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1. Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex

Earlier this year in a Literary Celebrity Guest Review, Elissa Brent Weissman reviewed the charming Chu's Day, written by Neil Gaiman and brilliantly illustrated by  Adam Rex. Now, just in time for fall, Chu is back and headed to school in Chu's First Day of School! Chu is nervous. School is starting and he worries whether the other students will like him and what will happen. His

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2. Monsters Love School by Mike Austin

Last year I reviewed Mike Austin's Monsters Love Colors. Austin took a pretty standard concept book and turned it into an energy-filled-outing with some scribbly-but-sweet monsters who are very fun to spend time with. In Monsters Love School, Austin and his monsters work their magic again, this time taking a pretty standard starting school story and making it special. Monsters Love

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3. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen, 267 pp, RL 4

I have had a copy of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood on my shelf since 2010 when it was released. While the plot sounded interesting, I have hung on to it for over four years, hoping to get to it someday, because of the completely charming  illustrations by a favorite of mine, Jon Klassen. Now, four years later and four books into

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4. Interview: Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird

If you appreciate children's literature and want to know the stories behind your favorite stories, pick up WILD THINGS! written by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and the late Peter D. Sieruta. Packed from cover-to-cover with funny stories and little known facts about famous authors, secret feuds, inspired illustrations, and classic characters, this is a great resource for readers and writers alike. The authors - all three proud bibliophiles and bloggers - clearly had fun putting this book together.

Little Willow: This book is filled with anecdotes. Is anyone in your family a master of tall tales?

Betsy: In my family we've all had a predilection towards storytelling, but then I went and married a clear cut storyteller as well. Now I'm so steeped in them that it's only natural that a book like this would be the result. Here in New York City a children's literature gathering often involves members of the old guard (people who've been working in the field for decades) so you get all kinds of fascinating stories. Seems only natural that they should have ended up in a book at some point. As for me, I actually prefer to hear anecdotes to telling them, but some of them are just too good NOT to tell.

Jules: My family isn't necessarily filled with storytellers, but I'm fascinated by storytelling. In fact, I once took a grad course on the very subject, and I loved every second of it. For my final course project, I memorized every word of Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child." That is a wonderful story to tell. I no longer have it memorized word-for-word, but it'd probably not be that challenging to re-learn, since it's probably still hiding in the cobwebbed corners of my brain. "In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk...." (I love that singular beginning.)

Little Willow: That's impressive. Did any of the real-life stories change how you viewed a particular author or book?

Betsy: Well, I don't think I'll ever look at The Cricket in Times Square the same way again. That's all I'll say.

Jules: There's a very tender story about James Marshall and his mother, a story that didn't make it into our book. We did, however, share it at the site, where we are sharing stories cut from our manuscript. I'm a big Marshall fan, but this made me want to learn even more about him.

Little Willow: How did the three of you come together to write this book? Who had the first inkling that you should and would write a book together?

Betsy: That was me. I had this notion that there were some pretty amazing bloggers out there and that their sites would naturally adapt into a book format pretty well. Ironically, of the three blogs that came together here (A Fuse #8 Production, Collecting Children's Books, and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) mine is probably the least book-worthy. But I've an eye for talent and these guys were talented. So I reached out to them and asked if they'd be keen to work together on something. As luck would have it, they were!

Little Willow: Describe the writing process. How did you divvy up tasks between the three of you?

Betsy: First we decided which chapters should be in the book. Then we pooled all the stories we wanted to tell. Once each story was slotted into the right chapter we assigned chapters. There was a lot of swapping of stories between chapters and a lot of rewriting and editing of one another. That may account for the single "voice" found in the book.

Jules: Yep, we each worked on assigned chapters and then passed them around. We made suggestions for editing, adding, deleting, you-name-it. At one point, Peter and I were working on the same chapter and didn't even realize it. So, we eventually merged what we'd written. Whew. That worked out well!

Little Willow: What's your favorite part about collaborations? What does working with others bring out of you?

Betsy: For me, it makes me more confident about the final product. When I write something entirely on my own I may love it but there will always be this little voice in the back of my head that says I could have done more. When I work with other people who are as smart as Peter and Jules, that little voice disappears. I can feel safe and secure in the knowledge that no matter how much I screw up, they'll be there to point me in the right direction. It's an enormous relief, I can tell you.

Jules: I learned so much more about writing, I think, just by watching Betsy and Peter do their thing. And when someone edits your work, you learn TONS. I feel like if I'm a better writer at the close of this project, it's thanks to them. I love collaborating. I mean, no one likes, say, those grad school projects where you're stuck with people who don't pull their own weight OR you're assigned to a topic you hate, but if I dig my partners-in-crime and I love the subject, I'd much rather work in a group.

Little Willow: As a kid, did you have any teachers, librarians, or booksellers that you went to regularly to get (and give) book recommendations?

Betsy: Nope. And what's more, I couldn't tell you single one of their names. That said, my mom worked in an independent bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan and she was always suggesting books or handing books to me. My Aunt Judy was the same, so that's where I found the bulk of my recommended literature.

Jules: I didn't read a TON when I was a kid, which is why I'm trying to get caught up now! I did have a high school English lit and drama teacher who really got me fired up about reading, and I'm still friends with her. She's one of those amazing teachers you'd like to clone.

Little Willow: What aspects of blogging do you find the most enjoyable?

Betsy: I think it's a combination of the pleasure of the regularity (I am required to blog four times a week on my site), the fact that I can highlight books, people, or events that may not be getting a lot of publicity (I always alternate big publishers with little publishers in my reviews), and the different ways in which I can make my opinions known.

Jules: Hands down, I love the community. I love getting to know those folks who are as passionate about children's lit as I am. It's even better when you get to meet them in person.

Little Willow: How has blogging has changed how you read and recommend books, and how you interact with readers and authors?

Betsy: Since I work for New York Public Library and blog for School Library Journal I see a LOT of books in a given year, but there's always this sense that I'm not seeing ALL the books. And boy howdy do I want to see absolutely everything. So blogging, for me, is a way of filling in the gaps. It also allows me to recommend sites to friends who are looking to specialize in certain areas.

Jules: Well, before blogging I rarely interacted with authors and illustrators, but since I do a lot of interviews, I talk to many of them now on a pretty regular basis. As for how blogging has changed my reading habits, I tend to have less time for novels (though I still read them as much as I can), since I'm blogging about picture books and illustration. But it's worth it. I love writing about picture books and art.

Little Willow: What books did you love as a child that you still love just as much today?

Betsy: I was recently weeding my bookshelves, so this question was already in my mind. On my part, I think I'll always love Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep, various Steven Kellogg titles, The Secret Garden, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, and any number of Apple paperbacks found via the Scholastic Book Fairs.

Jules: Shel Silverstein, the Grimm Brothers, Trina Schart Hyman, Maurice Sendak, Beverly Cleary.

Little Willow: Would you rather travel with Max to meet the Wild Things, or go with Harry Potter and attend Hogwarts?

Betsy: Hogwarts. Is there any question? I wonder about folks who would say Wild Things. You'd have to be a very particular kind of person, I suspect. For me, there's no contest.

Jules: The Wild Things, without any doubt. Because maybe perhaps possibly if Sendak is there, too, we can chat.

Little Willow: Would you rather visit Narnia or Never Never Land?

Betsy: That is a very hard question. I go back and forth. Narnia, I guess. Though they both dwell in very distinct metaphors. But I should like to see a faun, so Narnia wins.

Jules: You're going to think I'm just saying the opposite of Betsy now, just to mix things up, but honestly I'd go to Never Never Land. I want to meet Mrs. Darling first, though.

Little Willow: Would you rather have a sip at the tea party in Wonderland or snag a treat from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory?

Betsy: Wonka. Admittedly, you'd never be entirely certain what the Wonka treat would do to you, but I also suspect that the food at that tea party can't be entirely hygienic (there's a dormouse in one of the teapots, for crying out loud!). Plus there's always a chance that Wonka will look like Gene Wilder and I've always had a hardcore crush on that guy.

Jules: Well, given the theme of my blog, I gotta attend the Mad Tea-Party, yes?

Little Willow: Would you rather have the job of The Giver or be the head gamemaker for the Hunger Games?

Betsy: I don't think I'm skilled enough to pass muster as a gamemaker. I suspect I'd construct some little landscape and forget to do something essential like install the video cameras. And I'm always telling and retelling stories of the past ad nauseum anyway, so maybe I'm halfway to Giver-ship already!

Jules: Oh, The Giver! Definitely that. I recently read that book again---this time I read it aloud to my daughters---and it blows my mind how good it is.

WILD THINGS! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta is now available at a bookstore near you.

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5. Uni the Unicorn

From the author of Little Pea, Spoon, and Duck! Rabbit! comes a uniquely magical tale of Uni the Unicorn. Uni is the only unicorn who believes little girls are real! Lovely illustrations by Brigette Barrager make this a wonderful and memorable read. Books mentioned in this post Uni the Unicorn Amy Krouse Rosenthal New Hardcover [...]

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6. The Rule of Thoughts

Michael is faced with the terrifying truth: the plot to implant artificial intelligence into unsuspecting gamers has begun. Will all of humanity fall under the control of the Mortality Doctrine? An action-packed read that hurtles the reader to a thrilling conclusion. Books mentioned in this post The Rule of Thoughts (Mortality... James Dashner New Hardcover [...]

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7. The Messy Baker

With chapter titles such as "Crumbly," "Drippy," and "Flaky," how can you not get "hungry" looking at the recipes in this fantastic baking book? Charmian Christie brings the best recipes from her popular blog to your home kitchen in a very approachable, relaxed (and delicious) way. Books mentioned in this post The Messy Baker: More [...]

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8. The Fourteenth Goldfish

Discovering the secret to eternal youth is great and all, but middle school is weird enough without having your suddenly-13-years-old-again scientist grandpa hanging around. In The Fourteenth Goldfish, Ellie's in for a wild ride — big adventure, mystery, and lots of cool science. Books mentioned in this post Portland Noir (Akashic Noir) Kevin Sampsell Used [...]

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9. Poetry Friday: An American Girl by Brander Matthews

She does not care for meditation;
Within her bonnet are no bees;
She has a gentle animation,
She joins in singing simple glees.

- from the poem An American Girl by Brander Matthews

Read the poem in its entirety.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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10. If I Had a Raptor by George O'Connor

There are a lot of great things about If I Had a Raptor by George O'Connor, creator of the Olympians series of graphic novels, but what I like most is the way that O'Connor subtly replaces the expected with the uncommon. A raptor stands in for a cat and, in this time when the conversation about the abundance of white boys in children's literature is starting to take precedence, a little girl

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11. Gigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle

While he definitely has a way with pirates, Jonny Duddle is such an amazing illustrator that I am always excited to see where he turns his focus when working on a new project (be sure to scroll to the bottom of the review to see Duddle's latest project - creating new 15th anniversary cover for UK editions of the Harry Potter books!) As his newest book Gigantosaurus proves, Jonny Duddle has a

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12. The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham

Once again, John Burningham gives us a brilliant picture book that perfectly captures the imagination and internal life of a child. The Way to the Zoo hits the shelves as the 50th anniversary of Chitty Chitty Ban Bang is being celebrated, marking an amazingly long and fruitful career that I hope will continue on. In The Way to the Zoo we meet Sylvie, who, just before she falls asleep,

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13. Why Literature Can Save Us

Our title is, of course, a problem. "Why Literature Can Save Us." And of course the problem is one of definition: what those words mean. What is literature and what constitutes salvation? So I'll begin with a brief surface definition of the terms, since we probably all have our own and various ideas about what [...]

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14. It's an Orange Aardvark! by Michael Hall

A couple of years ago I reviewed Cat Tale, Michael Hall's third picture book, and took the opportunity to talk about his first two amazing picture books as well. My Heart is Like a Zoo and Perfect Square (my favorite) are both books that rely heavily on the geometric illustrations to tell the stories in brilliant ways. With Cat Tale Hall used homophones to tell a silly story that is sure

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15. Bruno and Titch: A Tale of a Boy and His Guinea Pig by Sheena Dempsy

Sheena Dempsy's new book, Bruno & Titch: A Tale of a Boy and His Guinea Pig, is a wonderful story about bringing home a first pet (and the interesting ideas kids sometimes have about how to best care for that pet) and also a fantastic book featuring the (somewhat) underrepresented guinea pig! Be sure not to miss a short list of other picture and chapter books featuring this furry pet at the

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16. Dear Professor Fitger

Saint Paul, August 2014 Dear Professor Fitger, I've been asked to say a few words about you for Powells.com. Having dreamed you up with a ball-point pen in a composition notebook (drafting on the right-hand page, and making edits and corrections on the left [see figure 1]), I should be well equipped to describe you, [...]

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17. Straight from the horses mouth a memoir.

Gayle Carline's bok is straight from the horses mouth

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18. A Piece of Cake by LeUyen Pham

A Piece of Cake by LeUyen Pham reminds me of a cheerier, more colorful version of Candace Fleming's wonderful Clever Jack Takes the Cake, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. In both Fleming and Pham's books a friend bakes a birthday cake for another friend and, in the process of delivering the cake things go awry. With a flock of crows, an ogre and a princess, Fleming's book has a definitely has

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19. Poetry Friday: Experiment escorts us last by Emily Dickinson

Experiment escorts us last -
His pungent company
Will not allow an Axiom
An Opportunity -
- Emily Dickinson

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.
View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.
Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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20. The Six People Who Shaped My Life

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

My life might have been entirely different had I not befriended seven people along life’s journey. It has been said that to understand the path of our life we have to review it in reverse, starting with the early years.

Beyond parents and siblings, throughout my life I have had six people leave deep footprints on my heart: a landscape architect (Dave), a family practitioner (John/Dr. Jensen), an English teacher (Miss Starr Hacker), a professor (Dr. Ralph H. Hunkins), my wife, (Marilyn), and a poet (Shel Silverstein.) Whom and what we love seems to shape the person we become.

I grew up next door to Dave in Queens, New York, until he turned five. Then his family moved 30 miles away. Our parents were great friends. The friendship survived the move because on Thursdays the men met to play cards in the kitchen and the women met to sew sweaters and chat in the living room. They took turns visiting one another with a small group of lifelong friends.

During the summer Dave and I would always spend a week or two at each other’s home. We shared several important interests: chasing girls for dates, blue ribbons on the track team, and a Regents diploma. In our teens, it was frequently more satisfying to write volumes to one another about girls, sports, school, and our domineering fathers than to do anything else. Our moms faithfully exchanged our letters every Thursday. We called it the “Pocketbook Mail Express.” No stamps needed.

Our dads asked a lot from themselves and those they loved. And our generation was the one where kids were seen but not heard. Sometimes our letters were a forum for complaints against the universe. Sometimes they were simply tales of teen triumphs and defeats.

I admired Dave and his family because they took summer vacation trips together. Dave was a Boy Scout, had cute girlfriends, and attended church with his family. He always wore shiny black shoes, a pressed white shirt, and a tie to church. Dave was the first person who taught me how to make a presentable knot. Now whenever I put on a tie, I think of Dave and how I kept my vow to be like his Dad by vacationing with my kids during their formative years. Thanks to Dave and his vacation stories I became a better father than I might have been.

John, the doctor-to-be, was very analytical and loved baseball. As a youngster, I hated playing “Go Fish!” with him because had a photographic mind.  I was better at playing stoop ball, stickball, or sandlot baseball. Because he lived a bike ride away, we played ball all of the time. We grew up loving baseball and rooting for two different New York teams. We had baseball and family in common—Christmas dinners, birthdays, confirmation, and more.

John taught me to stand up for myself, enjoy family gatherings, and cherish our moments outdoors or indoors together. Some of the best laughs we had were watching the “Jackie Gleason Show” and rolling with laugher on the living room floor. We even earned money together by sharing a big paper route. At the age of 12, we sometimes took the train into the city by ourselves with our earnings and attended a Yankee day game. John encouraged me to go after whatever I wanted, but never to lose my sense of humor in the process.

In my senior year in high school, I realized that I wasn’t going to be a professional baseball player. My English teacher, Miss Starr Hacker, thought that I was a promising writer. She believed in me. For her, I wrote my heart out. My weekly essays always had a large red “A” scribbled on them. I actively participated in her class. My mind was growing with possibilities. I started believing that I could be an English teacher or a writer, thanks to her.

 I longed to make a difference in the lives of others, just like Miss Hacker. I even considered being a sixth grade teacher because mine was so dull that I thought that I could do better!

My first education course was taught by Dr. Ralph H. Hunkins. He was a kind, intelligent, and enthusiastic. We immediately hit it right off in class. I loved studying about teaching, especially theories of education and men like John Dewey. Two pet projects of Dr. Hunkins were defining what education really is and fostering World Peace. In his classroom I was politely outspoken. After doing an Independent Study with him, we became friends, and I wrote him often after I graduated. He once told me that my letters about school were better than John Holt’s writings about education. Sometimes I even had the pleasure of his wife’s delicious cooking and friendly company. Thanks to them, my confidence as a future educator or writer was growing.

Around the time I met Ralph, I also met my bride-to-be, Marilyn Dufford. We fell madly in love. I thought she was perfect, beautiful on the inside and the outside. And she loved kids. She wanted to be an early childhood teacher. We studied a lot in the college dorm. She taught me how to really study, love long walks, chick flicks, and pizza at “Arnies.”

We married two weeks after our June graduation. In September she was teaching kindergarten, and I was teaching sixth grade in the same school district. I felt the happiest I ever felt in my life. I taught elementary school for thirty-three years.  She taught public school for fifteen years, became a religious director, and raised two lovely daughters. She finished her teaching career as a Special Education teacher. The two of us always loved teaching kids, books, stories, and words.

Thanks to Ralph’s inspiring words about writing, I published a number of articles for parents and teachers in national magazines, and I fell in love with the works of Shel Silverstein, especially A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Poets like the late Shel Silverstein made the ordinary different and exciting. I read and enjoyed his poetry so much that I internalized it. I never met the man, but he became my mentor and friend. Whenever there was a break from the regular school schedule, I read his poetry to my delighted students. They loved the joy and craziness in his poems. And sometimes his poetry even gave them thoughts to ponder. They treasured the book of poems they created in June. If as a teacher you can make kids laugh, think and create for themselves, they are more apt to become self-actualized students, encouraging the best from themselves and their teachers.

My students encouraged me to be to write and perform poetry for our class and other classes. Now I am the luckiest man alive helping kids to laugh, think, and write, whenever I am invited into school as a poet. Each school is my stadium. Each stage is my diamond. And Coach Sottile enjoys his players and our moments in the limelight, thanks to Shel and six others.   

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21. Frank Einstein and the Antimater Motor by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs, 192 pp, RL: 3

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka with fantastic illustrations by Brian Biggs is  the book I have been most anticipating this year and it definitely delivers! Of course, everyone knows Scieszka, the author of contemporary picture book classics like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, but The Time Warp

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22. Empathic Curiosity

Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed fundamentally, it was 18th century Europe, and Britain in particular. During this period, a cognitive revolution took place, powered by an extraordinary new technology: the printing press. Gutenberg's contraption was a curiosity [...]

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23. Roanoke Colony.

"Bear Song" historical fiction about the Roanoke Colony.

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24. Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta, 276 pp, RL: ALL AGES

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature is a behind-the-scenes look at the grown-up aspects of writing children's books written by three children's book specialists, Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta, who passed away in 2012. Having been a fan of the blogs of Betsy Bird (fuse#8, which was picked up by School Library Journal a few years ago) and Julie

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25. Powell’s Q&A: Richard Kadrey

Describe your latest book. The Getaway God is the sixth book in the Sandman Slim series. In it, the very unholy nephilim, James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has made a few enemies. None, though, are as fearsome as the vindictive Angra Om Ya — the insatiable, destructive old gods. But their imminent invasion is just [...]

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