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1. Review of the Day: Snow White by Matt Phelan

snowwhiteSnow White: A Graphic Novel
By Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press
$19.99
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7233-1
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

I’d have said it couldn’t be done. The Snow White fairytale has been told and retold and overdone to death until there’s not much left to do but forget about it entirely. Not that every graphic novel out there has to be based on an original idea. And not that the world is fed up with fairytales now (it isn’t). But when I heard about Matt Phelan’s Snow White: A Graphic Novel I was willing to give it a chance simply because I trusted its creator and not its material. The crazy thing is that even before I picked it up, it threw me for a loop. I heard that the story was recast in 1920s/ early-1930s Depression-era New York City. For longer than I’d care to admit I just sort of sat there, wracking my brain and trying desperately to remember anything I’d ever seen that was similar. I’ve seen fairytales set during the Depression before, but never Snow White. Then I picked the book up and was struck immediately by how beautiful it was. Finally I read through it and almost every element clicked into place like the gears of a clock. I know Matt Phelan has won a Scott O’Dell Award for The Storm in the Barn and I know his books get far and wide acclaim. Forget all that. This book is his piece de resistance. A bit of fairytale telling, to lure in the kids, and a whole whopping dollop of cinematic noir, deft storytelling, and clever creation, all set against a white, wintery backdrop.

The hardened detective thinks he’s seen it all, but that was before he encountered the corpse in the window of a department store, laid out like she was sleeping. No one could account for her. No one except maybe the boy keeping watch from across the street. When the detective asks for the story he doesn’t get what he wants, but we, the readers, do. Back in time we zip to when a little girl lost her mother to illness and later her father fell desperately in love with a dancer widely proclaimed to be the “Queen of the Follies.” Sent away to a boarding school, the girl returns years later when her father has died and his will leaves all his money in a trust to Snow. Blinded by rage, the stepmother (who is not innocent in her husband’s death) calls in a favor with a former stagehand to do away with her pretty impediment, but he can’t do the deed. What follows is a gripping tale of the seven street kids that take Snow under their wing (or is it the other way around?), some stage make-up, a syringe, an apple, and an ending so sweet you could have gotten it out of a fairytale.

snowwhite1Let’s get back to this notion I have that the idea of setting Snow White during the Depression in New York is original. It honestly goes above and beyond the era. I could swear I’d never read or seen a version where the seven dwarfs were seven street kids. Or where the evil stepmother was a star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Snow’s run from Mr. Hunt is through Central Park through various shantytowns and he presents the stepmother with a pig’s heart procured at a butcher. Even making her glass coffin a window at Macy’s, or the magic mirror an insidious ticker tape, feels original and perfectly in keeping with the setting. You begin to wonder how no one else has ever thought to do this before.

You’d also be forgiven for reading the book, walking away, giving it a year, and then remembering it as wordless. It isn’t, but Phelan’s choosy with his wordplay this time. Always a fan of silent sequences, I was struck by the times we do see words. Whether it’s the instructions on the ticker tape (a case could easily be made that these instructions are entirely in the increasingly deranged step-mother’s mind), Snow’s speech about how snow beautifies everything, or the moment when each one of the boys tells her his name, Phelan’s judiciousness makes the book powerful time and time again. Can you imagine what it would have felt like if there had been an omniscient narrator? The skin on the back of my neck shudders at the thought.

For all that the words are few and far between, you often get a very good sense of the characters anyway. Snow’s a little bit Maria Von Trapp and a little bit Mary Poppins to the boys. I would have liked Phelan to give her a bit more agency than, say, Disney did. For example, when her step-mother informs her, after the reading of her father’s will, that her old room is no longer her own, I initially misread Snow’s response to be that she was going out to find a new home on her own. Instead, she’s just going for a walk and gets tracked down by Mr. Hunt in the process. It felt like a missed beat, but not something that sinks the ship. Contrast that with the evil stepmother. Without ever being graphic about it, not even once, this lady just exudes sex. It’s kind of hard to explain. There’s that moment when the old stagehand remembers when he once turned his own body into a step stool so that she could make her grand entrance during a show. There’s also her first entrance in the Follies, fully clothed but so luscious you can understand why Snow’s father would fall for her. The book toys with the notion that the man is bewitched rather than acting of his own accord, but it never gives you an answer to that question one way or another.

snowwhite2Lest we forget, the city itself is also a character. Having lived in NYC for eleven years, I’ve always been very touchy about how it’s portrayed in books for kids. When contemporary books are filled with alleyways it makes me mighty suspicious. Old timey fare gets a pass, though. Clever too of Phelan to set the book during the winter months. As Snow says at one point, “snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful . . . This city is beautiful, too. It has its own magic.” So we get Art Deco interiors, and snow covered city tops seen out of huge plate glass windows. We get theaters full of gilt and splendor and the poverty of Hoovervilles in the park, burning trashcans and all. It felt good. It felt right. It felt authentic. I could live there again.

We live in a blessed time for graphic novels. With the recent win of what may well be the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award, they are respected, flourishing, and widely read. Yet for all that, the graphic novels written for children are not always particularly beautiful to the eye. Aesthetics take time. A beautiful comic is also a lot more time consuming than one done freehand in Photoshop. All the more true if that comic has been done almost entirely in watercolors as Phelan has here. I don’t think that there’s a soul alive who could pick up this book and not find it beautiful. What’s interesting is how Phelan balances the Art Deco motifs with the noir-ish scenes and shots. When we think of noir graphic novels we tend to think of those intensely violent and very adult classics like Sin City. Middle grade noir is almost unheard of at this point. Here, the noir is in the tone and feel of the story. It’s far more than just the black and white images, though those help too in their way.

snowwhite3The limited color palette, similar in many ways to The Storm in the Barn with how it uses color, here invokes the movies of the past. He always has a reason, that Matt Phelan. His judicious use of color is sparing and soaked with meaning. The drops of blood, often referred to in the original fairytale as having sprung from the queen’s finger when she pricked herself while sewing, is re-imagined as drops of bright red blood on a handkerchief and the pure white snow, a sure sign of influenza. Red can be lips or an apple or cheeks in the cold. Phelan draws scenes in blue or brown or black and white to indicate when you’re watching a memory or a different moment in time, and it’s very effective and easy to follow. And then there’s the last scene, done entirely in warm, gentle, full-color watercolors. It does the heart good to see.

The thing about Matt Phelan is that he rarely does the same story twice. About the only thing you can count on with him is that he loves history and the past. Indeed, between showing off a young Buster Keaton ( Bluffton) and a ravaged Dust Bowl setting (The Storm in the Barn) it’s possible “Snow White” is just an extension of his favorite era. As much a paean to movies as it is fairytales and graphic novels, Phelan limits his word count and pulls off a tale with truly striking visuals and killer emotional resonance. I don’t think I’ve ever actually enjoyed the story of Snow White until now. Hand this book to graphic novel fans, fairytale fans, and any kid who’s keen on good triumphing over evil. There might be one or two such children out there. This book is for them.

On shelves now.

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2. Beware of Exploding (Numbers of) Nutcrackers

nutcracker-1It sort of feels like someone took a starting pistol and called out to the universe, “Nutcracker picture books!  On your mark . . . get set . . . . GO!”  And off they went!

2016, for whatever reason, has turned out to be a VERY Nutcracker heavy year.  If you are unaware or only vaguely familiar with what The Nutcracker is, I will sum up.  In 1816 Prussian Romantic author E.T.A. Hoffman wrote an odd little children’s story called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.  It was this wild bit of imagining about a girl who receives a nutcracker from her uncle and the fantastical story that ensues.  There’s even a story within a story, which concerns the tale of the Princess Pirlipat and the nut she had to eat to break a spell.  It’s good and trippy.  There was even a version of it illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

In time this story was adapted by Alexander Dumas into merely The Nutcracker.  And from that tale we get the two-act balled choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Tchaikovsky.

nutcrackerballetFor a long time the ballet was done exactly the same way every year.  Then people started to get creative.  In 1983, Maurice Sendak (who had four years before adapted Where the Wild Things Are to the stage) designed the set for the Pacific Northwestern Ballet’s production of Nutcracker.  It was a massive hit partly, as Maria Popova puts it, because it embraced, “Hoffmann’s essential weirdness”.  Looking at the art Sendak did for the accompanying book, one really wonders why he never illustrated Struwwelpeter at any point in his career.  But I digress.

The Sendak production ran with the Pacific Northwestern Ballet until 2014 when it finally ended its run.  Weep not, little children, if you feel you might have missed a chance to see a true children’s book master’s hand on a Nutcracker production.  I come with tidings of great joy.  Here in Chicago the Joffrey Ballet is presenting from December 10th-30th a production of The Nutcracker choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, with puppets by Basil Twist and costumes and sets by Julian Crouch and our very own Brian Selznick.  Marvelous, no?  The show will this time be set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair.  Just bounce that thought around your noggin for a while.

nutcrackercomesOn the book side of things, stories about the Nutcracker are abundant.  Last year we saw a couple come out, as well as a nice behind-the-scenes story by Chris Barton called The Nutcracker Comes to America.  That may well be the only nonfiction title related to The Nutcracker you’ll find on your shelves, by the way.

This year Nutcrackers have multiplied like so many Mouse King heads.  I have found six for starters.  Yet for all that they’re now common, writing this book is an incredibly difficult affair.  The struggle each one of these books is figuring out how to tell a story that is both familiar to those kids who are either in the ballet or have seen it, and also has some relation to the original source material.  To put it plainly, there have been mixed results.

The Nutcracker by Grace Maccarone, ill. Celia Chauffrey

nutcracker5

This is one of those books that certainly feels as though it was created to appeal primarily to those kids that get to act in a production of The Nutcracker as party guests and mice.  The entire trip to the Land of Sweets is kept incredibly short.  All told it’s a pretty rote retelling of the ballet specifically.  Perfectly decent but not a top pick.

The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet, ill. Valeria Docampo

nutcracker4

Apparently an entire ballet company is capable of writing a book together.  Here the fact that the show IS a ballet is never forgotten (the cover makes that much clear).  Yet the name of our heroine isn’t Clara, as most productions of The Nutcracker name her, but Marie.  That’s her name in the original Hoffman book!  Yet the book itself acts as a younger introduction for kids to the show.  The kind of title you’d read to a five-year-old who was about to go and see their first performance.

The Nutcracker by Kate Davies, ill. Niroot Puttapipat

nutcracker1

Just a quick note here.  Remember how I said that in the original Hoffman story there was an odd little subplot involving a character with the name Princess Pirlipat?  How likely is it that a Puttapipat would illustrate a book that originally contained a Pirlipat?  The editing gods work in mysterious ways.  This is one of the lovelier Nutcrackers out this year and for good reason.  The silhouettes are delicate and delightful and the small pop-up details even nicer.  Both the original Hoffman and the subsequent Dumas stories have been combined here to try and bridge the gap between ballet and text.

The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger

nutcracker2

It’s not entirely fair to include this since this is technically a reprint, but the original has been unavailable for years.  This is Hoffman’s original story but instead of Sendak’s art you have Zwerger’s.  She doesn’t necessarily tap into the oddities of the text, but she has the dreamlike aspects down pat.  A lovely one.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, retold by Renate Raecke, ill. Yana Sedova

nutcracker3

I think that when it comes to the story and the mix of text and image, this may well be the most successful.  Like the Puttapipat version it does a good job of building a bridge between the ballet and the original story.  It also, as you can see here, is has some of the best art.  This is my own personal pick of the lot.

E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker by Jack Wang and Holman Wang

PrideAndPrejudice_COV_FnCrx.indd

Aww. The latest from Cozy Classics. I couldn’t finish this post without paying tribute to this one.  If you know a kid in a production of this show, just get them this book.  It’s quick.  It’s cute.  And it does a darn good job of showing a ballet slipper in flight in felt.  And what more, I ask you, do you really and truly need in this life but that?

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3. 2017 Picture Books I’m Really Looking Forward To

Ending on a preposition and regretting nothing.

Here are the 2017 books I’ve seen that I’ve found positively delightful.  These are all completely and utterly worthy.  Put them on your To Be Read list today:

Baby’s First Words by Christiane Engel

babysfirstwords

I like a good book for the little littles where the fact that a kid has two dads is part of the equation but not the focus.  Additionally, there’s a stay-at-home dad here that’s awesome.


 

Home and Dry by Sarah L. Smith

homedry

A peculiar little book, but I was very fond of its love of all things soggy.


 

Mrs. White Rabbit by Giles Bachelet

mrswhiterabbitIt is French.  It is funny.  You will enjoy it.  Particularly the Alice in Wonderland in-jokes.


 

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo

mybeautifulbirds

A Syrian refugee picture book done in an entirely different medium – clay!


 

Prince Ribbit by Jonathan Emmett, ill. Poly Bernatene

princeribbit

Look. Any book that teaches kids to read everything critically is a necessary purchase in my book. Plus this is from the guys that brought us The Princess and the Pig, so that’s awesome right there.


 

Rabbit Magic by Meg McLaren

rabbitmagic

Books with tons of tiny details hidden within the pages are easy sells.  I love the delicacy of the art here.


 

There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, ill. Laurel Molk

theremightlobsters

At first it just looks like a story about a dog overcoming fears, but the text reads aloud particularly well.


 

Tony by Ed Galing, ill. Erin E. Stead

tony

I won’t!  I won’t fall in love with this adapted poem about a boy and his love for the milkman’s horse!  I won’t, I say!  I . . . oh, darn it.  Too late.


 

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

alfredfiddleduckling

Ering tends to write longer picture books.  This was has more heart in its little finger than most books have in their whole bodies.


 

Waiting for Pumpsie by Barry Wittenstein, ill. London Ladd

waitingpumpsie

Kids could easily get the impression that after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier it was smooth sailing for African-Americans in baseball.  This book shoots down that myth elegantly and well.


 

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, ill. Kim La Fave

whenraincomes

Remarkably dramatic for something so short.


 

XO OX by Adam Rex, ill. Scott Campbell

xoox

The return of Scott Campbell!  The pairing of Adam Rex!  And I’m calling it now: The most fabulous romantic pairing of 2017.

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4. Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Courage, Connection & Hope: Interview with Gae Polisner from Book Club Advisor. Peek: "...a video interview on the power of literature, how The Memory of Things was created, and the impact of a national tragedy on a generation."

Finding the Lost Voices in YA Historical Fiction by Pia Ceres from Lee & Low. Peek: "Using the framework of the past, the genre challenges consumerism, individual sovereignty, justice – salient subjects that adolescents actively question and explore."

When It's Okay to Listen to Your Inner Editor by Sara Letourneau from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...ask yourself, 'Will this improve my WIP? Or am I beating myself up?' You might already know the answer subconsciously."

Ambelin Kwaymullina: Thoughts on Being an Ally of Indigenous Writers from Justine Labalestier. Peek: "I believe supporting others requires a rights-based, strength-based approach. Rights-based, in that I recognise that the denial of anyone’s rights, and the diminishment of anyone’s humanity, diminishes and denies my own."

Author Interview: Dr. René Saldaña Jr. from Houston Public Media. Peek: "The saga of children Mickey’s age attempting to come to the United States without their parents is sad yet intriguing. Could there be a connection between the unaccompanied minor children and the mysterious Natalia?"

Your Two Plots by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Depending on how self-aware your characters are and how distracting your action is, you can hide how your internal story develops until the end."

See also Islam in the Classroom
Books in the Home: Mommy, Do I Have White Skin?: Skin Color, Family, and Picture Books by Julie Hakim Azzam from The Horn Book. Peek: "We’re surrounded by images that tell us mothers and children should look alike. Adoptive, interracial, and intercultural families do not have what Christopher Myers called in his essay 'Young Dreamers' an 'image library,' a robust visual archive that reflects and validates their existence."

SCBWI 2016 Winter Reading List: "Authors and illustrators from close to your hometown to those around the world are featured on the List. The Lists will be published bi-annually, in the Summer and Winter." Note: I was excited to learn about some new (to me) Texas authors from the list, and that's saying something because one of my personal commitments is to keep up with new voices, especially in my home state.

The Slush Pile Myth by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "...there is a myth that circulates about the children’s book that is plucked from the pile and subsequently reaches hitherto untold levels of success. I know of only three instances where this happened, and I wanted to just give them a quick glance today."

Crossing Borders by Reyna Grande from Latinxs in Kidlit. Peek: "It saddens me to see that the world—instead of tearing down border walls—is actually building more of them. There are more border barriers today than ever before. In 1989, there were only 15 border walls in the world. Today there are more than 63, and counting."

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Screening Room




More Personally

Thank you to everyone at McAllen Book Festival and McAllen (Texas) Public Library for a wonderful event. Here are a few pics from the author party last Friday night.

A.G.  Howard & Beth Fehlbaum
With Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Carolyn Dee Flores & Kelly Starling Lyons
Thanks also to Michael Hays, Lee Francis IV, Debbie Reese, Traci Sorell, Tim Tingle, and everyone who turned out last night for the "Indigenous Voices in MG" #MGLitChat on Twitter.

I have signed on to A Declaration in Support of Children from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...we, the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators, do publicly affirm our commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death." See also Hundreds of U.S. Children's Authors Sign Petition to Tackle Racism & Xenophobia, Hundreds of Children's Authors Pledge to Combat Bigotry and What Do We Tell the Children?

Cynsations will be on hiatus next week while those of us in the U.S. contemplate gratitude. 

Personal Links

Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!
Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!

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    5. Dear Michael (a letter to Michael Grant about GONE)

    November 17, 2016

    Dear Michael Grant,

    Our conversation yesterday at Jason Low's opinion piece for School Library Journal didn't go well, did it? I entered it, annoyed at what you said last year in your "On Diversity" post. There, you said:

    Let me put this right up front: there is no YA or middle grade author of any gender, or of any race, who has put more diversity into more books than me. Period.
    Then you had a list where you were more specific about that diversity. Of Native characters, you said:
    Native American main character? No. Australian aboriginal main character, but not a Native American. Hmmm.
    You do, in fact, have a Native character in Gone. I'd read it but didn't write about it. So when you commented to Jason in the way that you did, I responded as I did, saying you'd erased a Native character right away in one of your books. With that in mind, and your claim that you've done more than anyone regarding diversity, I said you're part of the problem. You wanted to know what book I was talking about. Indeed, you were quite irate in your demands that I name it. You offered to donate $1000 to a charity of my choice if I could name the book. You seemed to think I could not, and that I was slandering you. 

    In that long thread, I eventually named the book but you said I was wrong in what I'd said. So, here's a review. I hope it helps you see what I meant, but based on all that I've seen thus far, I'm doubtful. 

    Here's a description of the book:
    In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young. There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what's happened. Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It's a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: on your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else. . . .
    Chapter one is set at a school in California. It opens with a character named Sam, who is listening to his teacher talk about the Civil War. Suddenly the teacher is gone. It seems funny at first but then they realize that other teachers are gone, and so is everyone who is 15 years old, or older. In chapter two, Sam, his friend Quinn, and Astrid (she's introduced in chapter one as a smart girl) head home, sure they'll find their parents. They don't. 

    Partway through chapter two, you introduce us to Lana Arwen Lazar, who is riding in a truck that is being driven by her, grandfather, Grandpa Luke, who is described as follows (p. 19-20):
    He was old, Grandpa Luke. Lots of kids had kind of young grandparents. In fact, Lana’s other grandparents, her Las Vegas grandparents, were much younger. But Grandpa Luke was old in that wrinkled-up-leather kind of way. His face and hands were dark brown, partly from the sun, partly because he was Chumash Indian.
    At first, I thought, "cool." You were bringing a tribally specific character into the story! If he's Chumash, then, Lana is, too! There's whole chapters about her. She's a main character. But, you didn't remember her. Or maybe, in your responses at SLJ, you were too irate to remember her?

    Anyway, I wasn't keen on the "wrinkled-up-leather" and "dark brown" skin because you're replicating stereotypical ideas about what Native people look like.

    As I continued reading, however, it was clear to me that you were just using the Chumash as decoration. You clearly did some research, though. You've got Grandpa Luke, for example, pointing with his chin. Thing is: I've been seeing that a lot. It makes me wonder if white people have a checklist for a Native character that says "make sure the character points with the chin rather than fingers."

    Back to chapter two... Grandpa Luke pointed (with his chin) to a hill. Lana tells him she saw a coyote there and he tells her not to worry (p. 20):
    “Coyote’s harmless. Mostly. Old brother coyote’s too smart to go messing with humans.” He pronounced coyote “kie-oat.”
    Hmmm... Grandpa Luke... teaching Lana about coyote? That sounds a bit... like the chin thing. I'm seeing lot of stories where writers drop in coyote. Is that on a check list, too?

    Next, we learn that Lana is with her grandpa because her dad caught her sneaking vodka out of their house to give it to another kid named Tony. Lana defends what she did, saying that Tony would have used a fake ID and that he might have gotten into trouble. Her grandpa says (p. 21):
    “No maybe about it. Fifteen-year-old boy drinking booze, he’s going to find trouble. I started drinking when I was your age, fourteen. Thirty years of my life I wasted on the bottle. Sober now for thirty-one years, six months, five days, thank God above and your grandmother, rest her soul.”
    Oh-oh. Alcohol? That must be on the checklist, too. I've seen a lot of books wherein a Native character is alcoholic.

    Lana teases her grandpa, he laughs, and then the truck veers off the road and crashes. Grandpa Luke is gone. Just like the other adults. Lana lies in the truck, injured. Her dog, Patrick, is with her. The chapter ends and you spend time with the other characters.

    His being gone is what I was referring to when I said that you erased him. At SLJ, you strongly objected to me saying that. You interpreted that as me saying you're anti-Native. You said that "every adult is disappeared." That you did that to "African-Americans, Polish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, French-Americans, Italian-Americans..." Yes. They all go away in your story, and because they do, you think it is wrong for me to object. That's when I said to you that you're clearly not reading any of the many writings about depictions of Native people. It just isn't ok to create Native characters and then get rid of them like that. Later in the SLJ thread, you said:
    "I threw the reference to the Chumash in as an effort to at least acknowledge that there are still Native Americans in SoCal. That was it. It's a throwaway character we see for three pages out of a 1500 page series." 
    Really, Michael? That's pretty awful. I hope someone amongst your writing friends can help you see why that doesn't work!

    Lana is back in chapter seven. A mountain lion appears. Patrick fights it and it takes off, but Patrick has a bad wound. Lana drifts off to sleep again, holding Patrick's wound to stop the blood. She wakes, part way through chapter ten. Patrick isn't with her but comes bounding over, all healed! Lana wonders if she had healed him. She glances at her mangled arm, which is now getting infected. She touches it, drifts off, and when she wakes it, too is healed. Next she heals her broken leg. All better, she stands up.

    So---Lana is a healer, Michael? That, too, is over in checklist land (Native characters who heal others).

    In chapter fifteen, Lana and Patrick set out to find food and water and hopefully, her grandfather's ranch. After several hours of walking in the heat, they find the wall that is an important feature of the story, and then, a patch of green grass. There's a water hose and a small cabin. They drink, and she washes the dried blood off her face and hair.

    In chapter eighteen, Lana wakes in the cabin, and remembers the last few weeks. She remembers putting the bottle of vodka in a bag with "the beadwork she liked" (p. 203). My guess, given that her grandfather is Chumash, is that the bag we're meant to imagine is one with Native beadwork designs on it.

    Lana hears scratching at the door, like the way a dog scratches at a door, and she hears a whispered "Come out." Oh-oh (again), Michael! Native people who can communicate with animals! That on the checklist, too? Patrick's hackles are raised, his fur bristles. They finally open the door and go out out but don't see anyone. She uses the bathroom in an outhouse. When Lana and Patrick head back to the cabin, a coyote is standing there, between the outhouse and the cabin. This coyote, however, is the size of a wolf. She thinks back on what she learned about coyotes, from Grandpa Luke (p. 207):
    “Shoo,” Lana yelled, and waved her hands as her grandfather had taught her to do if she ever came too close to a coyote.
    It didn't move, though. Behind it were a few more. Patrick wouldn't attack them, so, Lana yelled and charged right at them. The coyote recoiled in surprise. Lana was a flash of something dark, and the coyote yelped in pain. She made it to the cabin. She heard the coyotes crying in pain and rage. The next day, she found the one who she'd charged at (p. 207):
    Still attached to its muzzle was half a snake with a broad, diamond-shaped head. Its body had been chewed in half but not before the venom had flowed into the coyote’s bloodstream.
    What does that mean? Does Lana's healing power mean snakes will defend her? Or, that she can summon them to help her? Or is the appearance of these snakes just coincidental and has nothing to do, really, with Lana?

    In chapter twenty-five, two days have passed since Lana's encounter with the coyotes. Lana and Patrick eat the food they find in the cabin, and learn that it belonged to a guy named Jim Brown. He has 38 books in the cabin. Lana passes time reading them. At one point, she realizes there's a space underneath the cabin. In it, she finds gold bricks. She remembers the picks and shovels she saw outside, and the tire tracks leading to a ridge and thinks that, perhaps, Jim and his truck are there. She fills a water jug, and the two set off, following the tire tracks.

    In chapter twenty-seven, Lana and Patrick reach an abandoned mining town. She look for keys to the truck they find, and, they peek into the mine shaft. Suddenly they hear coyotes. It seems Lana can hear them saying "food." Lana and Patrick enter the mine, but the coyotes don't follow them. Then, one of them talks to her, telling her to leave the mine. They rush in and attack her but then stop, clearly afraid themselves. She's now their prisoner. They nudge her down, deeper into the mine. She senses something there, hears a loud voice, passes out, and wakes, outside.

    In chapter twenty nine, the coyotes push her on through the desert. She thinks of the lead coyote as "Pack Leader." He's the one who speaks to her. She asks him why they don't kill her. He says (p. 326):
    “The Darkness says no kill,” Pack Leader said in his tortured, high-pitched, inhuman voice.
    That "Darkness" is the voice she heard in the mine. It wants her to teach Pack Leader...  She asks Pack Leader to take her back to the cabin so she can get human food there. Later on, Darkness speaks through Lara.

    Ok--Michael--I've spelled out how your depictions of Lana fail. There's so much stereotyping in there. I gotta take off on a road trip now. I may be back, later, to clarify this letter. I think it is clear but may be missing something in my re-read of it. If you care to respond, please do!

    Sincerely,
    Debbie Reese
    American Indians in Children's Literature


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    6. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Three – 2016 Great Nursery Rhymes

    31daysIt’s strange to think that Nursery Rhymes prove so difficult to round-up.  I’ve done my best.  After all, the art of the nursery rhyme is nothing to scoff at.  There’s a reason they’ve kicked around all these centuries.  Reading nursery rhymes to small children does wonders for brain development, to say nothing of the fact that they remain a cultural touchstone in our society.  Here then is a bit of a mix.  Some of these books play with the nursery rhyme format or redefine it.  Others play it straight.  I have no doubt, you’ll find something to love somewhere on this list.


     

    2016 Nursery Rhymes

    La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for Los Ninos by Susan Middleton Elya, ill. Jana Martinez-Neal

    madregoose

    Now my kids are full-throated lovers of Elya’s book Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos, which may well be regarded as one of the best firefighter books in the pantheon of firefighter picture book literature’s history.  In that book Elya effortlessly worked Spanish into the English text.  She does a fair amount of that here as well and it lends itself to lovely, bouncy rhythms and some great art.  I’m a fan.

     

    Maybe Mother Goose by Esme Raji Codell, ill. Elisa Chavarri

    maybemother

    A book with true readaloud potential, particularly to big groups.  It contains six nursery rhymes and then asks questions of the audience, allowing them the chance to say, “NOOOOOOO!!!!” in loud voices.  Any book that does that has my instant love.

     

    My Very First Mother Goose by Rosemary Wells

    veryfirstmothergoose

    I’m slipping some reprints in here as well AND NO ONE CAN STOP ME!!!  This is actually the 20th anniversary reprint of the Wells classic, and I’m all for it.  This wouldn’t be a worthy nursery rhyme list without at least one true all-encompassing collection, after all.

     

    Miss Muffet, Or What Came After by Marilyn Singer, ill. David Litchfield

    missmuffet

    A truly ambitious outing.  Singer’s book is told in rhyme but is truly meant to be read or performed or read to older kids.  She slips a great many nursery rhyme characters into the tale, which is interesting because some of them are a bit lesser known.  For example, the poem Cock-a-Doodle-Doo! plays an important role.

     

    One, Two, Three Mother Goose by Iona Opie, ill. Rosemary Wells

    onetwothree

    Another Rosemary Wells, this time in service to the great Iona Opie.  This book is in a board book format, and in my own personal experience I found some of the poems to work better than others with very young kids.  That said, isn’t that always the case with good nursery rhymes?

     

    The People of the Town: Nursery-Rhyme Friends for You and Me by Alan Marks

    peopleoftown

    This would be the second book on this list that actually contains straight nursery rhymes.  Twenty-six of them, to be precise. Interestingly they are all people-centric in this collection.  An interesting choice.

     

    Sing With Me! Action Songs Every Child Should Know by Naoko Stoop

    singwithme

    Okay, true, these are action rhymes and not nursery rhymes per se.  But since the number of action rhyme books for kids released in a given year is even less than that of nursery rhymes, I’m going to let it slide on in.  After all, it received stellar professional reviews and is just really cool to look at.


    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month?  Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    7. Author Interviews: Kate Hannigan & Janet Fox on Facts in Historical Fiction

    By Gayleen Rabakukk
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    My current work in progress is a middle grade historical fantasy set in 1903. 

    Delving into the past has made me think about how history is presented in novels and the balance between real and imaginary. 

    For more insight on that topic, I turned to the authors of two of my favorite recently published books, focusing on process.

    Kate Hannigan’s The Detective's Assistant (Little, Brown, 2015) is based on the extraordinary true story of Kate Warne, America’s first female detective. It won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award in 2016.

    Was there a particular item, fact or event that sparked the idea for The Detective's Assistant?

    KH: I was researching a story about camels in the American West in the 1850s when I came across a single nugget about Kate Warne. I read how she walked into Allan Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in downtown Chicago, and he had assumed she was there for a secretary position. But she talked her way into a detective’s job, convincing Pinkerton she could “worm out” secrets from the wives and girlfriends of the city’s crooks and criminals.

    Stumbling on this little gem, I was hooked! I dropped that camel story and ran with Kate Warne!

    At what point did you start researching that? Did you start drafting a story first, or did you do research up front?

    Kate's model for her main character
    KH: I’m kind of a nutter about gathering facts. My background is newspaper journalism, so maybe that’s to blame. But I wanted to know all I could about Kate Warne, Allan Pinkerton, and Abraham Lincoln during this part of American history.

    The biggest research was around understanding the Baltimore Plot, which is the pivotal part of the story — the plot to assassinate Lincoln before he could be sworn in for his first term.

    So the whole process was immersive. I dove in deep before writing a single word. Once I felt like I had the facts, then I began my story.

    Did you continue doing research as you were writing?

    KH: I’m still doing research! And the book published over a year ago! But I love this story so much, I can’t not learn more about it. I do school visits all the time, and I talk to students about it. So it’s very much in the front of my mind.

    As I was writing, I would come across a question — my characters are walking down the street in 1860 Chicago, so what were they walking on? How comfortable would a train ride be in 1860? Would we ride on upholstered seats or hard wood? — and drop down another rabbit hole.

    Research is never ending with historical writing!

    Were you surprised by what you learned doing research? Did any unexpected finds end up becoming significant parts of the story?

    KH: If you’re writing historical fiction, you’re probably a pretty huge history nerd. So digging up a juicy nugget can be a thrill! And I dug up so many!

    I enjoyed researching and writing this story to a ridiculous degree!

    My characters live in a boardinghouse, so getting that setting right was foremost in my mind. I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) and Sister Carrie by Theodore Drieser (1900) (which was set a bit later but still illuminating nonetheless), just to get a sense of language of the times.

    But I also plunged into nonfiction about the era, and I found a particular book about boardinghouses that was helpful. It described how incredibly cheap the managers — usually women — had to be to keep these places afloat. They were notorious for serving terrible food, which I thought could be played for a lot of humor in my book.

    And this is what led to the chapter about Nell and the other residents eating a questionable meat for dinner, and Mrs. Wigginbottom getting shifty when there is talk about the orange tabby cat going missing.

    Your book mixes well-known historical figures (Abraham Lincoln) with lesser-known, yet real individuals (Kate Warne) as well as completely fictional characters.

    Tell us more about balancing the fact and the fiction – did you lean heavily on things the historical figures actually said? Were there some details you changed for the sake of the story? Were there some fixed points you felt couldn’t be altered?

    KH: Fact and fiction! This balance kept me up at night! I agonized over being true to the players and what was on record as having happened. I visited Kate Warne’s grave site here in Chicago more than a few times, and I deeply desired to do right by this woman.

    But I also worried about the reader, and I wanted to make sure that the story I was telling would hold the interest of a 21st-century American kid. So it was agony!

    Pinkerton had written about the cases that involved Kate Warne, so of course I wanted to nod to those. But I took artistic license and shuffled their order, so that the culminating case is the saving of Lincoln’s life. I needed to put them in a different order to serve my story, and I had to come to terms with that decision. It took me a bit though.

    Do you feel authors writing for middle grade readers have a greater obligation to present an accurate picture of a historical time period, than those writing YA or adult fiction?

    KH: I very much believe authors for young readers have a greater responsibility to get historical fiction right. Because history is all new to this audience — this might be their first introduction to the Civil War, to Abraham Lincoln, to the Underground Railroad.

    And if we make history engaging for them, we’re opening the doors to more exploration of our past, to creating more history lovers.

    It’s a responsibility I take pretty seriously. Which is why I tend to research my books to death!

    Have you gotten any feedback from history or social studies teachers? Or any school visits or other presentations aimed specifically at the history aspect?

    KH: Yes! And it’s been so great! I’ve gotten tremendous feedback from teachers and librarians.

    The Civil War hits with fifth-grade curriculum in many schools, so The Detective's Assistant has been on reading lists around the country. I’ve done Skype visits as well as in-person school visits, and the response from young readers has been mind-blowing!

    The New York Historical Society included it in their family book club, the Global Reading Challenge in Chicago listed it among their 2016 books, an entire fifth-grade in Dallas read the book as part of their Civil War history unit. It’s been wonderful to share the story with so many kids!

    Was there anything you found while doing research for The Detective's Assistant that will find it’s way into your next book?

    KH: Answer: I’ve been bitten by the research bug, and specifically, research into amazing women and people of color forgotten by history. So my next book is focused on World War II women beyond Rosie the Riveter. I can’t say there’s any overlap with the Civil War era, but the passion I feel for dusting off these remarkable players from the past and sharing them with a whole new audience, that definitely has carried over. It’s kind of become my mission!

    The Detective's Assistant is realistic historical fiction, do things change when the story includes more fantasy elements? For that aspect, I asked Janet Fox, author of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle similar questions.

    Was there a particular item, fact or event that sparked the idea for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle? (what was it?)

    JF: Yes! I was mucking around on the internet when a friend posted a picture of an object the like of which I'd never noticed before. It was an 18th century German chatelaine. I thought it was peculiar, and I had to find out more about it, so I googled and discovered that this chatelaine was an offshoot of the more practical set of keys - to the chateau - worn at the waist.

    I learned that chatelaines had evolved from keys to practical items, like scissors and coin purses, to charms. This chatelaine was all charms, and they were so odd that a story began forming in my mind almost right away.

    At what point did you start researching that? (i.e. – did you start drafting a story first, or did you do research up front?) 

    JF: Once I'd learned what a chatelaine was I began writing almost at once. Within a week of seeing the image, which is the same as the image that's in the novel, I'd completed the first 40 pages of what would become the novel. That's generally the way I work. I have to discover who my main character is and what her problem is before I can begin to flesh out the story, and research is part of that fleshing out.

    Did you continue doing research as you were writing?

    JF: Yes - once I have a handle on my protagonist and what the story is generally about I tend to blend research with writing. For example, as soon as I decided to set the novel in Scotland, I took a pause and did a bunch of research on Scotland. That's almost always how I work - I write first to discover what I need to know more about. But it all starts with the character and her problem.

    Were you surprised by what you learned doing research? Did any unexpected finds end up becoming significant parts of the story?

    JF: Not really - at least, not in this story. But read on - there's a relevant answer to this in your last question.

    Your book mixes actual events and places completely fictional – and fantastical - events and characters. Tell us more about balancing the fact and the fiction? Were there any fixed points you felt couldn’t be altered? (why?)

    JF: I felt it was very important to be true to any factual details. For example, I had to learn what I could about enigma machines, about the inner workings of clocks, about movements and activities in the North Sea during that part of World War II, and so on.

    That's where I really pay attention to accuracy - when I'm weaving facts into fantasy I want those facts to be right. In that way the reader more readily suspends disbelief for the fantasy elements.

    Do the fantastical elements have a historical influence?

    JF: In a way. My grandparents were Irish and English, and I heard many stories growing up about the fantastical beliefs they carried with them from home, things like the stories my grandfather told me about "the little people." And Celtic and pagan practices have a basis in history and yet are mystical or fantastic in nature. To me, there's always a kernel of truth in a fairy tale.

    Do you feel authors writing for middle grade readers have a greater obligation to present an accurate picture of a historical time period, than those writing YA or adult fiction?

    JF: I think any writer writing for any audience has an obligation to be accurate when it comes to historical detail. But I do think that the vulnerability of the younger reader requires a special adherence to accuracy. These are readers who will feel cheated if I give them information they later find to be false. They are also readers more likely to believe whatever you tell them, and I would hate to plant falsehoods in their minds.

    Have you gotten any feedback from history or social studies teachers? (or any school visits or other presentations aimed specifically at the history aspect?) 

    Dunrobin Castle, Janet's inspiration, located in Scotland
    JF: Not yet, although I would love to present something about the specific history aspects of the story.

    I'm fascinated by World War II (and as we can see by the large number of middle grade novels out the past couple of years set during the war, so are others.)

    The Blitz alone was a big deal, and I've given talks at bookstores at which adults have come forward after to tell me that they or their aunt or their father was sent out of London - and that's why they're in America today.

    Was there anything you found while doing research for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle that will find it’s way into your next book?

    JF: Since Kat is clever with clocks, I did a bit of clock research and uncovered a rare old timepiece called a "Death's Head" watch. After further research I discovered that one of owners of one of the most bizarre of these was the doomed Mary, Queen of Scots. Well, that didn't feel accidental. As you can imagine, that watch is the centerpiece of my sequel.

    chatelaine
    Cynsational Notes

    Janet Fox on Blending History with Fantasy from Cynsations. Peek: "Whether writing historical fiction or fantasy, the objective of suspension of disbelief can only be accomplished if the world-building is sound. In historical fiction, that means lots of research to get interesting tidbits right. In fantasy, it means crafting an environment in which those interesting tidbits feel right."

    Gayleen Rabakukk holds a master of fine arts in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She co-moderates the middle grade book club for Austin SCBWI and loves making discoveries – both on and off the page.

    Always eager to track down a story, she has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and freelance writer. Gayleen is married and has two caring and outspoken daughters. Their Austin, Texas home is filled with books and rescue dogs. You can find her online at  or on Twitter @gayleenrabakukk

    Congratulations to Gayleen on recently signing with Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Agency!

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    8. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Two – 2016 Great Board Book Adaptations

    31daysSo what do we mean when we say “Board Book Adaptations” exactly?  Well, you’re probably familiar with the phenomenon of taking a picture book and chopping it down into a board book  When this is done poorly the end product is strange and squished.  The most egregious example of this might be the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs board book.  With a long text appropriate for older readers, the type is tiny and even if you could read it you’d bore the toddler on your lap almost instantaneously.

    That said, some board book adaptations from picture books are dead on the money.  Today, we celebrate those adaptations in 2016 that really went above and beyond the call of duty.


     2016 Board Book Adaptations

     

    Black? White! Day? Night! by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

    blackwhite

    Actually, Ms. Seeger released a bunch of her books in a smaller, more board bookish format this year (Lemons Are Not Red, One Boy, and Walter Was Worried).  My favorite, however, remains this one.  A perfect little blending of lift-the-flap playfulness with some pretty stellar art.

     

    Digger Man by Andrea Zimmerman & David Clemesha

    diggerman

    Actually, I have a bone to pick with this one  You know that insidiously clever thing publishers do when they’ll put the book jackets of related titles on the back of the book you’re reading to a kid?  And then the child will insist with all kinds of whines and moans and groans that they absolutely 100% MUST have the other books, and why aren’t we going to the library RIGHT NOW to get them?  I’ve been there.  And I’ve been there because of this book.  This feels like it should have been a board book in the first place, but that’s okay.  There is an advantage to looking at the other two books in the series (Train Man and Fire Engine Man).  I now can draw the connections between the toys on the hero’s floor (including the rainbow astronaut) from book to book.  Check it out.  You’ll see what I mean.

     

    Edible Colors/Edible Numbers by Jennifer Vogel Bass

    ediblecolorsediblenumbers

    Utterly beautiful produce photographed against a white background.  Lois Ehlert may have cornered the market on alphabetical produce, but clearly colors and numbers were still up for grabs.  Great adaptations.

     

    A Kiss Means I Love You by Kathryn Madeline Allen, photos by Eric Futran

    akissmeans

    Of all the books on this list, this was the one I was literally waiting for for years.  A Kiss Means I Love You (an insipid title that belies the brilliance inside) came out originally in 2012 when I my daughter was a one-year-old.  Naturally, the moment my second child grew old enough to appreciate books with thinner pages, that was when the board book version was released.  It doesn’t matter.  Run, don’t walk, to give it to a baby you know.  And, while you’re at it, also by the companion board book (also out this year) Show Me Happy, by the same author/illustrator team.

     

    Night Owl by Toni Yuly

    nightowl

    Yuly has a style that was born for board books.  When Night Owl was first released I liked it just fine, but I think I actually prefer it in its current board book incarnation.  It just makes good clean sense.

     

    Numbers by John J. Reiss

    numbers

    I think this constitutes the oldest book on this list adapted to a board book format since the original came out in 1982.  I’d love to know the sheer amount of work that went into this adaptation.  Did they find the original art?  Did they just get a book, scan it, and touch up the art’s brightness on a computer?  No idea.  Just a lovely product in the end.

     

    Sing by Joe Raposo, ill. Tom Lichtenheld

    sing

    Of the books on this list, this is the one you can actually sing.  It was always a little too short to truly work as a picture book.  As a board book it’s a much better fit.  La la la la la . . .

     

    This Train by Paul Collicutt

    thistrain

    I need to find the original picture book just to double check, but this book made for an ideal adaptation.  The limited word count, incredibly bright and beautiful pictures, and sheer swath of different kinds of trains works.  Be sure to also check out this year’s board book of This Plane, by Collicutt too.

     

    Whose Shoes? A Shoe for Every Job by Stephen R. Swinburne

    whoseshoes

    When Tana Hoban died she left a great big concept-book-gap in the marketplace.  You can only reprint her books so many times before they get dated.  That’s why I’m eternally grateful for books like this one.   Shoes + occupations = a winning team.


    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month?  Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    9. Announcing the Ultimate End of the Year List Sequence: 31 Days, 31 Lists

    The Best Books of the Year lists are beginning to come out right around now. First we saw the Publishers Weekly List. Then the School Library Journal List was presented as part of a live feed on Kidlit TV.  The New York Times released their Best Illustrated list for the year.  Soon enough the other review journals will get on board, as will Brain Pickings with their annual picks of eclectic, original, artistic books.  Marjorie Ingall will do a list of the best books of the year with Jewish themes and characters for Tablet Magazine, the New York Public Library will release their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, and on and on it goes.

    I love lists.  They make me happy. I enjoy few things quite as much as debating the relative merits of one book or another with colleagues. But since I left NYPL I’ve just been making my own little lists.  It’s fun but a little lonely.  To keep myself in the game I also decided to read every single picture book in 2016 and I think I came pretty close.  But what should I do with all this knowledge?  I’m not going to review every single amazing book I saw, that’s for sure.

    That when this crazy idea slapped me upside the head with a rubber chicken.

    What if I were to do not one list for 2016.  Not two lists.  Not three.  What if I were to do one list for every single day in December?  A list every day!  It would have to be called . . . .

    31 Days, 31 Lists!!

    Oh yes!!  And here’s how it’ll go.  Each day in December this site will produce one list.  Sometimes it’ll be a list you’d be able to find elsewhere (best picture books, nonfiction, etc.).  Sometimes it’ll be a list you might need but wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere (picture book readalouds, picture books with photography, etc.).  And sometimes it’ll just be a trend I’ve noticed.  All these books will be 2016 publications.

    Sound like fun?  Here’s the schedule:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

    I don’t pretend that these lists will be complete or that they won’t miss some great publications out there.  However, I will at least be able to highlight all those amazing books I’ve seen this year that I wasn’t able to review.  And believe me when I say that 2016 was a doozy of a year when it came to fine and fabulous publications.

    I cannot wait.

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    6 Comments on Announcing the Ultimate End of the Year List Sequence: 31 Days, 31 Lists, last added: 11/18/2016
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    10. Fusenews: Some remedies are worse than the disease itself

    Happy day after the day after Thanksgiving.  Today I’m going to start you off on serious news story and that will pretty much set the tone for the day.


     

    hatespeechI live in Evanston, IL.  It’s home to Northwestern University and like a lot of college towns it’s a pretty liberal place.  We sit just north of Chicago.  We’re are ethnically and economically diverse.  We like to think we live apart from the rest of the world in a little bubble.  We don’t and it behooves us to remember that.  Unfortunately, we can be reminded in rather horrible ways sometimes.  Last Monday evening one of my librarians discovered that a number of books on Muslim topics had been defaced with hate speech, swastikas, and offensive comments.  Seven were specific to Islam.  One of them was Glenn Beck’s It Is About Islam.  The community responded swiftly and wonderfully, but it’s become a very big story.  I’m replacing the books now.


     

    It’s almost here!  New York Public Library’s list of 100 children’s books is about to be officially released.  Recently renamed 100 Best Books for Kids (an unfortunate moniker but NYPL is very keen on the word “Best” these days) it has an interesting selection.  Odd choices too, like the fact that some of the nonfiction picture books in with the picture books section and some are in the nonfiction section.  Some titles I haven’t heard of too, so I’m super excited to look into those.  I did that list for something around 5-6 years, so my love for it is strong.  Additionally, there’s a new list of 50 YA books on there as well.  Win-win!


     

    The Term “Graphic Novel” Has Had a Good Run. We Don’t Need It Anymore.  I have no horse in this race. Glen fails to mention libraries in the piece, which I don’t think is his fault.  He’s just ill-informed.  Getting comics into the mainstream meant getting libraries on board, and the term “graphic novel” was very useful when it came to justifying such a book on our shelves.  We still use it.  Maybe it’s outdated.  I dunno.  I could go any which way.  Still, until comics are used regularly in schools without massive quantities of eyebrow raising, I’ll not believe that comics have “arrived” quite yet.


     

    The Undies are here!  The Undies are here!  If you haven’t voted over at 100 Scope Notes for the best case cover of a picture book in 2016, now is the time.


     

    691. That’s how many children’s authors and illustrators signed The Brown Bookshelf’s Declaration in Support of Children.  In it, it states, “we will create stories that offer authentic and recognizable reflections of themselves, as well as relatable insight into experiences which on the surface appear markedly different.”  On the librarian side of the equation, bloggers like Roxanne Feldmann have published things like A Commitment to Social Justices and Compassion.  In the comment section Bob Kanegis posted the 1955 dedication written by the United Nations Women’s Guild in their book Ride With the Sun: An Anthology of Folk Tales and Stories from the United Nations.  It read:

    The Children’s Charter
    “There shall be peace on earth; but not until
    Each child shall daily eat his fill;
    Go warmly clad against the winter wind
    And learn his lessons with a tranquil mind.
    And thus released from hunger, fear, and need
    Regardless of his color, race or creed,
    Look upwards, smiling to the skies, His faith in man reflected in his eyes.”


     

    badlittleRelated.  A not-really-a-children’s-book children’s book is coming out from Abrams called Bad Little Children’s Books by Arthur C. Gackley.  You’ve seen this kind of thing online before.  They take Little Golden Book styled illustrations and covers and then put some snarky comment with them.  This just collects a whole bunch of them.  No doubt some of you will receive it this holiday seasons from relatives who think, “You like children’s books therefore you will find this hilarious.”  And it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning except for one cover in there that sort of moves it from mildly amusing to not amusing at all.  One of the parody covers is called Happy Burkaday, Timmy. Accompanying it is a picture of a little girl in a burka holding a bomb.  So.  That.  Now you know.  Thanks to Sharon Levin for the info.


     

    Let us turn our eyes to happier news.  When the Wichita, Kansas chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Wichita Police Department held a mutual cookout, this captured the attention of the publisher Tanglewood.  So moved, they decided to partner with libraries in some fashion.  They donated 250 copies of The Kissing Hand to libraries that agreed to host an event in a community where gun violence had occurred.  Then library partners were encouraged to work with a local chapter of Black Lives Matter (or similar organization) and the local law enforcement so both groups would have an equal part in delivering the donated books into the community.  “Library partners were encouraged to work with a local chapter of Black Lives Matter (or similar organization) and the local law enforcement so both groups would have an equal part in delivering the donated books into the community.”  Curious?  More information here.


     

    Vicky Smith recently alerted us to an interesting topic.  While at the Maine Library Association conference she attended a workshop about the, “critlib movement in Maine. If you’re not familiar with critlib, it’s an attempt to marry critical race theory with librarianship in a pretty fascinating way. It encourages librarians to examine the ways the discipline privileges the dominant culture – for instance, Library of Congress cataloging places queer topics, consensual kink, and child sexual predation in the same conceptual bucket.”  FYI.


     

    Daily Image:

    I couldn’t say it better than Cameron Suey did.  “Damn, Aesop is subtweeting America, hard.”

    hawkpigeons

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    11. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Six – 2016 Great Alphabet Books

    31days“In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.”  That catchy little ditty was from one of the earlier abecedarian picture books for children in America (the 1784 edition of The New England Primer, in case you’re curious). Practically from our nation’s inception, alphabet books were a go-to resource for teaching children to read.  Every year more and more of them come out, but how many can you name off the top of your head?  Just before typing this I was reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to my son and marveling at how Bill Martin Jr. managed to create an actual honest-to-goodness alphabet classic.  I don’t know if any of the books on today’s list will ever hit such heights, but I the alphabet books of 2016 have dabbled in some truly sophisticated fare.


     2016 Alphabet Books

    ABC by Xavier Deneux

    abc

    I was very good when I posted the board book list.  I didn’t say how many names featured were French.  After all, once you start seeing the influence of the French on board books, it’s difficult to stop.  M Deneux is no exception.  This isn’t his first time around the block, but his previous titles do feel as though they were gearing themselves up to this.  It is the culmination of all that he has accomplished.

     

    ABC: The Alphabet From the Sky by Benedikt Grob and Joey Lee

    alphabetskyIs it as cool as it looks from the cover?  My friend, it’s even cooler.  Every year I have regrets about the books I didn’t have a chance to officially review.  This year it included this book.  It’s probably more for older kids and there’s one letter that I think they could have improved, but all told it’s a remarkable effort.  It’s also a neat way of talking about our planet.  AND it could well be a great book to take onto an airplane with a kid, since the shots will look somewhat familiar from 10,000 feet in the air.

     

    ABCs on Wheels by Ramon Olivera

    abcsonwheels

    It’s pretty standard stuff.  Vehicles plus the alphabet.  Yep.  But Olivera’s art is what makes this book a bit better than a lot of similar titles out there.  It has this cool retro vibe that obliquely references  James Flora for spice.

     

    An Artist’s Alphabet by Norman Messenger

    artistsalphabet

    Undoubtedly there must have been alphabet books before now that integrated both upper and the lowercase letters into their art, but I think it’s fair to say that almost none of these are as visually stunning as Messenger’s book.  I was just sitting here trying to figure out how I’d describe it.  It’s not hyper-realism, though there’s a bit of realism to some of the shots.  And it’s not surreal in a David Wiesner sense.  I hate to use the d-word, but it seems I have no choice.  It’s dreamlike.  Nuff said.

     

    A Beauty Collected by Rachel Garahan

    beautycollected

    If you read this blog regularly then you’ll know that I have a weakness for beautiful photography.  And they don’t come much more beautiful than Garahan’s title.  I hesitate to call this a picture book.  Coming in at 192 pages it is the first true coffee table alphabet book I’ve ever seen of its kind.  So why include it on this list?  Because in addition to being just the loveliest thing, older kids really do enjoy it.  It has the kind of purified beauty that appeals to a wide range of ages.  I’m a fan.

     

    Never Insult a Killer Zucchini! by Elana Azone & Brandon Amancio, ill. David Clark

    neverinsult

    Only two alphabet books on this list truly count as having any kind of a plot.  This is another book that will appeal to older kids.  The alphabet trope is more of a way of setting up the story (such as it is) than anything else.  That said, it’s funny.  And funny alphabet books are fairly rare indeed.

    Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper by Mike Twohy

    oopspounceI know a librarian who is so gaga over this book she’ll bring you around to it pretty quickly.  There’s just one word a page, and it follows the story of a canine and its dogged (har har) pursuit of a mouse.  If you’re looking for a really simple alphabet book with a clear plot and even clearer pictures, this is your best bet.  I’ve a lot of really sophisticated alphabet books on this list today so it’s nice to have something on the younger end of the scale as well.

    Olinguito, from A to Z! / Olinguito, de la A a la Z! by Lulu Delacre

    OLINGUITO

    Can I convey adequately how deeply satisfying it’s been this year to see this book showing up time and again on so many Best of the Year lists?  DEEPLY satisfying, sez I.  This book does so many different things all at the same time but never overextends itself.  If I had my way it would be a staple in every library.


    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    12. In Memory: Yumi Heo

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Obituary: Yumi Heo by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "[Henry] Holt’s Laura Godwin shared this remembrance:

    'Yumi was extremely gracious, enthusiastic, and inquisitive,' she said. 'I loved the way she incorporated ‘mistakes’ into her art rather than erasing or deleting them.
    "If she drew a squiggle where she hadn’t intended, it would show up in the final art as a tree or a rabbit or whatever struck her fancy. She was part artist, part magician—and always an inspiration.'"
    Yumi Heo Memorial Fund from Go Fund Me. Peek:

    "Please show your support in honor of internationally loved children’s book author and Illustrator and creator of Polka Dot Penguin Pottery, Yumi Heo.
    "Your support will help continue two of Yumi’s dreams, the steady training of her daughter as a professional figure skater and the founding of a scholarship program to help students in Korea who have big dreams and little resources."

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    13. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day One – 2016 Great Board Books

    31daysWe kick off our 31 Days, 31 Lists at the lowest age level imaginable.  Finding quality board books for babies and toddlers is a challenge.  It’s not enough to simply have thick pages.  You need to be able to engage the interest and attention of someone who is still developing their visual and auditory processing skills.

    That said, there is a belief amongst some people that board books are for babies alone.  Not so.  As the mother of a very active 2-year-old I can attest that one is prone to sighs of relief when he is in a room alone with a board book as opposed to a picture book with oh-so-tearable pages.

    On this list today I am including a range of board book ages, as well as books that fall under the board book banner because they are big and thick and have pop-up elements or tabs, but are not a standard board book size.

    Think I missed something brilliant that came out this year? If it’s an adaptation from a longer picture book you’ll find that list here tomorrow.  Otherwise, leave me a comment.  I loved these, but I am not a committee.


     

    2016 Board Books: For Babies

    Blue and Other Colors with Henri Matisse

    blueothercolors

    When I was a kid I had this pack of playing cards with famous pieces of art on each one.  That was pretty cool.  These days even the babies are getting colorful books from the masters.  Some of these books don’t make a lick of sense, but this one does.  Matisse’s bold blocks of color are just right for developing brains.  A book that goes beyond its concept.

    Hat On, Hat Off by Theo Heras, ill. Renne Benoit

    hatonhatoff

    Babies like babies.  And after encountering this adorable one, you’ll like them too.

    Lions Roar (and others in the series) by Rebecca Glaser

    lions-roar

    I have no idea if this Amicus series has a name.  All I know is that the books (which in 2016 included Monkeys Swing, Elephants Spray, Giraffes Stretch, and more) are a HUGE hit in my home.  Animal sounds + full color photographs of those animals is a winning combination.

    Noisy Baby Animals by Patricia Hegarty

    noisybabyanimals

    What is the sound of a thousand librarians cursing my name en masse?  Ah yes.  There it is.  I know it well.  This book probably won’t be beloved to those with an MLIS degree when it’s IN the library (bit on the noisy side, it is) but I am all for books that cheat.  Hey, man.  If it takes crazy sounds to get a baby to love books, I say go for it.  And you have to admit that Tiger Tales does it well.

    Peek-a-boo by Ruth Musgrave

    peek-a-boo-2-618ifegy0cl

    When in doubt, go with the photographs.

    Stanley’s Colors by William Bee

    stanleyscolors

    There were a couple Stanley board books released this year, but of those titles this was my favorite.  Possibly because it also involved vehicles.  A twofer!

    The Wheels on the Bus by Yu-Hsuan Huang

    wheelsonthebus

    Not many board books out this year allowed you to sing.  This is one of the few, and while it is far too short for a truly satisfying read, it’s interactive, bouncy, and colorful.  Sort of like a Bizzy Bear book with a song.

    One, Two, Three Mother Goose by Iona Opie, ill. Rosemary Wells

    onetwothree

    If it is important to you to introduce your children to nursery rhymes as soon as humanly possible, Wells is the way to go.  Some folks may opt to wait on this until their children are toddlers, but either way this is an essential part of any kid’s library.


     

    2016 Board Books: For Toddlers

    Baby Loves: Aerospace Engineering!/Quarks! by Ruth Spiro, ill. Irene Chan

    babylovesaerospace

    babylovesquarksOkay now.  Before you start with the eye rolling, hear me out.  Have you ever actually read these books?  I know they look like a science-y version of Cozy Classics or other adult concepts siphoned down to board book formats.  Go into them, though, and they’re clever.  Just big concepts made palatable.  The titles may have a shock effect, but the contents are worth considering.  Plus we don’t have much in the way of science-related board books AT ALL these days.

    Box by Min Flyte, ill. Rosalind Beardshaw

    box

    I gave a copy of this to my child’s daycare and they were quick to tell me that it was the hit of the room.  It’s the size of a regular picture book but the contents and tabs make it quite certainly toddler fare.

    Clive and His Babies by Jessica Spanyol

    clivebabies

    Awwww, yeah!  Clive is my new favorite stereotype-busting preschooler.  You play with those babies, Clive!  Go, man, go!

    Crocopotamus by Mary Murphy

    crocopotamus

    Did they ever come up with a name for these books?  Which is to say, the kind where you can flip the front and the back to come up with different combinations?  Whatever the case, this one took a little getting used to, but once the kids grasped the concept they really ran with it!

    Give and Take by Lucie Felix

    givetake

    The most ambitious board book on this list.  I have little doubt that its pieces will disappear almost instantly upon a first read, but if you want to present someone with a board book that wows and impresses them, this is the one you pick.

    I Dare You! by Nicole Maubert

    idareyouThis turned out to be an EXCELLENT preschooler readaloud around Halloween.  I think it truly won me over when I had to put my hand in a crazy creature’s mouth.  Still get shudders just thinking about it.

    Little Chickies / Los Pollitos by Susie Jaramillo

     littlechickiesA bilingual, interactive, accordion board book?!?  That’s like striking gold!  This Spanish/English combo pack is extraordinarily rare, and then to find that it’s hugely engaging to kids one-on-one or in groups just tips it over the top.

    Look, Look Again by Agnese Baruzzi

    looklookagain

    Plays with perceptions, assumptions, and predictions.  Awfully pertinent stuff in 2016, wouldn’t you say?  You can never teach it too early.

    Love Is a Truck by Amy Novesky, ill. Sara Gillingham

    lovetruck

    Love IS a truck!  At least it is to my son, and this book is right on the money.  There’s a companion title called Love Is a Tutu, but I’m Team Truck.  It’s great to see Sara Gillingham bringing out a new book or two too.

    Maisy’s Moon Landing by Lucy Cousins

    maisymoon

    One of those picture/board book combos.  Did I say science was lacking in the board book category?  Maisy has always been on hand to battle that problem.  This is one of the simplest moon landing stories I’ve ever seen, but I kind of adore it.  Nothing wrong with a little Maisy when the book’s as well-constructed as this.

    Music Is by Brandon Stosuy, ill. Amy Martin

    musicis

    One of the trendier board books out there (check out those headphones if you don’t believe me) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great.

    My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, ill. Julie Flett

    myheartflls

    I don’t normally go in for the feel good board books out there, but this one’s special.  Smith and Flett have gotten it right.

    Once Upon a World: Cinderella by Chloe Perkins, ill. Sandra Equihua

    cinderella

    There are a couple titles in this series so far.  Of them, this is probably the most successful.  I would have loved a bilingual or Spanish version as well.  Perhaps something for the publisher to think about in the future, eh?

    Peekaboo Pals: Opposites by Gareth Lucas

    peekabooopposites

    Again, there were a couple books released in the “Peekaboo Pals” series this year.  Of them, this was the strongest.  It came up with a couple opposite examples that I haven’t seen done to death before.  No mean feat.

    Shapes by John J. Reiss

    shapes

    I believe that this is a reprint, but I think it belongs here.  Check out those vibrant hues!  Now good luck getting to sleep tonight.

    Tinyville Town: I’m a Firefighter / I’m a Veterinarian by Brian Biggs

    Print

    tinyvillevet

    These are fabulous!  They go through each occupation’s day from sunrise to sunset.  Though, if I’m going to be honest here, I’m pretty much just biding my time until the next in the series comes out: Librarian.

    To the Rescue by Kate Riggs, ill. Nate Williams

    totherescue

    Really visually striking.  Not just for those kids already into firetrucks ,that’s for sure.

    We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, ill. Julie Flett

    wesanghome

    Flett’s having a good year!  And like My Heart Fills With Happiness, this book features a cast of First Nations children.


     

    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month?  Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    14. Elsewhere Around the Kidlitosphere...

    I haven't been producing a lot of new content (or stringing together coherent sentences) over the past week, so instead of a regular blog post I thought I'd do a quick roundup of other online stuff I've been doing:I donated to the Sierra Club... Read the rest of this post

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    15. Something’s Coming . . . I Don’t Know What It Is But It Is Gonna Be Great!

    The title of this post isn’t entirely accurate.  I know perfectly well what’s coming.  Tomorrow starts off a magnificent run of Best Books lists.  Yes, starting December 1st I will begin running the 31 Days, 31 Lists streak.  I even have a catchy visual to go with it!  Check it out:

    31days31lists

    You’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the coming month.

    The premise behind all this is simple.  For each day in December I will run a “Best Of” list of some sort.  The reason for this is that I’ve read so many books this year that it seems a shame that I only review roughly one a month.  This will be a way of celebrating everything I’ve failed to properly praise.  Also, some lists are more useful to folks than others, so why not provide a variety?  Here’s the schedule:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

    Now the caveat.  I say I’ve read a lot of books for kids this year.  This is not an untrue statement.  However, I am no longer on NYPL’s 100 Books committee and I no longer have travel time to devote to books.  That means that my knowledge of longer nonfiction and novels is very limited.  I will strive to make it clear that those lists are limited only to what I have seen.  And, of course, being only one person I can only vouch for what comes my way.  There are definitely going to be gaps, but I refuse to include any book I haven’t read personally.

    So get ready for an interesting test.  How will it go?  Will I be able to keep the pace?  Will be choices be slapdash crazy?

    Stay tuned . . .

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    16. Thursday Review: CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge

    This scary cover almost made me not want to read it.Synopsis: I’m a huge fan of Frances Hardinge’s Fly By Night books, so I was eager to check out this one—another middle grade fantasy. It’s hard to talk about this one without giving away... Read the rest of this post

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    17. Walking and Talking with . . . Grace Lin!

    Steve Sheinkin is back with his beloved series!  If you’re unfamiliar with it, Steve has a conversation with an author of books for kids or teens and then plucks from it the best parts.  So in spite of the fact that he has a brand new book out in early 2017 (Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team) he still took time to give us this great discussion with Grace Lin.  For the full list of interviews, see the links at the bottom of this post.

    Enjoy!

    gracelingracelin2

    Catch up with the whole series!

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    18. #andnowwewrite

    Over on the readergirlz facebook page, we are sharing the thoughts of YA writers post U.S. election, 2016. Feel free to add your views as well. #wethepeople #inked #andnowwewrite #love.

    Onward, rgz. Read, reflect, and reach out! ~Lorie Ann Grover


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    19. Monday Poetry Stretch - Diminishing Rhyme

    The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, contains a number of prompts and writing exercises, including this one entitled Emotion/Motion/Ocean/Shun. Here's what Susan Mitchell writes:
    If you read the title of this exercise aloud, you will hear a quadruple rhyme. But if you examine the words themselves, you will notice that there is something special about this rhyme scheme. The sound shun is contained in ocean, the sounds of both shun and ocean in motion, and shunocean and motion can all be folded into emotion. Such a rhyme scheme, which incidentally was favored by the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert, is called diminishing rhyme because the rhyme words get smaller as you move from emotion to shun. But I prefer the term nesting rhymes because the words nest one inside the other like Russian wooden dolls.
    Here is an example of this form from the George Herbert poem "Paradise".
    I bless Thee, Lord, because I grow
    Among the trees, which in a row
    To Thee both fruit and order ow 
    Read the poem in its entirety
    So, that's it. Your challenge is to write a poem that uses diminishing rhyme. Won't you join us? Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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    20. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Four – 2016 Great Picture Book Readalouds

    31daysTo be fair, every single picture book, with the exception of the wordless ones, is a readaloud.  You’re not supposed to just silent there silent and stony when a child’s on your lap.  Picture books are meant to engage through the voice of the reader.  That said, not all of them do well when it comes to reading them to groups.  When I first because a children’s librarian I learned the hard way that some classic titles (Horton Hatches the Egg, Blueberries for Sal, etc.) die ignoble deaths at your hands when read to groups of preschoolers.  I began to rely on a core group of picture books with every storytime.  The danger with that, though, is that you never try anything new.

    With all this in mind, these are some of the picture books of 2016 that I felt do particularly well when read to groups.  Obviously there are other great ones out there.  These are just the ones that come immediately to mind.


     2016 Picture Book Readalouds: For Preschoolers

    Box by Min Flyte, ill. Rosalind Beardshaw

    box

    About this time you’ll start noticing some duplication between my lists.  The fact of the matter is that if a book is truly good, it isn’t just one thing.  Box appeared already on the Board Book list, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do well as a readaloud too.  So prepare for some familiar covers!

    I Dare You! by Nicole Maubert

    idareyouTry running around the room with this one, getting the kids to touch the witch’s warts, pet the monsters’ fur, and stick their hands in the slathering jaws of hungry beasts.  As long as it keeps in one piece, it will be beloved.

    Monsters Go Night-Night by Aaron Zenz

    MonstersGoNight

    I adore this.  I mean talk about a book that upsets expectations.  I’m putting it on the younger list here because I can, but much like Mac Barnett and Adam Rex’s Guess Again (a highly underrated readaloud) this book upsets the expectations of its potentially jaded readership.

    Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

     grumpy-pants

    I had to be told by a children’s librarian in my branch that this book is a wonderful readaloud for groups.  I knew it was lovely to look at but until she spoke up I never would have thought to consider it for large groups.


    2016 Picture Book Readalouds: That You Can Sing

    5 Little Ducks by Denise Fleming

    5littleducks

    It still works if you don’t know the tune, but I think singing it is best.  Plus look at that duck that’s front and center on the cover.  How can you say no to that little guy?

    Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs by Eric Litwin, ill. Tom Lichtenheld

    groovyjoe

    While the title does sound like free word associations for kids (“Name me two things your little brother would want at his birthday party”) this is the Pete the Cat author at work.  The book’s pretty catchy.  For the music, download the free song.

    Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, ill. Eda Kaban

    OldMacDonaldTruck

    For years Jessica Souhami’s version of Old MacDonald was my favorite, and it may still be at the top of the ranking (WHEN is someone going to republish it?!???), but this book is gunning to be a close second.  You’ve got Mrs. MacDonald welding, plenty of construction equipment, and just gorgeous art.  Keep an eye on that Eda Kaban.  That name may become better known in the future.


     

    2016 Picture Book Readalouds: That Rhyme

    A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, ill. Corey R. Tabor

    darkdarkcave

    Aww. This was one of my favorites early in the year.  It sort of reminds me of the Berenstain Bears classic Spooky Old Tree in a way.  Fear, it seems, is a great motivator when coming up with picture book themes.

    Dinosaur Rap by John Foster, ill. Debbie Harter, sung by Mikey Henry Jr.

    dinosaurrap

    I usually avoid any book that includes the word “rap” anywhere near its title with a ten-foot-pole.  But the bright art and fun rhymes convinced me otherwise.  Technically I think it’s a song but I preferred reading it by itself.  The rhymes hold up.

    The Forgetful Knight by Michelle Robinson, ill. Fred Blunt

    forgetfulknight

    So much fun with a nice little twist at the end.  And who doesn’t love a twist ending?

    Hensel and Gretel Ninja Chicks by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez, ill. Dan Santat

    hensegretelninjachicks

    Funny goes a long way with me, as you can probably tell.

    A Toucan Can, Can You? by Danny Adlerman, ill. Various

    ToucanCan

    I think this is the first book on any of my lists to be reviewed on the site as well.  Funny it took so long.  Adlerman and company have created a truly funny book that also works as a writing assignment.  Just smart stuff.

    Swallow the Leader: A Counting Book by Danna Smith, ill. Kevin Sherry

    swallowleader

    More Kevin Sherry, please!

    *holds out hand and makes a grabby motion*


     

    2016 Picture Book Readalouds: For School Aged Kids

    Chimpanzees for Tea! by Jo Empson

    chimpanzeestea

    Remembering items from the story take a distinct turn for the silly in this book.  I’m a sucker for readalouds where the kids get to yell at the characters for doing something wrong.  In this case, the misremembered list builds to a nice chaotic frenzy over time.  My favorite trope.

    The Happiest Book Ever! by Bob Shea

    happiestbook

    If ever a humor award for picture book is created, Shea’s gonna sweep it every single year.

    Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall! By Anne Sibley O’Brien

    hocuspocusfall

    I know it’s seasonal, and usually I’d limit seasonal books to a different list, but I just loved this one.  It has this little element where you open up a page to reveal something that works from a distance.  Always important when reading to groups.

    I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt, ill. Scott Magoon

    iwillnoteatyou

    You’ll pretty much have the kids hooked when you read and show them the title.

    Is That Wise Pig? by Jan Thomas, Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

    isthatwisepig

    Jan Thomas could pretty much just repeat the same image over and over in a picture book and I’d find her work splendid.  This is so funny and her art just pops.  A kid in the next county could see it if you held it up.  She’s also one of my storytime staples.

    Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

    LeaveMeAlone

    It’s perfect.  No.  Really.  It is.

    Max Speed by Stephen Shaskan

    max-speed

    This was a huge hit at my kid’s daycare.  I gave them a copy and they went gaga over it.  And don’t worry.  It has a happy ending.

    One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, ill. by Brendan Wenzel

    OneDay

    To a certain extent this has been overshadowed by Wenzel’s other picture book this year They All Saw a Cat.  That book has big readaloud potential in its own way, but if I were to have to pick between that and this one to read to a group, this would win every dang time.  Hands down.

    Panda Pants by Jacqueline Davies, ill. Sydney Hanson

    panda-pants

    I was trying to explain to my daughter today why pants are funny.  What I should have done was just read her this book!

    President Squid by Aaron Reynolds, ill. Sara Varon

    presient-squid

    Read it.  It’s cathartic.  And don’t just do it once every four years either.

    Quit Calling Me a Monster! by Jory John, ill. Bob Shea

    quit-calling-monster

    I MUCH prefer this over John & Shea’s previous outing I Will Chomp You.  That book was fine.  This one is sublime.  I adore the hairy monster and his overly professional name.

    That’s Not a Hippopotamus! by Juliette Maclver, ill. Sarah Davis

    nothippo

    It’s frentic energy reminded me, just a little, of Hallie George’s Catch That Cookie!  Had a GREAT ending too!


    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month?  Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    21. The Slush Pile Myth

    Kids who love books sometimes find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to determining their future career.  For some, the choice boils down to librarian or a publisher.  Librarianship lacks the sophistication and potential glory of publishing, but feeds very well into a certain type of person’s need to work on a grounded level with members of the immediate public. We don’t make the big bucks but we have our own levels of influence, often directly, with our patrons.  Publishers, in contrast, often don’t make a lot of money for a very long time, yet they have the potential to shape the hopes and fears and dreams of children through the products they produce.  They get to return home on Thanksgiving and answer questions about what they do by saying, “Oh.  I’m in publishing.”  It just sounds cool.

    But there is one aspect of publishing that I no longer envy.  I did once, when I was young.  Foolishly, I would dream of someday digging through one on my own.  It would be like panning for gold, right?  One conveniently forgets how rarely those who pan actually find said gold, of course.

    I am referring of course to the infamous “slush pile”.  For publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts, the slush pile is where those manuscripts sit for a while.  It looks a little something like this:

    slushpile

    My librarian instincts make me think about how satisfying it would be to cut that pile down, but realistically I know that there’s a reason that the job is often given to new hires and interns.

    Still and all, there is a myth that circulates about the children’s book that is plucked from the pile and subsequently reaches hitherto untold levels of success.  I know of only three instances where this happened, and I wanted to just give them a quick glance today.  On a percentage basis, when you compare the number of manuscripts that become hits vs. those that don’t get published at all, the likelihood of a book finding a home in the hearts and minds of children everywhere is akin to that of winning the lottery.  And yet . . . and yet . . .

    Here are the three successful slush pile stories:

    Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site! by Sherri Duskey Rinker

    GoodnightGoodnight

    This book has been on my mind a lot lately.  Not just because my son absolutely adores it, but also because the sequel, Mighty Mighty Construction Site, will be coming out in 2017 (and it’s a proper sequel with lots and lots of female construction equipment characters in it too, I’ll add).  I was at dinner with a friend the other day when she mentioned off-handedly that the original book had been a slush pile find.  What?  Really?  That sounded like a lovely rumor more than anything else.  So I did a tiny bit of internet digging and lo and behold found this Author Spotlight interview with Ms. Rinker.  In it she says the following:

    “I guess the great thing about my submission to the infamous ‘slush pile’ at that time was that I honestly didn’t know any better. I made a long (VERY long) list of publishers who accepted slush and just started working down the line.”

    Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site would go on to become a hugely successful New York Times bestselling picture book.  All the more impressive when you learn that she submitted the manuscript to only one publisher.

    Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

    goodmasters

    One forgets that occasionally Newbery Award winners are slush pile finds.  Yet if I’m going to be completely honest, this is the only case I know of personally.  Before you go about assuming that the book was plucked from obscurity and then immediately won its author the honor that was her due (and rightly!), please remember that, as BookPage reported, it, “was plucked out of a slush pile by an assistant at Candlewick Press in 2000 and finally published seven years after the author submitted it.”  Clever assistant, that.  Between its discovery and its publication Ms. Schlitz would publish other books with Candlewick, like The Hero Schliemann (still one of the more delightful and underrated biographies out there for kids).

    And finally, one of the most famous slush stories:

    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

    HarryPotter6

    In this case we actually know the name of the woman who found Rowling’s manuscript in the pile at the Christopher Little Literary Agency.  Bryony Evens (a name that sounds like it would fit in at Hogwarts rather well) conducted an interview once where she said the manuscript originally caught her eye because it had an unusual “clamp binding”.

    This actually doesn’t really fit our trends here, since Rowling was applying for an agent and not sending directly to a publisher, but that’s neither here nor there.

    The thing about these stories is that often when they’re reported not much is made of the editors’ contributions prior to publication.  The bones of a great book might have been there, but it was how the book was shaped by multiple hands prior to publication that’s of particular note.  I think it’s safe to say that none of these books would be the classics we know today without that invaluable editorial input.

    Any other slush pile stories come to mind?  I’m sure there are some famous books out there I’m just not thinking of.  Lay them on me!

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    22. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Seven – 2016 Great Funny Picture Books

    31daysEvery single list that appears on this blog is subjective.  I mean, here I am declaring stuff to be great based entirely on a single solitary opinion: my own.  That’s okay when you’re talking alphabet books or readalouds, but humor is a far trickier matter.  There are a LOT of humorous picture books that come out in a single year and this list is just a miniscule smattering of the whole. That said, these are the books that really retained a strong grip on my brain after reading them.  There were other funny books out in 2016.  I’m just particularly partial to the following.  I’m pleased with the number of funny women representing here too.  After all, if there’s one thing I know something about, it’s funny girls.


     

    2016 Funny Picture Books

    Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis

    BestFrints

    Kind of like Du Iz Tak? but with a slight increase in English, this alien friendship story earns its humor stripes when it explains those little socially awkward moments like when you accidentally/on purpose bite off your best frint’s tail.

    Dylan the Villain by K.G. Campbell

    DylanVillain

    First off, I love that in this world, villainy is genetic but is capable of skipping generations.  Second, I love that our anti-hero’s antagonist is a girl with a killer purple eyepatch.  Having super villains as heroes isn’t a new idea in the movies, but in picture books it doesn’t happen all that often.  I, for one, am hoping for more Dylan in the future.

    The Happiest Book Ever! by Bob Shea

    happiestbook

    Every book should have a frog in it.  There’s a lot of happy happy joy joy to this book mixed with a tincture of Monty Python.  Could you ask for anything more?

    A Hungry Lion by Lucy Ruth Cummins

    a-hungry-lion-or-a-dwindling-assortment-of-animals-9781481448895_hr

    The subtitle, which is distinctly Edward Gorey-esque, gives you an indication of what kind of funny book this is.  You know what it reminds me of?  The movie Alien.  And, naturally, the turtle is Ripley.  Oh, like you hadn’t considered it before.

    I Don’t Want To Be Big by Dev Petty, ill. Mike Boldt

    idontwantbig

    I didn’t bother to do this with any of the other books on this list, but for this one, I wanted to show you my favorite gag.  The idea is that the frog is arguing that growing up is a bum rap.  His dad tries to come up with reasons why it should still be done.  So we get this:

    screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-13-44-pm

    screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-14-01-pm

    screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-14-17-pm

    The defense rests, your honor.

    Is That Wise Pig? by Jan Thomas

    isthatwisepig

    I mean, there’s a boot on that pig’s head.  A boot!  Just sayin’.

    King Baby by Kate Beaton

    kingbaby

    We’re getting there.  Beaton’s starting out slow with her picture books.  This one’s funnier than her last, and at the rate she’s going she should be able to make a perfectly Beaton-esque one soon.  Though, to be frank, this next book on my list felt like Kate Beaton but not by Kate Beaton:

    Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

    LeaveMeAlone

    Did you notice that it appeared on the NPR Book Concierge for 2016?  Did you notice who blurbed it?  Ah, thank you.  Ah, thank you.

    Monsters Go Night-Night by Aaron Zenz

    MonstersGoNight

    Proving yet again that I have the sense of humor of a 5-year-old.  But let’s be frank.  That potty joke?  The best misdirection I’ve seen on a page in a long time.

    Next to You: A Book of Adorableness by Lori Haskins Houran, ill. Sydney Hanson

    NextToYou

    I’m going to stand by this one as a humor book.  It throws you off with its big-eyed animals and then you get the snarky text.  Seriously funny.

    Oh No, Astro! by Matt Roeser, ill. Brad Woodard

    ohnoastro

    Proof positive that you can be a funny book and a visually stunning one all at the same time.

    Penguin Problems by Jory John, ill. Lane Smith

    penguinproblems

    Misanthropic penguins make for comedy gold.  Every good author worth his or her salt knows that.

    Poor Little Guy by Elanna Allen

    poorlittleguy

    Of all the books on my list today, I worry that this one is the most underrated.  Did you ever get a chance to read it?  I feel like it got buried under a lot of other publications, but for sheer visual storytelling and gags it’s an out-and-out winner.  I. Just. Love. It.  Love it, love it, love it.

    President Squid by Aaron Reynolds, ill. Sara Varon

    presient-squid

    Okay.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to watch this video at the 18:30 mark.  That’s when Aaron reads from his book and it’s the funniest reading ever you did see.

    Pug Man’s 3 Wishes by Sebastian Meschenmoser

    pugmans3wishes

    He’s the funniest German picture book author/illustrator of all time.  Granted, the competition may not be particularly intense . . .

    Quit Calling Me a Monster! by Jory John, ill. Bob Shea

    quitcallingmonster

    Both Jory and Bob are on this list twice.  And I’d take off one of their books apiece, honest I would, if it weren’t for the fact that the monster in this book is named Floyd Patterson.  I mean, I’m only human, after all.

    Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

    superhappymagic

    2016 was a good year for picture books making fun of fantasy tropes.  I honestly think this book would appeal to any kid, though, regardless of their interest in swords and sorcery.  Plus there’s a Gollum reference on one of the pages, so kudos there.

    This is My Book by Mark Pett (and no one else)

    thisismybook

    I almost swallowed my gum when I saw that the author of this book was Mark Pett.  Pett?  A subdued author/illustrator by and large, this book is a huge departure for him.  A huge, hilarious departure.  We could all use a mischievous panda in our lives.

    A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 by Matthew Olshan, ill. Sophie Blackall

    voyageclouds

    Somehow the fact that it’s all based on a true story (the iron vest, the peeing off the boat, the landing in their underwear, etc.) makes it all the funnier.  Plus the fact that Ms. Sophie Blackall is in Funny Girl in 2017 is just the icing on the cake.

    Who What Where? by Olivier Tallec

    whowhatwhere

    It’s a sequel but I don’t rightly care.  It’s a hilarious sequel and may even improve upon the original.


    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    23. BLP, Blood, and the ACLU



    My publisher, Black Lawrence Press, has announced that for every book they sell through their website from now through the end of the year, they will donate $1 to the American Civil Liberties Union.

    I will match this for my own book, Blood: Stories, meaning that every copy sold through the BLP website will also send $2 to the ACLU.

    I'm an ACLU member, and pleased with this choice of an organization to support because so many of BLP's authors are among the groups targeted by harassment, civil rights violations, and hate crimes — all of which are on the rise and likely to continue rising.

    0 Comments on BLP, Blood, and the ACLU as of 1/1/1900
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    24. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Five – 2016 Great Rhyming Picture Books

    31daysIf potential authors of picture books are given one piece of advice when they’re first starting out, it tends to be, “For the love of all that’s good and holy DO NOT let your picture books rhyme!!!”  And for good reason.  Few things in life are quite as painful as poorly rhymed picture books.  Too many folks think it’s a breeze but there’s a reason Dr. Seuss has never been adequately replicated.

    Now there was an article back in June on the British blog Picture Book Den that took time to compare British picture books in a Waterstones to American picture books in a Barnes and Nobles.  Here’s what the writer had to say on the subject of rhyme:

    Rhyming picture books used to be much more popular with publishers in the US than UK. I suspect that was because the US internal market is huge and they didn’t worry about overseas co-editions and translations as much as UK publishers. So in the US there has always been a high number of rhyming picture books and Dr Seuss continues to remain far more prominent than in the UK. Meanwhile in the UK, rhyme is still growing on the back of the phenomenal success of Julia Donaldson.

    Fascinating.  You’ll certainly find no Donaldson on this list (I’d say Brits find America’s dismissal of Donaldson as baffling as we find their neutrality on Dr. Seuss) but you will find folks with a good ear and a clever pen.  There may be a bit of repetition here with the previous Readaloud list since many are the readaloud that rhymes as well.  Fortunately, there are some real gems as well.


     

    2016 Rhyming Books

    Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, ill. David Roberts

    adatwist

    Not that the book with its current standing at #1 on the New York Times Bestselling Picture Books listing needs any help.  Still and all, do you think Ms. Beaty would be where she is today if she didn’t know how to make a proper rhyme?  Her cadences click.  Her rhymes are sublime.  The woman knows what she’s doing and the evidence is right before your eyes.

    Billions of Bricks: A Counting Book About Building by Kurt Cyrus

    billionsbricks

    I’ve a two-year-old that loves construction.  With that in mind I took home this book, thinking it might appeal.  It does.  The rhymes are subtle but there, and the art is incredible.  Keep an eye on the guy with the ladder as you go through it.  He’s like this little walking Easter Egg, like Anno or Waldo.

    A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, ill. Corey R. Tabor

    darkdarkcave

    There was a time when I thought maybe this book could have Caldecott potential.  I’m not sure it does (2016 is a shockingly strong year for contenders) but I still like it a lot.

    88 Instruments by Chris Barton, ill. Louis Thomas

    88instruments

    The two-year-old is also into instruments.  I suspect you’re beginning to figure out how I know to remember that one book was rhyming this year vs. another.  I pretty much just use my kids to sort through my memories.  So far so good on that front.

    The Forgetful Knight by Michelle Robinson, ill. Fred Blunt

    forgetfulknight

    It never hurts when a picture book rhymes AND is funny.

    Hensel and Gretel Ninja Chicks by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez, ill. Dan Santat

    hensegretelninjachicks

    Please see previous statement on how it never hurts when a picture book rhymes AND is funny.

    One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, ill. by Brendan Wenzel

    OneDay

    Still one of my favorites.

    Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum, ill. Keika Yamaguchi

    teenytinytoady

    A little tiny toad rescues its oversized family members through smarts and cunning.  A feminist metaphor picture book if ever I heard of one.

    A Toucan Can, Can You? by Danny Adlerman, ill. Various

    ToucanCan

    I tried not to include any songs on this list (it’s just not fair to include them) but I figured rhyming chants belonged.  A toast then to rhyming chants!  Huzzah!

    You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, ill. Isabelle Arsenault

    youbelonghere

    Of all the books on this list, this is undoubtedly the most beautiful.  Arsenault drives me crazy.  She’s Canadian so she’ll never win a Stateside literary award from ALA unless she takes the plunge and lives here for a while.  Fortunately we can enjoy the fruits of her labors.  This one’s a dreamboat of a book.  Check it out if you don’t believe me.

    You’re My Boo by Kate Dopirak, ill. Lesley Breen Withrow

    youremyboo

    I don’t go in for cutesy picture books, you know.  They do nothing for me.  That’s why this book was a bit of a surprise.  It’s cute, sure enough, but it’s rather clever as well.  Plus I read it to some kids and they really enjoyed it.  That may have tipped the vote in the book’s favor as well.

     


    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month?  Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    25. Guest Post: David Jacobson on Trusting the Illustrator & the Publishing Process

    By David Jacobson
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    For the last eight years, I have worked for a small Seattle book publisher called Chin Music Press.

    I've done everything from fact checking and copy editing to developmental- and line-editing, from setting up book tours to reading through the slush pile (a task I actually enjoyed).

    But during all that time, my name never appeared on the cover of a book.

    That changed this September with the release of my first title, Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. A picture book, it's both biography and anthology of a much-loved Japanese children's poet, whose work has yet to be introduced to English-language readers.

    Becoming an author, I learned, is a humbling experience. I had to endure the red-penciling of my not-so-flawless prose (something I used to dish out myself), and the frustration of waiting for each cog in the publishing machine to take its spin—editing, illustrating, book designing, leveling, printing, marketing, reviewing, even mailing—as deadlines came and went.

    The experience opened my eyes to the anxiety authors feel as they lose more and more control over their creation, something that had not really dawned on me despite my years working in publishing.


    As a staff member at a publisher, I had dealt with authors who continued to rework small details of their text until the bitter end, who agonized over each cover illustration, or who fretted over how their book page appeared on Amazon. Indeed, the degree to which authors continued "meddling" in their books sometimes affected how well we worked with them.

    But being on the author side of the equation taught me just how important it is to give up control, regardless of the anxiety it might cause. That was particularly true of my interactions with Are You an Echo? illustrator Toshikado Hajiri.

    David
    When it came time to decide which cover to use, I requested multiple cover sketches, asking for one thing after another to be changed. But I couldn't get satisfied.

     Finally, since I was unsure of how to proceed, I asked our book designer Dan Shafer for advice. He recommended limiting how much I was trying to steer the illustrator. Illustrators, he said, do their best work when they have freedom to react to the text in their own way.

    Ultimately, I left Toshi to his own devices and he ended up producing a glorious painting of Misuzu and her daughter at sunset.

    We went with that.

    During my time at Chin Music, there have been many occasions when interactions between writer and editor, or writer and designer have produced unexpected results.

    Current author A. V. Crofts tells of her own positive experience of letting go how she thought the cover of her book should look. In another of our titles, Todd Shimoda's Oh! a Mystery of Mono no Aware, book designer Josh Powell brilliantly conceived of the idea of printing the entire book (both text and illustrations) in shades of black-and-white except for the very end.

    Photo credit below.
    Though initially intended to reduce the cost of the book, his solution resulted in a final explosion of color that dramatically enhanced the conclusion.

    Writing is often thought to be a solo activity where one can wield total control over ones craft.

    Oddly enough, its twin, publishing—the business of connecting writers to readers—is more of a team sport, requiring the combined input of different players with different skills and sensibilities.

    So, as an author, don't try to control everything in your book. Find really good people to join your team. Then let your editor, illustrator, designer, or translator bring something of him or herself to the process.

    The result may surprise you.

    interior illustration from the book
    Cynsational Notes

    Photo of Misuzu, Courtesy of Preservation Association of Misuzu Kaneko's Work.

    Review of the Day: Are You An Echo? by David Jacobson from Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "I hope that the fame that came to Kaneko after the 2011 tsunami will take place in America, without the aid of a national disaster. And I hope that every child that reads, or is read, one of her poems feels that little sense of empathy she conveyed so effortlessly in her life."

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