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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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If you’re going to sit down and study the history of children’s literature, you cannot skip the Little Nemo section of your textbook. Maurice Sendak’s wild imaginings, for example, would not have had their distinctive flavor if a certain little boy had been able to keep his dreamlife under control. Cartoonist Winsor McCay kicked off the twentieth century in fine style when he penned the wildly imaginative comic known best as Little Nemo in Slumberland. So for those of you who count yourselves as Little Nemo fans I have fantastic news. Currently showing at The Society of Illustrators is the show Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. It’s up until March 28th. If you’ve spare time in NYC in the next 11 days, I highly recommend a visit. Here’s the description:
In an exhibit based on Locust Moon Press’ anthology LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM, many of the world’s finest cartoonists pay tribute to the master and his masterpiece by creating 118 new Little Nemo strips, following their own voices down paths lit by McCay. Contributors to the exhibit include Paul Pope, Gregory Benton, Dean Haspiel, Yuko Shimizu, Jim Rugg, Ronald Winberly, Andrea Tsurumi, Raul Gonzalez III, and more!
Naturally I had to see it myself.
Attending any kind of an event with a 3-year-old and 10-month-old is a harrowing experience but I was lucky enough to have relatives in town who were willing to (A) visit this exhibit and (B) run interference on the aforementioned preschooler. On the bottom and first floor of the Society is a show called Alt-Weekly Comics. And since I have only a single lens that I see the world through, I zeroed in on all the children’s author/illustrators who were also alt-weekly comic creators at one time or another. Mark Alan Stamaty (Shake, Rattle and Turn That Noise Down: How Elvis Shook of Music, Me, and Mom). Mark Newgarden (Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug). Jules Feiffer (Bark, George). And so on and such.
Up where the actual Nemo exhibit was taking place there was a television playing the 1989 film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. The three-year-old was immediately entranced by the wiles of Flip, as voiced by (and I am not making this up) Mickey Rooney. The screenplay was by Chris Columbus and the soundtrack by the Sherman Brothers. It’s actually not that bad. Then again, I only watched about 20 minutes of it.
As for the exhibit itself, it was just wonderful. Using the constraints set by the original strip, various cartoonists tried their hand at a range of Nemo inspired art. There was a Charles Vess that was heavily influenced by his connection to Neil Gaiman and The Graveyard Book. There was a Paul Pope, whom you might kn0w best from his Battling Boy graphic novel series. Raul Gonzalez, better known to us as Raul the Third, created some art that definitely brought to mind last year’s Lowriders in Space. There was also a Jill Thompson with art that was looking not all that different from her Magic Trixie series.
Here’s the format that all the strips had to follow, roughly:
For an interview with the Publisher and Creative Director behind the book that inspired the exhibit, head on over to Bleeding Cool.
Note: I have been searching and searching in vain for a Little Nemo comic that eludes me. It’s the one where all the characters start dancing, one by one. The image of Flip doing this funny little dance where he lifts his feet and then plants them firmly is fixed in my mind. I’ve never found it in any of the collections. If anyone knows of its existence and can confirm it for me, I’d be obligated to you.
And now, the Tom Petty video you’ve all been waiting for.
I’m a sucker for a good time travel story. By my count only a few have ever won the Newbery (is it two or three? You decide). Fewer still have won the National Book Award in the youth category. Even so, they live in a special place in my heart. So to hear that a book has the title The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens . . . well that’s a near impossible title to resist, is it not? This week on Fuse #8 TV I interview Henry Clark, but only after I tell you the terrible secret lurking in your copy of Go, Dog, Go.
By the way, this episode was very fun to record. Too fun, in fact. Under normal circumstances I can remember to thank my sponsor and to place their title card at the end of each episode. This time I was so wowed by the prospect of coffee cups and what have you that it completely skipped my mind. So a big hearty THANK YOU to Little, Brown for Mr. Clark’s presence. Here is the slide I forgot to project:
And here is SLJ’s info:
As you can see, all the Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.
A tip of the hat to all parties involved!
About a week ago the 90-Second Newbery premiered at New York Public Library (PW did a nice write-up of it here) and the afternoon was a stellar success. My Lit Salon went over so I didn’t have a chance to see much of it, but fortunately James Kennedy, who created the darn thing, did me a favor and curated some of the best little videos of the year.
First off, what may well be my favorite video. Claymation has always done the 90-Second Newbery proud. Now they’re all the prouder with a Claymation version of Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race To Build–And Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Jennings Mergenthal of Tacoma, WA.
Extra points for the Tom Lehrer at the end.
Then it’s Ramona And Her Father done as a musical by the kids at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. I felt very proud that as an adult I could identify all but two of the tunes they were singing.
How about that father doing The Snake? Kid’s got moves! Plus this had the advantage of making me want to read that book again.
But why watch just one? In today’s economy a story about a dad losing his job has special significance. This Ramona And Her Father is done as a James Bond movie by a different set of kids at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development.
What’s particularly interesting to me is that both Ramonas used very similar stock images of suburban houses between their shots. I also love that in this one they decided to pay attention to the details and put the driver on the British side of the car.
I love too clever teenagers. So this ominous foreshadowing ridden version of Bridge To Terabithia by Rochester Community Television in Rochester, NY appeals to the 15-year-old in me.
And finally . . . MORE stop animation! This time it’s the Atwater’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins courtesy of Girl Scout Troop 2539 from Urbana, IL.
I told you I had a weakness for that stuff.
For our off-topic video, this has nothing to do with 90-Second Newbery and everything to do with House of Cards. It’s the Sesame Street parody. Seemed fitting in an odd way. We’re all about the homages today.
It’s a little unfair posting this request in early March, of all times of the year. After all, I’ve only read a smattering of the 2015 books for children, and I haven’t even seen the bulk of the fall list!
But what I have read has definitely stood out. Bad parents are a children’s book staple. Sometimes the author spares the kiddo and just kills them off, but once in a while an author will go that extra mile and make a truly terrible parent. It’s sort of an alternative way of separating your child hero from the eyes of a concerned caring adult.
So who’s the worst? I’m sort of amused by the plethora. Here are some of the standouts thus far:
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
So far “Mam” is my number one bad parenting pick. She’s so bad (“How bad is she?” asks the crowd) that she verges on parody. If it weren’t enough that her daughter is born with an easy to correct (even pre-WWII) “clubfoot” and she refuses to have it treated, she’s also verbally and physically abusive. If she had her way her daughter would remain a mindless prisoner in a tiny apartment for the rest of her life. Oh. And she doesn’t love her kids. Nuff said.
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
If Mam was an example of a mother who loves her daughter the least, the mother in Cuckoo Song may love her own the most . . . and at a terrible cost. The father too, for that matter. Theirs is a caustic, horrible love that is destroying their two remaining children after the eldest is killed in WWI. Heck, it’s pretty much continuing to haunt their missing eldest as well. Even in death you sometimes cannot escape your parents.
Masterminds by Gordon Korman
This is an interesting case. I can’t exactly explain why the parents in this book are bad without giving away the plot entirely. Let us simply say that some love their kids, some dislike them, and not a single one is to be trusted. Ever. Under any circumstances.
Any others come to mind? I know I’ve read about some other horrific ones. Lay ‘em on me.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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By JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
On shelves March 17th
When you live in a city, nature’s successes can feel like impositions. We have too many pigeons. Too many squirrels. Too many sparrows, and roaches, and ants. Too many . . . flowers? Flowers we don’t seem to mind as much but we certainly don’t pay any attention to them. Not if we’re adults, anyway. Kids, on the other hand, pay an exquisite amount of attention to anything on their eye level. Particularly if it’s a spot of tangible beauty available to them for the picking. Picture books have so many functions, but one of them is tapping into the mindset of people below the ages of 9 or 10. A good picture book gets down to a child’s eye level, seeing what they’re seeing, reveling in what they’re reveling in. Perspective and subject matter, art and heart, all combine with JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith’s Sidewalk Flowers. Bright spots of joy and comfort, sometimes it takes a kid to see what anyone else might claim isn’t even there.A girl and her father leave the grocery to walk the city streets home. As he leads, he is blind to the things she sees. A tattooed stranger. A woman in a cab. And on one corner, small dandelions poking out of the sidewalk. As the two walk she finds more and more of the beauties, and gathers them into a bouquet. Once that’s done she finds ways of giving them out. Four to the dead bird on the sidewalk. One to the homeless man asleep on the bench. Five tucked into the collar of a dog. Home once more she plants flowers in her mother’s hair and behind her brothers’ ears. Then, with the last blossom, she tucks it behind her own ear. That done, she’s ready to keep walking, watching and noticing.
Now JonArno Lawson, I know. If I had my way his name would grace the tongue of every children’s librarian in America. However, he is both Canadian and a poet and the dual combination dooms his recognition in the United States. Canadians, after all, cannot win most of the American Library Association awards and poets are becoming increasingly rare beasts in the realm of children’s literature. Time was you couldn’t throw a dart without hitting one or two children’s poets (albeit the slow moving ones). Now it sometimes feels like there are only 10-15 in any given year. Treat your children and read them The Man in the Moon Fixer’s Mask if ever you get a chance. Seen in this light, the idea of a poet turned wordless picture book author is unusual. It’s amazing that a man of words, one that finds such satisfaction in how they are strung together, could step back and realize from the get-go that this story could be best served only when the words themselves were removed.
A picture book as an object is capable of bringing to the attention of the reader those small moments of common grace that make the world ever so slightly better. In an interview with Horn Book editor Roger Sutton, author JonArno Lawson cited the inspiration for this book: “Basically, I was walking with my daughter down an ugly street, Bathurst Street, in Toronto, not paying very close attention, when I noticed she was collecting little flowers along the way . . . What struck me was how unconscious the whole thing was. She wasn’t doing it for praise, she was just doing it.” I love this point. The description on the back of this book says that “Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.” I think I like Lawson’s interpretation better. What we have here is a girl who is bringing beauty with her, and disposing of it at just the right times. It becomes a kind of act of grace. Small beauties. Small person.
Now we know from Roger’s interview that Lawson created a rough dummy of the book and the way he envisioned it, but how artist Sydney Smith chose to interpret that storyline seems to have been left entirely up to him. Wordless books give an artist such remarkable leeway. I’ve seen some books take that freedom and waste it on the maudlin, and I’ve seen others make a grab for the reader’s heart only to miss it by a mile. The overall feeling I get from Sidewalk Flowers, though, is a quiet certitude. This is not a book that is pandering for your attention and love. Oh, I’m sure that some folks out there will find the sequence with the homeless man on the bench a bit too pat, but to those people I point out the dead bird. How on earth does an artist show a girl leaving flowers by a dead bird without tripping headlong into the trite or pat? I’ve no idea. All I know is that Smith manages it.
Much of this has to do with the quality of the art. Smith’s tone is simultaneously serious and chock full of a kind of everyday wonder. His city is not too clean, not too dirty, and just the right bit of busy. For all that it’s a realistic urban setting, there’s something of the city child to its buzz and bother. A kid who grows up in a busy city finds a comfort in its everyday bustle. There are strangers here, sure, but there’s also a father who may be distracted but is never any more than four or five feet away from his daughter. Her expressions remain muted. Not expressionless, mind you, but you pay far more attention to her actions than her emotions. What she is feeling she’s keeping to herself. As for the panels, Smith knows how to break up each page in a different way. Sometimes images will fill an entire page. Other times there will be panels and white borders. Look at how the shelves in a secondhand shop turn the girl and her dad into four different inadvertent panels. Or how the dead bird sequence can be read top down or side-to-side with equal emotional gut punches.
The placement of each blossom deserves some credit as well. Notice how Smith (or was it Lawson?) chooses to show when the flowers are bestowed. You almost never see the girl place the flowers. Often you only see them after the fact, as the bird or dog or mother remains the focus of the panel and the girl hurries away. The father is never bedecked, actually. He seems to be the only person in the story who isn’t blessed by the gifts, but that’s probably because he’s a stand-in more than a parent. For adults reading this book, he’s a colorless reason not to worry about the girl’s capers. His purpose is to help her travel across the course of the book. Then, at the end, she takes the last remaining daisy, tucks it behind her ear, and walks onto the back endpapers where the pattern changes from merely a lovely conglomeration of flower and bird images to a field. A field waiting to be explored.
The use of color is probably the detail the most people will notice, even on a first reading of the story. In interviews Lawson has said that folks have told him that the girl’s hoodie reminds them of Peter in The Snowy Day or Little Red Riding Hood. She’s a spot of read traveling through broken gray. Her flowers are always colorful, and then there are those odd little blasts of color along her path. The dress of a woman at a bus stop is filled with flowers of its own. The oranges of a fruit stand beckon. The closer the girl approaches her home, the brighter the colors become. That grey wash that filled the lawns in the park turn a sweet pure green. As the girl climbs the steps to her mother (whose eyes are never seen), even her dad has taken a rosy hue to his cheeks.
After you pick up your 400th new baby book OR story about an animal that wants to dance ballet OR tale of a furry woodland creature that thinks that everyone has forgotten its birthday, you begin thinking that all the stories that could possibly be told to children have been written already. Do not fall into this trap. If Sidewalk Flowers teaches us nothing else it is that a single child could inspire a dozen picture books in the course of a single hour, let alone a day. There’s a reason folks are singing this book’s praises from Kalamazoo to Calgary. It’s a book that reminds you why we came up with the notion of wordless picture books in the first place. Affecting, efficient, moving, kind. Lawson’s done the impossible. He wrote poetry into a book without a single word, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
On shelves March 17th.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher.
Like This? Then Try:
- Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan – For another picture book about grace.
- Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems – For a tale of a girl and her father out for a walk in the city.
- The Silver Button by Bob Graham – For a tale that matches this one in terms of small city moments and tone.
Blog Reviews: Nine Kinds of Pie
Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus
Interviews: Roger Sutton talks with JonArno Lawson about the book.
Misc: I can’t be the only person out there who thought of this comic after reading this book.
In the six or so years I’ve held NYPL’s Children’s Literary Salon (a monthly gathering of children’s book enthusiasts) I’ve seen it all. Epileptic fits. Audience members whose questions after a talk consisted entirely of just a series of insults aimed at my panelists. But the thing that gets under the skin the most is when I feel an attendee walked away with a mistaken impression.
For the record, this is something I have zippo control over. To give you a recent example, I spoke a week or two ago to the parents of a school in lower Manhattan about selecting the best books for their kids. In the course of the talk I brought up a recommendation site and my unease with using it since it will sometimes view gay parents in books as a kind of “trigger warning”. That evening I received a livid response from a gay parent in the audience saying she couldn’t believe that I would consider gay parents something to warn kids against. So you see, we all hear things differently. Sometimes grossly so.
Case in point this past Saturday’s Literary Salon. The topic was research and facts in the illustrations of nonfiction or historical works for kids. And the panel was exquisite: Brian Floca. Sophie Blackall. Mara Rockliff and her editor Nicole Raymond of Candlewick.
Mara was a great and necessary inclusion since as an author she produced all kinds of nonfiction books with all kinds of illustrators. Why this year alone she has out Gingerbread for Liberty, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch and Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Two very good books with very different texts and illustrations. We all got a huge kick out of seeing Mara compare and contrast the duo.
Well. Almost all of us. I later learned that an audience member walked away under the impression that we had praised the highly the realistic illustrations of Mesmerized while giving short shrift to Gingerbread.
Now my Salons are not generally recorded but I’m hoping that perhaps this incident will highlight for many why they should be. After talking with a large number of the folks in attendance I was reassured that this interpretation of the talk was held by very few. In point of fact, our concentration was in part on how fun the Gingerbread art was and how multiple types of illustration styles of nonfiction make for a richer pool from which to draw. However, I think this leads to an interesting question. I’ve actually not heard a lot of people discuss the role of creative interpretation of nonfiction illustration at any length. So let’s do it now! It’s a different subject than the talk I held at the library and, as this audience member’s interpretation shows, one fraught with high emotion.
Because, you see, for many people children’s nonfiction is almost solely about the text. What was said. What happened precisely according to the best possible sources. But as Mara pointed out on Saturday, all illustration is going to be less factual than words due to the mere fact that it IS illustration. Unless you are working off of photographs, an artist really doesn’t know if someone stood exactly this way or leaned precisely that way. They’re culling together elements that have a basis in truth, but to a certain extent their interpretation can’t strictly be called 100% real because it is their interpretation.
So where does that leave illustration? It gives it some freedom to play. Since we’re already talking about Gingerbread I’ll use it as my example, though honestly there are loads of other books I could cite.
In Gingerbread, the artist, Vincent X. Kirsch did some amazing things. In his own words he was “translating fact into cookies”. Mara’s text in this book is bouncy and fun. Reading it, the humor and amusing dialogue make it infinitely clear that this is not a strict interpretation of past events. As such you need art that fits. Frankly speaking, the artistic style of Mesmerized, so beautiful on the page, would have been a woeful accompaniment to this story, even though both books are by the same author and set against a Revolutionary War backdrop. Kirsch’s art bounces and hops and leaps gleefully from scene to scene. And where Mesmerized urges young readers to enjoy and employee the scientific method, Gingerbread is all about building a young person’s enthusiasm for learning about history. You cannot read the book and not have a good time and that is largely because of the art.
But where does the librarian put it? Many of my panelists mentioned that they don’t think about library catalog records when they create their books. But I do. I have to figure out where everything goes. After all, the patron who walks into the library and wants either a fun historical story or a nonfiction work to use in a report needs to be directed to the right shelf. So Mesmerized ended up in nonfiction and Gingerbread in picture books. Was it because of the art? Nope. It was because of their texts. In fact, in almost all cases I determine whether or not to put a book in picture books or nonfiction due entirely to the way in which it was written.
So here’s the million dollar question then: Do nonfiction books with fun art win big nonfiction awards? Or is there a kind of prejudice against creativity? Due to the fact that we have so few nonfiction awards for kids at this time, this should be pretty easy to assess.
Let’s look at the Sibert Award for our answer. The Sibert, you will recall, “is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year.” Brian Floca mentioned during our talk how happy he was with the wording “informational” rather than “nonfiction” in this description. I cannot help but agree.
So do fun illustrations win awards? Heck, to determine that we don’t even have to go beyond this year. What won the medal proper? The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Cut paper and sliced words fill the collaged pages. If you’re going to do a picture book bio of the creator of the thesaurus, you need to have fun squarely at the front of your mind.
The honors aren’t too shabby either. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell takes Christian Robinson’s energy filled art and gives it new life. The book romps and dances and glides and cavorts. Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy is a bit more realistic, but even she can’t resist the occasional Hitchcock worthy set-up from time to time. And I think it was the traditional Mixtec codex art of Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh that really set it apart.
Aside from the sharks, none of these winners could be called realistic, though you can tell that like Gingerbread for Liberty loads of research went into their art.
Conclusion: Happy, bouncy, fun art in nonfiction often receives its given due. From Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate to To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel, written by Siena Cherson Siegel, artwork by Mark Siegel, librarians know perfectly well how important it is for nonfiction to have a little fun.
And we completely approve.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Top of the morning to you, froggies! I had one heckuva weekend, I tell you. Actually it was just one heckuva Saturday. First there was the opening of the new Bank Street Bookstore location here in NYC. I was one of the local authors in attendance and, as you can see from this photograph taken that morning, I was in good company.
At one point I found myself at a signing table between Deborah Heiligman and Rebecca Stead with Susan Kuklin, Chris Raschka, and Peter Lerangis on either side. I picked up the name tag that Jerry Pinkney had left behind so that I could at least claim a Caldecott by association. Of course that meant I left my own nametag behind and a certain someone did find it later in the day . . .
Then that afternoon, after wolfing down an Upper West Side avocado sandwich that had aspirations for greatness (aspirations that remained unfulfilled) I was at NYPL’s central library for the panel Blurred Lines?: Accuracy and Illustration in Nonfiction. This title of silliness I acknowledge mine. In any case, the line-up was Sophie Blackall, Brian Floca, Mara Rockliff, and her Candlewick editor Nicole Raymond. It was brilliant. There will perhaps be a write-up at some point that I’ll link to. I just wanted to tip my hat to the folks involved. We were slated to go from 2-3 and we pretty much went from 2-4. We could have gone longer.
- I’ve often said that small publishers fill the gaps left by their larger brethren. Folktales and fairy tales are often best served in this way. Graphic novels are beginning to go the same route. One type of book that the smaller publishers should really look into, though, is poetry. We really don’t see a lot of it published in a given year, and I’d love to see more. The new Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award may help the cause. It was recently announced and the award is looking for folks who are SCBWI members and that published their books between 2013-2015. It makes us just one step closer to an ALA poetry award. One step.
- How did I miss this when it was published? It’s a New Yorker piece entitled Eloise: An Update. It had me at “The absolute first thing I do in the morning is make coffee in the bathroom and check to see what’s on pay-per-view / Then I have to go to the health club to see if they’ve gotten any new kettlebells and then stop at the business center to Google a few foreign swear words.” Thanks to Sharyn November for the link.
- Y’all know I worship at the alter of Frances Hardinge and believe her to be one of the greatest living British novelists working today, right? Well, this just in from the interwebs! Specifically, from agent Barry Goldblatt’s Facebook page:
BSFA and Carnegie Medal longlister Frances Hardinge’s debut adult novel THE KNOWLEDGE, about a London cab driver with a special license to travel between multiple alternative Londons, who, after rescuing a long-missing fellow driver, finds herself caught up in a widening conspiracy to control the pathways between worlds, to Navah Wolfe at Saga Press, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2017, by Barry Goldblatt at Barry Goldblatt Literary on behalf of Nancy Miles at Miles Stott Literary Agency (NA).
Mind you, this means I’ll have to read an adult novel now. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
- Speaking of England, I’m tired of them being cooler than us. For example, did you know that they have a Federation of Children’s Book Groups? A federation! Why don’t we have a federation? I’ll tell you why. Because we haven’t earned it yet. Grrr.
- Ooo! A new Spanish language children’s bookstore has just opened up in Los Angeles. And here we can’t get a single bookstore other than Barnes & Noble to open up in the Bronx in English, let alone another language. This is so cool. Methinks publishers looking to expand into the Latino market would do well to court the people working at this shop, if only to find new translatable material.
- Fancy fancy dancy dancy Leo Lionni shirts are now being sold by UNIQLO. Some samples:
- Roxanne Feldman is one of those women that has been in the business of getting books into the hands of young ‘uns for years and years and years. Online you may recognize her by her username “fairrosa”. Well, now she has a blog of her very own and it’s worth visiting. Called the Fairrosa Cyber Library, it’s the place to go. However – Be Warned. This is not a site to merely dabble in. If you go you must be prepared to sit down and read and read. Her recent posts about diversity make for exciting blogging.
- Me Stuff: Because apparently the whole opening of this blog post didn’t count. Now Dan Blank is one of those guys you just hope and pray you’ll meet at some point in your life. He’s the kind of fellow who is infinitely intensely knowledgeable about how one’s career can progress over time and he’s followed my own practically since the birth of my blogging career. If I appeared in Forbes, it was because of Dan. Recently he interviewed me at length and the post is up. It’s called Betsy Bird: From “Invisible” Introvert to Author, Critic, Blogger and Librarian. I feel like that kid in Boyhood with Dan. Really I do.
- Fact: The Cotsen Children’s Library of Princeton has been interviewing great authors and illustrators since at least 2010.
- Fact: Access to these interviews has always been available, but not through iTunes.
- Fact: Now it is. And it’s amazing. Atinuke. Gary Schmidt. Rebecca Stead. Philip Pullman. It’s free, it’s out there, so fill up your iPod like I am right now and go crazy! Thanks to Dana Sheridan for the info!
The other day I linked to a piece on the term “racebent” and how it applies to characters like Hermione in Harry Potter. It’s not really a new idea, though, is it? Folks have always reinterpreted fictional characters in light of their own cultures. This year the publisher Tara Books is releasing The Patua Pinocchio. Now I’ve been a bit Pinocchio obsessed ever since my 3-year-old daughter took Kate McMullen’s version to heart (it was the first chapter book she had the patience to sit through). With that in mind I am VERY interested in this version of the little wooden boy. Very.
- Ever been a children’s nonfiction conference? Want to? The 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference has moved to NYC this year and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ll be speaking alongside my colleague / partner-in-crime Amie Wright, but there are a host of other speakers and it’s a delightful roster. If ever this has ever been your passion, now’s thWe time to go.
- Diverse books for kids don’t sell? To this, Elizabeth Bluemle, a bookseller, points out something so glaringly obvious that I’m surprised nobody else has mentioned it before. I’m sure that someone has, but rarely so succinctly. Good title too: An Overlooked Fallacy About Sales of Diverse Books.
- And speaking of diverse books, here’s something that was published last year but that I, in the throes of the whole giving birth thing, missed. The We Need Diverse Books website regularly posted some of the loveliest book recommendations I’ve ever seen. We’ve all seen lists that say things like “Like This? Then Try This!” but rarely do they ever explain why the person would like that book (I’m guilty of this in my own reviews’ readalikes and shall endeavor to be better in the future). On their site, the WNDB folks not only offered diverse readalikes to popular titles, but gave excellent reasons as to why a fan of David Wiesner’s Tuesday might like Bill Thomson’s Chalk. The pairing of Lucy Christopher’s Stolen with Sharon Draper’s Panic is particularly inspired. The covers even match.
I am ever alert to any appropriation of my workplace that might be taking place. Recently I learned that in the Rockettes’ upcoming holiday show there will be this set in one of the numbers. Apparently Patience and Fortitude (the library lions) will be voiced by (the recorded voices of) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I kid you not.
Years ago when I worked in the old Donnell Library I looked out the window of the Central Children’s Room to see three camels standing there chewing their cud or whatever it is that camels chew. They were with their trainer, taking a walk before their big number in the Rockettes’ show. The crazy thing was watching the people on the street. The New Yorkers were walking past like the it was the most natural thing in the world. This is because New Yorkers are crazy. When camels strike you as everyday, something has gone wrong with your life.
By: Betsy Bird
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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
By Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez
TOON Graphics (and imprint of RAW, Jr.)
On shelves April 14, 2015
While I’m aware that public transport was invented to meet the very real needs of urban commuters, when you’re the parent of a city child you can be forgiven for taking an entirely different view of things. Simply put: subways were created for the sole purpose of amusing children. How else to explain the fun maps, bright colors, and awe-inspiring bits of machinery? We already knew that kids loved trains. Now put those trains underground. That’s just awesomeness redoubled. Here in New York City a certain level of excitement about subway trains is almost required of our kids. Yet when it comes to books about the subway system, it’s often disappointing. Either it’s too young, too old, or like Count on the Subway by Paul DuBois Jacobs it gives the subway lines the wrong colors. Sure Subway by Christoph Niemann is the gold standard, but what can you offer older metro fans? Lost in NYC by Nadja Spiegelman hits that sweet spot for the 6-10 year old crowd. Visually stunning (to say nothing of its accuracy) with abundant factual information wriggled into every available crevice, you don’t have to be a New Yorker to enjoy this book (though, boy, does it sure help).
When you have a father that moves your family all over the country, it can be easy to disconnect from the places you briefly live. So when Pablo enters Mr. Bartle’s class on the first day of his new school, he rebuffs cheery Alicia’s attempts at friendship. On this particular day the class is taking a field trip to the Empire State Building. Pablo learns about the subway system that will take the class there alongside everyone else, but when he and Alicia are inspecting a map on the subway he’s briefly confused and takes her with him onto the express 2 train and not the local 1. Now separated from their class, the two kids start to fight and next thing you know they have to find their way back to their classmates entirely on their own. Backmatter and a Bibliography of other subway resources appear at the end.
I’m an adult so after reading this story several times you know whom I feel most sorry for? The teacher, Mr. Bartle. Here the man is, taking his class on a routine subway trip, and along the way he loses two of them at the very first stop. A common New Yorker nightmare is the idea that you might lose your child on the subway. Yet in Spiegelman and Sánchez’s hands it’s a nightmare turned into an adventure. It’s the same reason From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler continues to be read. For children, the thought of being independent in a city as vast as NYC is as enticing as it is horrific. Spiegelman does give Pablo a native guide for the first part of his journey, but pretty soon they two are separated and he has to make his way on his own to his group. This is by no means an interactive book, but I had to withhold a scream when Pablo jumped the 7 train at 42nd Street. He’s lucky he asked for traveling advice as early as he did, else he would have ended up in far distant Queens relatively quickly.
Spiegelman’s writing holds up for the most part. It’s a slim story, clocking in at a mere 52 pages which is only slightly more than your average picture book. Some of that is rounded out with the backmatter too. Filled with history and brimming with photographs, engravings, and other stunning images, Spiegelman outdoes herself with the information found there. For certain subway buffs, the info included (with sections like “Why Are There No H, I, K, O, P, T, U, V, W, X, or Y Trains?”) will be particularly pleasing. However, when we look at the story in this book by itself, it does come to a rather abrupt halt. Pablo spends the greater part of the story declaring that he doesn’t need friends. He parts from Alicia on angry terms, yet when the two are reunited they act like the best buddies in the world. I wasn’t quite sure where the switchover on this relationship occurred. Otherwise, everything seems pretty certain and consistent.
Not all subway books are created equal. I remember years ago encountering a NY subway picture book where a normally elevated stop was pictured in the book as underground. Certainly the cover of this book gave me hope. It seemed to be acknowledging from the get-go that the 1 and 2 trains both stop at 96th, 72nd, and 42nd Street (we will ignore the peculiar inclusion of a “33” since we can assume artist Sergio Garcia Sánchez meant 34th Street). As it happens, Mr. Sánchez is a resident not of one of the five boroughs but of Spain. You wouldn’t know it. The New York found within these pages feels so real and so contemporary that I have difficulty understanding that I’m not going to run into the man on the street when I leave for work tomorrow morning. Artists could learn a thing or two from his attention to detail. From the color of the painted columns to the diversity of the city streets, this is indeed the New York I know and love.
The design of Lost in NYC is also a delight to the eyes. Good graphic novels for children are rare beasties. Half the time you’re left wondering if the editors or artists ever took the time to look outside the standard panel format. If Mr. Sánchez feels inclined to use panels in this book, you can bet it’s a strategic decision. The very first page is almost entirely open, only settling into panels when the kids are approaching the rigid format of a school setting. As the teacher, Mr. Bartle, begins to introduce subway history, we see the characters on a massive topographic map. It’s a visual approximation of the cut-and-cover technique used to create subways in a city chock full of hardened bedrock. Once the kids go underground the panels shift to full two-page spreads, and lots of individual vertical panels like the cars on a subway train. When called upon to render the city blocks in such a way where you can see the characters all converge on the Empire State Building from different directions, the artist either shrinks the buildings and blows up the characters, or he overlaps a subway map onto a street map and you can see the kids meet up that way. Then there are the perspective shifts. The view up into the Empire State Building, a wall or two cut away so that you can get a visual sense of some of the seventy-three elevators in the building, is dizzying. I can say with certainty that even if a child were incapable of reading English (or Spanish, since this book is being simultaneously translated) they would still be able to be moved and stirred by this story.
He’s also filled the book with inside jokes. I was so pleased that I took time to read the “Behind the Scenes: Sergio and the Cop” section at the back of the book. In it, Sergio describes a time he visited NYC and was photographing all the details at the 96th Street subway stop when a cop started paying a little too much attention to him. As a result, if you look in the book you can find Sergio and the cop on “virtually every spread.” Once you see it, it cannot be unseen. It also creates a kind of touching secondary story as the two go from antagonists to, finally, taking a selfie together.
Accuracy in illustration, even (or should I say especially?) in fictional stories, is imperative. You have to make the reader inhabit the setting presented, and the best way to accomplish this is through rigorous research and skill. Mr. Sánchez has both and by pairing with Nadja Spiegelman he may well earn himself an Honorary New Yorker decree. Though filled to its gills with accurate Manhattan details, you don’t have to live anywhere in the five boroughs to recognize the fear that comes with having to navigate an unfamiliar public transit system. Particularly if you’re just a kid. An adventure tale wrapped around a nonfiction core of subways subways subways. What’s not to love?
On shelves April 14th.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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Professional Reviews: Kirkus
Interview: Comic Book Resources spoke with Nadja Spiegelman and she reveals a lot of behind-the-scenes information about the book.
The question came to me and I admit I was a bit stumped at first. A colleague was looking for recommendations of the best literary apps for kids. Put another way, apps with a distinct tie-in to specific children’s books. So I thought about it. I’ve toyed about with several apps for years. I could make such a list.
However, before I present it to you, I would like to point out that literary apps are in significant decline. When first they hit the scene they were prevalent because they were novel. However, publishers were quick to notice that from an economic standpoint they don’t really make a lot of sense. The amount of time and money you pour into an app is incongruous with how much one is allowed to then charge the consumer. It can take years for apps to break even, and ours is not a society where such slow money is seen as desirable. So while I don’t think apps will ever go away, literary apps will continue to be far and few between. The only ones I’ve seen crop up in the last year or two are labors of love from creative personalities (Bill Joyce, Shaun Tan, etc.).
Also please note that this list is NOT particularly good at listing nonfiction tie-in apps. There are, I know all too well, some fantastic ones out there. However, aside from the Barefoot Book World Atlas, I haven’t had much contact with them.
And now, the hits!
Animalia by Graeme Base – Allows the reader the chance to turn a simple reading of the book into a game.
The Barefoot Books World Atlas by Nick Crane – Absolutely jaw-dropping. A must-have for any child over the age of four. Allows the viewer to zero in on different parts of the globe and learn learn learn.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App by Mo Willems – I’m sort of cheating by putting this here since technically it’s based on a children’s book character rather than a specific title, but when it’s the pigeon, honestly who cares?
Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss – Pretty basic, but I like a lot of what it does. Reads the story straight through but allows the reader to hear individual words defined. Plus I like how it handles the many mumbling mice in the moonlight. Mighty nice!
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce – The rare case where there was first an app, then a short film, and finally a book. I don’t know how well this one holds up in terms of rereading, but it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a film in a book app form.
Freight Train by Donald Crews – This may be the earliest book related app out there. It used public domain music and was originally designed for phones. When the iPad was introduced it had to undergo a change, and remains somewhat pixelated as a result. That said, it’s still a beautiful piece.
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton – Boynton books make for difficult book-to-app transitions since there’s not much too them to begin with. This one relies heavily on a good narrator and small interactive options. I don’t know that a kid would turn to it over and over, but it’s not a bad app for the little bitty guys.
How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills – A great book to begin with, the app reads the book straight, but also contains interactive elements that don’t distract from the storyline. A difficult balance to strike.
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone – Remarkably good. Truth be told, Sesame Street has almost never been good at books. Stone’s classic is the sole exception, and the app they made for it is stellar. Though Grover is not voiced by Frank Oz, you’d never be able to tell. The imitation is dead on. All the interactive elements work beautifully. Kids can read this over and over and never get bored.
The Numberlys by William Joyce – Joyce remains the king of the app-turned-book. Again, this was an app first, a book second. I doubt anyone minds.
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt – When I first saw Random House premiere this app they acknowledged openly that a Pat the Bunny app is an inherently ridiculous concept. That said, it’s a very good one for the younger ages.
Press Here by Herve Tullet – Also a bit of a cheat since at no point does the book appear. Then again, the book itself was a sort of anti-app, so what you’ll find here makes quite a bit of sense in retrospect.
The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan – Tan bears a lot of similarities to Bill Joyce in terms of his love of apps, cinema, and books (not necessarily in that order). He employed some truly lovely musicians when he worked on this one.
The Story of the Three Little Pigs by L. Leslie Brooke – Also a book meant to look like a pop-up but in this case the reader is allowed to see how the inner gears of such a pop-up might work. It’s actually really quite cool to watch.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – You’ll actually want the one called PopOut! Peter. There is also a similar Benjamin Bunny app that makes for a good follow-up. It’s just one of the most beautiful I’ve ever encountered. It makes a great deal of effort to resemble an interactive book down to the silken ribbon there to hold your place. A masterpiece.
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra – The designers did a very clever thing here when they found a way to allow the reader to tilt the screen so that you can see around and behind the characters and set pieces.
See a gaping hole in the list? Tell me about it!
It is my infinite pleasure to present to you today a middle grade novel’s cover that amuses me in a way that really speaks to my particular proclivities. Humor is so subjective. Still, it is beyond me how anyone could look at this and not be immediately charmed. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you MR. PUFFBALL: STUNT CAT TO THE STARS by Constance Lombardo.
And for the full jacket . . .
On shelves September 29th.
Thanks to the folks at Harper Collins for the reveal!
What you learn in this life of children’s librarianship is that there is an exception to every rule. For example, normally I do not indulge in video interviews outside of my Fuse #8 TV ones. And normally I do not care diddly over squat for anything directed towards a young adult audience. But Mr. M.T. Anderson has a way of making a girl forget past restrictions. So when I was asked whether or not I would be interested in interviewing the man about his upcoming nonfiction title Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad I said, “Um . . . yes. Yes indeed.”
Thus, what follows, is a slightly herky jerky (thanks to Google Hangout) but ENTIRELY worth it interview between myself and Tobin. This is a story I’ve never heard. I am ashamed to admit that prior to this talk I had only the slightest understanding of what the Siege of Leningrad constituted. This clears much of the confusion up. And check out this cover!
As for the interview itself, here it is:
Thanks to the good folks at Candlewick Press for setting this up!
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Morning, folks. We’ve a good store of goodies this morning, and I’m pleased as punch to give them to you. First up, a short film. A very short film, actually. I’ve spoken in the past on how Hollywood views children’s writers and the creation of children’s books. This film seems to believe that children’s books in general are being urged to be “darker”. Even picture books. An odd sentiment, but there you go.
Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link!
So, First Book is doing something called the Speed Read Challenge. It’s being done to draw attention to First Book’s Be Inspired campaign, which is attempting to get 1 million books into the hands of kids. You can see a whole slew of celebrities told to speed read book in ten seconds. First, recent Newbery winner Kwame Alexander:
Next, Mo Willems:
I wanna do it.
As you may have heard from folks like Travis Jonker, Jimmy Kimmel started a regular feature where he has a bookclub with kids. So far they’ve covered Goodnight Moon and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Naturally when it came time to embed one, I went with The Giving Tree. To know me is to know why.
Barb Langridge has made it her goal to get the ALA Youth Media Award titles back in the public eye and conversation. Here she talks with the people of Baltimore about the recent winners. Good stuff.
And for our off-topic video, I had two really good choices. Still, in light of last Sunday’s Oscars, this seemed like the link that made a bit more sense:
Let’s try something a little new. I’m only human. I like to rant and rail about various children’s books being lamentably out-of-print as much as the next guy. But I also acknowledge that in the current publishing state in which we live it is simply not possible to keep all books in print.
That said, there really are a couple books out there that I think deserve another chance at life. Now I’ve done variations on this kind of post before. Last year I wrote the piece Baby, Remember My Name: Picture Book Gems of Years Past. In 2010 there was also Two Down! One to Go. But apparently I haven’t done a consistent series on books I’d love to see resuscitated. Why not start today?
Let’s be systematic about this, though. Can’t be asking for any old thing to be republished. And since I’ve already talked your ear off about the remarkable out-of-print Newbery Honor winning book The Winged Girl of Knossos (seriously, bring it back) let’s try something a bit more recent, eh whot?
The Title: Adios, Oscar!: A Butterfly Fable
The Author: Peter Elwell
Publisher: Blue Sky Press (an imprint of Scholastic)
When Was It Published?: 2009
Is It Out-of-Print?: Yup.
Why Should Someone Bring It Back?: Well, here’s the plot as I reviewed it back in the day:
“One day, while sitting in a plant in a pot, a caterpillar named Oscar makes the acquaintance of a high flying butterfly by the name of Bob. Bob’s on his way to Mexico, and he assures little Oscar that one day he’ll have a pair of wings too and can follow. Bob is intrigued by this notion, and even though the other caterpillars mock him, he teams up with a local bookworm Edna to learn about butterflies and Mexico. By the time he’s ready to go for a long sleep, Bob has learned a lot of Spanish words and phrases. But oh no! When he awakes, Bob discovers that he’s not a butterfly at all but a measly moth! Yet buoyed by Edna’s faith in him, Bob determines to go to Mexico anyway. And if you happen to travel to Mexico someday and see a moth sitting there, you might hear him say, “Mi nombre es Oscar!” loud and happy and proud. A section at the end provides English to Spanish translations as well as some useful facts about butterflies and moths.”
Now as far as I can ascertain, this is pretty much the ONLY picture book I’ve ever encountered that took the idea of butterflies flying South for the winter to Mexico and decided that the logical thing for any butterfly to do would be to learn the Spanish language. It’s a brilliant notion! Add in the art, which is reminiscent of 1930s Walt Disney cartoons (in a good way) with lots of straw boaters and ukuleles, and you’ve got yourself a lovely book.
Think about it. Spanish language words pepper the text. The book deals with the subject of handling your disappointment in a strong, smart manner. And you’ve got the metamorphosis aspect to boot.
The time has never been better to bring this puppy back in print. Go for it, Scholastic!
WHAT TIME IS IT, AMERICA!!!????!!!
If you answered that it was time for Children’s Book Week, you’d almost be right. Actually, Children’s Book Week (now in its 96th year) isn’t until May 4th – 10th. In preparation, I have a bit of a treat planned. On Sunday, May 26th at 2:00 p.m. the following program will be taking place at NYPL:
Children’s Literary Salon: Children’s Book Week – Its Past, Present, and Future
Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Join Children’s Book Council (CBC) Communications Director Nicole Deming as she discusses both the history and the latest initiatives of this one-of-a-kind event.
And how shall we celebrate this momentous occasion? With a premiere of the official Children’s Book Council bookmark, of course! It’s Raul Colon and it is gorgeous.
Thanks to Nicole and the other CBC folks for letting me in on this reveal!
By: Betsy Bird
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My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)
By Alison DeCamp
Crown Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Random House)
On shelves now
Children’s historical fiction novels often divide up one of two ways. In the first category you have your important moments in history. In such books our heroes run about and encounter these moments by surprise. Extra points if it happens to be a Great Big Bad Moment in history as well. Then in the second category are the books that have opted to go a more difficult route. They may be well grounded in a time period of the past, but they do not require historical cameos or Great Big Bad Moments to transport their readers. Such books run a very great risk of, quite frankly, becoming dull. Read enough of them and, with the exception of a few, they all run together. Humor often helps me distinguish them from the pack. After all, would Catherine Called Birdy command quite so many hearts and minds if it weren’t also deeply amusing? Still, it’s rare to find fiction set in the past for kids that’s quite that original. It takes a certain kind of devious brain to hit on an all-new take. Enter My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp. Falling squarely into the second category rather than the first, this 1895 charmer utilizes plenty of visuals along with an unreliable narrator and classic comedic setting. I can say with certainty that your kids will never read a work of lumberjack fiction quite as fast and funny as this ever again.
Well, sir, it looks like Stan’s found himself in a heap of trouble. First off there’s the difficulty with his dead father. The problem? He’s not dead. He’s nowhere around, and now he seems to have divorced Stan’s mama, but dead he is not. Then there’s the fact that it’s the middle of winter yet Stan’s mama and his 95% evil Granny (her percentage fluctuates a lot) are packing him up and they’re all heading up to some godforsaken lumber camp in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that’s good for Stan since he’s been hoping to build up his manly skills so that he can support his mama. Unfortunately his cousin Geri, who seems to revel in torturing him, will be there as well. Can Stan fight off his mother’s multiple suitors, keep his eye on the lumberjack he’s dubbed “Stinky Pete”, and learn to be a man (if Geri doesn’t kill him first) all at once? If anyone can, it’s Stan. Probably.
Humor in historical fiction can come across as a case where the contemporary author is shoehorning his or her own beliefs onto characters from the past. Often when this happens it feels fake. I remember once reading a children’s novel set in the Civil War South where an enterprising young woman, with no outside influences, actually said, “Corsets don’t just restrict the waist. They restrict the mind,” or something equally out of left field. So to what extent are anachronisms a threat in books of this sort? For example, would someone like Stan really have called his cousin “Scary Geri”? For me, I don’t worry as much about the small details. If the language isn’t strictly of the late 19th century variety then who in the Sam Hill cares? (Forgive my language, granny.) It’s the big things (like mind restricting corsets) that catch my eye. With that in mind, I was somewhat relieved when I realized that Stan is a sexist jerk. He quite believably does not look on women’s accomplishments as something to commend (which, in turn, is an interesting way of building up sympathy for his cousin Geri). In other words, he’s of his time.
To bring the funny, DeCamp does two things I’ve not seen done in works of historical fiction before. The first involves a ton of late 19th/early 20th century advertisements. Using the conceit that this is Stan’s scrapbook, each image makes some kind of commentary on what Stan is describing. They’re also hilarious. I cannot help but imagine the countless hours DeCamp spent poring through advertisement after advertisement. One wonders if there were parts of the narrative wholly reliant on the existence of one ad or another. Hard to say.
The second clever and hitherto unknown thing DeCamp does with her storytelling is to make Stan an unreliable narrator with unreliable narration. Which is to say, you’ll be reading his private thoughts on the page when suddenly another character will comment on what clearly should have been kept inside Stan’s brain. The end result is that the reader will lapse into a continual sense of security, safe in the knowledge that what they’re reading isn’t dialogue (after all, there aren’t any quotation marks) and then, exactly like Stan, the reader will be shocked when someone comments on information they shouldn’t know anything about. It really puts you directly into Stan’s shoes and helps to make him more relatable. Which is good since he runs the risk of being considered unsympathetic as a character.
Unreliable as a narrator, potentially unsympathetic as a human being, Stan still wins our love. Why? He’s Kid Falstaff! A coward you root for and love, yet still don’t always approve of. Still, even in the depths of his own delusion, how can you not love the guy? He’s a Yooper Telemachus fending unworthy suitors off of his mama. And even when you’ve taken almost all you can take from the guy, you’ll find him saying something like, “This is the furthest I’ve ever felt from being a man. All I really want to do is cuddle up in bed and have Mama read me a book. Or play with the toy soldiers still lined up on my windowsill in the apartment house. But I can’t. Because that’s not manly, and being manly is the only way I’ll ever understand my father . . .” Poor kid.
A good author, by the way, allows their supporting characters some personal growth as well. It doesn’t all have to come from the protagonist, after all. In this particular case it’s Stan’s mama, a character that could easily have just been some passive, maternal bit of nothingness, who comes into her own. For years she’s been held down pretty effectively by her own mother. Now she has a chance at making a bit of a life for herself, choosing her own mate (or not choosing, as the case may be), and generally having a bit of fun. I know no kid reading this book is going to care, but I appreciated having someone other than Stan learn and grow.
I sit here secure in the knowledge that somewhere, at some time, an enterprising adult (be it teacher, parent, or librarian) will take it upon themselves to actually follow Mrs. Cavanaugh’s recipe for Vinegar Pie. The recipe is right there in black and white in the book, clear as crystal. If you have any goodness in your heart and you are tempted to tread this path, here is a bit of advice: don’t. It’s called Vinegar Pie, for crying out loud! What part of that sounds appetizing? You know what is appetizing? This book. Hilarious and heartbreaking and funny funny funny. You know what you hand a kid that gets the dreaded, “Read one work of historical fiction” assignment in school? You hand them this and then sit back to wait for their inevitable gratitude. They may never say thank you to your face, but you’ll be able to rest safe and secure in the knowledge that they loved this book. Or, at the very least, found it enticing and intriguing. 99-100% fantastic.
On shelves now.
Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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Oo! Peppy little trailer here, no?
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Here in New York we’re getting very excited. The 90-Second Film Festival is coming!! And soon too! Here’s a PW interview with James Kennedy about the festival and for those of you in the NYC area you can see it at NYPL on Saturday, March 7th at 3:00 p.m. In fact, now that I think about it, you could begin your day at NYPL at 2:00 p.m. at my Children’s Literary Salon Blurred Lines?: Accuracy and Illustration in Nonfiction. We’ll be hosting Mara Rockliff (author), Brian Floca (author/illustrator), Nicole Raymond (editor), and Sophie Blackall (illustrator/author) as they discuss the responsibility of an illustrator when working on a piece of historical nonfiction for kids and whether or not words garner closer scrutiny than pictures. Should be a fabulous day.
- We all know on some level that when a book is adapted into a movie the likelihood of the strong female characters staying strong is negligible. There are always exceptions to the rule, but by and large it’s depressing not to be more shocked by the recent Cracked piece 6 Insulting Movie Adaptations of Strong Female Characters. I was very pleased to see the inclusion of Violet from A Series of Unfortunate Events too. Folks tend to forget about her.
- At the beginning of February I had the infinite pleasure of hosting a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL on Collaborating Couples. I invited in Ted & Betsy Lewin, Andrea and Brian Pinkney, and Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. You can read the PW round-up of the talk here, but before we hit the stage I had to ask Sean about this incident that occurred involving his book with Selina, The Case for Loving and W. Kamau Bell’s treatment at Berkeley’s Elmwood Café. We didn’t touch on it during our talk since it wasn’t pertinent to this particular discussion, but if you haven’t read the article I suggest you give it a look.
- If I’m going to be honest about it, this perfectly encapsulates what I’ve always personally felt about the Elephant and Piggie books. This is because growing up I was the child that wanted everyone and everything in the universe to pair up. Sesame Street fed this desire to a certain degree but the only time Mr. Rogers got close was during the opera episodes. And don’t even get me STARTED on Reading Rainbow (no sexual tension = no interest for 4-year-old Betsy). Hence my perverse desire to see Gerald and Piggie become a couple. I know, I know. Clearly I need help.
- Moomins! Ballet! Moomins in ballet! Sorry, do you need more than that? Thanks to Marci for the link.
- It’s fun to read this look at the Mary Poppins Hidden Relationships Fan Theory, but I’ve a bone to pick with it. Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t the book of Mary Poppins make it very clear that yes indeed Mary Poppins WAS Bert’s nanny back in the day? Or am I just making stuff up? I thought this was cannon. That other stuff about Bert’s relationships is particularly peculiar as well.
Perhaps you feel, as I do, that you’ve read every possible Harry Potter related list out there devised by the human brain. Still and all, while I had seen a bunch of these, there are still some lovely surprises in the BuzzFeed list 21 Times “Harry Potter” Was the Cleverest Book Series Ever.
Speaking of Harry Potter and BuzzFeed, new term alert: Racebent. Didn’t know it, but this piece has actually convinced me that it is entirely possible that Hermione Granger isn’t the white-skinned schoolgirl she’s often considered to be. Recall if you will that it was only ever made explicit that Dean Thomas had dark skin when the Harry Potter books were brought over to America (a fact that is not usually mentioned in these stories).
- Oh, what the heck. May as well get as Harry Potterish as possible today. Look! Cover animations!
- For years I’ve yearned to go to TLA (the meeting of the Texas Library Association). State library meetings are always fun, but Texas takes their own to another level. So far I haven’t had an excuse, but I was reminded of this desire recently when I read the rather delightful piece on how an abandoned Texan Walmart got turned into the ultimate public library. McAllen? You’re good people.
- Let It Be Known: That every author and illustrator out there that makes school visits on a regular basis should take a very close look at Nathan Hale’s School Visit Instructions and replicate PRECISELY what he has done on their own websites. Obviously you cannot all draw so in terms of visuals he has you beat. However, this information is perfect and you could certainly write it down in some form yourself. Let it also be known that his upcoming book about Harriet Tubman, The Underground Abductor, is AMAZING. Here’s the cover:
- David Wiesner created an app? Yep, pretty much. It’s called Spot and it is now on my To Buy list.
I’ve been meaning to get back to work on updating my post of the Complete Listing of All Children’s Literature Statues in the United States for a while here. There are definitely some sections that need work. However, one image I will not be adding is this statue of what might be the world’s creepiest Cat in the Hat. Not because I don’t like him (oh, I do, I do) but because it’s on school rather than public property. That doesn’t mean I can’t share him with you anyway, though.
Many thanks to Paula Wiley for bringing him to my attention. Wowzah.
Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred)
By Josh Schneider
Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
On shelves April 7, 2015
When attempting to turn small writhing human beings of very little years into mature, forthright, sterling individuals of singular merit and good humor we run into some challenges. There’s teaching them to eat their dinner (even the vegetables). There’s endowing them with an appreciation of tooth brushing. And then there’s the trickiest one of all: bedtime. That moment every day is when the battle of wills must begin. Now for some kids bedtime is merely a nightly inconvenience. For others, a call to arms. It is where our children pull out all the stops and use every last bit of intelligence and cunning at their disposal in the hopes of avoiding the unavoidable. Many is the picture book that has tried to bring that struggle to life on the page. Most catalog avoidance techniques. That is understandable. Like I say, creativity flows like a gushing torrent when kids are trying to get out of sleepytime. But one, a certain Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred), goes a different route entirely. In this book Fred isn’t just avoiding bedtime. He’s making it nigh well impossible for anyone else to get any shut-eye either. Funny? You don’t know the half of it.
In this book Schneider takes the usual bedtime avoidance metaphors and then proceeds to crank them up to eleven. It’s bedtime. A time when all the animals are getting some well-deserved rest. There are the sheep counting themselves down. There are the monkeys, dreaming of some fine ballet antics. There are the monsters, brushing their teeth before they go down. And then, there is Fred. A Fred, who is not taking any of this lying down. He has a list of things to get done and by golly he’s going to do them. He might be playing loud instruments on the one hand or searching for Bigfoot on the other. Whatever it is he does, he does it loudly and all the animals are having a heckuva time getting some slee . . . wait! What’s this? It looks like Fred is sleeping at last. What a relief! But close the book quietly or he might begin his antics all over again.
So I’m just sitting here waiting for Josh Schneider to do something wrong. Any minute now. Any minute. Surely it’s just a matter of time before he pens a dud, right? Because as of right now in the year 2015 he’s just been hitting it out of the park over and over again. Tales for Very Picky Eaters won itself a Geisel Award. The Meanest Birthday Girl is the best white elephant tale you’ll ever pick up. And Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover has to be the best Frankenstein meets pretty pretty princess fare you’ll run ever run across. So even though the cover of this book made me laugh out loud on sight (the giraffe takes up two floors!!!) I tried to read Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) with an open mind. Schneider was going to have to earn my love with this one. Yeah, he pretty much does that from page one onwards.
Part of this has a lot to do with Schneider’s love of detail. His is not a changeable illustration style. Once again he employs the same thin black lines. The same L’il Orphan Annie’s pupil-less eyes. But here he’s been given a bit more leeway with the art. I don’t know that I ever felt he was holding himself back before, but if this book is any indication then yes. Yes he has. This is a book that rewards the parent called upon to read and reread certain sections multiple times. Some examples: Turn now to the page where the sheep are getting sleepy. Did you notice that there’s a tally on the wall and that next to one of the tally marks they’ve written a sheep’s name with a question mark? Clearly they’re good at keeping track. And did you notice that the animals that move from page to page are actually Fred’s stuffed animals seen at the beginning and end of the book? This only becomes perfectly clear when you get to the end and the woebegotten sheep Fred has fallen asleep upon turns into a stuffed animal with a mere page turn. Then you have to spend an inordinate amount of time flipping back through the book to figure out where each stuffed animal plays into the narrative.
Is it repetitive of me to mention that it’s funny to boot? Let us not downplay the role of humor in a title. If Schneider was truly told by his editor to go all out and do whatever he liked (which, regardless of whether or not that happened, is the overall impression anyway) you could not get a better mixture of child and adult humor. Some books tip too far in one direction or another. This book walks the fine line. So you’ll have monkeys performing ballet on the one hand (note that to accommodate their feet, Schneider has given their shoes a little extra hole for the superfluous thumb toe) and then you’ll have the text of the world’s most boring bedtime book on the other. At one point in the story we are told that a group of children has been bored into snores by the reading of a particularly draining bunny book. We even get a glimpse of the text and to my mind it is worth the price of the book right there. I won’t ruin it for you. Just know that “foreign monies” does in fact rhyme with “bunnies” and that this may be the first time the term “bunny bender” has ever appeared in any kind of a context in a children’s book.
All this is well and good, but let’s examine the really important part: how does the book read aloud? You see I have a three-year-old residing in my home right now and if a book doesn’t pass the readaloud test then this particular kiddo is not going to care two bits about Fred, sleeping or otherwise. Happily, it reads beautifully. I was able to have particular fun with the “but not Fred” part of each sequence. You just drop a long pause in there. Not so long it loses your audience, but long enough to build anticipation. Then you lean towards the kid and say sotto vox, “… but not Fred.” Gets ‘em every time, guaranteed.
Is it a book that will actually put a kid to sleep? Not in the traditional sense. I mean, you want soporific fare you may as well stick to Goodnight Moon. There is, however, the possibility that Fred’s antics will be so wild and wackadoodle that they’ll exhaust your own child by mere association. And, of course, he’ll amuse them deeply. He and his dead tired animal/monster companions. There are books about avoiding going to bed and then there’s Fred. A book with a spring in its step, a song in its heart, and what appears to be Jolt Cola swimming through its veins. Sleepers awake!
On shelves April 7th.
Like This? Then Try:
Okay. For this month’s Fuse #8 TV I decided to premiere a new series.
Reading (Too Much Into) Picture Books
Ladies and gentlemen, I like a good conspiracy theory. Nothing makes my heart go pitter pat faster than an opinion about a picture book that takes a right hand turn into Crazyville. Trouble is, there just aren’t enough out there. Sure, you can tell me that Horton Hears a Who is anti-abortion and Rainbow Fish is pro-Communist but sometimes it feels like I’ve heard them all. Time to shake things up a little!
Announcing a series where I make up crazed interpretations of classic picture books. This month: Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley. We all know it. We love it. Now what’s the kookiest theory you can come up with for it? I say my own and it’s a doozy. I’m weirdly proud about it.
After that I interview the very fun, funny, and infinitely patient Chris Grabenstein. Chris has a new middle grade novel out this year called The Island of Dr. Libris. He entertains my questions and then pulls out this Jim Henson story that will seriously make your eyes water. I’m not even kidding about that.
I am lucky in my profession. Lucky not simply because I have a blog where I am offered the chance to reveal the American cover of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s latest book The Astounding Broccoli Boy. No, I’m lucky because I work in a profession where I even know who Boyce is and how fantastic his books can be. And if you’ve read Millions or Cosmic or The Unforgotten Coat then you know what I’m talking about. His latest is an exercise is absurdity that maybe owes more to Cervantes or maybe Ionesco than your average everyday middle grade novel.
Here then, is his latest cover.
Rory, the main character, is half-Guyanese by the way. And penguins make everything good.
Behold the latest entry in Steve Sheinkin’s “Walking and Talking” series. When he’s not winning a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honor for Port Chicago 50 Steve can be found interviewing his fellow authors and illustrators and bringing their talks to comic life. In his latest episode we see not just a drawn version of Caldecott Honor winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger but of her editor Neal Porter as well. Enjoy!
Previous editions of this series include:
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh
By Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt (an imprint of Macmillan)
On shelves now
I worked in close proximity to the real Winnie-the-Pooh for five years. From 2006 to 2011 he was a daily delight. To clarify, I was working alongside the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys owned by the real Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne in New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room. We had Piglet, Tigger, Kanga (no Roo), Eeyore, and Winnie himself. Though ironically I never read his books as a child, in my time as a children’s librarian working in the Children’s Center at 42nd Street I became well versed in his story. Winnie was purchased at Harrods for Christopher Robin who eventually named him “Winnie” after some bear he’d seen in a zoo. If pressed to conjure up facts about that zoo bear I might have been able to tell you that its name was Winnipeg, but that was about as far as my knowledge on the matter went. Sometimes it takes a children’s book to learn about a children’s book character. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh relates the true history of a man and his bear. Illustrated with aplomb by Jonathan D. Voss, the book’s charm is the true measure by which you can assess how well it lives up to its namesake. Accuracy and adorableness in one small, furry package.
There are many things Harry Colebourn could have purchased as his troop passed through the small train station, but what did he end up with? A baby bear. A baby black bear, if you want to be precise about it. Good natured and orphaned, Harry promptly names her “Winnie” after his company’s hometown “Winnipeg” and she becomes the darling of his troop. When WWI calls his company across the wide ocean, Winnie comes along. But killing fields are no place for a baby bear so it’s to the London Zoo that Winnie goes. Once there, Harry promises her that when the war is done he’ll take her back to Winnipeg. It’s a promise he doesn’t keep. Upon his return Harry sees that Winnie is not only happy but a star of the zoo. She’s so gentle that children everywhere come to see her. Even a boy by the name of Christopher Robin . . . Copious photographs of the real Winnie and Harry grace the front endpapers while Christopher Robin graces the back. There is an additional Author’s Note on Harry, Winnie, and black bears as well as a Bibliography of sources.
As I began reading the book I wondered if the story of Winnie would be akin to other military animal tales out there. Would Winnie aid the Allies much in the same way as Voytek in Poland or was she more of a mascot like Stubby? Neither, as it happens. Though Winnie did make it onto a boat headed for France, her keeper was smart enough to recognize that while some bears would thrive in a war zone (see: Voytek), Winnie was not one of them. Really she was just a baby and after seeing her playing and cuddling with Harry the thought of her existing in a place where bullets would fly is terrifying. This is a sweet wartime tale, perfect for reading to younger children who take things on face value and aren’t aware of what WWI really entailed.
The art of Jonathan D. Voss caught me by surprise. With just a half glance at the cover I initially though the illustrator was Amy June Bates (who illustrated the somewhat similar Christian, the Hugging Lion back in 2010). An understandable mistake but once I actually went so far as to, oh I dunno LOOK at the book, I could see that Voss has a crisper line as well as a sure and steady grasp on the material. This being the first picture book that he has illustrated, he does a good job of making some really iconic images. The view on the cover of Harry hugging Winnie to his chest, as one might cuddle an infant, is downright heartwarming. Likewise the image of Winnie asleep under Harry’s cot as his long arm drapes down, his wrist bending in sleep, works. And if the four shots of Harry playing with Winnie were a YouTube video they’d get more hits than any other cute animal video to date. There is the occasional misstep, I’m afraid. A boy riding Winnie later in the book bears the slack-jawed look of a very small grown man and not a little boy. Indeed Voss appears to be most comfortable when Winnie is his focus. There’s not a single image where that bear doesn’t feel 100% authentic. One suspects the artist spent a great deal of time studying baby black bears and how they move. He also does a decent job of rendering the stuffed Pooh accurately. The arms are admittedly a bit long but the stance and nose are on target.
One objection I’ve heard to the story is that there isn’t enough Christopher Robin / real Winnie-the-Pooh info included in this story. I can see where this critic is coming from but I respectfully disagree. To my mind, Winnie’s story is fascinating in and of itself regardless of what famous literary character she ended up inspiring on some level. Hers is a story of tragedy turned to great good luck. Few orphaned bears in the WWI era would have found such a caring owner, let alone one that let them travel to Europe. Her life was notable at the time and makes for no less an interesting story today.
For my part, the book gets into tricky territory when we view the quoted dialog. Now Ms. Walker is a known entity. She does this stuff for a living. Wins big nonfiction awards like the Sibert for Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and the like. So when we get to a section where Harry is quoted saying “I’ll feed her condensed milk. She can stay with me in camp. Winnipeg can be our mascot,” then we have to naturally assume that the quote comes from one of the listed sources Walker provides at the back of the book. The quotes are not sourced but since Harry’s diary is one of those aforementioned sources, there’s a strong likelihood that the quotes come from there. I’m giving the book the benefit of the doubt in this matter, since faux dialog is the bane of the modern nonfiction picture book.
Read this book and few will wonder that after seeing Winnie in person, Christopher Robin wanted a bear of his very own. Indeed, the vast majority of children who are read Winnie may think to themselves (or say out loud) at some point, “When do I get my own?” Sorry, kids. If it’s any consolation you can see the Winnie-the-Pooh toys in the main New York Public Library location anytime the building is open. Maybe it won’t be the same as getting to ride a sweet bear in the zoo, but it’s still a part of this story on some level. Cute, not saccharine, and pleasing to boot, this is one story-behind-the-story kids will definitely appreciate. Lovers of Pooh welcome but not required.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Interviews: Julie Danielson interviews Sally M. Walker about the book over at BookPage.
Misc: For more interior illustrated spreads, go to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Video: Forgot a movie was made out of this story as well, didn’t you? You’re forgiven. It came out in 2004 and was made for TV after all. That said, it had some big name cast members. Michael Fassbender starred. Stephen Fry shows up. David Suchet. And someone put the whole thing up on YouTube so if you’ve an hour and a half to kill . . .
It’s not what I would call an overly well known fact but here at New York Public Library we are proud to include the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library amongst our branches. The site “provides talking books and magazines and braille for people who are blind, visually impaired, or are otherwise physically unable to read standard print.” And each year when the five boroughs of NYC create a summer reading list we try to note when books are available in braille or talking book formats. Just the same, it’s usually a paltry number of titles, so this year the incomparable Jordan Boaz did the world a solid and created a summer reading list of braille and digital book titles consistent with the 2015 theme (“Every Hero Has a Story”). If you serve a community that has need of such titles, feel free to use this list.
ANDREW HEISKELL BRAILLE AND TALKING BOOK LIBRARY
K-2 BRAILLE TITLES
Three Bears in a Boat Soman, David BR21018
Afraid to face their mother after breaking her beautiful blue seashell, three bears set out on a high-seas adventure to try to find a replacement. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Gaston DiPucchio, Kelly BR21020
A proper bulldog raised in a poodle family and a tough poodle raised in a bulldog family meet one day in the park. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Baby Tree Blackall, Sophie BR21021
After learning that his parents are expecting a baby, a young boy asks several people where babies come from and gets a different answer from each before his parents have a chance to give the right answer. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Adventures of Beekle Santat, Dan BR21022
An imaginary friend waits a long time to be imagined by a child and given a special name, and finally he does the unimaginable–he sets out on a quest to find his perfect match in the real world. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Bone by Bone Levine, Sara BR21035
Guide to discovering the similarities and differences between human and animal skeletons. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Niño Wrestles the World Morales, Yuyi BR21026
Lucha libre champion Niño has no trouble fending off monstrous opponents, but when his little sisters awaken from their naps, he is in for a no-holds-barred wrestling match that will truly test his skills. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Rosie Revere, Engineer Beaty, Andrea BR21028
Aspiring young engineer Rosie must first conquer her fear of failure before she can create the new gizmos and gadgets she dreams about. PRINT/BRAILLE.
How to Cheer Up Dad Koehler, Fred BR21029
A young elephant sees his dad in a bad mood and tries to cheer him up, not realizing his own mischief caused the grumpy mood in the first place. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Extraordinary Jane Harrison, Hannah E. BR21030
Jane the dog doesn’t have a unique talent in the circus like the rest of her family, until the ringmaster discovers what is truly special about her. PRINT/BRAILLE.
I Am Jazz Herthel, Jessica BR21044
Autobiography of Jazz Jennings, a transgender child, who recounts her early awareness that she is a girl in spite of male anatomy and the acceptance she finds through a wise doctor who explains her natural transgender status. PRINT/BRAILLE.
K-2 DIGITAL BOOK TITLES
Biggest Snowman Ever Kroll, Steven DB79775
When the mayor of Mouseville announces a contest, mice Clayton and Desmond compete to win the prize for building the biggest snowman. Commercial audiobook.
How the Meteorite Got to the Museum
Hartland, Jessie DB79410
Recounts the steps that brought a meteor from outer space, across the eastern US, to the roof of a car in Peekskill, New York in 1992. Later, part of it was verified, tested, and exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History.
EARTH Book Parr, Todd DB79690
Illustrates how children can help protect the Earth and make it a better place. Commercial audiobook.
Rain Came Down Shannon, David DB79773
An unexpected rain shower causes hilarious chaos among the members of a small community. Commercial audiobook.
Pigsty Teague, Mark DB79774
When Wendell doesn’t listen to his mom and clean up his room, a whole herd of pigs comes to live with him. Commercial audiobook.
Alice the Fairy Shannon, David DB79776
Alice, who claims to be a temporary fairy, still has a lot to learn, such as how to make her clothes put themselves away in the closet and how to float her dog on the ceiling. Commercial audiobook.
Gingerbread Man Schmidt, Karen DB79889
After a daring escape from the oven, the Gingerbread Man is chased by a little boy, an old man and woman, a group of farmers, a bear, and a wolf–and he outruns them all! But will the clever fox outsmart the quick cookie? Commercial audiobook.
Giraffes Can’t Dance Andreae, Giles DB79890
Gerald the giraffe is too clumsy to dance with all the other animals at the Jungle Dance, until he finds the right music. Commercial audiobook.
Bad Case of Stripes Shannon, David DB79891
In order to ensure her popularity, Camilla Cream always does what is expected, until the day arrives when she no longer recognizes herself. Commercial audiobook.
Memoirs of a Hamster Scillian, Devin DB78669
Though Seymour, a pet hamster, thinks life is perfect inside his cage, Pearl the family cat talks Seymour into exploring the sunroom outside the cage. But once he’s out, Seymour misses his cozy–and safe–home.
GRADES 2-4 BRAILLE TITLES
The New Kid at School McMullan, Kate BR16997
Although small and tenderhearted, Wiglaf’s destiny is to become a hero. So he heads off to the Dragon Slayers’ Academy not expecting to be sent out to slay the dragon Gorzil on the very first day of school.
Revenge Of The Dragon Lady McMullan,Kate BR18126
After accidentally killing a dragon, Wiglaf hopes his friends at Dragon Slayers’ Academy will help him be a hero when he faces the dragon’s mother, Seetha, the Beast from the East. Sequel to February Friend (BR16997).
Nate the Great and the Phony Clue
Sharmat,Marjorie Weinman BR07462
When Nate the Great finds a torn piece of paper on his doorstep with “vita” written on it in ink, he and his dog Sludge set off to find out why.
The Puppy Place Miles, Ellen BR20263
A guide for finding the right dog for you and your family. Discusses different breeds and offers tips on providing the right equipment, food, and training for your new pet.
Magic Bone: Careful What You Sniff For
Krulik, Nancy E. BR20366
As punishment for breaking a vase, sheepdog puppy Sparky is banished to the backyard. He digs up a magical bone and gets transported to London.
Dogs on Duty Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw BR19626
Details the training and jobs military working dogs, or MWDs, including jumping out of aircraft, searching for bombs, and protecting their handlers.
For Good Measure: The Ways We Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old
Robbins, Ken BR20005
Explains units of measure–such as foot, yard, ton, teaspoon, bushel, second, month–and each word’s history and meaning. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Amelia Bedelia Unleashed Parish, Herman BR20029
When Amelia Bedelia asks her parents for a baby brother or sister, her dad eagerly suggests getting a dog instead. To find the dog of her dreams, she helps Diana walk dogs and Eric groom his dog for a dog show, which doesn’t go as planned.
Look up! : Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer Burleigh, Robert BR20035
Biography of Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921), an astronomer who helped discover the first method to correctly measure distances in space during a time when women were not allowed to use the telescope in observatories. PRINT/BRAILLE.
Humphrey’s World Of Pets Birney, Betty BR20351
Humphrey, the hamster from classroom 26, provides tips on finding and caring for the right pet for you. Lists fun facts–and tells jokes–about gerbils, frogs, cats, and other animal friends.
GRADES 2-4 DIGITAL BOOK TITLES
Lost Stone: The Kingdom of Wrenly, Book 1
Quinn, Jordan DB79006
When Lucas, Prince of Wrenly, is finally allowed to play with Clara, the daughter of the queen’s seamstress, the pair decide to team up and search the land for a missing jewel.
Lulu’s Mysterious Mission Viorst, Judith DB79094
When Lulu’s parents go on vacation, the formidable Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky comes to babysit. Lulu behaves as badly as possible to get her to leave, until Ms. Solinsky reveals her secret.
March Mischief: Calendar Mysteries Roy, Ron DB79104
When three leprechaun statues disappear just before St. Patrick’s Day, Bradley, Brian, Nate, Lucy, and other friends follow clues in order to solve the mystery.
Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake Sternberg, Julie DB79130
When Eleanor’s best friend Pearl is assigned to be the new student’s buddy, Eleanor fears she can’t compete. But a new set of problems arises when Eleanor’s chosen for the lead in the springtime musical.
Judy Moody and Stink: The Big Bad Blackout
McDonald, Megan DB79412
As Hurricane Elmer hits, Judy, Stink, and the entire Moody clan hunker down and ride out the storm. But when the power goes out, Grandma Lou proposes some activities to pass the time in the dark.
Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man
Kirby, Stan DB79494
When second-grader Eugene’s favorite comic book goes missing, he blames his best friend Charlie, even though he has no evidence.
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse
Kuhlmann, Torben DB79746
In a country far away, a new invention–the mechanical mousetrap–has caused all the mice but one to flee to America. Now stranded in this dangerous place, the last mouse decides to build a plane and fly to the land of freedom. Translated from German by Suzanne Levesque.
June Jam: Calendar Mysteries Roy, Ron DB79758
As a Father’s Day gift to the twins’ dad, Bradley, Brian, and their friends Lucy and Nate try to identify and stop whatever creature is biting fruits and vegetables in the garden.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive
DiCamillo, Kate DB80240
Leroy Ninker dreams of being a cowboy. He has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse–until he meets Maybelline, and then it’s love at first sight. But when Leroy forgets a rule when caring for Maybelline, disaster ensues. Commercial audiobook. For grades 2-4.
Buried Sunlight Bang, Molly DB80137
Authors present a clear, concise explanation of the fossil-fuel energy cycle that began with the sun and now runs most of the manufacturing, transportation, and energy use in our world.
GRADES 4-6 BRAILLE TITLES
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities Jung, Mike BR19809
Twelve-year-old Vincent and his fellow members of the Captain Stupendous Fan Club help a new superhero learn how to use his–or should that be her?–powers.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard Rowling, J.K. BR18267
The heroes and heroines who triumph in these five stories demonstrate great kindness, common sense, and ingenuity rather than powerful magic.
Adventures of the Greek Heroes McLean, Mollie BR03297
Adventures of six Greek heroes including Hercules, Theseus and Perseus.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
Healy, Christopher BR19625
The lazy bards have it all wrong–there are actually four princes charming: Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav. Instead of rescuing princesses, they team up to battle dangerous creatures to stop an evil plot that endangers their kingdoms.
Are All the Giants Dead? Norton, Mary BR04285
A reporter takes a young boy on a moonlight visit to a fanciful world where he meets Beauty and the Beast, now the middle-aged parents of a lovely daughter who has been captured by an evil spirit
I Never Wanted To Be Famous Clifford, Eth BR07093
Humorous story about Goody Tribble, an average thirteen-year-old with average grades and an average life. But when he saves a choking baby at the dentist’s office and becomes a local hero, his ambitious mother launches an ambitious campaign to make him really famous and, maybe, even president of the United States.
Flora and Ulysses DiCamillo, Kate BR20592
Comic-reading cynic Flora Belle Buckman rescues a squirrel after an accident involving a vacuum cleaner. She is astonished when the squirrel, Ulysses, demonstrates incredible powers of strength and flight after being revived.
Misadventures of the Family Fletcher
Levy, Dana Alison BR20590
The adventures of a family with two fathers, four adopted boys, and a variety of pets as they make their way through a school year and deal with a grumpy new neighbor.
Third Grade Angels Spinelli, Jerry BR20583
George “Suds” Morton competes with his third-grade classmates to earn the first halo of the year for good behavior. Being good turns out to be more stressful than he anticipated.
Starry River of the Sky Lin, Grace BR20448
Young runaway Rendi gets a job as a chore boy for the innkeeper in the remote village of Clear Sky. He takes note of the peculiar inhabitants and their problems–and the missing moon.
GRADES 4-6 DIGITAL BOOK TITLES
Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons
Cowell, Cressida DB79023
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but he needs to save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished. He sneaks into the Meathead Public Library to steal the Vikings’ sacred book, but must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian, the army of Meathead warriors, and the driller dragons. Commercial audiobook.
Lord and Lady Bunny–Almost Royalty! Horvath, Polly DB79113
Madeleine and her hippie parents from Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire! (DB 76222) travel to England to run a candy shop. Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Bunny also travel to England, where Mrs. Bunny tries to weasel her way into the ranks of royalty. Commercial audiobook.
Fairest of All: Whatever After Mlynowski, Sarah DB79339
After moving to a new house, ten-year-old Abby and her younger brother Jonah discover an antique mirror that transports them into the Snow White fairy tale. Commercial audiobook.
Candy Smash Davies, Jacqueline DB79322
As Valentine’s Day approaches and a crush on a classmate develops, Evan develops a secret fondness for writing poetry. But his sister Jessie plans on exposing all in her newspaper.
Magic Trap Davies, Jacqueline DB79381
Siblings Evan and Jessie try to put on a show in the face of an approaching hurricane, but nothing prepares them for what blows into town–their long-lost dad.
Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey Moulton, Erin E. DB79488
Nine-year-old Maple and her older sister, Dawn, must work together to face treacherous terrain, wild animals, and poachers as they trek through Vermont’s Green Mountains seeking a miracle for their prematurely born sister.
Dash Larson, Kirby DB79541
When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, her classmates, and her beloved dog Dash. Mitsi clings to her one connection to the outer world, the letters from the kindly neighbor who is caring for Dash. Commercial audiobook.
Island: A Story of the Galápagos Chin, Jason DB79701
Biography of a Galápagos island–from birth, through adolescence, to adulthood and beyond.
Dexter the Tough Haddix, Margaret Peterson DB79761
After Dexter punches a kid on the first day, a sympathetic teacher and the writing assignment she gives the class help the fourth-grader deal with being the new kid in school.
I Survived Series, Books 1-10 Tarshis, Lauren DB80018
Books one through ten, written between 2010 and 2014, feature kids surviving terrifying and exciting events throughout history.
GRADES 7-9 BRAILLE TITLES
Blood of Olympus: The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5
Riordan, Rick BR20537
The Greek and Roman demigods must prevent the Earth Mother, Gaea, from waking and, at the same time, stop war from breaking out at Camp Half-Blood.
Rain Reign Martin, Ann M. BR20539
Struggling with Asperger’s, Rose shares a bond with her beloved dog. But when the dog goes missing during a storm, Rose is forced to the limits of her comfort zone–which may mean leaving her routines in order to search for her pet.
Brown Girl Dreaming Woodson, Jacqueline BR20541
Autobiography told through vivid poems. Jacqueline Woodson explores her childhood as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement.
P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows
Lawrence, Caroline BR20547
1862 Nevada. Twelve-year-old P.K. Pinkerton’s detective agency is thriving, and he takes on a partner, Ping. Then Opal Blossom abducts P.K. and hires him to track her ex-fiancé and P.K.’s mentor, Poker Face Jace. Some violence.
Storm MacHale, D.J. BR20503
Tucker and his surviving friends, from SYLO (BR 20161), escape the quarantine on Pemberwick Island, only to find the mainland caught in the middle of a battle between the air force and the navy. Some violence.
“The President Has Been Shot!”
Swanson, James L. BR20521
Account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in Dallas, Texas. Some violence.
Strike MacHale, D.J. BR20527
While on the run from the SYLO team, Tucker, Tori, and Kent are driven directly into another base of the enemy, where they become prisoners and await their fate. Sequel to Storm (BR 20503). Some violence.
Handbook for Dragon Slayers Haskell, Merrie BR20379
While visiting a neighboring noble to assist him with his tax records, reluctant Princess Matilda is kidnapped by her cousin in a plot to steal her lands. Matilda’s crush Parz and handmaiden Judith rescue her, and the trio go on the run–and learn dragon slaying.
Shadow Girl Stine, R. L. BR12858
Spending a month with her cousin Jada near Chicago, Selena is dismayed by the mean tricks Jada plays on her. Then Selena finds a secret room with a superhero costume inside it and new dangers to fear.
Jessica Darling’s It List McCafferty, Megan BR20579
The day before seventh grade begins, twelve-year-old Jessica Darling gets a list from her sister, whose popularity and beauty made her a junior-high standout. But when Jessica tries to follow the advice, all goes awry. She even loses her best friend.
GRADES 7-9 DIGITAL BOOK TITLES
My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar: Middle School
Patterson, James DB79397
Georgia Khatchadorian plans to excel at Hills Village Middle School in all the places her troublemaking brother Rafe failed. Commercial audiobook.
Brown Girl Dreaming Woodson, Jacqueline DB80026
In this autobiography told through vivid poems, Woodson explores her childhood as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement. Commercial audiobook.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy Foxlee, Karen DB78958
After the death of her mother, eleven-year-old Ophelia suspends her disbelief in things nonscientific when she meets an extraordinary boy trapped in a museum where her father works. Commercial audiobook.
Rain Reign Martin, Ann M. DB79921
Struggling with Asperger’s, Rose shares a bond with her beloved dog. But when the dog goes missing during a storm, Rose is forced to the limits of her comfort zone–which may mean leaving her routines in order to search for her pet.
Great Greene Heist Johnson, Varian DB79874
After the last disaster, prankster Jackson Greene tries to fix his reputation at Maplewood Middle School. But when fellow student Keith tries to steal the election for school president from Jackson’s former best friend Gabriela, Jackson assembles a team to thwart the challenger.
I Am Malala Yousafzai, Malala DB79878
Memoir of corecipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Recounts how Malala risked her life for the right to go to school. Raised in a changing Pakistan, Malala stood up against the Taliban and remained an activist for girls’ education. Commercial audiobook.
Girl from the Tar Paper School Kanefield, Teri DB79529
Describes the peaceful protest organized by teenager Barbara Rose Johns in order to secure a permanent building for her segregated high school in Virginia in 1951, and explains how her actions helped fuel the civil rights movement.
Night Gardener Auxier, Jonathan DB79649
Irish orphans, fourteen-year-old Molly and ten-year-old Kip, travel to England to work as servants in a crumbling manor house where nothing is quite what it seems to be. Soon the siblings are confronted by a mysterious stranger and secrets of the cursed house.
Space Rocks! O’Donnell, Tom DB79653
Chorkle describes the adventures of Earth children Hollins, Becky, Nicki, and Little Gus, who are marooned on an asteroid,as he watches over them with his five eyes.
On a Clear Day Myers, Walter Dean DB79719
In 2035, Dahlia Grillo, a sixteen-year-old math whiz, joins with six other American teens traveling to England to meet with groups from around the world in hopes of stopping C8, the companies that control nearly everything for their own benefit. Unrated. Commercial audiobook.
To find a Braille and Talking Book Library serving your area go to http://www.loc.gov/nls/find.html
Many thanks to Jill Rothstein for passing this list along and to Jordan Boaz for creating it. If you’d like to know more about the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library you can watch this recent video:
Let’s face facts. When doing a trendwatch piece, it’s almost impossible to top Travis Jonker’s 2014 bit of brilliance 2014: The Year of the Whale. Prior to that piece I had done The Year of the Chloe, The Year of the Jackalope, and The Year of the Raven. And now, in 2015, I’m calling it early. And rather than limit it to a single creepy crawly, I am opening my heart to those eternal enemies, the spiders and the flies. They seem unexpectedly prevalent and it’s only February! How can I be so sure that they’re the insects and arachnids to watch in 2015? Consider the evidence:
The Year of the Fly
I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos. Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas
It’s little wonder that nonfiction flystuffs should abound. Last year Elise Gravel’s The Fly was the one to watch. This year, Heos and Plecas give us a bit of sympathy for those members of the family Muscidae.
Fly! by Karl Newsom Edwards
Stand aside, Fly Guy. There’s a new crop of characters in town and they are sometimes awfully cute. Truth be told you won’t find a more adorable little cutie than this fellow. Told in very simple text, it’s one of those books about finding out where your talents lie, yet it manages the moral without moralizing (no small feat). Plus how do you resist that face? Awwwww.
Astrid the Fly by Maria Jonsson
Astrid’s a Swedish import, and you wouldn’t really know it from the text. She too is rather adorable, though you cannot help but shudder in horror when you see how many brothers and sisters she has. Extra points for making her such a fan of Danish salami.
The Fly by Petr Horacek
You heard it here first folks – This is the best readaloud picture book of 2015. I kid you not, it’s brilliant. Reminding me not a little of Jim Aylesworth’s classic Old Black Fly, Horacek uses his trademark thick flaps to give a not AT ALL cute fly (it’s all in the eyes, man) a distinct point of view. Anyone performing a storytime is going to get a huge kick out of the final THWAP as you close the book on the flying pest.
Super Fly: The World’s Smallest Superhero! by Todd H. Doodler
A show of hands. Who here does NOT hear that classic 1972 Curtis Mayfield song whenever you read this title? Because if not, I envy you. Doodler abandons bears and their undergarments for the Kirkus starred early chapter book. I like that it clarifies the true enemy of the fly: the cockroach. And I think if it came down to the two of them, give me a housefly any day of the week.
The Year of the Spider
Just Itzy by Lana Krumwiede. Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli.
That’s one thing the flies never had going for them: catchy nursery rhymes (notable exception: “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me”). Last year the old Itsy Bitsy Spider song inspired Dosh Archer’s Urgency Emergency: Itsy Bitsy Spider. This year it, alongside 2-3 other spider related nursery rhymes (there’s an abundance of them), has inspired Just Itzy. Itzy is sick to death of his nickname (he could do without the “Bitzy”). He then proceeds to change his fate and his name. Pizzoli is in his element.
Seaver the Weaver by Paul Czajak. Illustrated by The Brothers Hilts
Ever heard of the publisher Mighty Media Kids? Well, if this book is any indication they might be one to watch. The Brothers Hilts did that lovely little book The Insomniacs a couple years ago and then were never heard from again. This book, about a spider that thinks outside the web, makes good use of their skills. Particularly the parts where Seaver must attend to this “guest”.
I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton
I collect funny women and Bethany Barton has recently shot up to the top of my list. Known best at this point for her Monster books (This Monster Needs a Haircut & This Monster Cannot Wait), this latest title pairs nicely with the Petr Horacek fly title since there are a LOT of smushed up spiders between the pages.
Now lest you think such trends are restricted solely to the realm of the picture book, you are sadly mistaken. At least in the case of spiders, the middle grade fiction titles are active and aware:
The Spider Ring by Andrew Harwell
There’s a bit of wish fulfillment at work in this one. I mean, what bullied kid could receive a ring that helps them control spiders and NOT sick ‘em on the classmate that makes their life a misery? Creepy and crawly all at once.
Ferals by Jacob Grey
I mentioned this one in a recent Harper Collins preview. The villain of this piece is named The Spinning Man. If you suffer from arachnophobia, I’d steer clear of this one for a time.
Any others you’ve seen? They have to be pubbed in 2015. I’d say we’re off to a good start thus far too.
We’re in the thick of the month of February now and recently I ran into an interesting problem. It being Black History Month and all I was looking to create a list of Black Experience children’s books for my librarians to pull from for displays and purchasing and such. So I trolled about online looking for a recent list of titles. Don’t get me wrong – I love books like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, but in spite of the relatively small publishing numbers we really have had some wonderful books come out in the last few years. So I looked about and looked about and found almost nothing. If it’s not an award winner or 20+ years old, it’s hard to find lists of recent books.
So I created my own. I wanted a list of titles from the last five years. Moreover, I didn’t want to limit it to just historical books. So in the end what I came up with was an African-American Experience Literary Reference Guide. This is by NO MEANS an all-encompassing list. It’s just some of the recent things I’ve liked and enjoyed and that we all have a need for. Please note that all listed titles are currently in print. Also, they are organized by where they are cataloged in the New York Public Library system.
Enjoy and feel free to add your own in-print titles out in the last five years in the comments.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9780316209175
Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha, illustrated Nicole Tadgell, ISBN: 9780807547823
Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781419707926
My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780670012855
Can’t Scare Me! by Ashley Bryan, ISBN: 9781442476578
Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9781570917004
Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780399233425
Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9780399166150
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780399252846
Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780312603267
Underground by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781250056757
We March by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781596435391
The Hula Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781600608469
My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, ISBN: 9780761458104
My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780810983281
Lullaby (For a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes, illustrated Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780547362656
Goal! by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780763658229
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, ISBN: 9780689873768
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, ISBN: 9780803735118
We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781423119548
Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated Don Tate, ISBN: 9780399160011
Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, ISBN: 9780399252136
Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter, ISBN: 9780399250033
Every Little Thing: Based on the Song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781452106977
One Love by Cedella Marley, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781452102245
These Hands by Margaret H. Mason, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780547215662
Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson, illustrated by R.G. Roth, ISBN: 9780375833342
H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9781606842188
My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete & Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780545094665
Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Bettye Stroud, Bettye, and John Holyfield, ISBN: 9780763640583
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780761352556
Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780545166720
Me and Momma and Big John by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by William Low, ISBN: 9780763643591
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9781600608988
I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9781619631786
In the Land of Milk and Honey by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780060253837
As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781600603488
Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780802720825
Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780060583101
Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9780807576502
A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9781590787120
Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, ISBN: 9781416961239
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, Jacqueline, illustrated by James Ransome, ISBN: 9780399239861
Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, ISBN: 9780399239878
Early Chapter Books
Dog Days by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547970448
Election Madness by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547850719
Skateboard Party by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780544283060
Birthday Blues by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547248936
Nikki and Deja by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547133621
Substitute Trouble by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780544223882
Keena Ford and the Secret Journal Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780142419373
Keena Ford and the Field Trip Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780142415726
EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670784998
EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670784974
EllRay Jakes Walks the Plank! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670063062
EllRay Jakes Is a Rock Star by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670011582
EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670062430
Ellray Jakes Rocks the Holidays! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780451469090
Ellray Jakes Is Magic! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670785001
Middle Grade Fiction
Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, ISBN: 9781423178705
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, ISBN: 9780544107717
How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen, ISBN: 9780061992728
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett, ISBN: 9780545299886
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass, illustrated by Jerry Craft, ISBN: 9780545132107
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond, Victoria and T.R. Simon, ISBN: 9780763643003
Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth, ISBN: 9780545224963
Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, ISBN: 9780545535649
Riding on Duke’s Train by Mick Carlon, ISBN: 9781935248064
Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, ISBN: 9781600604515
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, ISBN: 9780545156646
Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd, ISBN: 9780763650384
Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake, ISBN: 9780545609609
Winter Sky by Patricia Reilly Giff, ISBN: 9780375838927
The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris, ISBN: 9780547255194
Buddy by M.H. Herlong, ISBN: 9780142425442
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, ISBN: 9780545525527
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana, ISBN: 9781452124568
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin, ISBN: 9781595145468
True Legend by Mike Lupica, ISBN: 9780399252273
The Sittin’ Up by Sheila P. Moses, ISBN: 9780399257230
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson, ISBN: 9780763649227
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes, ISBN: 9780316043083
8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, ISBN: 9780545097253
The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell, ISBN: 9781561457106
Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells, illustrated by Marcos Calo, ISBN: 9780544238336
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, ISBN: 9780060760885
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, ISBN: 9780061938627
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, ISBN: 9780399257148
Crow by Barbara Wright, ISBN: 9780375873676
What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld, and Ben Boos, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780763645649
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, ISBN: 9780375867125
The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9781580893879
Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome, ISBN: 9781416959038
Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Ballerina by Michaela Deprince, Michaela and Elaine Deprince, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780385755160
Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey by Gary Golio, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, ISBN: 9780547239941
Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, ISBN: 9780618852796
I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood, ISBN: 9780802853868
The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, ISBN: 9780061259210
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, ISBN: 9781596435407
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9780316107310
I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9781442420083
The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield, ISBN: 9781419707964
Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman: Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9781590788509
We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson, ISBN: 9781561456277
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Various, ISBN: 9781452101194
Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780807580356
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Will Allen, illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin, ISBN: 9780983661535
Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, ISBN: 9780061783746
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
by Kadir Nelson, ISBN: 9780061730740
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780763664596
Martin & Mahalia: His Words – Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Andrea Davis, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9780316070133
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9781423142577
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9780316070164
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson, ISBN: 9781452103143
Jackie Robinson: American Hero by Sharon Robinson, ISBN: 9780545569156
Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige Vs. Rookie Joe Dimaggio by Robert Skead, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780761366195
Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780061920820
Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934
by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780689866388
Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781596434738
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickels: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, ISBN: 9780763651176
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9781600602603
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9780061349201
My Uncle Martin’s Words for America: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Niece Tells How He Made a Difference by Angela Farris Watkins, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781419700224
My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart by Angela Farris Watkins, Angela illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780810989757
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, ISBN: 9780399252518
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While making the rounds through the old internets I came across a recent New Statesman piece entitled Why I want more unlikeable female characters. The premise pretty much boils down to a desire to see “women who are every type of humanity – assholes and all” in our literature and popular culture. And while the piece was not specifically about children’s literature (though Katniss was referenced on the YA side of things) it got me to thinking about what our expectations are when we read children’s books.
First off, let’s back up a bit and think about whether or not children’s books (and we’ll include everything from picture books on up to middle grade novels) are even allowed to have unlikeable protagonists. For the most part, likeability is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. I might cringe at the exploits of Eloise or get all frowny when I look at David’s antics, but for every adult that fails to approve, there are a millions kids crowing and capering along with their antiheroes. A little older and there are unlikeable characters out there, but they’re usually not allowed to stay unlikeable. Some are explicitly evil, like Artemis Fowl, while others are merely annoying/racist like Gilly Hopkins. Very very few are permanently unsympathetic. If they are, it is interpreted as a kind of failure on the part of the author.
Indeed, when discussing books with my fellow NYPL children’s librarians last year, I was struck time and again by the sentence, “I just didn’t like the main character.” Normally this would be enough to condemn the book right there and then, but that was before I noticed that from time to time, and it IS rare, we aren’t really supposed to like the main characters in our books all the time.
Which brings us to the unsympathetic female character. Two books were published in America in 2014 with such a creation gracing the pages. And in both cases I found myself having a devil of a time convincing my fellow librarians that while normally not liking the main character was a mark against a title, in these books it was the novel’s very strength.
The first book is an Aussie import that flew almost entirely under the radar: Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett. A divisive book, to say the least, I enjoyed it but was cowed early on by people I knew who complained about its unsympathetic heroine. Cecily , the girl in question, is a spoiled, rather dim little upper class twit that, upon finding herself in the country during WWII, proceeds to steal the book’s spotlight from the far more interesting, if introspective, character of May. “Annoying” is how people describe Cecily and they’re not wrong. It is, however, rather the point of the book. Cecily’s attitude and her thick headedness both make her a good foil for the action taking place around her. In this book Hartnett takes an incredible risk. May, a refugee Cecily’s family takes in, would have been the obvious choice of heroine in most novels. By instead focusing on Cecily the reader is forced to see the world through the eyes of someone shockingly ignorant. Since I read the book I’ve met person after person who has commented on how much they really loved and appreciated this title. I now regret that I didn’t fight for it more last year.
The other singularly unlikeable heroine that comes to mind is one I did fight for. Gerta from West of the Moon by Margi Preus is an original. Here we have a character that is sympathetic and yet not someone you particularly love. This was a distinct choice on the part of the author and not some kind of misplaced flaw in the writing. Preus made the conscious choice to have Gerta do things that would twist and upset our sympathies for her. She cheats the good and kind, just to rescue herself and her sister. She lies outright and gains passage to America through questionable means. Do the ends justify these means? One of the things that I liked so much about the book was how it dared to ask this very question. Yet like the Hartnett title, the objection lobbed most consistently in the book’s direction was Gerta’s unsympathetic demeanor.
Is this a quality condemned more consistently in books starring girls vs. books starring boys? Actually, I don’t think so. To my mind, any children’s book that stars a kid who isn’t harboring a secret heart of gold beneath a crusty exterior, just more crust, falls under intense scrutiny. We demand role models for our child readers. Moral complexity upsets that expectation. So as 2015 proceeds apace I’ll be keeping watch for characters that deliberately eschew our hearts. Sometimes, there’s more to them than meets the eye.