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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.
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?)
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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!
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.)
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.
Play Dan Brown Libs! Just fill in the blanks to write your own bestselling novel.
A handsome, brilliant, superhuman man named ______ happens to be doing something in the famous city of ________ when the local Secret Service-level police force named _______ drops by to accuse him of the awful murder in the book's introduction of a brilliant person named _______.
The protagonist eventually joins forces with a beautiful, sexy woman named ___________. Somehow, they end up being wanted by every police force in the entire country of _______. During the inevitable vehicle chase, there's lots of time to come to the brilliant realization that a secret society called _______ is involved. The society members include every famous person that ever existed.
Many, many pages pass. The protagonist performs countless feats that are physically impossible, no matter how many laps a day they swim in the Harvard pool. Endless information about symbolism, secret societies and the city of ______ is recited... all of which ends up having very little to do with the plot. The bad guys go to a ridiculous amount of expense and effort to keep the _______ safe, which ends up being a relatively unimportant object.
The villain is not the person the reader thought it was going to be, but is instead ________. Someone named ________ who was supposed to be dead suddenly resurfaces at exactly the right moment. The handsome protagonist and sexy woman end up exonerated, in a hotel room, having lots of.... room service.
The book sells millions of copies.
Tom Hanks and a much younger woman star in the movie.
If you want to write a book by your favorite children's author, try this post.