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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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26. Crazy Cool Things Libraries Are Doing (That I Didn’t Know When I Lived in NYC)

New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library system are all magnificent institutions, each with their own tips, tricks, and innovative programs.  That said, you cannot get away from the fact that in the end they’re just a collection of branches in a gigantic system.  And like many such branches they are unable to partake of the innovations currently sweeping libraries nationwide.  I tell you this because since moving to the Midwest I have seen libraries, such libraries, as would make my NYC friends green with envy.  Ideas that I didn’t know about.  Technologies hitherto unknown.  And, like any good little librarian, I want to share all this with you.  Because, quite frankly, there’s some killer, crazy, wacky good stuff going on out there and you should be aware of it.

Here then is a smattering of cool things I’ve personally witnessed in libraries in the last year.  Very few of these are all that new.  I just hadn’t heard about them or seen them in action till now.  Those of you in big systems might be in the same boat.

Self-Check-In Machines

We all know about self-check-OUT machines in libraries already.  But in a couple places where staffing was tight and room was ah-plenty I have seen self-check-IN machines as well.  I couldn’t find a good online picture of them for this post, so simply imagine that there’s a little hole in the wall.  You put your book or DVD on a small conveyor belt, located in said hole.  It then automatically checks your item in.  Easy peasy.

Redbox-like DVD Dispensers

DVD DispenserEvery library deals with theft on some level.  Sometimes it’s innocuous.  Sometimes it’s pervasive.  DVDs tend to be the easiest targets too.  Sure, you can get all the self-locking cases in the world, but it’s not going to do you a lick of good if someone just takes the dang thing into a bathroom, pries it open with a swiss army knife, and pockets the present inside.  My library has talked about just putting out the cases and having the DVDs behind the circulation desk when people check out, but the increased amount of time this would add to the clerks’ already existing jobs is just crazy.

That’s where media boxes / DVD jukeboxes / dispensing machines come in to play.  2,880 disks are available through the one seen here:

That’s one solution anyway.

Ebook Kiosks

One of the great complaints surrounding ebooks is that you can’t really browse them the same way you can print books.  That’s true, but there are some solutions at hand.  The 3M Cloud Library’s Discovery Terminal, for example, allows patrons to scroll through books and download them right then and there to their devices.

3M Cloud Checkout

Media Centers

Studio 801A lot of libraries have media centers.  They’re nice.  You can get computer classes and learn how to use 3D printers.  Simpe, right?  But when I was in Studio 801 at the Wauconda Public Library, I was shown a world entirely unlike any I’d encountered in a library before.  As they say on their site, “The purpose of Studio 801 is to provide library patrons state-of-the-art equipment and software designed to help complete various digital projects, including school, work, and personal projects. Studio 801 offers the space, hardware, and software for library patrons to get creative with graphic design, video, music, photography, digitization, and much more!”

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Green screen rooms, recording studios, areas where you can transfer your VHS tapes to digital FOR FREE!  Instruments you can rent for those aforementioned recording studios.  A friggin’ APP BUILDER!!  Oh, it’s a brave, new, wonderful world, my friends.

Meeting Rooms

Piggybacking on those studios, imagine free spaces you can get from the library that are tricked out with the latest in white screens, Skype capabilities, drop down screens, etc.  They exist.

Paper Airplane Launchers

Because who doesn’t love mechanical paper airplane launchers?  I mean, really.

PaperAirplaneLauncher

 

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27. Book Trailer Premiere: Maybe Something Beautiful

Faithful readers will recall that I have gushed on occasion about the book MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL by F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López.  For years he’s been creating truly delicious art in a variety of great books.  Remember Drum Dream Girl?  Right there. That.

In this latest book, a community comes together to create not just a mural, but a series of public art ventures. Inspired by Mr. López’s public art work with real communities, the book is a joyful dance of colors and tones.  I’ve had kids come in for years asking for community garden picture books. Those are great, but if we’re looking for books that speak to the beautification of public spaces, this is a great and slightly different story to start with.  There’s even a Twitter hashtag (#maybesomethingbeautiful) for folks looking to show off their own public art discoveries and ventures.

Until then, here’s a truly lovely book trailer for the title.  Don’t let it pass you by!

Many thanks to HMH for the link and the scoop.

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28. Fusenews: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of Garbage Pail Kids and kings . . .

Happy Monday to you!  You want the goods?  I’ve got the goods.  Or, at the very least, a smattering of interesting ephemera.  Let’s do this thing.


 

BostonGlobeHornBookFirst and foremost, you may have noticed the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were announced.  The BGHB Awards are some of the strangest in the biz since they encompass the nonexistent publishing year that extends from May to June.  How are we to use such an award?  No cash benefit is included.  And traditionally it has been seen as either a litmus test for future book awards or as a way of rectifying past sins / confirming past awards.  This year it’s a bit of a mix of both.  Both 2015 and 2016 titles appear on the list.  You can see the full smattering in full here or watch a video of the announcement here.  And, for what it’s worth, I served on the committee this year, so if you’ve a beef to beef, lay it on me.


 

Since this news item appeared on Huffington Post I’m not sure if it is in any way true.  If not, it’s still a lovely thought.  According to HP, the cover artist of Sweet Valley High takes commissions.  Just let that one sink in a little.  I’m not interested, though.  Call me when the cover artist of Baby-Sitters Club starts doing the same.


 

It’s odd that I haven’t linked to this before, but a search of my archives yields nothing.  Very well.  Whether or not you were aware of it, The Toast has The Giving Tree in their Children’s Stories Made Horrific series.  Shooting fish in a barrel, you say?  Not by half.  It’s not a new piece.  Came out three years ago, as far as I can tell.  And yet . . . it’s perfect.  The latest in the series, by the way, was a Frog and Toad tale.  Sublime.


 

This Week in Broadway: Tuck Everlasting is out. Wimpy Kid is in.


 

In other news vaguely related to theater, Lin Manuel-Miranda is slated to star in a 2018 Mary Poppins musical sequel.  And no, not on stage.  On the silver screen.  This, naturally, led to the child_lit listserv postulating over how this could be possible since P.L. Travers had a pretty strong posthumous grip on the rest of the Mary Poppins rights.


 

So I worked for New York Public Library for eleven years.  Eleven years can be a lot of time. During my tenure I observed the very great highs and very low lows of the system.  I like to think I knew it pretty well.  Now here’s a secret about NYPL: They’re bloody awful at telling you about all the cool stuff they have going on.  Always have been.  For example, I’m tooling about the NYPL site the other day when I see this picture.

LibrarianIsIn

I stare at it.  I squint at it.  And finally I cannot help but come to a single solitary conclusion . . . that’s my old boss!  There.  On the left.  Isn’t that Frank Collerius, branch manager of the Jefferson Market Branch in Greenwich Village?  Yup.  The Librarian Is In Podcast seeks to simply talk “about books, culture, and what to read next.”  Frank co-hosts with RA librarian Gwen Glazer and they’re top notch. I haven’t made my way through all of them yet.  I’m particularly interested in the BookOps episode since that’s where I used to work.  And look!  I had no idea that Shola at the Schomburg was on Sesame Street.

SholaMuppets


 

Howdy, libraries.  How’s that STEM programming coming along?  Care for some inspiration?  Then take a gander at the blog STEM in Libraries where “a team of librarians with a passion for creating fun and engaging STEM programs for library patrons of all ages,” have so far created fifty-seven different STEM program ideas.


 

A helpful reader passed this on to me, so I pass it on to you: “The latest New Yorker magazine, dated June 6 and 13, may be of interest to you, if you haven’t yet seen it. It’s the Fiction issue, and in it are some essays by 5 authors, each subtitled “Childhood Reading”…with memories of the books, articles, package labels, events from their childhoods that shaped their idea of what reading is and can be. Having read a couple of these so far, I thought of you, and decided to mention them to you, in case you don’t regularly look at the New Yorker, and might not see them.”  Thanks to Fran Landt for the link.


 

In other NYPL news, I miss desperately being a part of the 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing committee.  Fortunately, the folks on the committee recently confessed to the books they’re finding particularly good.  So many I haven’t see yet.  To the library!


 

Daily Image:

You know who won the Best Bookmark Left in a Library Book Award the other day?  That’s right.  This guy.  Check it out:

GarbagePailKids

Sure beats finding bacon.  I was forbidden to own these guys as a kid, so I’ve placed this little fellow in a prominent place on my desk.  Who wants to bet money that some executive somewhere is trying to figure out how to bring these back?  Let’s see . . . the last time they were made they were illustrated by Art Spiegelman.  So if Pulitzer Prize winners are the only people who can draw them, my vote for the 21st artist goes to  . . . ah . . . wait a minute.  Maus is the only graphic novel to ever win a Pulitzer?!?

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29. Review of the Day: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

WildRobot1The Wild Robot
By Peter Brown
Little, Brown & Company
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-316-38199-4
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

There are far fewer robot middle grade books out there than you might expect. This is probably because, as a general rule, robots fall into the Data from Star Trek trap. Their sole purpose in any narrative is to explain what it is to be human. You see this all the time in pop culture, so it stands to reason you’d see it a bit in children’s books too. Never you mind that a cool robot is basically a kid’s dream companion. Take away the kid, put the robot on its own, and you have yourself some philosophy lite. Maybe that’s why I liked Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot as much as I did. The heroine of this book is mechanical but she’s not wrestling with the question of what it means to feel emotions or any of that. She’s a bit more interested in survival and then, after a bit of time, connection. Folks say this book is like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain. Maybe so, but it’s also a pretty good book about shedding civilization and going wild. In short, living many a city kid’s dream.

The first thing she is aware of is that she is bound in a crate by cords. Once those are severed she looks about. Roz is a robot. She appears to be on an island in the sea. Around her are the shattered remains of a good many other robots. How she has gotten here, she doesn’t know, but it doesn’t take long for her to realize that she is in dire need of shelter and allies. Roz is not a robot built for the outdoors, but part of her programming enables her to adapt. Learning the languages of the denizens of the forest, Roz is initially rebuffed (to put it mildly) by the animals living there. After a while, though, she adopts a gosling she accidentally orphaned and together they learn, grow, and come to be invaluable members of the community. And when Roz faces a threat from the outside, it’s her new friends and extended family that will come to her aid.

WildRobot2They say that all good stories can be easily categorized into seven slots. One of the best known is “a stranger comes to town”. Roz is precisely that and her story is familiar in a lot of ways. The stranger arrives and is shunned or actively opposed. Then they win over the local populace and must subsequently defend it against an incoming enemy or be protected by it. But there is another kind of book this conjures up as well. The notion of going from “civilized” to “wild” carries the weight of all kinds of historical appropriations. Smart of Brown then to stick with robots and animals. Roz is a kind of anti-Pinocchio. Instead of trying to figure out how to fit in better with civilization, she spends the bulk of her time trying to figure out how to shed it like a skin. In his career, Brown has wrestled continually with the notion of civilization vs. nature, particularly as it relates to being “wild”. The most obvious example of this, prior to The Wild Robot, was his picture book Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. Yet somehow it manages to find its way into many of the books he does. Consider the following:

My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not) – A child sees his teacher as a creature best befitting a page in “Where the Wild Things Are” until, by getting to know her, she is humanized in his sight.

Children Make Terrible Pets – A bear attempts to tame a wild human child with disastrous results.

The Curious Garden – Nature reclaims abandoned civilization, and is tamed in the process.

Creepy Carrots – Brown didn’t write this one but it’s not hard to see how the image of nature (in the form of carrots) terrorizing a bunny in his suburban home could hold some appeal.

• Even the Chowder books and his first picture book The Flight of the Dodo had elements of animals wrestling with their own natures.

In this book, Brown presents us with a robot created with the sole purpose of serving in a domestic capacity. Are we seeing only the good side of nature and eschewing the terrible? Brown does clearly have a bias at work here, but this is not a peaceable kingdom where the lamb lays down next to the lion unless necessity dictates that it do so. Though the animals do have a dawn truce, Brown notes at one moment how occasionally one animal or another might go missing, relocating involuntarily to the belly of one of its neighbors. Nasty weather plays a significant role in the plot, beaching Roz at the start, and providing a winter storm of unprecedented cruelty later on. Even so, those comparisons of this book to Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain aren’t far off the mark. Nature is cold and cruel but it’s still better than dull samey samey civilization.

WildRobot4Of course, you read every book through your own personal lens. If you’re an adult reading a children’s book then you’re not only reading a book through your own lens but through the lens you had when you were the intended audience’s age as well. It’s sort of a dual method of book consumption. My inner ten-year-old certainly enjoyed this book, that’s for sure. Thirty-eight-year-old me had a very different reaction. I liked it, sure I did. But I also spent much of this book agog that it was such a good parenting title. Are we absolutely certain Peter Brown doesn’t have some secret children squirreled away somewhere? I mean, if you were to ask me what the theme of this book truly is, I’d have to answer you in all honesty that it’s about how we see the world anew through the eyes of our children. A kid would probably say it’s about how awesome it is to be a robot in the wild. Both are true.

If you’re familiar with a Peter Brown picture book then you might have a sense of his artistic style. His depiction of Roz is very interesting. It was exceedingly nice to see that though the book refers to her in the feminine, it’s not like the pictures depict her as anything but a functional robot, glowing eyes and all. Even covered in flowers she looks more like an extra from Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky than anything else. Her mouth is an expressionless slit but in her movements you can catch a bit of verve and drive. Alas, the illustrations are in black and white and not the lovely color of which we know Brown to be capable. Colored art in middle grade novels is a pricey affair. A publisher needs to really and truly believe in a book to give it color. That said, with this book appearing regularly on the New York Times bestseller list, you’d think they’d have known what they had at the time. Maybe we can get a full-color anniversary edition in a decade or so.

WildRobot3Like most robot books, Brown does cheat a little. It’s hard not to. We are told from the start that Roz is without emotions, but fairly early on this statement is called into question. One might argue quite reasonably that early statements like. “As you might know, robots don’t really feel emotions. Not the way animals do.” Those italics at the beginning of the sentence are important. They suggest that this is standard information passed down by those in the know and that they believe you shouldn’t question it. But, of course, the very next sentence does precisely that. “And yet . . .” Then again, those italics aren’t special to that chapter. In fact, all the chapters in this book begin with the first few words italicized. So it could well be that Brown is serious when he says that Roz can’t feel emotions. Can she learn them then? The book’s foggy on that point, possibly purposely so, but in that uncertainty plenty will find Brown’s loving robot a bit more difficult to swallow than others. Books of this sort work on their own internal logic anyway. I know one reader who seriously wondered why the RECO robots had no on/off switches. Others, why she could understand animal speech. You go with as much as you can believe and the writer pulls you in the rest of the way.

I’ve read books for kids where robots are in charge of the future and threaten heroes in tandem with nature. I’ve read books for kids where robots don’t understand why they’re denied the same rights as the humans around them. I even read a book once about a robot who tended a human child, loving her as her parents would have, adapting her to her alien planet’s environment over the years (that one’s Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes and you MUST check it out, if you get a chance). But I have never read a robot book quite as simple and to the point as Peter Brown’s. Nor have I read such comforting bedtime reading in a while. Lucky is the kid that gets tucked in and read this at night. An excellent science fiction / parenting / adventure / survival novel, jam packed with robotic bits and pieces. If this is the beginning of the robot domination, I say bring it on.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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30. We Need Diverse eBooks Too, Y’know

Ebooks

Here is what in truth is just a query masquerading as a legitimate blog post.  I am never above misusing my power when I’m curious.  And while I’m sure somebody somewhere has brought this up, I certainly can’t recall it being as big a topic as it could be.

The other day I was talking with some folks about ebooks and the state of electronic publishing for kids today.  Now as you may or may not know, most library systems don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to purchasing e-materials.  At New York Public Library we were a large system so we could afford to buy ebooks from Overdrive, 3M, as well as stuff like Freegal.  Here at Evanston Public Library we just have Overdrive and Hoopla.

Now the thing about ebooks is that only a small selection of print materials come out in ebook form in any given season.  A colleague of mine recently decided that it would be a good idea to buy a bunch of diverse ebooks for their collection, so they tried to find as many as they could that were available for purchase.  The problem?  For as few diverse children’s books as we see each and every year, we see even fewer diverse ebooks.

So I put it to you: Is this a problem that is already being discussed and addressed, or is this something we should make a concerted effort to rectify?  Have studies been done on this already and I’m just late to the party?  I honestly don’t know so I put it to you.  If you have some knowledge to drop on me, drop it.

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31. And How Did You Spend Your Memorial Day Weekend?

BostonGlobeHornBookMe?  I spent it in Vermont. The rolling green hills.  The bears and red squirrels and little tiny insects that think your left nostril is a house and home.  The lovely company, particularly when you’re deciding the 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners.

Yup.  Alongside fellow committee members Roxanne Feldman and Joanna Long (she of the magnificent Vermont home) we put our heads together and came up with some stellar winners.

What’s that you say?  You’d like to know who those winners might be?  Nothing doing, sweet stuff.  You’re going to have to watch the live feed this coming Thursday at 11 a.m. EST like the rest of the world.  I’ll give you one hint though: I like these books.  I mean I really, really like them.

Stay tuned, faithful readers.  The live feed video is here.

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32. Press Release Fun: Echo Wins History Award

Ach. I miss this award. I served on it once and suggested titles for consideration twice. Be sure to check out the honors as well. There are some surprises there that made me really happy.

THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY ANNOUNCES

2016 CHILDREN’S HISTORY BOOK PRIZE

GOES TO PAM MUñOZ RYAN FOR ECHO

 

NEW YORK, NY – May 25, 2016—Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, announced today that author Pam Muñoz Ryan will receive New-York Historical’s 2016 Children’s History Book Prize for Echo (Scholastic Press, 2015). The prize annually awards $10,000 to the best American history book, fiction or non-fiction, for middle readers ages 9–12. This year’s award will be presented by New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on June 2 at 12:30 pm at New-York Historical’s Robert H. Smith Auditorium.

“We are pleased to present our 2016 Children’s History Book Prize to Pam Muñoz Ryan,” said Dr. Mirrer. “Echo is a richly imagined and structurally innovative book that reflects our mission to make history accessible to children through compelling narratives that allow them to develop a personal connection to historical subjects.”

Muñoz Ryan’s Echo beautifully weaves together the individual stories of a boy in Germany during the early 1930s, two orphans in Pennsylvania during the mid-1930s, and a Mexican girl in California in the early 1940s as the same harmonica lands in their lives, binding them by an invisible thread of destiny.  All the children face daunting challenges—rescuing a father from the Nazis, keeping a brother out of an orphanage, and protecting the farm of a Japanese family during internment—until their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

“The theme of standing up to prejudice and injustice and how these struggles are intertwined in the lives of these children from different geographic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds resonated with our educator, historian, and student jurors,” said Jennifer Schantz, New-York Historical’s Executive Vice President & COO, who helps oversee the DiMenna Children’s History Museum. “The jury also felt this page-turner of a novel provided a great entry point for teachers and children to discuss intolerance that continues to exist today.”

The New-York Historical Society annually celebrates the work of an outstanding American history children’s book writer and publisher with the Children’s History Book Prize. The recipient is selected by a jury comprised of librarians, educators, historians, and families of middle schoolers. The three finalists for the prize included Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney, I Don’t Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheaney, and My Near Death Adventures (99% True) by Alison DeCamp.

At the New-York Historical Society and its Dimenna Children’s History Museum, visitors are encouraged to explore history through characters and narrative. The Children’s History Book Prize is part of New-York Historical’s larger efforts on behalf of children and families. DiMenna regularly presents programs where families explore history together. At its popular monthly family book club Reading into History, families discuss a historical fiction or non-fiction book they previously read at home, share their reactions, discover related artifacts and documents, and meet historians and authors. New-York Historical’s work with middle school readers and their families is grounded in the belief that offering creative opportunities to engage the entire family helps young readers grow and thrive.

 

About the Author

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the recipient of the Newbery Honor, the Kirkus Prize, the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award, and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for multicultural literature. She has written more than 30 books, which have garnered countless accolades, including two Pura Belpre Awards, the Jane Addams Children’s Boko Award, and the Schneider Family Book Award.

 

About the New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

 

About the DiMenna Children’s History Museum

The DiMenna Children’s History Museum at the New-York Historical Society presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games, and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library. The DiMenna Children’s History Museum encourages families to explore history together through permanent installations and a wide range of family learning programs for toddlers, children, and preteens.

Press Contacts

Ines Aslan

New-York Historical Society

ines.aslan@nyhistory.org

212-485-9263

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33. Review of the Day: Next to You by Lori Haskins Houran

NextToYouNext to You: A Book of Adorableness
By Lori Haskins Houran
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
Albert Whitman & Co.
$16.99
ISBN: 9780807556009
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

Years ago I saw a very interesting sketch produced during the early years of Disney animated filmmaking. The drawing was an explanation to animators on the precise proportions it takes to make a drawn character “cute”. The size of the eyes, the proportions between a large head and small hands, the slant of the gaze, all this contributes to the final cute form. At its worst, the word “cute” conjures up creations like those Precious Moments figurines and their insipid equals. At its best, it touches on our maternal and paternal instincts, even if we’re the kinds of folks who prefer furry animals to actual human babies. If you are a children’s librarian working with picture books, you get a nice and steady influx of cute into your location. Some of it is good, but most of it is fairly intolerable. An Anne Geddes / Nancy Tillman-like excess. I can be forgiven then for putting aside Next to You: A Book of Adorableness when first it came to my desk. I read every picture book I’m sent, but some I read a little faster than others, and this didn’t strike me as something to rush over and devour. It took a fellow co-worker to break the news to me that author Lori Haskins Houran’s title has a very sharp tongue lodged firmly in its cheek. With a canniness uncommon in cutesy picture book fair, Next to You manages to reach a dual readership: People who will take it seriously and people who will get the joke. Sweet.

next-dogA narrator addressing a child sets the tone at the start. That tiny border collie puppy with the bow around its next and a little lamb toy (nice touch)? It’s only “kind of cute”. The yawning tiger cub or round-tailed bunny? “Whatever”. Honestly, the person being addressed wipes the floor with the competition. Those animals used to be really cute. “Until you came along. Now? Sorta so-so”. The narrator’s casual attitude is swiftly called into question, however, when they see a newborn giraffe for the first time. Seeing the giraffe chasing a butterfly, they’re almost persuaded that the giraffe is cuter but, “No! NO WAY! They are NOT as adorable as you. Not NEARLY.” Whew! A final shot of some of the animals in a cuddly pile ends with the narrator saying that none of them are as cute as you, “And you know what? I’m happy to be . . . next to you.” Aw.

Okay. So let’s talk audience here. When a picture book is talking about how cute someone is, that’s usually a tip-off that kids aren’t actually the focus. Instead, this is probably a book written with the hopes of becoming a baby shower staple. Picture books for expectant mothers are big business (how else to explain the inexplicable yet continual sales of Love You Forever?) so each season we see a couple titles make a play for the hearts and minds of incipient parents everywhere. Few succeed in the long run. What distinguishes Next to You from the pack is that it manages to not merely be a new baby book. Houran has somehow or other managed to write something that has appeal to a certain brand of snarky new parent (a common animal too often ignored by the picture book market) AND to actual children as well. This book is self-aware. A saving grace.

next-squirrelThe text gets you pretty much from the first sentence onward. “Next to you, the softest puppy in the world is only kind of cute.” As a librarian I was intrigued but I wasn’t sold. Not until we got to the squirrel. That was the moment when I felt like Houran was making a distinct comment about those of us that waste countless hours watching cute animal videos on YouTube. “A squirrel eating a doughnut with his tiny hands? Adorable, sure. But next to you? Meh. Just OK.” The mix of “tiny hands” and “meh” is noteworthy. I know this sounds a little odd, but that two-page spread is the first true indication that you’re dealing with a picture book is a slick sense of humor. After all, that opening line might just be a fluke. But there is no denying how funny squirrels with itty-bitty widdle hands are, particularly when combined with the all-encompassing and supremely uninterested, “meh”. When the book stops for a moment to goggle at the shockingly cute giraffe, that pause is fascinating. I mean, how do you get a plot out of a book where all the narrator is saying is how cute various animals are? Houran must have also had a blast trying to conjure up all the different forms of cuteness out there? At the same time, take some care to notice that these animals are never in compromising positions. A pig may occasionally wear a sweater but nothing here is considered cute because it’s having its dignity taken away.

It’s a lucky editor that gets a manuscript like this one. Imagine knowing that the artist you acquired would have to excel in the art of “cute”. This editor undoubtedly had to consider a wide swath of artists adept at big eyes and tiny bodies. In the end, the selection fell to first time picture book illustrator Sydney Hanson. Trained in animation and character design, Hanson’s Tumblr page is awash in a sea of sweetness. More details and intricate than the characters found in this book, Hanson is adept at not simply rendering cute the horrible (the big-eyed tarantula is my favorite) but making it clear that these characters have personalities too. The book doesn’t give away Hanson’s medium, so this might all be done on a computer for all I know. That said, it looks like colored pencils. For the art to be effective there has to be a certain level of fuzziness to it. Colored pencils provide that virtual fuzz. My two-year-old son has taken to hugging cute characters in books when he sees them. Next to You, thanks to Hanson’s techniques, is now infinitely huggable.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think this book would actually make a good readaloud to a large group. It would take some practice. You’d really have to get your cadences down. But with the right inflection this could actually work for a bunch of kids. It might even work particularly well for those of the jaded variety. The same kinds of kids that get hornswaggled by Guess Again! by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex would find themselves flummoxed by this book. Few can turn pages without thinking, “Where is this going?” An oddity of a book, but a good one to know about. Don’t let the big blue kitten eyes on the cover fool you. There’s a lot to love between these pages. It’s a book that upsets expectations for adults but still manages to be fun for kids. And if you happen to want to give it to a new parent, I’m not gonna stop you. Not one little bit.

On shelves now.

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34. Gender Politics and Construction Equipment: The Eyelashening

File this one under the category: Stuff Parents Notice But Don’t Discuss

You have a child.  The child is quite young, let’s say two years of age. The child loves books about tools, ladders, and banjos (and you would be shocked just how many books for kids contain at east one of those three items).  What the child loves most in this great big, wide, wonderful world, though, is construction equipment.  Excavators and backhoes (don’t call them diggers).  Cement mixers and forklifts.  And so you, good dutiful parent that you are, go off and attempt to find as many construction equipment books as possible so as to feed this insatiable need.

Time passes.  The child is very fond of the books you have chosen.  So fond, in fact, that they’ve taken to having you read them over and over and over again in succession.  And the adult brain, while capable of doing this, begins to realize that the information coming in is the exact same information that came in five and ten and fifteen minutes ago.  So the brain begins to search for meanings in the books.  Connections.  Something, anything really, to keep it occupied.  And that’s when you notice it.  Right there.  Clear as crystal.

The genders of various pieces of construction equipment.

Because, you see, you cannot check out endless books on crane trucks and steam rollers before you notice how these books choose to gender their anthropomorphized mechanicals.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, we pick apart precisely why one book or another chooses to make a wrecking ball a boy or a grader a girl.  Bear with me here.  I’ve read a LOT of these books.  I need to do something with this information or I may burst.

But first, some history!

History Time

Go to your shelves and pick yourselves up a copy of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever.  A staple of the toddler set, and a fixture on living room bookshelves since the year of its publication, 1963.

Now if you’ll take out your copy of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature and turn to page 69 you will find a remarkably well-written passage (*puffs self up*) regarding Mr. Scarry and gender in his books.  It reads, “By the 1970s, author/illustrator Richard Scarry was the object of much feminist criticism for his repeated portrayal of female characters in passive domestic roles in his many picture books showing community workers.  But Scarry eventually heeded the cries of sexism aimed at him.”  He updated the characters in his book.  Back in 2013 I wrote a piece called “Are there any girl bears?”: Gender and the 21st Century Picture Book featuring this fun bit of side-by-side comparison between the original Word Book and its revised edition:

Scarry

Of course, once you know about the update, the changes are shockingly obvious. Scarry didn’t really bother to match the linework when he redid his art.  Or maybe it’s just that the printing technology of the day made for a stark difference in the original and updated characters.  Here are two good examples of what I mean:

Scarry1

Scarry2

As you can see, the original images are using these deeper watercolor shades while the new images are much lighter and simpler.  I do, however, have to give the man credit for the taxi driver in pearls.

And you know what?  I don’t care if the female characters do look Photoshopped in.  I’m grateful, dammit, that there are some women doing labor above and beyond secretarial work.  Scarry even occasionally put men in roles traditionally considered to be the women’s territory.  Mr. Bunny makes breakfast for the family, for example.

Which brings us, naturally, to the present day.  In the 1970s there was a big push for diverse books and titles with gender equal characters.  Time passed and this pressing need became just a bit less pressing.  So let’s take a group of construction equipment titles as an example and see how the ladies fare.  After all, if Scarry updated this bear to look like this:

Scarry3

Note that he just put a bow on a bear in this particular case.

then how hard can it be for books today?

I’ll separate these books into two categories.  The first are anthropomorphized vehicles.  The second, construction workers.  This is by no means a complete listing.  It’s just what I’ve observed in my own life.

Gendered Construction Equipment

Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard, ill. David Slonim

DiggerDozer

MAN, I love this book.  I recently got a copy for my son to see, having remembered it a little late.  The edition I received from the library was sparkling and pristine.  You know why?  Because it’s shelved in the poetry section of the library and few folks think to look there for their construction books.  Now I love the way Vestergaard never cheats on a rhyme, that’s true.  But really and truly what I adore about the book is the variety of genders she grants her unusually animate objects.  The skid-steer loader, excavator, ambulance, steamroller, and forklift all identify as female.

DiggerDozer2

Slonim does give big long eyelashes to all the female vehicles, which seems a bit excessive.  You don’t need eyelashes on a Skid-Steer Loader, after all.  But as it happens, eyelashes are the preferred method of gender identification on trucks.  You can see this as well in:

Go! Go! Go! Stop! by Charise Mericle Harper

GO-GO-GO-STOP-Cover-copy

In this book there’s only one female piece of equipment and it’s the dump truck.

GoGoGo2

Not quite as extensive as Vestergaard’s book, but it’s still good to have her there.  Again, Harper goes in for eyelashes.  Scarry used bows.  It’s all relative.

Mighty Dads by Joan Holub, ill. James Dean

MightyDads

An interesting case.  Dean doesn’t go in for eyelashes and Holub seemingly gives some of the little construction vehicles female names (“Mitzy” is one of them).  It’s not 100% clear, but you can read into it what you like.  I think it counts.

Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherry Duskey Rinker, ill. Tom Lichtenheld

GoodnightGoodnight

Ah.  Alas.  My son adores this book.  He recently got a stuffed version of the excavator for his birthday and he simply could not be more pleased.  But while the pieces of equipment do have genders, they’re all male.

Bulldozer’s Big Day by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann

BulldozerBigDay

All boy, all the time too.

Gender of Construction Workers

I’ll be the first to tell you that of all the construction workers who have been helping to build the duplex next door to my house, not one of them has been female.  Still and all, there is a benefit to young readers seeing girls build in some way.  So with that in mind . . .

Dig, Dogs, Dig: A Construction Tail by James Horvath (and subsequent sequels like Build, Dogs, Build and Work, Dogs, Work)

DigDogsDig

I’m writing this at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’ve seeing Dig and Build but I haven’t seen Work quite yet.  Still, on the basis of the first two books in the series, I have one comment: Roxie needs to do some real work.  You see, in the book there’s this pink dog named Roxie who joins the apparently all-male crew on their digs (yes, she has eyelashes).  The problem is that Roxie doesn’t have much to do. For example, on the back of Build, Dogs, Build you can see her welding:

Roxie

But inside they changed it so that the dog doing the welding wasn’t her.  All Roxie got to really do in this book was install a doorbell.  Dig, Dogs, Dig wasn’t much better.  There she just handed down hammers.  I’ll be looking at Work, Dogs, Work soon.  Hopefully they put that gal through her paces.  She needs to earn her keep!

Construction by Sally Sutton

Construction

Very nicely done.  It’s not overt but the construction workers do include female crew members.

Whose Trucks? by Toni Buzzeo, ill. Jim Datz

WhoseTruck

These board books are fantastic.  Men and women work together everywhere.  Also, the kids playing with the trucks at the end of the book are a boy and a girl.  If you haven’t seen this, as well as its companion piece Whose Tools? then you are missing out, my friend.

Diggers Go by Steve Light

       DiggersGo

My son doesn’t have many words but one word he does have is “man”.  “Man?  Man?” he asks as he points to the construction equipment in this book.  He’s not wrong.  You might argue that since the faces are in silhouette there’s no way to really tell if the drivers are men or women, and you’d be right.  Still and all they look like dudes.  When Light puts women in these positions, they tend to have ponytails.  The sole ding in what is otherwise a magnificent series.

 

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35. Fusenews: The occasional “unruly pleasure”

I’ve done it again.  Delayed my Fusenews too long and now this post is going to overflow with too much good stuff.  Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.


HallmarkMe stuff for the start. And in fact, there just so much Me Stuff today that I’m just going to cram it all into this little paragraph here and be done with it. To begin, for the very first time my book Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Chidren’s Literature (co-written with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta) was cited in an article. Notably, a piece in The Atlantic entitled Frog and Toad and the Self.  Woot!  In other news I’m judging a brand new picture book award. It’s the Hallmark Great Stories Award. Did you or someone you know produce a picture book in 2016 on the topic of “togetherness and community”? Well $10,000 smackers could be yours. In terms of seeing me talk, I’m reading my picture book (and more) at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest on June 11th.  If you’re in the Chicago area and ever wanted to see me in blue furry leg warmers, now your chance has come here.  Finally, during Book Expo I managed to coerce Hyperion Books into handing me three of their most delicious authors (Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and Eoin Colfer) so that I could feed them to WGN Radio.  You can hear our talk here, if you like.  And check out how cute we all are:

WGN

Colfer, for what it is worth, is exceedingly comfortable.  I highly recommend that should you see him you just glom onto him for long periods of time.  Like a sticky burr.  He also apparently has an Artemis Fowl movie in the works (for real this time!) and you’ll never guess who the director might be.


This is interesting. Not too long ago children’s book author C. Alex London wrote a piece for BuzzFeed called Why I Came Out As a Gay Children’s Book Author.  It got a lot of attention and praise.  Then, earlier this month, Pseudonymous Bosch wrote a kind of companion piece in the New York Times Book Review. Also Known As tackles not just his reasons for a nom de plume (skillfully avoiding any and all mentions of Lemony Snicket, I could not help but notice) but also how this relates to his life as a gay children’s book author.


Hey, full credit to The New Yorker  for this great recentish piece on weeding a collection and the glory that is Awful Library Books.  My sole regret is that I never let them know when I weeded this guy:

150Ways

The copyright page said 1994, but I think we know better.  Thanks to Don Citarella for the link.


Cool. The publisher Lee & Low has just released the winner of the New Visions Writing Contest, now in its third year.  Congrats to Supriya Kelkar for her win!


New Podcast Alert: With podcasting being so popular these days, I do regret that my sole foray into the form has pretty much disappeared from the face of the globe. Fortunately there are talented folks to listen to instead, including the folks at Loud in the Library. Teacher librarians Chris Patrick and Tracy Chrenka from Grand Rapids, MI (homestate pride!) get the big names, from picture books illustrators to YA writers. Listen up!


New Blog Alert: The press release from SLJ sounded simple. “SLJ is pleased to welcome The Classroom Bookshelf to our blog network. In its sixth year, the Bookshelf features a weekly post about a recently published children’s book, including a lesson plan and related resources.” Then I made a mistake. I decided to look at the site. Jaw hit floor at a fast and furious rate leaving a dent in the linoleum. Contributors Randy Heller, Mary Ann Cappiello, Grace Enriquez, Katie Cunningham, and Erika Thulin Dawes (all professors at Lesley University’s outstanding school of ed.), I salute you. If I ever stop writing my own reviews, you’ll know why.


This:

JeffSmith


This one’s just for the New Yorkers. I’m sure you already saw this New Yorker paean to the Mid-Manhattan library, but just in case you didn’t it’s here, “unruly pleasures” and all.


For whatever reason, PW Children’s Bookshelf always goes to my “Promotions” folder on Gmail, so I assume they already mentioned this article. Just in case they didn’t, though, I sort of love that The Atlantic (second time mentioned today!) wrote an ode to Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Thanks to Kate for the link.


Now some Bookshare info.  The idea of providing free ebooks for kids with print disabilities is a good one.  And, as it happens, not a new one.  Bookshare, an online accessible library, just added its 400,000th title to its collection and boy are they proud.  Free for all U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities and U.S. schools, they’ve a blog you might want to read, and they service kids with blindness, low vision, dyslexia, and physical disabilities.


Daily Image:

You probably heard that Neil Patrick Harris will be playing Count Olaf in the upcoming Netflix series of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Now we have photographic proof.

HarrisOlaf

I wonder if Brett Helquist ever marvels at how much power his art has had over these various cinematic incarnations.  The lack of socks is a particularly accurate touch.

 

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36. Review of the Day: The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti

KingKazooKing of Kazoo
By Norm Feuti
Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic)
$22.99
ISBN: 978-0545770880
Ages 9-12
On shelves July 26th

When I used to run a children’s book club for 9-12 year-olds, I’d regularly let them choose the next book we’d discuss. In time, after some trial and error, I learned that the best way to do this was to offer them three choices and then to have them vote after a stirring booktalk of each title. The alternative was to let them choose the next book we’d read for themselves. Why would this be a problem? Because given a choice, these kids would do the same kinds of books week after week after week: graphic novels. In fact, it was my job to give them the bad news each week (after they plowed through our small comic section) that we didn’t have any new comics for them. To their minds, new graphic novels for kids should come out weekly, and secretly I agreed with them. But five years ago there really weren’t a lot to choose from. These days . . . it’s not all that different. In spite of the fact that comics have been sweeping the Newbery and Caldecott Awards and our current National Ambassador of Children’s Literature is a cartoonist by trade, the number of graphic novels produced in a given year by trade publishers isn’t much different from the number produced in the past. Why? Because a good comic takes a long time to create. You can’t just slap something together and expect it to hold a kid’s interest. There was a time when this fact would make me mad. These days, when I see a book as great as King of Kazoo, I just give thanks that we’re living in an era where we get any comics at all. A debut GN from a syndicated cartoonist, Kazoo is a straight-up, kid-friendly, rollicking adventure complete with magic, big-headed kings, robots, volcanoes, and trident wielding frog people. Everything, in short, you want in a book.

The King of Kazoo is not a wise man. The King of Kazoo is not a smart man. The King of Kazoo is not a particularly good man. But the King of Kazoo, somehow or other, has a wise, smart, good daughter by the name of Bing, and that is fortunate. Bing dabbles in magic and has been getting pretty good at it too. That’s lucky for everyone since recently the nearby mountain Mount Kazoo kinda, sorta exploded a little. When the King decides the only way to secure his legacy is to solve the mystery of the exploding mountain, he ropes in Bing and silent inventor/mechanic Torq. Trouble is, Bing’s dad has a tendency to walk over everyone who tries to help him. So just imagine what happens when he runs into someone who doesn’t want him to fare well. It’ll take more than magic to stop the evil machinations of a crazed alchemist. It’ll take teamwork and a king who understands why sometimes it might be a good idea to let others take some credit for their own work.

KingKazoo2As a general rule, it is unwise to offer up comparisons of any cartoonist to the late, great Carl Barks. The man who lifted Uncle Scrooge out of the money pit to something bigger and better, set the bar high when it came to animal-like semi-humans with long ears and big shiny black noses (not that Barks invented the noses, but you know what I mean). All that said, it was Barks I kept thinking of as I read The King of Kazoo. There’s something about the light hand Feuti uses to tell his tale. The storytelling feels almost effortless. Scenes glide from place to place with an internal logic that seemingly runs like clockwork. I know it sounds strange but a lot of graphic novels for kids these days are pretty darn dark. Credit or blame the Bone books if you like, but for all that most of them contain humor the stakes can run shockingly high. The Amulet series threatens characters’ souls with tempting magic stones, the Hilo books are filled with questions about the absolutes of “good” and “bad”, and the aforementioned Bone books delve deep into madness, apocalypse, and dark attractions. Little wonder a goofy tale about a hare-brained king in a wayward jalopy appeals to much to me. Feuti is harkening back to an earlier golden age of comics with this title, and the end result is as fresh as it is nostalgic (for adults like me).

KingKazoo3Which is not to say that Feuti sacrifices story for silly. The biggest problem the characters have to overcome isn’t what’s lurking in that mountain but rather the King’s love of bombast and attention. Each character in this story is seeking recognition. The King wants any kind of recognition, whether he deserves it or not. Torq and Bing just want the King to recognize their achievements. Instead, he takes credit for them. And Quaf the Alchemist has gone mildly mad thanks to years of not receiving sufficient credit for his own inventions. To a certain extent the book is questioning one’s desire for applause and attention on a grand scale, focusing more on how necessary it is to give the people closest to you the respect and praise they deserve.

KingKazoo1The style of the art, as mentioned, owes more than a passing nod to Carl Barks. But the seeming simplicity of the style hides some pretty sophisticated storytelling. From little details (like Torq’s missing ear) and sight gags to excellent facial expressions (Feuti is the lord and master of the skeptical eyebrow) and uses of body language (Torq never says a word aside from the occasional sigh, but you are never in any doubt of what he’s feeling). I’m no expert on the subject, but I even think the lettering in the speech balloons may have been done entirely by hand. The coloring is all done on a computer, which is a pity but is also pretty par for the course these days. There’s also something sort of classic to the story’s look. With its strong female character (Bing) you wouldn’t mistake it for a tale published in the 1950s, but on all the other fronts the book harkens back to a simpler comic book time.

I read The King of Kazoo to my four-year-old the other day at bedtime. She’s not the book’s intended audience but her inescapable hunger for comics can drive a mother to grab whatsoever is handiest on the shelf. Lucky is the mom that finds this book sitting there when you need it. Perfect for younger readers, ideal for older ones, and with a snappy plot accompanied by even snappier dialogue, Feuti has produced a comic that will actually appeal to kids of all ages. That King is a kook. Let’s hope we see more of him in the future.

On shelves July 26th

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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37. Spotted at BEA: Upcoming Goodies

A light smattering of things that caught my eye at BEA.

Here’s the thing about Book Expo America.  As conferences go it yields less love amongst librarians than our own, beloved American Library Association conferences.  And that just makes sense.  BEA is about the business side of books. Booksellers are the primary focus and they’re swell folks.

This year the move to Chicago meant that a lot of the local booksellers were a bit worried about turnout.  At an author dinner I attended they mentioned their fears that a smaller conference might convince organizers that Chicago wouldn’t be worth visiting in the future.  Now as it happened, attendance was down by about 20%.  However, the organizers went on record saying that this had been expected, and that the people who did attend were folks who would normally not go to the NYC version.

The advantage of BEA is that the books you see there often are the same books you’ll see at ALA Annual.  So you can cut down on the titles you’ll need to ship by simply getting them early.

For my own part, I spent a good chunk of the event attending and moderating and participating on panels.  It was Friday before I could give the conference floor and the books on display the proper attention they deserved.  So please bear in mind that what I’m listing here today is just a small smattering of what was on display.  This is, if nothing else, a very random assortment.

First up, this:

Preg

I think I’ve found the profile pic I’ll put up every Mother’s Day from now until eternity.

Feast thine eyes.  Oh yes.  You know you want that picture book biography.  The fact that it’s about a South American real-life heroine?  Or that it’s part of a kind of anti-princess series?  Icing on the cake.

What you’re looking at is this:

Azurduy

And the company behind it is Books Del Sur.  Here’s their own description:

Books del Sur  was established by two long time friends, Heather Robertson and Ignacio Muñoz. After Heather became tired of the lack of quality Spanish literature available in her bilingual programs.  She contacted Ignacio in Chile and he used his business experience and knowledge of Chilean media to access books for Heather’s students. Their mission is to bring books from South America into the classrooms of Spanish-speaking students in the United States. Books del Sur is based in the Northern Chicago Suburbs and on the world wide web.

So basically these books are all in Spanish.  If there are plans for future English translations, I’ve yet to hear of it.  Fortunately, on their website you can sign up to hear if English versions will ever become available.  And in the meantime, these Spanish versions are magnificent.  Here are some of the other women in this series.  See if you can guess them by just these shortened cover images:

Frida

Violeta-Parra-2-200x300

Really, BEA was all about the international literature.  So I became familiar with Books Del Sur on the one hand, as well as Candied Plums on the other.

Candied Plums is a company dedicated to bringing Chinese imported children’s books to the States.  They’ve a frontlist of lovely books coming soon, but my favorite by far was this:

Haws

Apparently “candy haws” are a bit of a Chinese staple.  It was difficult to figure out exactly what they are, but they were described to me as candied crabapples.  If that sound gross, don’t worry. Some research indicates that “haws” are a fruit not found in the States.  So they may only have some mild similarities to our crabapples.  This story is a sweet tale about an old candy haws seller who finds he can’t locate anyone to buy his wares.  When he feeds some stray cats on his rounds, his generosity is returned in spades.  I’ll be reporting more on Candied Plums in the future, no worries.  They’ve given me a lot to think about.

On the nonfiction side of things, this was my favorite surprise find:

Esquivel

Don’t recognize him?  Well, basically he was the inventor of lounge music.  It gets better.  The author is part of a lounge music cover band for him.  Love love lovedy love.

MaryGlam

Here we have a rare Vanessa Newton-Bradley spotting.  Since the George Washington Birthday Cake debacle I was afraid that we’d lose sight of her for a while.  Nice to see she’s back in business.

In other news, coloring books are out and this is in:

Dots

I kid. Coloring books aren’t out.  And as to whether or not this is, or ever will be in, I leave it to you.

On one panel I decried the lack of diverse books in the vein of Wimpy Kid.  Someone later showed me this:

Frazzled

Looking forward to grabbing my own soon.

I know you have hundreds of early chapter book mystery books starring Muslim girls, but add just one more to the pile.

Museum

Oh.  What’s that?  You haven’t ANY Muslim girl early chapter book mysteries?  Well aren’t you the lucky one today.  It’s been out since January.  Time we stood up and took notice.

And really, though I saw quite a bit more than this, these are the ones I took pictures of, so that’s all she wrote folks!

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38. Day of Dialog 2016 Recap: Chicago Edition!

Photo credit Laini Taylor

Photo credit Laini Taylor

I feel like it’s been a long time since I “reported” on anything. It isn’t just the move to the Chicago area. It’s more that subtly over the years I’ve pulled back from the rote typing that I used to engage in so often. Blame Twitter. Blame aging. Blame my left pinkie finger which, even as I write this, is slowly growing numb.

But when you are at School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog (held in Chicago this time around) and Richard Peck steps up to the podium to give the keynote speech then out comes the laptop, the fingers stretch and crack, and my wordplay becomes a bit more loquacious thanks in large part to the sheer osmosis of Mr. Peck’s presence.

His words don’t hurt either.

Before we go much further I would like to note that today’s reporting is going to have all the care and content of a sugar rush.  At first I did very well indeed.  Then, as the day goes on, the sleeplessness I encountered thanks to my small children took its toll and . . . well, let’s get back to Mr. Peck.  You’ll see for yourself anyway.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.25.28 PMHe steps up to the podium wearing an immaculate yellow pocket square, which sets off his blue tie. I should note that when I met him earlier in the day he not only remembered me (no easy manner) but said, “You reviewed my pocket handkerchief”, so now I almost feel obligated to continue.  It was a nice yellow, certainly, but of more interest is the fact that much much later in the day I would see Mr. Peck again.  Day of Dialog closed with all the authors of the panels signing their own books.  There I noted that Mr. Peck had changed both handkerchief and shirt. The man is meticulous in his presentation, no doubt about it.

Today we, the audience members, watched as he stepped up and addressed what he called “the people of the story.”  Part of any good speech comes in knowing your audience. And Peck, a native born Illinois boy, was in his element. He began by placing Chicago, its history and literature, in context. He got particular claps when he suggested that the Cubs will go to the World Series (which is apparently true, though I’ve heard conflicting reports recently). Honestly, what it really did was make me feel particularly good about moving here. “May all the sons and daughters of Chicago know these, their authors. And wait, one more, mine.” Then he holds up his latest title The Best Man.

Mr. Peck is the kind of fellow that can sound like he’s speechifying even in moments of casual conversation. So when he starts to read, it gives you a second or two to catch up. In today’s case, he performed the switcheroo so seamlessly that it honestly took me a moment to realize that he himself did not place rats under his Aunt Sally’s bed. “And the rats were doing what they could to keep the dull times off her.”

Eventually it becomes clear that all a writer like myself really wants to do is just quote him without cease. I mean, how can I resist? The man is practically built of one-liners. For example:

– “I marched into Kindergarten the day that Hitler marched into Poland . . . but I was better prepared. Because I had a mother who read to me.”

– Holds up a poster of Fair Weather. “This is my idea of a PowerPoint.”

– Twain influenced him heavily. “The same tobacco fueled turn of speech.”

– “Boys don’t want to make imaginative leaps. Boys want to make clear connections.”

– “All the best role models are dead. And all the worst role models are a year ahead of you in school.”

– “Boys in Decatur were not asked how we wished to express ourselves.”

– “My Jr. High students made a writer out of me. They kicked the autobiography out of me… but they taught me how to write. And here’s how . . .”

– “You take 6 drafts to erase yourself out of the manuscript.”

– “All fiction is historical fiction before the ink is dry.”

– “The only way you can write is by the light of the burning bridges behind you.”

Yeah. That last one got a lot of retweeting on the Twitter.

Of course he had to talk about his latest is book. The Best Man is about a boy. One of his role models wants to marry another one of his role models. Both are men. Peck wrote it to make a point that “they may not get in school.” Though, as he is quick to point out, kids today have watched far more episodes of Modern Family than he will ever watch. And when he read a little bit from his latest, and I was personally taken with this line:

“I’m 34. I’m too old to wear shorts in public.”

Said Mr. Peck, the right of whom to marry is a right we should all share. This point transitioned seamlessly into his particular bugaboos. Textbooks, mindlessness of worksheets, and standardized testing come to mind.

Peck touched on his discomfort with texting. “The young find new ways to limit their world . . . 250 texts a day, and not a semicolon among them.” And later, “… they are texting deep into the night, long after failed parents are fast asleep.” Burn.

He received a standing ovation. As Alison Morris next to me pointed out, there is no one more eloquent than he. But, naturally, that leads to jokes about how we should go about making him The Official Elocutioner of Children’s Literature . . . which sounds bad, right? Like you should give him a hood or something. “The Elocutioner of the Revolution is here!” So maybe not.

You can see some of his talk here, thanks to Colleen Seisser:

Next up, the panels! And it took me a little while, but eventually it became clear that panel #1 was a nonfiction picture book panel.

9:45–10:30 am | Panel I: Some Nonfiction! Dynamic informational books for young readers Room DEF

Panelists:
Candace Fleming & Eric Rohmann, Giant Squid (Roaring Brook Press)
Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (Little, Brown)
Mara Rockliff, Around America To Win the Vote (Candlewick)
Jane Sutcliffe, Will’s Words (Charlesbridge)
Melissa Sweet, Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White (HMH)

It was hosted by Deborah Stevenson and it was mentioned briefly at the beginning that the largest collection of children’s books outside of the Library of Congress is found at the Center of Children’s Books at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Really? Who knew? Someday I’m going to write The Hardest Children’s Literature Quiz in the World and this fact is going into it.

Once we got into the gist of things it was discovered that Giant Squid is Eric Rohmann’s first piece of nonfiction, and Candy’s first science related nonfiction. The book is, as you might imagine, about giant squids but it was Eric who initially had the idea for it and handed some pictures to Candy he’d storyboarded, saying, “Here are the pictures. I need some words.” But not so many they’d clutter up the pictures. Naturally.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.25.47 PMAnother panelist was Jane Sutcliffe who wrote Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk about how Shakespeare’s language has permeated the world. It reminded me a lot of that Greek words book that Gareth Hinds illustrated a while ago, written by Lisa Lunge-Larsen, called Gifts from the Gods: Ancient Words and Wisdom from Greek and Roman Mythology. There before us was Melissa Sweet and her new bio Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, a book that Alison Morris informs me is worth reading. Panelist Julia Kuo illustrated The Sound of Silence, which may be the first philosophical picture book I was able to successfully read to my daughter. That kid really and truly found it interesting, that rare combination of cute images with sophisticated content.  And the panel was rounded out with Mara Rockliff and her recent title Around America to Win the Vote. I’m a big time fan of another 2016 release of hers, Anything But Ordinary: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic.

If there was a topic to discuss this day it was “truth”. There must be something in the air (possibly the upcoming presidential election, if I don’t miss my guess). In any case, both this panel and the following one on middle grade fiction (moderated by yours truly) thought long and hard about truth and how it relates to children’s literature. In the case of children’s nonfiction, it’s often my go-to topic for Literary Salons. In today’s panel, Melissa Sweet tackled the notion of the word “true” as it related to her art in her E.B. White biography. For instance, she really wanted to draw his home so she collaged it with a photograph of the actual house itself. The end result is part photo / part drawing. And as Sweet says, there’s a lot of interpretation in the art of what happened when you’re drawing images of the past.

Are there clear boundaries between fiction and nonfiction? Candy actually spoke eloquently to this topic at my Lit Salon (and now I’ve a really lovely recorded version here):

In this case, Deborah pointed out how lyrical and lovely the language of Rockliff’s book is, while still staying true to its subject. Rockliff then quoted Deborah Heiligman and the horse poop quote (which I always use as well!). It’s such a good line. Basically, it’s from when Deborah was writing her Natinal Book Award winning Darwin title Charles and Emma. During its creation it was pointed out to Deborah that when writing about true events in the past, if you want to say someone stepped over horse poop in the road, that’s okay because everyone would have done that. But if you wanted to say someone leaned against a lamppost, you can’t actually say that. In an interesting twist it was pointed out that historical picture books can never meet those nonfiction standards because artists still need to make up what you see. It’s something we have to remember. Though, as Mara said, “I don’t worry too much about the lamppost in the yard.”

All this brought to mind the old discussion of why writers are held to such strict standards while illustrators almost have carte blanche in nonfiction picture books.

Rohmann agrees, by the way. He says he can’t really call what he’s doing nonfiction. “The picture being worth a thousand words works against you in this case.” That’s a good line. Why does he feel like this? Well, when he asked two scientists for the color of the giant squid, one expert said that giant squids are red and other said that they’re silver. So, being the guy that he is, he just made them red AND silver in the art. Kuo understood what Rohmann was saying and built upon it. Turns out, The Sound of Silence is actually based on a true story the author heard from her dad. After she wrote it, she asked her dad to tell her the story about the koto player, who starts off the book. But her dad didn’t remember the guy. So what you end up with is a story that’s based on another person’s memory but has blurred and blurred. There’s always something that’s interpreted about any illustration, after all. Because Kuo had to draw Tokyo she used Google street view to aid her. The Tokyo featured in this story, she pointed out, is different from her author’s, particularly since she included her own favorite stores.

Facts suggest a way to tell a story. But in the Shakespeare story Will’s Words there are two sets of facts. Facts about the Globe and Shakespeare’s world and the facts about his words and literature. Sutcliffe said that though facts come first, kids deserve to know where the line is drawn and where fact and fiction lie. Her view is that fact and fiction are “friendly neighbors that borrow from one another.” But people need to be honest with children and always say what is fact and what is fiction. If only in an Author’s Note.

In terms of the Giant Squid book, Deborah said, “We have so few books that talk about what we don’t know.” Good line. Another good line was quoted from the book itself – “It is dangerous to be bite-sized.” Interestingly there’s no early title page in this book declaring “Giant Squid” loud and proud. This was a conscious choice on Candace’s part. She pretty much figured that it would ruin the book. If you start with the word right at the beginning, it destroys the mystery. Instead, you’ll find the title page buried, so to speak, on page 10. Likewise, you don’t see the whole squid until the very end, before it escapes. It was a great panel but I was particularly taken with the random little facts I picked up along the way. Like the fact that apparently giant squids are plentiful, but the only reason we know this is because so many of their beaks show up in the bellies of sperm whales.

Since these are picture books we’re talking about, there was a nice section on the use of color in stories about history. Mara put in a word for it. As she said, picture books have an amazing advantage when it comes to sucking children into the past. Adults think of the past as grey. Kids now are facing loads and loads of historical picture books ablaze in bring colors. That’s gotta make a difference, right?

Deborah turned the conversation to the art in Will’s Words and design. Jane Sutcliffe mentioned at this time how her artist “sacrificed” some birds in his illustrations for the inclusion of the story’s text boxes. Deborah then recounted a Trina Schart Hyman story about the time someone commented to her what a pity these text boxes were when it came to covering up parts of her art. Her tart reply: “That’s why the art was made, you know.”  Eric pointed out that as a children’s book illustrator, “you’re not making art to hang over the couch”. A good illustrator finds a way to do more than the text is able to say. “Our audience doesn’t look at a picture. They inhabit a picture.”

We ended with a little discussion of backmatter. Mara Rockliff, a self-described “Research Junkie” brought up an interesting point about it that I’d never heard before. In her Adelaide book Mara didn’t have room to include the explanation of how the bullet catching trick worked. So, instead, she put it on her website. Now that it’s getting hits and she’s getting a real sense of how many people actually read the backmatter of a nonfiction title.

By the way, during the course of this panel Alison and I noticed that Eric has a very nice voice. Very radio friendly. So, and this is bad, we started talking about what we’d call Eric’s radioshow. You may want to cover your eyes for this one. You ready? Okay. It would be called . . . Friends, Rohmann, Lend Him Your Ears.

Oh, it could work.

Not long after this panel came my own:

11:15 am–12:00 pm | Panel II: Truth Be Told: Big questions in middle grade fiction and what adults keep from children Room DEF

Panelists:
Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Workman)
Adam Gidwitz, The Inquisitor’s Tale (Dutton)
Jennifer Holm, Full of Beans (Random)
Jason Reynolds, As Brave As You (Simon & Schuster)
Raina Telgemeier, Ghosts (Scholastic)

Moderator: Betsy Bird, Collection Development Manager at the Evanston Public Library

Looked something like this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.24.26 PM

They were a good group, as you might imagine.  However, moderating cuts down significantly on my reporting skills.  To hear what was said you’d have to lean heavily on another reporter.  Or find the video that may or may not have been recorded at the event.  *stares longingly at the SLJ logo on the top of this page*

Our lunchtime speaker was Laini Taylor.  Good old, Laini.  I like that gal.

Now comes the tricky part.  A YA panel was up, and I did make an effort to record what I saw, to some extent.  It was:

2:15–3:00 pm | Panel III: Mind-bending Women of YA Room DEF

Panelists:
Sharon Cameron, The Forgetting (Scholastic)
Roshani Chokshi, The Star-Touched Queen (St. Martin’s Griffin)
S. J. Kincaid, The Diabolic (Simon & Schuster)
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap (HarperCollins)
Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer (Little, Brown)

Moderator: Janice Del Negro, Associate Professor and Follett Chair at Dominican University

I should warn you that at this point my note taking began to take a turn for the sleepy.  So what you’re going to see here are thoughts that might not be quite as connected as they should be.  You have been warned.

The whole kerschmozzle started off with a bit of a small bang.  “We conferred prior to this panel and decided I wouldn’t ask the sex question first.” Now THAT is moderation, people!

What I liked about the panel in particular were discussions of how women are portrayed in YA novels.  For example, Laini Taylor pointed out that for many people Katniss is the norm and that any girl or woman without the physical ability to protect themselves in a YA novel is considered a bad role model. Yet we need these books for the girls who don’t have their dad’s samurai sword in the closet and they need to find ways to protect themselves in different ways. Laini’s characters in her new novel don’t fight. She didn’t want people to be able to defend themselves all the time. There are other ways to be strong than to be able to fight.

Cameron concurred. There’s something in her that backs off from writing to an agenda, even if she agrees with that agenda. “I want to write human characters that are the way the world is.” The quiet rebel.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.26.29 PMLaura Ruby mentioned, “I would like to retire the word strong. ‘Strong female characters’. No one talks about ‘strong male characters’.” This ties in pretty directly to Bone Gap, where Ruby wrote about a trapped female character and gave her agency.   When she mentioned that maybe she hasn’t been given crap about not having a “strong female character” because she splits her narrative between a male and female character, and one of the female character is aggressive. “But she tends bees!”

Chokshi talks about the degree to which female characters garner criticism. She spoke to the Twitterverse to a certain extent about how we view female writers as well.

Janice mentioned that she wouldn’t mind retiring the word “feisty”. I think it’s ironic now, so I’m unwilling to retire it.

The sex talk came next. Laini mentioned that romance novel type sex in YA novels makes her super uncomfortable. Chokshi said she honestly would have written more sexy scenes but she was living at home with her parents. She’d be sitting at the table typing and her dad would say, “Hey, you want to watch John Oliver?” But she moves out in June so maybe that’ll change. Kincaid discussed her comfort level as a writer. It’s important to be true to the characters’ experience. Laura discussed her “hazy magical bee sex”. She also said that you can get away with a lot more in fantasy than in realistic books.

Of course, the true advantage of YA is time.  Kincaid pointed out that unlike a TV show where characters declare their love and immediately have sex, YA novels are allowed to be a bit more thoughtful, to take time, and to speak to their emotional development.

After this, Janice Del Negro spoke to the “These are boy books / These are girl books” divide that occurs in a lot of places (even library programming!). Kincaid called it an “artificial divide.” Cameron said she’s seen some amazing changes in this over the last few years. We’re moving away from the girl in the dress covers. We’re seeing a lot more graphic covers (ala Hunger Games). When she first started writing, people told her her character should be female because they were the ones who were reading and they don’t want to read from a boy’s perspective. She’s seen that notion dissipate over time. Chokshi then said, “reading books doesn’t emasculate you, it strengthens you.” Ruby said she likes tweeting the picture of LeBron James reading Hunger Games when this comes up. Laini likes her newest cover because it could speak to anyone. She likes frilly dress covers too but if it can speak to both genders then let it (I’m paraphrasing here).

So that was that.  And the way I figure it, if you’re running an all day even and the plan is to end the day with a panel, make it an interesting panel. Make it a BIG panel. Make it a panel that will make folks want to stick around. It’s 4 p.m. The attendees are tired. They need a little jolt of something

3:45–4:45 pm | Panel IV: What Comes First, the Idea or the Image? Creativity at Play in Today’s Picture Books Room DEF

Panelists:
Kate Beaton, King Baby (Scholastic)
Michelle Cuevas & Erin Stead, Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (Dial)
Richard Jackson & Jerry Pinkney, In Plain Sight (Roaring Brook Press)
Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston, A Child of Books (Candlewick)
Brendan Wenzel, They All Saw a Cat (Chronicle)

Moderator: Elisa Gall, Librarian and Department Co-chair at the Latin School of Chicago

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.26.08 PM

At this point the fingers went out entirely.  Sorry about that.  Particularly because Elisa just killed it as a moderator.  If I taught a class on How to Moderate Panels, I’d find a tape of what she did with that ginormous panel and just show it.  Honestly, it was a work of art.  When I moderated that day I asked a single solitary question and my panel ran with it.  I never asked another.  She, however, not only asked a ton of questions but she was so skilled at drawing out some folks to speak more and others to elaborate on points.  Marvelous stuff.

Many thanks to SLJ for asking me to be there.  And thanks too to everyone who participated.

 

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39. The Children’s Literary Salon: Full Video Showcase

As you may or may not know, this past Saturday I conducted a Children’s Literary Salon at my library with panelists Travis Jonker, Mr. Schu, and Colby Sharp.  And, as ever, I recorded a live feed of the event.  That’s fairly snazzy, but before I post that video here I want to take a moment to thank the City of Evanston.  Every Literary Salon I have done has been meticulously recorded by their employees.  Then some saintly person somewhere actually edits them.  The recordings and sound are loads better than any of my crummy Google Hangout feeds.

As we find this season of the Lit Salons winding down before my summer vacation months, here is a complete roster of lovely videos documenting everything we’ve done.

From the earliest to the most recent we have:

Bringing Books to the Border

In 2014, when more than 70,000 children crossed the southern border into the United States—many of them unaccompanied—it sparked a humanitarian crisis. Infrastructure for food, housing, medical attention, and legal services had to be created, but no less important was the provision of good books and library services in Spanish and indigenous languages. This past spring, IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People, based in Switzerland, joined REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project to help bring children’s books to the refugee children still arriving in the Rio Grande Valley. In August, local bookstore owner Jeff Garrett (Bookends & Beginnings) helped organize a fact-finding and book-delivering visit to government, church, and other private agencies responding to the crisis. Speaking about his experiences, with photos documenting the journey, Jeff touches on many of the issues surrounding the border today and what we can learn from those who are working with refugee children every day.

 


Publishing Children’s Books in the 21st Century

Lots of people want to write and/or illustrate books for kids, but how do you actually go about doing so? What are some of the pitfalls and perks of the job? What should you avoid? What are the common myths? Meet Gemma Cooper (agent), Sara Shacter (Assistant Regional Advisor and author), Ruth Spiro (author), Eileen Meyer (Network Representative and author), and Terri Murphy (Illustrator Coordinator and illustrator) of the Illinois chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as they discuss the ins and outs of writing and illustrating for kids.


 

Ethics in Nonfiction for Kids

Do we hold our nonfiction for children to different standards than we do our informational texts for adults?  When you’re trying to make something fun for kids to read, where do you draw the line between fact and fancy? Join three of the most experienced nonfiction authors for children, Candace Fleming (THE FAMILY ROMANOV), Judith Fradin (THE PRICE OF FREEDOM), Barb Rosenstock (THE NOISY PAINTBOX), and Sally M. Walker (WINNIE) in a discussion of the increasingly complex and exciting world of nonfiction for children.


 

On Beyond Narnia – Death and Theology in Children’s Literature

Join children’s authors Jeanne Birdsall (THE PENDERWICKS IN SPRING, 2015) and N.D. Wilson (OUTLAWS OF TIME, 2016) for a discussion of writing children’s literature from both a Christian and a Non-Christian Humanism point of view.

The Art of Enthusiasm

Online gurus and children’s book evangelists Travis Jonker, Colby Sharp, and John Schumacher discuss promoting your favorite literature for kids, making the most of online resources, and spreading the culture of book love and enthusiasm amongst readers of every age.

Stay tuned for more in the future!

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40. Walking and Talking with . . . Kate DiCamillo!

Recently I hosted a Literary Salon where an attendee asked at the end whether or not it was true that Kate DiCamillo deleted every draft she wrote, right after finishing it, so that she could rewrite it again.  As it turns out, this isn’t exactly the case, but it did lead a lot of us to wonder how Kate writes in general.  A secret signal must have been sent through the ether because not three days later I got word from author Steve Sheinkin that he had a new Walking and Talking feature to present.  And its subject?  Kate DiCamillo!  Enjoy, folks.  All shall be revealed:

Kate1 copyKate2 copy

Thanks yet once more to Steve for allowing me to show off his fantastic comics.  For previous entries in the “Walking and Talking” series, please be sure to check out the following:

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41. Can Adult Authors Be Taught?: Considering the Alternative Celebrity Children’s Book

The title of the New York Times piece is Masters of Prose Warm Up to Children’s Picture Books.  Innocuous enough.  Inside, the article looks at the current spate of authors who normally write for an adult audience but have recently switched their focus to our youngest readers. Jane Smiley, Sherman Alexie, and Calvin Trillin are spotlighted in particular, though they are hardly the first of their kind.  As the writer Alexandra Alter rightly points out, it is far more common for (for lack of a better term) adult authors to write middle grade or YA books for kids.  Picture books take, in many ways, a different set of muscles and only recently have they become quite so popular with writers for adults.

Part of what I liked so much about Ms. Alter’s piece was the fact that it mentions historical precedents. “Writing children’s literature has always appealed to a subset of serious novelists. James Joyce, who wrote some of the most famously impenetrable passages in English literature, wrote two children’s fables about cats for his grandson. James Baldwin, John Updike and Kurt Vonnegut all published illustrated books for young readers.”  To say nothing of poets like Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes.  And so on.  And such.

So why are so few children’s books by adult writers truly memorable?

That’s a rather broad brush to paint with, so I’ll endeavor to explain.  Think about the adult authors you really admire.  Now think about their children’s books, if indeed they’ve written any.  Were they good?  Or merely mediocre?  Chances are, they’re in the latter category.

This is not to say, of course, that an author of adult stories and texts can’t also win big in the children’s book realm.  Look at one of the Newbery winners.  Neil Gaiman is probably the most prominent example of someone who has truly succeeded in the children’s book realm, conquering not just middle grade novels but also early chapter books and picture books too.  But for every Gaiman there’s a Michael Chabon or Alice Walker or Donald Barthelme (I’m looking at YOU, Slightly Irregular Fire Engine).  You love their adult work.  You’re kinda meh on what they do for kids.

A lot of these authors have children of their own, or even grandchildren.  Many create stories for those kids and turn those stories into books.  Jules Feiffer, for example, wrote Bark, George after telling that tale to this daughter at bedtime.  But pleasing your own children vs. pleasing other people’s children?  They don’t always go hand-in-hand.

Here then, is a list of adult authors that I think really and truly got it right.  A hat tip to the books that could have been published, even if the authors had been completely and utterly obscure first-time writers:

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

Wolves in the Walls

Granted, it wasn’t his first picture book, but I’d maintain it remains his best.  It taps into fears, feeding and allaying them simultaneously.  I suppose he’s always lucked out in his illustrators.  A lovely musical was constructed out of it years ago too.

Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie

 ThunderBoy

The NY Times article is right.  It really is quite good (though he also lucked out on his illustrator).  Little wonder it’s done well since apparently he went through 70 drafts.

Old Possums’ Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

oldpossumgorey_back

I still haven’t heard a good reason for why Eliot wrote this.  Before Andrew Lloyd Webber was even a gleam in his grandma’s eye, Eliot penned this lovely, rolicking, quite silly collection.  The later illustrations by Edward Gorey are just icing on the cake.

The Bed Book by Sylvia Plath

Bed Book

I know parents who swear by this book.  Their children won’t go to sleep without it.

13 Words by Lemony Snicket, ill. Maira Kalman

 13 Words

Because technically he was an adult author first, even before A Series of Unfortunate Events.  This is kind of a twofer, since Kalman works primarily in the adult art world as well.  But all I really care about is that they created this great book trailer.

Who’s Got Game: The Ant or the Grasshopper? by Toni Morrison with Slade Morrison

 Who's Got Game

The whole “Who’s Got Game?” series was an original way of reinterpreting the Aesop fables.  I liked Morrison’s style.  Her picture books haven’t always hit it out of the park, but I thought this series had a lot going for it.

And now . . . a list of adult authors I’d really and truly love to see children’s books by, if only because I’m having a hard time imagining how those books would go.

  • Zadie Smith
  • Salman Rushdie (a picture book – his Haroun books were nice enough but I’d like to see the man go younger for a change . . . and not just in his dates. Goodnight, everyone!  Try the fish!)
  • Allie Brosh
  • Stephen King (that pop-up book The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon doesn’t count – not really)
  • Louise Erdrich (again, younger than her middle grade novels – a picture book would fulfill all my hopes and dreams)
  • Gary Soto (because I know exactly what I’m saying)

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42. Default: White

Alternate Title: The Call Is Coming From Inside the House

So yesterday at lunchtime I trotted out my neat little stack of periodicals to read while I munched a ham sandwich.  I picked up the latest Kirkus (1 May 2016) and there I saw the Vicky Smith article: “Unmaking the White Default”.  As many of you may have noticed recently, Kirkus made a significant shift in the way that they review.  Normally, a children’s or YA book review will eschew mentioning the ethnicity of a human character unless that character isn’t white.  The implicit message to this is that white is the default and anything that isn’t white is the exception rather than the rule.  To combat this problem, Kirkus has taken to mentioning the ethnicity of all human characters, or at least making note of their skin tones.  In this article, Vicky discussed the change.

When this switch was initially made, the responses were mixed.  I’ve listened to the Horn Book Podcast that discussed the decision, noted the mistake in the Kirkus review of The Night Gardener (the 2016 picture book, not the Jonathan Auxier gothic middle grade), and taken an interest in the SLJ reviewers’ online course on diversity & cultural literacy (so far they have 125+ registered).

Imagine me reading all this while twiddling my thumbs.  Dum de dum.  Toodle-oo.  Hum hum hum.  Not really thinking too hard.  I review for Kirkus so, like all reviewers there, I’ve been adjusting my reviews as I write them.  There’s an art to it, really.  Some folks have been concerned that this sort of thing just reinforces how obsessed we are over skin color.  I see that, absolutely.  And I look forward to the day a Kirkus editor writes an article rescinding this reviewing method because we’ve come so far as a nation that we don’t need it anymore.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure the publishing industry isn’t quite there yet.  Or, for that matter, the nation.

I suppose it’s because I review for Kirkus that it took me this long to come to a very personal realization.  First off, do I agree with what Kirkus is doing?  Actually, I do.  The white default is more annoying than the old italicize-all-foreign-languages trope and hardly less bothersome than the describe-darker-skin-tones-entirely-in-terms-of-food method.

As Vicky Smith mentioned, it’s hardly a change everyone likes.  I saw that one commenter on the Horn Book podcast site wrote, “Why stop at hair color, eye color, skin color, DNA? Perhaps in the digital book future, we will move toward even greater specificity. A child could be placed at the center of each book she reads, the details customized to be about herself, the most interesting subject in all the world.”  A comment placing the whole debate in the context of how personalized electronic information leads to narcissistic youth sort of misses the point.  There may be kids out there that only want to read books about kids of their own races, but Kirkus isn’t doing this for them.  Would you find fault in a review mentioning a character’s chosen gender?  As a librarian, I need to know precisely what each book I read or need to read contains.  Characters are more than their ethnic backgrounds, but at the same time your race informs your life.  Not everyone has the luxury of ignoring it.

So.  We come to it.  If I agree with Kirkus, would I apply their method of mentioning all skin tones to the reviews I write on this blog?

Huh.

Hadn’t really occurred to me before.

I mean, the reviews that I write for this blog are my brand.  If this blog dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, it would be the reviews I’d really miss writing.  And in the time that I’ve been writing them I’ve settled into a nice comfortable little format.  Opening paragraph, description of the book, mentions of writing, mentions of art (if applicable), concerns, closing paragraph.  Easy peasy.  And in my time reviewing I don’t think I’ve made an active change to the format at all.

Is white the default when I review?  Yes indeed.

Could I change this?  Yes indeed.

Now let me be clear about a couple things right off the bat.  When Kirkus first started applying this method to their reviews, it was awkward.  They got the details wrong on some books and shoehorned the mentions into some of the reviews.  I have a theory, and I could be completely off, that there’s been a learning curve since then.  There is an elegance to how you describe a character in any review.  Done correctly and with careful consideration and the mention feels natural.  Done wrong and it feels almost didactic.

In the end, and when you boil it all down, this is an easy switch to make.  I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.  Plus, I have a distinct advantage over Kirkus.  While they must bring up racial skin tones within a scant 225 words, I have all the time in the world in my own reviews to make the mentions.  In a way, bloggers are in a better position to try out this change than professional review journals.

Die, default.  Die.

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43. Review of the Day: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

WolfHollowWolf Hollow
By Lauren Wolk
Dutton Children’s Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1101994825
Ages 10 and up
On shelves now.

I am not what you might call a very brave reader. This is probably why I primarily consume children’s literature. I might puff myself up with a defense that lists the many fine aspects of this particular type of writing and believe it too, but sometimes when you catch me in a weak moment I might confess that another reason I like reading books for kids is that the content is so very “safe” in comparison to books for adults. Disturbing elements are kept at a minimum. There’s always a undercurrent of hope running through the book, promising that maybe we don’t live in a cold, cruel, calculating universe that cares for us not one jot. Even so, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes have difficulty with books written for, oh say, 10-year-olds. I do. I’m not proud of it, but I do. So when I flipped to the back of Wolf Hollow mid-way through reading it, I want to tell you that I did so not because I wanted to spoil the ending for myself but because I honestly couldn’t turn another page until I knew precisely how everything was going to fall out. In her debut children’s book, Lauren Wolk dives head first into difficult material. A compelling author, the book is making the assumption that child readers will want to see what happens to its characters, even when the foreshadowing is so thick you’d need a knife to cut through it. Even when the ending may not be the happy one everyone expects. And you know what? The book might be right.

It is fair to say that if Betty Glengarry hadn’t moved to western Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1943 then Annabelle would not have needed to become a liar later. Betty looks the part of the blond, blue-eyed innocent, but that exterior hides a nasty spirit. Within days of her arrival she’s threatened Annabelle and said in no uncertain terms that unless she’s brought something special she’ll take it out on the girl’s little brothers. Annabelle is saved from Betty’s threats by Toby, a war veteran with issues of his own. That’s when Betty begins a more concentrated campaign of pain. Rocks are thrown. Accusations made. There’s an incident that comes close to beheading someone. And then, when things look particularly bad, Annabelle disappears. And so does Toby. Now Annabelle finds herself trying to figure out what is right, what is wrong, and whether lies can ever lead people to the truth.

Right off the bat I’m going to tell you that this is a spoiler-rific review. I’ve puzzled it over but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I’d be able to discuss what Wolk’s doing here without giving away large chunks o’ plot. So if you’re the kind of reader who prefers to be surprised, walk on.

All gone? Okay. Let’s get to it.

First and foremost, let’s talk about why this book was rough going for me. I understand that “Wolf Hollow” is going to be categorized and tagged as a “bully book” for years to come, and I get that. But Betty, the villain of the piece, isn’t your average mean girl. I hesitate to use the word “sadistic” but there’s this cold undercurrent to her that makes for a particularly chilling read. Now the interesting thing is that Annabelle has a stronger spine than, say, I would in her situation. Like any good baddie, Betty identifies the girl’s weak spot pretty quickly (Annabelle’s younger brothers) and exploits it as soon as she is able. Even so, Annabelle does a good job of holding her own. It’s when Betty escalates the threat (and I do mean escalates) that you begin to wonder why the younger girl is so adamant to keep her parents in the dark about everything. If there is any weak spot in the novel, it’s a weak spot that a lot of books for middle grade titles share. Like any good author, Wolk can’t have Annabelle tattle to her parents because otherwise the book’s momentum would take a nose dive. Fortunately this situation doesn’t last very long and when Annabelle does at last confide in her very loving parents Betty adds manipulation to her bag of tricks. It got to the point where I honestly had to flip to the back of the book to see what would happen to everyone and that is a move I NEVER do. But there’s something about Betty, man. I think it might have something to do with how good she is at playing to folks’ preexisting prejudices.

Originally author Lauren Wolk wrote this as a novel for adults. When it was adapted into a book for kids she didn’t dumb it down or change the language in a significant manner. This accounts for some of the lines you’ll encounter in the story that bear a stronger import than some books for kids. Upon finding the footsteps of Betty in the turf, Annabelle remarks that they “were deep and sharp and suggested that she was more freighted than she could possibly be.” Of Toby, “He smelled a lot like the woods in thaw or a dog that’s been out in the rain. Strong, but not really dirty.” Maybe best of all, when Annabelle must help her mother create a salve for Betty’s poison ivy, “Together, we began a brew to soothe the hurt I’d prayed for.”

I shall restrain myself from describing to you fully how elated I was when I realized the correlation between Betty down in the well and the wolves that were trapped in the hollow so very long ago. Betty is a wolf. A duplicitous, scheming, nasty girl with a sadistic streak a mile wide. The kind of girl who would be more than willing to slit the throat of an innocent boy for sport. She’s a lone wolf, though she does find a mate/co-conspirator of sorts. Early in the book, Wolk foreshadows all of this. In a conversation with her grandfather, Annabelle asks if, when you raised it right, a wolf could become a dog. “A wolf is not a dog and never will be . . . no matter how you raise it.” Of course you might call Toby a lone wolf as well. He doesn’t seek out the company of other people and, like a wolf, he’s shot down for looking like a threat.

What Wolk manages to do is play with the reader’s desire for righteous justice. Sure Annabelle feels conflicted about Betty’s fate in the will but will young readers? There is no doubt in my mind that young readers in bookclubs everywhere will have a hard time feeling as bad for the antagonist’s fate as Annabelle does. Even at death’s door, the girl manages the twist the knife into Toby one last time. I can easily see kids in bookclub’s saying, “Sure, it must be awful to be impaled in a well for days on end . . . . buuuut . . . .” Wolk may have done too good a job delving deep into Betty’s dark side. It almost becomes a question of grace. We’re not even talking about forgiveness here. Can you just feel bad about what’s happened to the girl, even if it hasn’t changed her personality and even if she’s still awful? Wolk might have discussed after Betty’s death the details of her family situation, but she chooses not to. She isn’t making it easy for us. Betty lives and dies a terrible human being, yet oddly we’re the ones left with the consequences of that.

In talking with other people about the book, some have commented about what it a relief it was that Betty didn’t turn into a sweet little angel after her accident. This is true, but there is also no time. There will never be any redemption for Betty Glengarry. We don’t learn any specific details about her unhappy home life or what it was that turned her into the pint-sized monster she is. And her death comes in that quiet, unexpected way that so many deaths do come to us. Out of the blue and with a whisper. For all that she spent time in the well, she lies until her very last breath about how she got there. It’s like the novel Atonement with its young liar, but without the actual atoning.

Wolk says she wrote this book and based much of it on her own family’s stories. Her memories provided a great deal of the information because, as she says, even the simplest life on a Pennsylvanian farm can yield stories, all thanks to a child’s perspective. There will be people who compare it to To Kill a Mockingbird but to my mind it bears more in common with The Crucible. So much of the book examines how we judge as a society and how that judgment can grow out of hand (the fact that both this book and Miller’s play pivot on the false testimony of young girls is not insignificant). Now I’ll tell you the real reason I flipped to the back of the book early. With Wolf Hollow Wolk threatens child readers with injustice. As you read, there is a very great chance that Betty’s lies will carry the day and that she’ll never be held accountable for her actions. It doesn’t work out that way, though the ending isn’t what you’d call triumphant for Annabelle either. It’s all complicated, but it was that unknowing midway through the book that made me need to see where everything was going. In this book there are pieces to pick apart about lying, truth, the greater good, minority vs. majority opinions, the price of honesty and more. For that reason, I think it very likely it’ll find itself in good standing for a long time to come. A book unafraid to be uneasy.

On shelves now.

Source: Thanks to Penguin Random House for passing on the galley.

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44. Fusenews: I wouldn’t waste my time riding a bike

Hokey dokey.  Too much stuff here to cover very well, but try we shall.  Hold on to your hats, folks!  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.


 

saltFirst off, you know how I was talking the other day about constructing the ideal educator website of children’s literature resources?  Well, this might have to be one of said resources I’d include.  Called Uncover the Past, the site is dedicated to “helping library and education professionals teach history through children’s literature!”  The booklists are particularly interesting.
Thanks to Rebecca Redinger for the link.


 

Next up, one for the “how cute is this?” files.  I don’t know why the idea of Mary Blair tableware isn’t commonplace, but so far this is the first place I’ve seen it done properly.  Blair, as you may recall, worked as a Disney animator for years before becoming a children’s book illustrator.Take the survey and you might win a set of your very own.


 

Mmm.  Process.  Sweet, delicious process.  What’s better than watching an Art Director explain how they came up with a YA cover?  Watching an Art Director explain how they came up with a YA cover after considering LOADS of alternatives.  Chad Beckerman shows us how The Haters came to be.  I don’t usually do YA, but in this special case I am making an exception.  You bet I am.


 

auctionOo.  Auction. Now normally one wouldn’t have the money for such a thing, but this one’s special.  What we’re talking about here is a Refugee Benefit Auction, created by authors Shannon Hale and Mette Ivie Harrison.  100% of the proceeds go to Lifting Hands International, a charity that gets life-saving supplies directly to refugee camps.  As for the things you could get, they’re pretty fantastic.  My personal favorite?  A pole dance (or fan dance, they’re easy) performed by Shannon Hale and Daniel Handler.  “Negligible nudity assured”.  Oddly, this item has yet to secure an initial bid.  Would someone like to lend me $10,000?


 

The Fictional Book Characters Who Sparked Our Sexual Awakenings. Meh. None of these ranked in my book, but it’s interesting to see the fellers other gals were into.  And, happily, it reminded me of one of my favorite Toast pieces of all time: Things I’ve Learned About Heterosexual Female Desire From Decades Of Reading.


 

I think I’m the last one to link to the Alexander London piece Our Stories Are As Unlimited As Our Selves or Why I Came Out as a Gay Children’s Book Author.  A great piece and one that ties in nicely with the GLBTQ chapter of Wild Things.  Should we ever update that book, this is going in.


 

UndergroundAbductorOo!  Eisner Award nominees.  Love that stuff, I do.  And check it out!  Not only is Nathan Hale nominated in the Best Publication for Kids category (for The Underground Abductor, naturally) but he’s also in the Best Writer / Artist category as well.  He is the ONLY children’s book creator in that category, by the way.  Regardless of whether or not he wins, that is significant.


 

Travis Jonker. He comes up with so many good ideas.  Have you seen his Endangered Series, uh, series?  Well, it’s a great idea.  Series that once were strong but now are waning are given a close examination.  Cam Jansen was the latest to fall under scrutiny.  I suspect The Kids of the Polk Street School already hit the dust, but if not then this would be an ideal candidate for a future post.


 

Wow.  Two thumbs up to the ALSC board for voting to cancel the National Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina.  American Libraries Magazine has the scoop.  Thanks to Jules Danielson for the link.


 

How on this good green earth did I miss Rick Riordan’s letter to kids who are faced with the dire prospect of being shown one of the Percy Jackson movies in school?  I’ve seen authors dislike their books’ adaptations before, but nothing quite matches this.  Thanks to Monica Edinger for the link.


 

“With such a huge international variety of books and illustrators on display in Bologna, are there differences in illustration styles among individual countries?” Yep. Moving on.  Oh, wait . . . no, let’s dwell on this idea a bit longer.  Four German children’s book publishers were asked this question and they gave their responses.  The thing is, here in the States we’re seeing some remarkably high quality German children’s book fare on a regular basis and it’s GREAT!  I’d love this question to be regularly posed with folks from other countries as well.


 

The site Brightly has had a couple good articles up lately.  I liked 8 Surprising Facts About Your Local Librarian not the least because I knew the librarians quoted.  NYC pride!


 

Daily Image:

I almost never do images of books here for the Daily Image since it’s sort of a case of bringing coals to Newcastle.  But then I saw that one of my greatest picture readalouds, one of my core books, a title I’ve loved for years, is getting a sequel.  At long long last I have an answer for those kids who have been asking me, “Is there a sequel with the tractor?”

DuckTractor

Yes, children.  Yes there is.  And life is good.

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45. Review of the Day: One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom

OneDayOne Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree
By Daniel Bernstrom
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of Harper Collins)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-06-235485-3
Ages 3-6
On shelves May 3rd

Like any children’s librarian, I like to assess each picture book that crosses by my eyeballs for readaloud potential. While every picture book (even the wordless ones) can be read aloud to a large group of children, only a select few thrive in that environment. It takes a certain magical combination of art and text to render a story readaloud-perfect. Books you can sing have a leg up. Ditto books with flaps or pull-tabs. But the nice thing about Bernstrom’s book One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree is that it doesn’t need to rely on those extra features to enrapture an audience. The book’s lilting rhymes, when practiced beforehand, have the potential to render an audience entranced. Add in the art of Brendan Wenzel, and how well it reads across a room, and you’ve got yourself the makings of what might possibly be the best readaloud picture book of the year.

A boy and his whirly-twirly toy are just the first things to disappear down the gullet of a hungry yellow snake. But rather than bemoan his fate, the boy gets to work in his new role as the snake’s inner id. Commenting on the sheer amount of room and space in the belly, the boy cajoles the snake into eating more and more and more. From birds and worms, to mossy sloths, to a single apple bearing a tiny fly, the creatures slide down the snake’s rapidly expanding throat. A final meal proves too much for the voracious viper and next thing you know boy, toy, and a host of other animals are upchucked back into the world from whence they came. A sly illustration at the end suggests that history may repeat itself soon.

OneDay1It’s not as if Mr. Bernstrom is the first person to find the word “eucalyptus” so exceedingly delicious to both tongue and ear, but he certainly seems to have been the most prominent in recent memory. As I read the book the language of the reading triggered something in my brain. Something long forgot. And though his name evokes strong feelings in every possible direction, it was Rudyard Kipling I thought of as I read this tale. Specifically the tale of “How the Elephant Got His Trunk”. Though that story does not realize how superb the word “eucalyptus” is when repeated, Kipling got a great deal of mileage out of illustrating thoughts with words. Terms like “great grey greasy Limpopo river”, “Kolokolo Bird”, and “the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake” make those of us reading the stories aloud sound good. Bernstrom is writing for a younger audience so he doesn’t flex his muscles quite as far as Kipling did, but at the same time you recognize that he has the potential to do so. One hopes his future publishing plans may include longer stories just meant for sharing aloud. Lord knows we need more authors like that these days.

The story itself sounds familiar when you read it, but that may have to do more with familiar tropes than a tale we’ve actually seen done. The book also taps into a very popular method of extracting eaten creatures from predators’ bellies: burping. Vomiting works too, though the word sounds more disgusting, so usually in cases like this book the critters are released in a big old burp. In this case, we’re basically seeing a nature-based version of that Monty Python skit where the diner is persuaded to eat one final item (“It’s wafer-thin”). It’s odd to enjoy so much a book where a kid tricks the animal it is within to throw up, but there you go. The storytelling itself is top notch too, though I had a moment of confusion when the snake ate the beehive. Seems to me that that moment is where the boy’s plan potentially takes a turn south. Being stuck in a snake’s belly is one thing. Being stuck in a snake’s belly with flying, stinging insects? Thanks but no.

OneDay2Illustrator Brendan Wenzel burst onto the children’s picture book illustration scene in 2014 but his rise in prominence since that time has been slow. The artist first caught everyone’s eye when he illustrated Angela DiTerlizzi’s Some Bugs but it was the cover art of Ellen Jackson’s Beastly Babies the following year that was the most eye-catching. That cover sold that book. An ardent conservationist, it makes a lot of sense to turn to Wenzel when you’ve a story chock full of sloths, snakes, and bees. With Bernstrom’s tale, Wenzel must render this tale in the style of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Which is to say, he needs to balance horror with humor. Books where the protagonist gets eaten are common. Books where the protagonist gets eaten and then continues to comment on the action are rare. Wenzel’s snake falls into that category of villains that must be vicious enough to serve as a legitimate threat, but tame enough that a four-year-old won’t fear them on sight. To do this, Wenzel’s art takes on a distinctly jovial tone that treads towards the cartoonish without ever falling in completely. The colors are bright but not overwhelming, just as the action is consistent without horrifying the audience. Most of the creatures handle being eaten with gentle good grace (though the sloth looks more than a little put out about the whole thing).

The idea of being eaten whole is as old as “Little Red Riding Hood”. Heck, it’s even older than that. Look at the Greek myths of Cronus devouring his children whole. Look at any myth or legend that talks of children springing unharmed or fully formed from within nasty beasties. Together, Bernstrom and Wenzel take this ancient idea and turn it into a trickster tale. Usually it’s the eater doing the tricking, and not the eaten, but One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree isn’t afraid to shake things up (or, for that matter, swallow them down). An oddly peppy little tale of surviving through another’s hubris, this is bound to become one of those readaloud picture books that teachers and librarians lean heavily on for decades to come. Look out, Bernstrom and Wenzel. You guys just went and created for yourselves a masterpiece.

On shelves May 3rd.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews:

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46. The Rabbit Hole or “It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can’t suck.”

Rabbit Hole 2This is big. Maybe the biggest idea in the realm of children’s literature I’ve seen in years.  Possibly my entire career.  I don’t like using the term “gamechanger” but I can’t think of a better word in this particular case.

Okay.  So imagine, if you will, a new children’s book museum.  But where that term would usually invoke images of adult-centric locations, The Rabbit Hole is going to be immersive.  They’re bandying about the term “Explorastorium” which gets you a bit closer to what they’re doing.  Think of a children’s museum or an exploratorium, but instead of water tables and those blue bendy foam construction pieces you have kids bouncing in and out of their favorite books.  Imagine you literally walk into what appears to be scenes from the book itself.  You might have seen similar ideas done when museums do exhibits on famous authors of the past.  When NYPL did its “The ABC of It” exhibit you found yourself in The Great Green Room of Goodnight Moon.  And when there was a William Steig exhibit at the Jewish Museum of New York, you walked into a room where everything looked like it had been drawn by his hand.

But think bigger than that.

To get the full flavor, you need to sit down and read this article from The Kansas City Star: Rabbit Hole aims to make KC world capital of children’s books, top U.S. publishers sign on. From it you’ll get an inkling of what this space will be (watch the video there as well).  Otherwise how else are you going to hear about how this fall the folks behind the project are going to transform a city bus into the bus from “Last Stop on Market Street.”

Rabbit Hole 1An ambitious project set for the fall is the so-called Mobile Storybook. In cooperation with the KCATA, The Rabbit Hole crew would transform a city bus into the bus from “Last Stop on Market Street,” a 2015 Newbery and Caldecott winner by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. The unveiling would coincide with the national conference of the Urban Libraries Council, giving The Rabbit Hole more exposure. The story would unfold along the route with digital animations on LED window glass, audio landscapes, and sculptures of characters inside the bus. As riders board the bus, they can pick up copies of the book to read along. They can also “check out” the books and return them at any public library. Cowdin hopes the magic bus will run on both a regular route and customized tours.

And I thought the Crossover float in Evanston’s 4th of July parade last year was impressive.  Sheesh!

Rabbit Hole 3Even as I read about the hopes and dreams going into this campaign (“permanent features such as, perhaps, a giant version of Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel, Mary Anne, rising out of a hole, or the forest from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ where children can swing on branches with Max”) I am filled with an odd mixture of complete joy and incredible seething envy and jealousy.  It’s a good kind of seething envy and jealousy.  The kind where you suddenly want to be a part of this project so badly that you’ll do anything to make that happen.  Including giving money.

To make this space happen, an Indiegogo campaign is in the works.  Go to their site and you’ll see video after video after video about this space.  The one with the authors (Jon Scieszka, Brian Selznick, Kate DiCamillo, and more!) is particularly good.

Additionally, in this fundraiser you can purchase lots of fun things donated by many writers and illustrators, though any donation would be appreciated.

Guys, I don’t give money to anything.  But I’m going to give to this.  And I don’t usually tell you to give your hard earned cash to anything, but I think that this is important.

For more information, check out this interview Pete conducted with The Groove Juice Special Radio Hour For Children & Other Brave Souls.

Also be sure to check out the YouTube channel for The Rabbit Hole.  Great stuff there.

Rabbit Hole Map

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47. Children’s Literary Salon: The Art of Enthusiasm

We’re just hitting it out of the park now.  Fast on the heels of our last Salon with Jeanne Birdsall and N.D. Wilson (info below), this coming Saturday I managed to bring together the three kings of children’s book social media.  Behold!

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.09.33 PM

If you’d like to watch the discussion live, tune in 2:00 CST here.  And if you live in the area, you simply have to come.  Never before have these three been interviewed at the same time by . . . uh . . me.  Or possibly anyone else (note to self: check if this is true).

Curious about Travis Jonker’s picture, by the way?  As I recall it was made for him by video and film director Michel Gondry.  You can read Travis’s piece about it here.  John’s is by Dan Santat.  I’m going to need to ask Colby who did his.

By the way, did you miss our last Salon last Saturday when Jeanne Birdsall and N.D. Wilson spoke on the topic of how their personal belief systems inform their writing?  Good news!  Not only did I record the, quite frankly, killer talk but the sound quality was a lot better than last time.  Here’s the timeline of the video:

  • At 0:00 Nate is running a bit late but since it was a live feed I wanted to keep folks watching in the loop.
  • At 2:36 Jeanne Birdsall and I have a finger puppet show as we wait for Nate to show up.  I have flashbacks to my sock puppet interview from 8 years ago.
  • At 3:30 the talk begins.
  • And at 12:45 I tilt the screen back a bit so that it doesn’t look like our heads are all scraping the ceiling.

Enjoy!

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48. Default: White

Alternate Title: The Call Is Coming From Inside the House

So yesterday at lunchtime I trotted out my neat little stack of periodicals to read while I munched a ham sandwich.  I picked up the latest Kirkus (1 May 2016) and there I saw the Vicky Smith article: “Unmaking the White Default”.  As many of you may have noticed recently, Kirkus made a significant shift in the way that they review.  Normally, a children’s or YA book review will eschew mentioning the ethnicity of a human character unless that character isn’t white.  The implicit message to this is that white is the default and anything that isn’t white is the exception rather than the rule.  To combat this problem, Kirkus has taken to mentioning the ethnicity of all human characters, or at least making note of their skin tones.  In this article, Vicky discussed the change.

When this switch was initially made, the responses were mixed.  I’ve listened to the Horn Book Podcast that discussed the decision, noted the mistake in the Kirkus review of The Night Gardener (the 2016 picture book, not the Jonathan Auxier gothic middle grade), and taken an interest in the SLJ reviewers’ online course on diversity & cultural literacy (so far they have 125+ registered).

Imagine me reading all this while twiddling my thumbs.  Dum de dum.  Toodle-oo.  Hum hum hum.  Not really thinking too hard.  I review for Kirkus so, like all reviewers there, I’ve been adjusting my reviews as I write them.  There’s an art to it, really.  Some folks have been concerned that this sort of thing just reinforces how obsessed we are over skin color.  I see that, absolutely.  And I look forward to the day a Kirkus editor writes an article rescinding this reviewing method because we’ve come so far as a nation that we don’t need it anymore.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure the publishing industry isn’t quite there yet.  Or, for that matter, the nation.

I suppose it’s because I review for Kirkus that it took me this long to come to a very personal realization.  First off, do I agree with what Kirkus is doing?  Actually, I do.  The white default is more annoying than the old italicize-all-foreign-languages trope and hardly less bothersome than the describe-darker-skin-tones-entirely-in-terms-of-food method.

As Vicky Smith mentioned, it’s hardly a change everyone likes.  I saw that one commenter on the Horn Book podcast site wrote, “Why stop at hair color, eye color, skin color, DNA? Perhaps in the digital book future, we will move toward even greater specificity. A child could be placed at the center of each book she reads, the details customized to be about herself, the most interesting subject in all the world.”  A comment placing the whole debate in the context of how personalized electronic information leads to narcissistic youth sort of misses the point.  There may be kids out there that only want to read books about kids of their own races, but Kirkus isn’t doing this for them.  Would you find fault in a review mentioning a character’s chosen gender?  As a librarian, I need to know precisely what each book I read or need to read contains.  Characters are more than their ethnic backgrounds, but at the same time your race informs your life.  Not everyone has the luxury of ignoring it.

So.  We come to it.  If I agree with Kirkus, would I apply their method of mentioning all skin tones to the reviews I write on this blog?

Huh.

Hadn’t really occurred to me before.

I mean, the reviews that I write for this blog are my brand.  If this blog dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, it would be the reviews I’d really miss writing.  And in the time that I’ve been writing them I’ve settled into a nice comfortable little format.  Opening paragraph, description of the book, mentions of writing, mentions of art (if applicable), concerns, closing paragraph.  Easy peasy.  And in my time reviewing I don’t think I’ve made an active change to the format at all.

Is white the default when I review?  Yes indeed.

Could I change this?  Yes indeed.

Now let me be clear about a couple things right off the bat.  When Kirkus first started applying this method to their reviews, it was awkward.  They got the details wrong on some books and shoehorned the mentions into some of the reviews.  I have a theory, and I could be completely off, that there’s been a learning curve since then.  There is an elegance to how you describe a character in any review.  Done correctly and with careful consideration and the mention feels natural.  Done wrong and it feels almost didactic.

In the end, and when you boil it all down, this is an easy switch to make.  I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.  Plus, I have a distinct advantage over Kirkus.  While they must bring up racial skin tones within a scant 225 words, I have all the time in the world in my own reviews to make the mentions.  In a way, bloggers are in a better position to try out this change than professional review journals.

Die, default.  Die.

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49. Interview Time! John Patrick Green in Conversation with Eric Colossal

Who? What? Where? When? Why?

It’s a blog tour, kiddos!  A tour of bloggy goodness.  More than that, it’s a graphic novel blog tour done to celebrate Children’s Book Week in all its fancypants glory.

The subject of today’s interview is none other than Eric Colossal.  Colossal, if the name is new to you, is the author of the danged funny RUTABAGA series.  I’m a big fan of those books as they combine two of my favorite things: quests and eating.  And in a bit of a twist, I won’t be doing the interview here today, though.  That honor goes to John Patrick Green, author of the upcoming HIPPOTAMISTER.

Take it away, John!


  • Colossal, EricYour series is about a plucky adventurer who constantly finds himself in sticky situations that he manages to get out of by cooking delicious foods. How did this concept come about?

Growing up, I loved fantasy stories filled with weird beasts and mystical magic but I was always confused about why no one talked about the food in these lands. I mean, here in the real world we eat some pretty strange stuff. We eat bee barf and call it honey, we grind up a rock and put it on our food and call it salt. How come people who live in these magical lands never eat the strange beasts they fight in the bottoms of dungeons? So I created Rutabaga to do just that!

 

  • At the back of each book are a few complete recipes that readers can cook. How do you come up with those? I’ll admit, even the fictional recipes Rutabaga makes on his quests look tasty! Where do you get the ideas for those?

There are two criteria I have for making a recipe to share: Does the recipe contain a fun activity and does the final product look unique. For instance, there’s nothing new about dipping grapes in chocolate but taking that idea and adding steps to the recipe that make the final product look like a chocolate spider with a big ol’ squishy butt, that’s a perfect recipe for Rutabaga! In fact, that recipe is in book 2 and it’s one of my favorites! 

 

  • What is your creative process like?

9781419716584I watch a LOT of documentaries on food and food culture. My favorite ones talk about why people eat what they eat. Sure it’s fun to find out HOW to cook something but if you tell me WHY a culture has the diet it has you don’t just learn about food, you learn about people, and stories are about people. Other than that, most of my time is spent at my computer writing and drawing. I make the entire book digitally which is really handy when you have 2 cats who like to chew on paper!

 

  • Which do you love more: food or comics? Please explain your answer in a piechart. Or maybe just a pie.

It’s a tough choice but I’m going to have to say I love food more. A comic can take up to a year to write, draw, and color but you can cook a huge 3 course meal in about 2 hours. Imagine if it took a year to make breakfast! And just for fun here’s that pie chart you asked for:

 

  • What else are you working on? Can we expect further adventures of Rutabaga and his trusty kettle, Pot? Maybe an entire cookbook?

I have so many Rutabaga stories to tell, you have no idea! I probably have enough material for at least another 8 books! As long as there are people who want to read about my goofy little chef and his metal pal, I’ll keep making them!

  • What comics or children’s books are you currently reading?

Below the RootThe last book I read was a young adult book called “Below The Root” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It’s an older book about a society of people who live in cities built on gigantic trees. They wear long flowing robes that allow them to glide around in the air to get from branch to branch. They’re an extremely peaceful race, they don’t eat meat, they don’t fight, they won’t even write on paper because it would hurt a tree to make the paper. The books follow a group of children as they uncover the history of their people and the sinister things that have been done in the name of protecting them. It’s a three book series and I greatly enjoyed it!


 

Thanks for the interview, guys!  And what a fantastic book to end on.  Honestly, it would have been even more awesome if you’d mentioned the Commodore 64 game of Below the Root that was based on the book (to the best of my knowledge, the ONLY children’s book to be adapted into the Commodore 64 gaming system format), but we’ll let it slide.

 

Want to read more of these interviews?  Here’s the full blog tour:

Monday, May 2ndForever YA featuring Gene Luen Yang

Monday, May 2nd  – Read Write Love featuring Lucas Turnbloom

Monday, May 2ndKid Lit Frenzy featuring Kory Merritt

Tuesday, May 3rdSharp Read featuring Ryan North

Tuesday, May 3rdTeen Lit Rocks featuring MK Reed

Wednesday, May 4thLove is Not a Triangle featuring Chris Schweizer

Wednesday, May 4thSLJ Good Comics for Kids featuring Victoria Jamieson

Thursday, May 5thThe Book Wars featuring Judd Winick

Thursday, May 5thSLJ Fuse #8 featuring Eric Colossal

Friday, May 6thSLJ Scope Notes featuring Nathan Hale

Friday, May 6thThe Book Rat featuring Faith Erin Hicks

Saturday, May 7thYA Bibliophile featuring Mike Maihack

Saturday, May 7thSupernatural Snark featuring Sam Bosma

Sunday, May 8thCharlotte’s Library featuring Maris Wicks

Sunday, May 8thThe Roarbots featuring Raina Telgemeier

Thanks to Gina Gagliano and the good folks at First Second for setting this up with me.

 

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50. Default: White

Alternate Title: The Call Is Coming From Inside the House

So yesterday at lunchtime I trotted out my neat little stack of periodicals to read while I munched a ham sandwich.  I picked up the latest Kirkus (1 May 2016) and there I saw the Vicky Smith article: “Unmaking the White Default”.  As many of you may have noticed recently, Kirkus made a significant shift in the way that they review.  Normally, a children’s or YA book review will eschew mentioning the ethnicity of a human character unless that character isn’t white.  The implicit message to this is that white is the default and anything that isn’t white is the exception rather than the rule.  To combat this problem, Kirkus has taken to mentioning the ethnicity of all human characters, or at least making note of their skin tones.  In this article, Vicky discussed the change.

When this switch was initially made, the responses were mixed.  I’ve listened to the Horn Book Podcast that discussed the decision, noted the mistake in the Kirkus review of The Night Gardener (the 2016 picture book, not the Jonathan Auxier gothic middle grade), and taken an interest in the SLJ reviewers’ online course on diversity & cultural literacy (so far they have 125+ registered).

Imagine me reading all this while twiddling my thumbs.  Dum de dum.  Toodle-oo.  Hum hum hum.  Not really thinking too hard.  I review for Kirkus so, like all reviewers there, I’ve been adjusting my reviews as I write them.  There’s an art to it, really.  Some folks have been concerned that this sort of thing just reinforces how obsessed we are over skin color.  I see that, absolutely.  And I look forward to the day a Kirkus editor writes an article rescinding this reviewing method because we’ve come so far as a nation that we don’t need it anymore.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure the publishing industry isn’t quite there yet.  Or, for that matter, the nation.

I suppose it’s because I review for Kirkus that it took me this long to come to a very personal realization.  First off, do I agree with what Kirkus is doing?  Actually, I do.  The white default is more annoying than the old italicize-all-foreign-languages trope and hardly less bothersome than the describe-darker-skin-tones-entirely-in-terms-of-food method.

As Vicky Smith mentioned, it’s hardly a change everyone likes.  I saw that one commenter on the Horn Book podcast site wrote, “Why stop at hair color, eye color, skin color, DNA? Perhaps in the digital book future, we will move toward even greater specificity. A child could be placed at the center of each book she reads, the details customized to be about herself, the most interesting subject in all the world.”  A comment placing the whole debate in the context of how personalized electronic information leads to narcissistic youth sort of misses the point.  There may be kids out there that only want to read books about kids of their own races, but Kirkus isn’t doing this for them.  Would you find fault in a review mentioning a character’s chosen gender?  As a librarian, I need to know precisely what each book I read or need to read contains.  Characters are more than their ethnic backgrounds, but at the same time your race informs your life.  Not everyone has the luxury of ignoring it.

So.  We come to it.  If I agree with Kirkus, would I apply their method of mentioning all skin tones to the reviews I write on this blog?

Huh.

Hadn’t really occurred to me before.

I mean, the reviews that I write for this blog are my brand.  If this blog dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, it would be the reviews I’d really miss writing.  And in the time that I’ve been writing them I’ve settled into a nice comfortable little format.  Opening paragraph, description of the book, mentions of writing, mentions of art (if applicable), concerns, closing paragraph.  Easy peasy.  And in my time reviewing I don’t think I’ve made an active change to the format at all.

Is white the default when I review?  Yes indeed.

Could I change this?  Yes indeed.

Now let me be clear about a couple things right off the bat.  When Kirkus first started applying this method to their reviews, it was awkward.  They got the details wrong on some books and shoehorned the mentions into some of the reviews.  I have a theory, and I could be completely off, that there’s been a learning curve since then.  There is an elegance to how you describe a character in any review.  Done correctly and with careful consideration and the mention feels natural.  Done wrong and it feels almost didactic.

In the end, and when you boil it all down, this is an easy switch to make.  I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.  Plus, I have a distinct advantage over Kirkus.  While they must bring up racial skin tones within a scant 225 words, I have all the time in the world in my own reviews to make the mentions.  In a way, bloggers are in a better position to try out this change than professional review journals.

Die, default.  Die.

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