best Musical is given to the producers- and he didn't produce the show. But the possibility of seeing the same person win both the composing and writing awards and an acting award and an arrangement award- that is a phenomenal and exciting possibility.

I have an image in my head from when Norah Jones won so many Grammys in the same night that she could barely hold them all. I keep thinking about this picture every time I think about what a photo of Lin at the end of the Tonys might look like. 

In The Heights was nominated was for 13 Tonys and won 4. Lin-Manuel Miranda was personally nominated for two: Best Score (which he won) and Best Actor (which he lost). (As a footnote, I'll mention that In the Heights was also nominated for Best Sound Design, a category that no longer exists.) But Hamilton is a whole different ball game. It's a hit, it's a hit, it's a palpable hit. A crazy lottery, standing room only, sold out forever hit. A show doesn't have to be a monster hit like Hamilton to win Tonys, but it doesn't hurt. 

For me, a lot of the drama is going to be in the Actor categories. Ignoring the other shows for a moment- if it was a match-up between just Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr)- who would win? (Oh, the irony, given that the show itself is a matchup between Hamilton and Burr.) Common sense probably tells us Lin, but I have to say that Leslie was show-stoppingly phenomenal. 

What about the Featured Actors? The ensemble work was all exceptional and it is difficult to rank one above another. If I absolutely had to, I would say Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson) and Chris Jackson (Washington) were truly standouts. So was Jonathan Groff (King George III), even through he was only on stage for a few moments. Okieriete Onaodowan (Mulligan/Madison) was also terrific, but there may not be enough room in the nominations. 

On the actress side, both Phillipa Soo (Eliza) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica) were outstanding, so I'm glad they won't have any other competition in their categories from within the show, unless Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy/Maria Reynolds) gets nominated as a Featured Actress.

We can't ignore those other shows forever. Here's a listof eligible new shows that will be vying very hard not to be shut out.

The Tony nominations will be announced on Tuesday, May 3 and the Tony Awards will be on Sunday, June 12.

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]-->
Wait for it.

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2. We're There

I read hundreds of new picture books every year. Some are dreadful. Most are good. A few are great. And occasionally, a very special book or two makes you want to grab people on the street and tell them about the amazing new book you just read.

Like this one.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat accomplishes so much between the covers of a picture book.

It's daring, dynamic and filled with a multitude of meanings. The art blends several styles simultaneously. The colors are bold, brilliant and constantly surprising. It's beautiful, fun, silly, and touching all at the same time.

The constant change from gorgeous full page spreads to small graphic novel panels is arresting. The devices used to keep the reader going in the right direction are creative and well-employed. It's very fun to hand this book to other people and watch the book turn around and around as they figure out how to read it for the first time.

And the details! How I love all the tiny, little creative details hidden in nearly every page. The color contrasts. The facial expressions. The endpapers. The outfits the parents wear. What is hidden underneath the dust jacket. On and on and on. Every time I read it, I find so many more fantastic details.

I don't want to call it a follow-up to Beekle, because I don't want to compare it to Beekle at all. It feels like every time a successful author has a new book, it is inevitably compared to their past achievements. I thought it might be refreshing to talk about the new book without the comparisons.

Disclaimer: I've probably read and studied Beekle far more than the average bear (or human) since I was a member of the committee that awarded Beekle the Caldecott Medal, so truly, this isn't about a lack of familiarity with Beekle.

Try reading this one aloud. There's so much brilliance in the text. The overarching words about the road and where life may lead you could almost be taken out and read separately from the pictures and still be poignant. And the speech bubbles are in the language that children speak and and are funny on another level.

Give this book a try. Take your time.

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3. Keep Your Eyes on The Prize

The Pulitzer Prize, that is.

What does the list of shows below have in common?

2010: Next to Normal
1996: Rent
1985: Sunday in the Park with George
1976: A Chorus Line
1962: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
1960: Fiorello!
1950: South Pacific
1932: Of Thee I Sing

They represent the eight times the Pulitzer Prize in Drama has been awarded to a musical instead of to a play. It doesn't happen often, but it happens.... roughly about once a decade.

As the awards for Hamilton start to pile up, and with the 100th class of Pulitzer Prize winners being announced on April 18, I think it's time to start talking about the possibility of not just Tonys for Hamilton, but a Pulitzer.

The writing of Hamilton stands out from the writing so many plays and musicals. But unless you're in the room where it happens, and have done all the work the judges have, it's really hard to make predictions. So no hard feelings, Pulitzer folks, if it doesn't happen- but I won't be surprised if the list above becomes a list of nine.

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4. A librarian is a librarian is a librarian

There are all kinds of librarians.

There are librarians who work for the government. For the military. For businesses. For colleges. For religious institutions.

There are law librarians. Music librarians. Art librarians. Film librarians. Medical librarians.

There are those who work in cataloging. Technical services. Circulation. Shelving. Reference. Archivists. Interlibrary loan. Library accessibility.

And many, many more types of libraries and library career paths.

And yet, whenever I'm at a conference, talking with a vendor or someone who has just found out that I'm a librarian, I always get asked the same question: "School or public?"

When I answer that I'm neither, that I am in fact, a synagogue librarian, I get a look as if I've said I'm a librarian on the planet Neptune.

I'm used to explaining what I do over and over and over (and if you'd like to know, you can read more about a typical day in my library here.) But here's when it gets frustrating. When I see awards or grants limited to certain kinds of libraries and restricted to others. I wish that me, my patrons and my library were eligible just like all the other libraries and librarians out there.

I value all kinds of libraries, librarians and library employees. I hope you do too.


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5. The Importance of Being a Mentor

The first time I attended an American Library Association (ALA) Annual conference I was completely overwhelmed. Which sessions should I attend? How was I going to fit everything into one weekend? How would I make any sense of this enormous association? I was attending graduate school at the time, didn't know anyone, and didn't know where to start.

I applied to the New Member Round Table (NMRT) conference mentor program and was matched with a librarian named Kris Springer. Kris met me on the first day of ALA Annual, at an incredibly early hour of the day, and explained to me how to navigate both the conference and the association. She told me about her experience on the Newbery Medal committee, and told me that I could one day be on a committee at that level. I got goosebumps and thought she was crazy. She helped me when I needed it and stayed in touch through the years.

It's now ten years after that first conference. I've been a conference mentor and a career mentor as much I've can. Sometimes officially through NMRT and sometimes unofficially when someone is at the start of their career and has questions. I've met with people I'm mentoring at conferences when I've had a loose schedule, and conferences where I've barely had a minute of free time. It's a priority to me and one of the most rewarding things I've done in my profession.

At the ALA Midwinter convention last month, I was so proud of all these wonderful librarians and so honored to have the privilege to watch how far they've come.

For me, the most emotional moment was watching Amy Forrester. I met Amy several years ago when she was in library school and attending her first ALA Annual conference. I told her the things one usually tells a first time attendee; how to take the shuttle bus and to listen to all those people who tell you to wear comfortable shows. Over the years, I watched her become a confident and skilled children's librarian. I was overjoyed when she was appointed to the 2016 Geisel Committee. It was really overwhelming for me watching the Geisel committee, which she was a part of, announce their choices to the world at the press conference. I am so proud that she and her committee recognized outstanding books for beginning readers and may have changed the lives of some of the creators and readers of those books. I wish you could have heard me cheering.

Thank you, Kris, for getting up so early a decade ago; for your advice and for the advice of all the other mentors who have helped me out. Thank you to all the people I've mentored- for being such wonderful professionals who I'm so proud of, for all I have learned from you, and for some inexplicable reason, listening to my advice.

I never realized that anything I was saying was helpful until I read this incredibly touching post from Amy Steinbauer. Thank you, Amy, for letting me know that I'm making a tiny difference. I'm looking forward to great things from you!

I hope this post inspires you to mentor someone in your profession. Whether officially and through an association, or by simply having lunch with someone new to the field, listening to their experiences and trying to answer their questions.

To all those children's and young adult librarians I have mentored, I look forward to the day when I get watch your Newbery, Caldecott or Printz committees reveal their choices. I'll be cheering loudest!

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6. Caldecott-versary

Today is the one year anniversary of the day the 2015 Caldecott committee announced our winner and honors.

Things I have learned in the last year:

-You can walk into a windowless hotel room with fourteen acquaintances and walk out two days later with fourteen lifelong friends.

-The only people who truly understand what you went through are the ones who were in that room with you.

-Forever- which is the length of time that you will be keeping your mouth closed about exactly what happened during the deliberations- is a really long time.

-Getting to be on a phone call where you hear someone's life change is the most incredible experience.

-It is challenging to go from one of the most intense experiences of your life, and a crazy press conference full of celebration to driving a carpool the next day.

-Reading a New York Times article announcing the winner is enough to make you cry because you were in the room where it happened.


-You should never read the comments section of anything that discusses your winners.

-The generosity, graciousness and appreciation of the winners will overwhelm and humble you.

-Fifteen minutes during lunch is not enough time to tell a group of fifth graders about the experience of being on the committee. 

-Having the ability to give away hundreds of books to a school that needs them is a wonderful feeling.

-Sitting in the front row at the banquet, seeing your name on the big screen and hearing your committee being thanked by the medal winner standing at the podium is a goose-bumpy and teary experience.

-Everyone in the children's book world is best friends with Dan Santat and was super happy that he won the Caldecott Medal. (Seriously. EVERYONE has told me that they are a close friend of Dan's. Is there anyone who only has a casual acquaintance with Dan?)

-The first Midwinter after you've been on the committee is hard. You know everything the committee is doing, and what time they are doing it, but you're not doing it too.

-If there are people left in the world who don't know you were on the Caldecott committee, your friends will make sure they find out.

-Being able to simply read and appreciate a beautiful picture book and not have to read it over and over and analyze it and tie yourself into knots writing a nomination for it is a nice thing.

-As overwhelming as it is to see your porch covered in boxes of submissions, you will miss them when they stop coming.

-Watching your winners have success in their careers is fantastically exciting.

-There is nothing like the thrill of seeing a Caldecott Medal on the cover of a book, and knowing exactly how it got there.

-Figuring out how to be vague in a blog post like this one is hard work.

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7. Hamilton

I hesitated in writing this- because what is there to say about a show that is already a hit? What is there that has not been said? I've tried to stay away, as much as possible, from all the hyperbole. I didn't listen to the cast album. I only read one review of the off-Broadway production. I wanted to find out about it for myself.

My favorite class in college, which I took my first semester because I couldn't wait any longer, was a history of American Musical Theater. We talked about landmark shows such as Showboat, Oklahoma, West Side Story and Company. If I was taking that class now (or better yet, teaching it), I would add Hamilton to that list of game changers. 

Why? It's not enough that it's a hit. 

It's easier to like a show when the lines at the box office go down the street and the tickets take a year to get... just as it is easier to like a book that already has a Caldecott or Newbery Medal on the front. Someone else has already told us that this is something extraordinary. The stamp of approval has already been given. 

What Hamiltonhas done is to bring the rhythm of popular music back to the theater. The kind of music that is playing in clubs and on the radio is now playing on Broadway. How wonderfully refreshing. Broadway, which in recent years has been criticized as elitist and apart from popular culture, is now being brought back into it.

But, Hamiltonis not all hip-hop or rap. It combines so many musical styles, often within the same song, that it is mesmerizing. It would probably be a shorter list to say which musical traditions are not in Hamilton, rather than the ones that are. And the lyrics are brilliant, incredibly tight, interwoven and multi-layered. And Hamilton is not a regular book musical, where there's a song and then a scene, and back and forth. It's an opera. There are only a few lines that are spoken without a beat or rhythm behind them. Call it a hip-hop opera if you like, but an opera it is nonetheless.

If Hamiltonreminds me of anything, it's of another landmark show that is currently playing only a few Broadway theaters away. Les Miserables. Also an opera. Also about a revolution, the difference between the rich and the poor, and breaking into the ruling class. Also based on a very, very long book. (Hamilton is based on an 800 page biography.) Also with a turntable- although Hamilton has a double one. And there are echoes of the melodies of Les Miserables sprinkled throughout Hamilton. Plus, if The Story of Tonight doesn't thematically make you think of Red and Black, then I don't know what does.

The difference between the two shows is that when I listen to Les Miserables, I always feel as if I’m hearing the same song over and over. It seems as though there is a melody that has been written to be used between major numbers, and the words change but the tune stays the same. 

Hamilton isn't like that. There are 17 songs in each act (which is unusual, because the second act is typically shorter) and each of these 34 songs are distinct, unique and complex. There are musical patterns and phrases that are repeated, but not whole songs and melodies. Compare that to when I saw Andrew Lloyd Webber's show Whistle Down the Wind during an out of town tryout. All but one song in the second act was a reprisal of a song in the first act. 

The Hamiltonsubject matter is incredibly intriguing as well. Here's a musical told from the point of view of an often-overlooked Founding Father. Having been fascinated with Alexander Hamilton since ninth grade American History, I was happy to see him finally get his due. But while telling the story of someone who has been marginalized, it also has a go at people such as Thomas Jefferson who are typically lionized. What an interesting change of pace. There is one historical question that the musical doesn't address, however- was Hamilton eligible to be President since he was born outside of the United States?  

The references are so far reaching and varied as to be astonishing. There's not a lot of people who can quote the Lovin' Spoonful and then the Declaration of Independence a few sentences later, as seen in the song "The Schuyler Sisters." And as it takes Broadway a little further, it also refers back to it. Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance is directly quoted, as is Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Also, Shakespeare, the Bible, Socrates, fairytales, and nursery rhymes. It's a brilliant homage to what has come before. 

I can't quite remember when I first heard the name Lin-Manuel Miranda. I feel like I've known about him for a long time. Obviously, through In the Heights and the publicity and Tonys for that. But the thing that made an impression is this video from his actual wedding which was circulating around on social media. 
This knocked me back. Here was a talented Broadway actor who had gone to the trouble of recreating one of Broadway's most famous songs, and a rather complicated one at that, at his own wedding reception. Weddings are stressful events, with lots of built-in craziness. He had clearly gone to a lot of effort while the events of the wedding were swirling around him, to find time to rehearse, with his future father-in-law, his father, with the bridesmaids and groomsmen. And managed to keep it all from the bride. And it came off brilliantly. And paid homage to Broadway. 
Who is this guy?

Then I watched the 2011 Tony Awards with the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris. What struck me the most was the closing rap at the end, which summed up all the events that had just occurred during the show. The performance by Neil Patrick Harris was incredibly impressive, but I was amazed by the writing, which had great rhyming, solid rhythm, funny jokes and heartfelt thoughts about Broadway tying it all together. And it had clearly been done on the spot. I later read that Lin-Manuel Miranda had been the one in the basement during the Tonys writing the closing number. 
Who is this guy??
A musical has three parts that have to be written: the music, the lyrics and the book. The division of labor varies depending on the creators. For Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, for example; Richard Rodgers wrote the music and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics and the book. Stephen Sondheim writes the music and the lyrics for his shows (with the exception of his first two), and has collaborated with several different book writers during his career. Usually, there is then another composer, called an arranger, who adapts the music for different instruments in the orchestra. There are only a handful of all the creators of musical theater who have been able to write the book, music and lyrics all themselves, and have produced a hit musical in the process. Meredith Wilson (The Music Man) is one. Jonathan Larson (Rent) is another.

One of the many things that made West Side Story a landmark musical is that it required the chorus to sing, dance and act. Before then, there were two different choruses: the singing chorus and the dancing chorus. But now, performers have to be triple threats, that is they have to master three separate disciplines.

For Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda has written the book. And the lyrics. And the music. And collaborated on arranging the music. Plus, he's the lead in the show. He acts. He sings. He dances. He's a septuple threat. SEVEN disciplines. I can't think of anyone in the history of musical theater who has done this before. Not even him- for In the Heights he didn't write the book or work on the arranging. 
Who is this guy?? And why is he writing like he's running out of time?

Something else impressed me about him. I've been to a lot of Broadway shows and seen a lot of stars. I've seen them race out of the theater after the show into waiting cars with police protection. Or sign a few programs of the people standing at the front and then call it a night. Not this guy. Lin-Manuel Miranda went the length of the entire line of people waiting to see him, in freezing weather, shaking hands, having conversations, and taking pictures with every single person including me and my husband. My camera jammed at exactly the wrong minute, he waited for us to fix it while everyone else was clamoring to talk to him and then took the picture himself. I imagine that he must go through the line after every show. What a mensch. 
WHO IS THIS GUY??? 

Whoever he is, he's extraordinary. There's no doubt.

As amazing as Lin-Manuel Miranda is, and it is obvious that the MacArthur Foundation made an excellent choice, this is not a one man show. The ensemble work is fantastic, with every actor and actress making memorable performances. The off-stage talent is crucial, and the collaboration of the director, designers, musical director, and choreographer comes together to make the whole show a success. A perfect example of this are King George's songs. If you only heard the cast album, you would think the songs were funny, catchy and enjoyable. To understand how truly hysterical they are, you would have to see Jonathan Groff's deadpan performance, Paul Tazewell's elaborate costume, Howell Brinkley's lights that come in at the right moment and Thomas Kail's great direction.

Even the marketing and publicity in Hamilton is notable. The primary logo is black- which means our eye is drawn to a lack of color. The color is completely contained in the gold background. Hamilton stands on the top of an iconic star from the American flag, which is missing its fifth point. Hamilton's body creates not only the star's final point, but also the letter A, his first initial. The images of Hamilton are everywhere. Not just on the marquee like most shows, but on the walls of the theater and the stage door. All over Penn Station. Inescapable, convincing us that Hamilton is the show to see. 

If I could say anything to the people involved with Hamilton, or to someone who has won a Newbery or Caldecott Medal or otherwise achieved great success, it would be this. Try, as hard as you can, not to be encumbered by past success. Success can be just as paralyzing as failure. They don't all have to be life-changing hits. Just keep doing work that you're proud of. That's all anyone can ask. 

I hope you get a chance to see it. Do not throw away your shot. 

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8. Caldebutts

My young son loves Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.

And, for the first time, I'm going to be completely honest about why.

It's not the stunning artwork. It's not the incredible multi-layered story. It's not that I was a member of the committee that awarded it the Caldecott Medal. (WHY NOT??!! WHY ISN'T IT ANY OF THESE THINGS???!!)

It's the fact that you can see Beekle's butt.

Now, the casual reader probably only saw this Beekle butt, the main event.


But the true, careful observer can find a lot more than that with a little patience.

Here is a tiny Beekle climbing the tree.


We also get a glimpse at Beekle's tuckus as he hands the paper to Alice, and in a later stylized version.










And it's the final image- on the back cover, as well as under the jacket.










Over the years, I have seen a number of posterior-related titles, starting with Captain Underpants, and in recent years titles such as Chicken Butt by Erica Perl and Veggies with Wedgies by Todd Doodler have crossed my desk. My son thinks these are brilliant works of art. They make him laugh harder than any other books on our shelf. Seriously.

The 2015 Caldecott committee set several records. The most honor books. The first graphic novel. And also, if you were paying attention, the first Caldecott Medal book (that I know of) featuring a butt. My kids are the proudest of this record.

Caldebutt scholars may argue for the inclusion of No, David! by David Shannon (featuring full nudity, no less!), In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak and King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood which certainly hints, if doesn't downright show anything. Those are honor books, and I'm talking about Medal books.

Now, Travis Jonker has pointed out, that to some, there is now a second Caldecott Medal winner that features a butt. This one is on the cover, no less. (I see knees). Look at Travis' post for more.

Thank you to Travis, for his post, that freed me emotionally to write this one, and to Angela Reynolds, my fellow Caldecott committee member, for the truly awesome title.

And, whatever the reason, I'm glad my son loves Beekle; no ifs, ands, or butts.

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9. Examining Role Models

This week was big in the children's book world. Enormous. The American Library Youth Media Awards were announced on Monday, January 11th, giving out nineteen awards which included the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz. 

Monday morning was euphoric. The children's book community came together to celebrate and support the winners. Huge dramatic things happened. Records were set. Everyone was abuzz. I was excited to see what the next day would bring.

Tuesday morning made me sad. Sadder than I want to admit. I picked up four major newspapers. Two omitted the announcement entirely. One buried it halfway through the lifestyle section and devoted three paragraphs, that were clearly all from the press release. And one put a few paragraphs in the back of the children's section, again mostly from the press release. 

Now compare that to the Oscars.

NPR devoted three minutes of original reporting to it, which was a lot more than most, and for which I was grateful. Most of the articles that I saw that were original and well written came from trade journals, which were great but probably unlikely to be seen by the general public.

Not one talk show, of the endless numbers of shows out there who interview people and celebrities- had even a few minutes to spare to talk to these wonderful, witty, and charming award winners. Or even to talk about them. If you're aware of one that did, please let me know. 

Yet, there was plenty of space for celebrity news and gossip. 

Last year I was really crushed. I was on the Caldecott committee. Not everyone in my life could really wrap their head around what that meant, but I assured them it was important enough that it would be in the newspaper the Tuesday after the announcement. I said this for months during all the time when I was too busy reading and working on the Caldecott to have time for anything else. It's important enough, it will be in the paper, I told everyone. 

Tuesday came. The Newbery Medal winner happened to be a local author (which was terrific, don't get me wrong) but resulted in my local paper, a major award-winning metropolitan newspaper, devoting their two paragraphs about the awards to him and ignoring the Caldecott completely. They didn't even have room for one sentence announcing the winner. The next day at work, all I heard was questions and doubt. It must not have been important enough. It wasn't there. 

A Caldecott Medal winner once told me they received about nine press calls on the day of the award announcement. At the time I thought that was a lot. Nine calls. 

But is it a lot? Think in broader terms. How many calls and interview requests does an actor who wins an Oscar receive? How about a quarterback who just won the SuperBowl? I'm willing to bet it's more than nine.

What's wrong with making our heroes and role models people who are talented writers, artists and book creators? Why are we telling our children that they have to read if we are not modeling and celebrating the importance of reading in our society? What kind of examples are we setting?

I'm hoping next year that Tuesday morning brings a ray of hope. 

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If you saw an article from a major newspaper that featured original reporting and did more than quote a few sentences from the press release, please put a link to it in the comments to cheer me up. In fairness, some papers wait until their Sunday editions to do more in-depth stories. 

In the meantime, I hope you read these great stories from Publisher's Weekly about the Caldecott, Newbery and Printz winners. 

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10. Q & A about the 2016 Newbery and Caldecott Medals

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The 2016 American Library Association Youth Media Awards were very exciting in the world of children’s literature. Boundaries were pushed. Records were set. And you may be left with some questions.

Question: How do you spell the name of that big award that is given every year for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children?

Answer: Newbery. Newbery. Newbery. NOT NewBERRY. It is named for eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery, and he only had one R in his last name. 

Question: What won the 2016 Newbery Medal?

Answer: Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. It is 32 pages and it is a picture book.

Question: Wait; how did a PICTURE BOOK win the Newbery Medal? I thought that award was for novels. Isn’t the Caldecott Medal for picture books?

Answer: Both the Newberyand the Caldecottcriteria define children as “persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.”

Picture books were always eligible for the Newbery. This is just the first picture book to win. This also means that an illustrated book for older kids, up to age 14, is eligible for the Caldecott.

Question: So what won? The words, or the pictures?
For the Newbery Medal- the words won, and the Newbery Medal will be given to Matt de la Peña, the author.

However, the ALA Youth Media Awards were very good to Last Stop on Market Street. It also won a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award. Both of these awards are for the art and will be given to Christian Robinson, the illustrator. The book won three awards in all.

Question: What won the 2016 Caldecott Medal?

Answer: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, written by Lindsay Mattick.

Question: I thought Sophie Blackall is Australian and Lindsay Mattick is Canadian. Isn’t the Caldecott an American award? Wouldn’t that make Finding Winnie ineligible?

Answer: The Caldecott criteria states "the award is restricted to artists who are citizens or residents of the United States. "

Since the Caldecott Medal is only given to the artist, not the author- it is only the artist that needs to be eligible. So, it doesn’t matter where Lindsay Mattick lives.

Sophie Blackall is currently a resident of the United States, which makes Finding Winnie eligible.

Question: I’ve got more questions!

Answer: Ask them in the comments. I’ll try to answer them.

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P.S. Newbery. One R. 

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11. To those that didn’t get a phone call today

I know you really wanted your phone to ring this morning.

I know you were hoping to be woken up by a happy speakerphone full of people telling you how they had just changed your life.

I know you charged your phone last night, just in case.

I know you got excited when the phone rang, even if it was a wrong number.

I know you waited until the press conference was over and all the awards were announced to be sure, because maybe they forgot to call.

I know you composed a rough draft of your acceptance speech in your head.

I know you won't admit to anyone how badly you wanted it.

I know you tell people that you don’t really care about the awards… because they are not why you make books for children.

I know that the phones of some of your friends did ring today and that you’ll congratulate them for all you’re worth.

Maybe this was supposed to be your year.
Maybe all your friends told you would win.
Maybe your book won all the mock awards.
Maybe your book got a lot of starred reviews.
Maybe your publisher said it was a sure thing.
Maybe this was the book you’ve worked on forever.
Maybe you believed in this book more than any other.

Maybe it was close.
Maybe there were four phone calls and your book came in fifth.
Maybe there were committee members who were deeply in love with your book and fought for it, but the other votes just were't there.
Maybe if different people were on the committee this year, the result would have been different.
Maybe lightening just didn’t strike.

Maybe your life didn’t change today, but I promise you, your books are changing the lives of the children who read them.

I hope your day comes and you get to hear the phone ring.

I hope you keep making wonderful books.

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For a few more award related posts from the perspective of someone who has been there: here's why I stopped predicting the Caldecott and Newbery Medal results and here's how book award committees differ from each other.

To vote for the ALA Youth Media Awards that made you the happiest today, see the poll on the sidebar.

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12. What is like to be on a book award committee?

As we approach this year's announcement, our attention is focused on the big book awards such as the Caldecott and Newbery. But there are dozens of awards of all shapes and sizes. After serving on a lot of award committees, I can tell you that the experience varies greatly depending on the award.

Here's some of the questions I get asked a lot:


How do you get on the award committee?
-Sometimes you get nominated, and then selected by a nominating committee to be on the ballot, and then win an election. Or you get appointed by the head of the association to be on the committee.

-Sometimes you fill out an application and send in writing samples.

-Sometimes you tell the chair of the committee that you’re interested.

How do you get eligible books to read?
-Sometimes they are sent in large boxes that arrive from publishers of all sizes on your doorstep full of hardcover, first editions of all the books they’ve published that season.

-Sometimes they are sent in occasional envelopes from publishers and directly from self-published authors.

-Sometimes you spend countless hours in the library and searching relevant databases and review journals desperately trying to find eligible books.

How do you decide on the winners?
-Sometimes everyone on the committee comes together from all over the country, and are sequestered for several days in one room until they emerge with the results.

-Sometimes you meet several times over the course of a year for short meetings.

-Sometimes you use e-mail or Skype, but never actually meet or talk to other committee members in person.

What do the authors and illustrators think about being given your award?
-Sometimes it literally changes their lives. Sometimes it lets them afford to be a full-time author or illustrator when they couldn’t before. Sometimes they cry or exclaim in joy or at a loss for words when you tell them they’ve won. 

-Sometimes they are honored and touched. They hadn’t heard of your award before but they are delighted to be recognized and truly appreciate it.

-Sometimes they don’t even know they’ve won until they Google their name.

How does the public find out about your list of winners?
-Sometimes they are announced with great fanfare at a giant press conference in front of over thousand people who scream and cheer while others tune in to the big moment online from all over the country.

-Sometimes they are read at a small conference in front of people who have never heard of any of the books on your list but applaud politely at the end.

-Sometimes they are announced in a press release that you send to everyone you know in the hopes that someone will notice your wonderful books.

How is the award presented?
-Sometimes it is given at a beautiful banquet in front of people from every part of the children’s literature world, while the winner gives a carefully crafted and lengthy speech, which is later published and studied by graduate students.

-Sometimes the winner speaks for a few minutes at an event honoring many books and award recipients.

-Sometimes the winner gets the award in the mail.

What can you say about the award process?
-Sometimes it’s all an enormous secret and you can’t breathe a word of any of it. People hang on everything you say; even the tiniest detail, and you can never, ever, ever let a real piece of information about what actually happened escape your lips. Or else.  

-Sometimes you can reveal why certain books won and why others lost.

-Sometimes even if you could tell every single detail about the whole entire process, the award is so obscure that no one, probably not even the winning author, would be interested.

What remains the same?
-No matter the prestige of the award, book award committees are a lot of work. They involve reading and analyzing an enormous quantity of books, staying as impartial as possible, and making difficult choices. 

-You have to work together with your committee and recognize that other people have different points of view. The book you love, others may hate and vice versa. It's not an individual decision but a group compromise.

-They help shine recognition on quality books for children and ideally get great books into the hands of readers. 

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13. Unpredictable

I used make predications about which books would win the Newbery and Caldecott.
I even got pretty good at it.

But then, a crazy thing happened.

I got on the Caldecott committee.

To quote Into the Woods: “I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn't known before.”

I know now that until….

-your porch has filled with boxes of books that all have to be read and evaluated carefully…

-you’ve spent a year reading during every ounce of time you have, during evenings, weekends, during time you would have spent with your family…

-you’ve read and analyzed every single book eligible for your award to the best of your ability…

-you’ve weighed and debated over and over which books should be nominated…

-you’ve carefully researched and written nominations with all the intensity of a graduate school thesis…

-you’ve sat in a room for hours and hours and hours and discussed books with people who knew them just as well as you did….

-you’ve taken a book off the table that you thought would be the winner…

-you’ve stared at a small piece of paper asking for your choice for the medal- and you knew that choice mattered….

-you’ve pushed aside all the stars, mock results and commentary and voted for the books you truly thought deserved to win…

-your committee has reached a consensus….

-you’ve been on a speakerphone call and heard the exact second when a person’s life changed completely….

-you’ve held the hands of the other committee members as your winners were announced and as the crowd literally gasped at your decisions…

…. there are a lot of things that are hard to know.

Now that I know what these things feel like, I find it hard to second-guess the work and decisions of someone else who knows too.

There are books I like, books I love, books I hope will win… but I haven’t done the work these committees have, and I haven’t read and studied the full field of eligible contenders.

I wish the members of all the America Library Association Youth Media award committees the best of luck as they prepare for their discussions and decisions this weekend. You’ve worked incredibly hard. Enjoy the phone calls and accolades!

And be sure to read this on Sunday. It says everything I want to tell you the night before the announcement.

I look forward to applauding your choices Monday morning. I will try not to gasp.

If you'd like to follow me as I tweet live from the press conference, join me at @susankusel 

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14. Wonderful Wonder

A few months ago, I was invited to a small children's book preview event, where twelve authors were going to talk about their new or upcoming books. I tried to read as much as could before attending the event... I  always like to be as familiar as possible with an author's work before meeting them.

One of the books, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, only became available at my library the day before the event, so I found myself in my hotel room the night before with a long unread book. I figured I'd read the first chapter or two just to get a sense of the setting and the characters. I loved it. So I read another chapter. And another. Until it was four hours later and I'd read all 315 pages without stopping, writing down questions along the way. And then I just sat there in awe.

The next morning, I was surprised and delighted to find author R. J. Palacio sitting at my table. I told her how much I loved the book, and that I had a long list of questions to ask her. I think this put her off a bit, because it took her a few hours to start talking to me again. But she did- and we ended up having a lovely conversation. And she even answered all my questions.

I've waited a few months to post this because I wanted to let this book sink in. When I think about it, I can't help associating it with that mad, frantic rush I read it in. But really, Wonder is a book to savor and to enjoy over time. The craftsmanship, the exquisite turn of many a phrase, the humor, the way the author captures the essence of middle-schoolers... it's really something to slow down and appreciate.

I almost don't even want to tell you the plot because I don't want you to categorize or dismiss the book before you read it. Ostensibly, it's about a boy named August Pullman who has a facial deformity and who is starting public school for the first time. But it's really a lot more than that, and there's so much to learn as we see the world from Auggie's viewpoint.

When it comes time to making my 2013 Newbery predictions, you can bet that Wonder will be on the top of my list. Whether it'll win or receive an honor is really dependent on this year's committee and the other books published this year. I'll be on the edge of my seat at the press conference on January 28, 2013 at the American Library Association Midwinter meeting in Seattle and I'll bet many of my colleagues will too.

The other award that many people have predicted Wonder will win is the Schneider Family Award which is given to an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. But as Palacio reassures us multiple times, Auggie's facial differences do not make him disabled. So the question is, will the book be considered as an embodiment of disability? Auggie does, however, have trouble hearing- and the issue of his partial deafness is dealt with in a funny and endearing way, so if the book does get recognized by the Schneider committee, it may be due to that.

I'd also love to see it win or get nominated for the National Book Award, particularly since most of the winners in the Young People's Literature category lately seem to be written for young adults. It would great to see a younger book win some accolades.

As most of you probably know by now, R.J. Palacio is a pseudonym. To learn more about the author (whose actual name is Raquel Jaramillo) click here for an article from Publisher's Weekly about her and how she wrote the book.

Random House has launched an anti-bullying campaign based on Wonder called "Choose Kind." There's more about it here

Of all the books I've read so far this year, nothing has stayed with me like Wonder. Nothing else has made me both laugh and cry at the same time. It's a book I hope everyone has a chance to read.

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15. Last minute predictions

It's about eight hours until the announcement of the American Library Association's youth media awards. Excitement is in the air here at ALA's Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, Texas.

Who will the Caldecott? Who will win the Newbery? (Who will win the other 16 awards being handed out?)

Excellent questions.

I've been making predictions for the past several years, and I've got to say this is a particularly tricky year. Obviously, every year is completely up in the air, but some years are a bit more predictable than others.

This isn't one of those years.

I'll throw out some names for the Caldecott:
-Wonderstruck
-Blackout
-Me, Jane
-Balloons Over Broadway
-Grandpa Green

and some for the Newbery:
-A Monster Calls
-Inside Out and Back Again
-Amelia Lost
-Our Only May Amelia
-Breadcrumbs
-Shades of Gray

but honestly, I think it's anyone's ball game. I think it's going to be one of those years where the winners are announced, and everyone at the press conference whispers to their neighbor: "What? What was that book?"

You may notice that I left the presumptive Newbery favorite Okay for Now off my list. I think it's a wonderful but flawed book.... and while I'd be delighted to see it win, I just don't think it's going to make it. Also, I put Wonderstruck only on the Caldecott list, because I think the illustrations are far and away the strongest part of the book.

We shall see. It could very well be none of the ones I listed above. Whatever it is, I can't wait to find out.

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16. America is Under Attack

Kids surprise me. Especially my kids.

Several months ago, I read an advance copy of a great non-fiction book about September 11th called America is Under Attack by Don Brown. Thoughtful, well illustrated, and full of both intriguing and heartbreaking facts, it drew me in and stayed in my thoughts long after I finished it.


Recently, I was giving a presentation to a group of adults about upcoming children's book highlights for fall 2011. I mentioned the book, along with many other upcoming favorites. The adults looked at me in a shocked way. They asked why would anyone want to talk to kids about something like that.

I had shied away from talking with my son directly about the attacks. We had read one of my favorite books, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, and had talked about it abstractly but without much detail. Then, the 10th anniversary of September 11th happened, and the subject was almost impossible to avoid. We live minutes away from the Pentagon, and the topic was on the radio, in the newspaper and on television every day,

I explained the basic facts as best I could, and then pulled out America is Under Attack. We read it slowly, pausing whenever needed. He asked thoughtful questions and digested what I was telling him. I was grateful to have a book that presented the facts in a clear and direct way.

The biggest surprise was that he was relived. He had been so confused about it, he said. He only knew parts of it, and was glad to have the whole story and know what had actually happened. A few weeks later, he surprised me by going independently to his school librarian, asking for more books on the subject.

In the end, I was impressed. Who knew a 7 year old could be so mature?

See here for an interview School Library Journal did with author Don Brown, and here for a discussion guide from Roaring Brook Press, the publisher of America is Under Attack.

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17. A Golden Birthday

Ever since I read Roald Dahl's classic book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my son, he's been unwrapping every chocolate bar he can get his hands on. He opens them slowly, carefully, willing each one to have a golden ticket. When they prove to be just bars of chocolate, he sighs sadly (but recovers enough to eat the chocolate).

With his birthday approaching, my husband and I had decided to get him a new bike, since he's worn his old one into the ground. Instead of just telling him about the bike, or taking him to the bike store, I came up with an idea I'm rather proud of.

I made a golden ticket.

Here's the front:


The back was made from shiny, gold origami paper.

Then I carefully unwrapped a chocolate bar, slipped the ticket in, and wrapped it back up.

I just wish you could have seen his face when he peeled back the wrapping, and like Charlie, finally found a glimmer of gold underneath.

Priceless.

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18. No More Borders

Over twenty years ago, I walked into the most amazing bookstore. It was enormous, easily three times the size of any bookstore I'd been in before. Books were everywhere, piled high from floor to ceiling. I didn't know there could be so many books in the same place. This was before big box stores. Before the store turned into a big corporation. It was just a neighborhood bookstore back then, but the biggest and most exciting I'd ever seen.

Over the years, I visited that store many times. I watched it move to a larger space, and become even bigger, and if possible, more exciting. I listened to authors, browsed foreign newspapers, read comic strip collections over by the coffee bar and so much more. I found all kinds of books I didn't know existed, including a series about a wizard named Harry. And a few years after that, I waited in line at midnight to buy the 4th book in the series.

Say what you will about Borders. Yes, it was a big corporation. Yes, it took business away from the small, local bookstores I support so avidly. Yes, it grew too quickly and probably sacrificed some quality along the way. But, despite that, it got people excited about books. And it never ceased to amaze me that the public could support the existence of such a large place... just dedicated to books.

Well, that time has come and gone. Borders is being forced to liquidate, after all hopes of salvation from bankruptcy have fallen apart. 11,000 employees are losing their jobs and nearly 400 bookstores are closing. And that's bad news for all of us in the book business.

I'll miss that exciting store that always made me smile. How about you? What are your thoughts about the end of this major chapter in the book industry?

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19. Book overload

I've got books all over the house. In bedrooms, closets, bathrooms, on the floor, in bookcases... you name it. Books are everywhere.

Several months ago, I finally got things organized. All the books were on the shelves, neatly divided into categories. And everything was lovely and easy to find. It looked like this.


But then, I went to the ALA (American Library Association) Annual conference. And this year's convention happened to be local, so I got more books than usual. Well, that's kind of an understatement.

Here's a picture of the bellhop's cart when I checked out of the hotel. (Yes, I needed a hotel room... where else would I have stored all the books during the conference?) Keep in mind that every bag on the cart is full of books.


Between that minor influx of books, and the fact that I let my children read the books and take them off the shelves, my library went from that beautiful picture at the top of the post, to this.

After two months of work and several failed organizational methods, I've finally done it. Here's what it looks like now (in alphabetical order, no less.)

That's just the picture books, though (and this picture doesn't even show all of them). Let's not even talk about all the other books waiting to be shelved... or the other eight bookcases in the house.

Let's see how long I can keep it up this time.

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20. 2011 Caldecott Predictions

Caldecott predictions already? But, Susan, it's only August.

Yes, I know. But 2010 has been such a fantastic year for picture books that I want to get my predictions in early, before everyone else starts making them. I've seen one beautiful, poignant, funny, wonderful book after another.

Where to start? Here are some of the ones that have stood out from the crowd for me.

There's the beautiful and touching City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Williams, with amazing watercolor illustrations by John Muth.


There's the funny and spunky Dotty by Erica Perl, illustrated by Julia Denos.


There's Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert with wonderful text and exuberant pictures by Andrea U'ren. (Don't write this one off as just another "how something is made" book.)


There's the endearing and deceptively simple How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills. (See my review here.)

But, I'm afraid that these books (along with a few others) are going to have to slug it out to see which ones get Caldecott honors.

Because this one blows them all away.

I can hear a question forming on your lips. It sounds something like this:<

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21. On the Eve of the Caldecott Awards

Twas the night before the awards and all through the conference
Librarians were stirring, all full of inference.
The books were placed in the exhibits with care
In hopes that a shiny sticker would soon be there.

The authors were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of phone calls danced in their heads.
And try as they might to take a long nap,
They wondered if awards would fall in their lap.

When up on the Internet there arose such a clatter
They sprang from their beds to see what was the matter.
Away to the blogs they went with a flash,
To read about the mad final dash.

What to their wondering eyes did appear,
But lots of guesses where nothing seemed clear

Now City Frog! Now Country Dog!
Now Amos McGee leaves readers agog!
And Ballet for Martha and Art and Max too!
Will Flora's Windy Day breeze through?

We'll find out tomorrow in the earliest morn
Which ones were met with praise and which ones with scorn
Who won the Caldecott and who won the Printz,
Who won the Newbery and who got jinxed.

The announcements will be made, the winners applauded
The committees thanked and lauded
But we all should be happy for 2010
And all the wonderful books. Please authors, do it again!

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22. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

Albus Dumbledore.

According to a recent article in the Guardian, J.K. Rowling said the longtime Hogwarts headmaster is the character from her books that she'd most like to have dinner with. I can certainly understand that. Who wouldn't enjoy a nice feast with Dumbledore accompanied by a glass of oak-matured mead?

Wizards Wireless asked the opposite question in 2007: which character would you be least interested in dining with? My readers were interested in avoiding a companion that might turn them into entrees: Aragog finished in the clear lead.

How about you? Which Harry Potter character would you like to dine with? (Personally, I'd skip all the fictional characters in favor of a meal with the author herself).

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23. Sometimes a bunny is just a bunny

Recently, there's been a discussion of Margaret Wise Brown's book Goodnight Moon on one of the children's literature listservs I read. Nothing unusual... after all, it's a classic book and is bound to be talked about from time to time.

But, this discussion has started to get into issues involving incest, gender, sexuality and the domination of the older female bunny... and at this point, I've got to wonder: is it okay for Goodnight Moon to just be about a bunny that says good night to the objects in their room? Does it have to be about anything more than that? Is it about anything more than that?

My guess is no, it probably isn't. I appreciate book analysis as much as the next person, but sometimes I think we tend to over-analyze, especially in the field of children's books. And I think when that happens, some of the sweet innocence of a book can get lost.

For example, after I read the Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, I was struck by the fact that he referred to one of the ghouls as the 33rd President of the United States. It was very specific, and I wondered what he meant by it. So, I went online and found many brilliant theories that it was a reference to Truman's (the 33rd President) ghoulish decision to drop the atomic bomb.

Made sense. But then, I asked Neil Gaiman about it and he said that wasn't the case at all. The real reason was that he wanted to use a president from that era and he decided that FDR was just too cool to turn into a ghoul. He thought about Eisenhower, but in the end, thought the number 33 sounded better than the number 34, and number 33 turned out to be Truman. There's nothing more to it than that.

Moral: sometimes things are really that simple. And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Is it okay to let a bunny just be a bunny?

What book do you think has been over-analyzed?

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24. More Potter!

Just when you thought it was all over, J.K. Rowling has one more surprise. She has just launched a new website called Pottermore, with no real hints as to what it might be. There's even a countdown clock where you can watch the minutes tick by until she makes an announcement about her next project. You can also follow Pottermore on Twitter and Facebook. Here's an unofficial preview shot... you can find more here.

What could it be? J.K. Rowling's spokespeople have announced that it isn't related to more books... but I'm holding out hope that it could be the long-waited Harry Potter encyclopedia, or an online version thereof. Other rumors are going around that it's a social networking online game sight. We'll see. In a few days, we'll find out from the master of suspense herself.

What are your guesses?

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25. Announcing Pottermore

J.K. Rowling has made her big announcement! Pottermore, coming in October, will be all manner of things Harry Potter. According to Rowling, the website will be a place where "the digital generation will be able to enjoy a safe unique online reading experience built around the Harry Potter books. " Also included will be numerous new details about the Harry Potter world. Plus, the website will also sell both Harry Potter e-books (which have never before been available) and digital audio books.

See the video below for Rowling's announcement. The animation in the pages of the book is nothing short of amazing.



What all this means, I'm not exactly sure. It combines many of the elements speculated about when Pottermore was launched, including a online interactive experience, the Potter encyclopedia and e-books. We'll have to wait and see what happens in October.

In the meantime, one thing is clear. Rowling is the master of suspense.

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