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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!"
Statistics for A Fuse #8 Production
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 264
Occasionally I’ll premiere a book trailer here or there. Particularly when it’s from a children’s author whose work I admire. If the name “Elizabeth Rusch” is ringing some bells, there may be a reason for that. Back in the day I was a huge fan of her The Mighty Mars Rovers as well as that gorgeous Volcano Rising and For the Love of Music : the remarkable story of Maria Anna Mozart. Now she’s debuting her middle-grade graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek August 5 with Andrews McMeel/AMP for Kids. Her tech savvy 13-year-old son made her book trailer, which is sweet.
First and foremost, hello. How are you? Are you having a nice day? So nice to see you here, but before we go any further I must tell you that you very much need to leave me. Just for a little while. As you may have heard, my book with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta, Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, is coming out August 5th. To prepare, Jules and I have created a blog that posts a story a day that got cut from our final book. Here’s what you may have missed so far:
- A story about the greatest ALA Conference photo of all time.
- A tale of all the various authors and illustrators who have gotten advice from Maurice Sendak over the years.
- Advice on why you should never invite Hans Christian Andersen to stay the night.
- A tribute to everybody’s favorite Wicked Angel.
- Two rough broads / Newbery and Caldecott winners.
- A tribute to the fantastic Nancy Garden.
That said, here’s all the other news what wuz.
- All the world is ah-buzz with the information that J.K. Rowling just released on Pottermore. Rita Skeeter is still reporting (so no, there is no justice in the universe) and she has the scoop on 34-year-old Harry today, as well as his buddies. For my part, I’m just socked that I’m only two years older than Harry. Makes my crush on Snape that much more creepy, I guess.
- One of my favorite blogs, Pop Goes the Page by the Cotsen Children’s Library, is turning one! Best of all, if you send them your artistic birthday well-wishes, the selected winner will receive a $150 online shopping spree at Discount School Supply. Not half bad! Go do that thing.
- Credit Martha Parravano for creating a quite incisive interpretation of the Caldecott winners and near misses of 2013. Lots to chew on, even if you don’t always agree.
- There were many reasons to attend this last ALA Conference in Vegas. But three in particular are standing out for me today. Reason #1: I could have seen Mo Willems and Daniel Handler sharing a stage at the same time. THAT would be an event well worth witnessing. Can I get a witness who was there?. Reason #2: Starr LaTronica’s Shoes.
Need I say more?
Reason #3: This blog got a little shout out in Brian Floca’s Caldecott speech. See if you can spot where it is (hint: it’s not by name).
- Anywho, I wasn’t able to attend that conference because of my pregnancy. I also wasn’t able to attend this conference: The Second Annual 21st Century Nonfiction Conference. Doggone it. Held in lovely New Paltz, NY, I was pleased at least to see that my co-worker Amie Wright kicked butt and took names. You can read a great write-up of the event here.
- I know you have a lot going on today, but if you enjoyed watching Faerie Tale Theater with Shelley Duvall back in the day then maybe you’ll appreciate this catchy little ditty made out of all the times the charming host said, “Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall.” I don’t do ringtones but if I had to choose one . . .
- I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Way back in 1992 I listened to a librarian read Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci (illustrated by Brian Pinkney) to a group of kids. It was remarkable at the time, not just because it featured a black mermaid, but because it featured a mermaid at all. I don’t know if you read my recent review of The Mermaid and the Shoe, but mermaid picture books aren’t exactly prevalent. Well over at Latin@s in Kid Lit, Cindy L. Rodriguez has written the post Diversity Needed Under the Sea: Not All Mermaids Have Blond Hair and Blue Eyes. Their focus is mostly YA, but it’s interesting to note that aside from Sukey, picture book mermaids of color are few and far between. Fairies of color have it even worse.
- Get out your fightin’ gloves. SLJ has just launched the Up for Debate series. Them’s fighting words (literally).
Trying to figure out how we could pull this off in the States. Over in Britain the Story Museum hired a photographer for its 26 Characters exhibition. His mission? To photograph famous authors as their favorite literary characters. The image of Neil Gaiman as Badger from Wind in the Willows circulated a couple months ago. Now more pics have been revealed and they are lovely. Here are two . .
Philip Pullman as Long John Silver
Michael Morpurgo as Magwitch from Great Expectations
Naturally I’m trying to figure out how we could do this here. The Eric Carle Museum could host the images (we’d have a brief debate over whether or not photography is technically “illustration” and then decide ultimately that it was). Or maybe the Rich Michelson Gallery could do it. Then it’s a question of finding a photographer and picking the authors. As for the costumes and make-up, Britain utilized The Royal Shakespeare Company. Can’t really top that but it would be nice to get professionals involved. Pondering, pondering, pondering . . .
Folks, I talk a fair amount about my upcoming book with Candlewick but I’d be lying to you if I said it was the only book I worked on that’s out this year. For lo, I helped write the introduction for another book that will be coming out this month on the 15th and it is awesome. Behold:
At the end of June The New York Times released the following story: Pediatrics Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children From Birth. For those of us in the literacy-minded community, this comes as no surprise. But what about those parents for whom reading aloud poses a challenge? Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age is a delightful aid to any new parent, with (as the official description says) “step-by-step instructions on interactive reading and advice for developing your child’s interest in books from the time they are born.”
So I figured, why not interview the author himself? If only to give you just a taste of what the book has in store. Because you know me. I don’t write introductions for no junk. Jason kind submitting to my grilling.
Howdy, Jason. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
When I was a toddler, my mom took me to the Lyons Township District Library in the village of Lyons, Michigan (population 789). I kept reading and writing for the rest of my childhood, and I ended up studying English at the University of Michigan. After college, I spent two years working with youth groups in Peace Corps Guatemala.
In 2003, I studied journalism at New York University and I have worked as a writer ever since. Most recently, I spent five years as the publishing editor at Mediabistro, where I led the GalleyCat and AppNewser blogs.
There’s no lack of parenting books on the market these days, but your book appears to be doing something we don’t see that often. Can you give me the gist of the project and where it came from?
When my daughter Olive was born in 2010, I wanted her to love books as much as I do.
But it had been more than 25 years since I had read a kid’s book—so I needed some help. I consulted with child development experts to find out the best way to read to my daughter. Then I interviewed librarians, teachers and app creators to find the books, eBooks and apps to share with my child.
Through this research, I discovered the art of “interactive reading” or “dialogic reading.” Child development experts crafted these reading techniques 25 years ago. These simple and easy reading tricks will literally make your child smarter.
I tried to show parents how they can use interactive reading techniques to enrich books, eBooks, apps and any kind of 21st Century media experience. More about the art of interactive reading: http://www.born-reading.com/the-art-of-interactive-reading/
And had you written a book before? How did you hit on the best outline and format for the content?
I had written a book before, but this experience was unique. I was literally living the book with my daughter and my wife.
Over the course of writing Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age, I watched Olive change from a mute newborn into a voracious and opinionated young reader. The form flowed naturally from that growing experience. I dedicated a chapter to each year of a young reader’s life, incorporating all the books, eBooks and apps we read together during the writing process.
Whenever I learned something new from my team of amazing experts, I would immediately share it with Olive and my wife. We all grew up as the book evolved.
I could not help but notice that in the book you don’t just talk to reading specialists and educators but also teachers, librarians, and children’s authors themselves. All told, do you have a rough number of who you spoke to? How did you decide whom to speak to in the end?
I spoke with more than 50 different experts during my writing process. I asked all the questions that I had as a parent or that I had heard from other parents.
For instance, when local parents debated how much screen-time was appropriate for toddlers, I contacted child development experts and neuroscientists to get an expert opinion. It was so amazing to have these experts to guide me every step of the way.
Once Olive could voice her own opinions, I let her interests shape the book as well. When she developed a love of comic books, I reached out to the wonderful folks at TOON Books to find out how to nurture that interest. When Olive got into cooking, we shared the Julia Child cooking app with her. When she obsessed over Disney’s Frozen, I created a whole bundle of new stories to share with her: http://www.born-reading.com/born-reading-bundle-for-disneys-frozen/
One of the things I really liked about the book was the amount of attention given to screen time, particularly when it comes to the youngest children. In our day and age it seems like the wild west in terms of shiny rectangles (as my brother-in-law calls them). Did you initially expect this to take up as much time in your book as it did?
Oddly enough, I first envisioned my book as focused entirely on digital reading and the shift to a new kind of reading. My own reading and writing is mostly digital now, and I imagined my daughter would spend lots of time with these new devices. My wife totally disagreed and wanted to be more cautious.
Once I started exploring the research (and lack of research) into the benefits of digital materials for kids, I realized that I had to caution parents as well as share new kinds of reading. Thanks to the experts I interviewed, I learned how to moderate my daughter’s time on devices and how to make sure she has the best experience with the tablets and smartphones in our house.
These devices can be very seductive, but my wife and I worked together to create a more healthy relationship with technology.
In the course of your research, did you hit on anything that surprised you?
The art of interactive reading was by far my best “discovery.” Many librarians and teachers are trained in these awesome interactive techniques, and they are more than willing to share them with parents.
I was shocked that nobody ever told me about these techniques as we prepared for Olive’s birth. These interactive reading techniques should be taught to parents as they leave the hospital with a newborn. Reading can truly change a child’s life.
At the American Library Association conference this year, a roomful of inspiring librarians shared a list of interactive picture books. Even if you are a shy reader, these books will help make any reading experience more interactive: http://www.born-reading.com/best-interactive-print-books-for-kids/
Any plans for a follow-up?
I really hope my daughter spends the rest of her life as a reader. If I can take the journey with her into middle grade or YA books, I might have to write about that experience as well…
Thanks, Jason! We’ll all look for your book next week!
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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By Lisa Graff
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
On shelves now.
In the stage musical of Matilda, lyricist Tim Minchin begins the show with the following lines about the state of children today: “Specialness is de rigueur. / Above average is average. Go fig-ueur! / Is it some modern miracle of calculus / That such frequent miracles don’t render each one un-miraculous?” This song ran on a bit of a loop through my cranium as I read Lisa Graff latest middle grade novel Absolutely Almost. For parents, how well your child does reflects right back on you. Your child is a genius? Congratulations! You must be a genius for raising a genius. Your child is above average? Kudos to you. Wait, your child is average? Uh-oh. For some parents nothing in the world could be more embarrassing. We all want our kids to do well in school, but where do you distinguish between their happiness and how hard you’re allowed to push them to do their best? Do you take kindness into account when you’re adding up all their other sterling qualities? Maybe the wonder of Absolutely Almost is that it’s willing to give us an almost unheard of hero. Albie is not extraordinary in any possible way and he would like you to be okay with that. The question then is whether or not child readers will let him.
Things aren’t easy for Albie. He’s not what you’d call much of a natural at anything. Reading and writing is tough. Math’s a headache. He’s not the world’s greatest artist and he’s not going to win any awards for his wit. That said, Albie’s a great kid. If you want someone kind and compassionate, he’s your man. When he finds himself with a new babysitter, a girl named Calista who loves art, he’s initially skeptical. She soon wins him over, though, and good thing too since there are a lot of confusing things going on in his life. One day he’s popular and another he’s not. He’s been kicked out of his old school thanks to his grades. Then there’s the fact that his best friend is part of a reality show . . . well, things aren’t easy for Albie. But sometimes, when you’re not the best at anything, you can make it up to people by simply being the best kind of person.
Average people are tough. They don’t naturally lend themselves to great works of literature generally unless they’re a villain or the butt of a joke. Lots of heroes are billed as “average heroes” but how average are they really? Put another way, would they ever miscalculate a tip? Our fantasy books are full to overflowing of average kids finding out that they’re extraordinary (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Meg Murry, etc.). Now imagine that the book kept them ordinary. Where do you go from there? Credit where credit is due to Lisa Graff then. The literary challenge of retaining a protagonist’s everyday humdrum status is intimidating. Graff wrestles with the idea and works it to her advantage. For example, the big momentous moment in this book is when it turns out that Albie doesn’t have dyslexia and just isn’t good at reading. I’ve never seen that in a book for kids before, and it was welcome. It made it clear what kind of book we’re dealing with.
As a librarian who has read a LOT of children’s books starring “average” kids, I kept waiting for that moment when Albie discovered he had a ridiculously strong talent for, say, ukulele or poker or something. It never came. It never came and I was left realizing that it was possible that it never would. Kids are told all the time that someday they’ll find that thing that’ll make them unique. Well what if they don’t? What happens then? Absolutely Almost is willing to tell them the truth. There’s a wonderful passage where Calista and Albie are discussing the fact that he may never find something he’s good at. Calista advises, “Find something you’d want to keep doing forever… even if you stink at it. And then, if you’re lucky, with lots of practice, then one day you won’t stink so much.” Albie points out, correctly, that he might still stink at it and what then? Says Calista, “Then won’t you be glad you found something you love?”
Mind you, average heroes run a big risk. Absolutely Almost places the reader in a difficult position. More than one kid is going to find themselves angry with Albie for being dense. But the whole point of the book is that he’s just not the sharpest pencil in the box. Does that make the reader sympathetic then to his plight or a bully by proxy? It’s the age-old problem of handing the reader the same information as the hero but allowing them to understand more than that hero. If you’re smarter than the person you’re reading about, does that make you angry or understanding? I suppose it depends on the reader and the extent to which they can relate to Albie’s problem. Still, I would love to sit in on a kid book discussion group as they talked about Albie. Seems to me there will be a couple children who find their frustration with his averageness infuriating. The phrase “Choose Kind” has been used to encourage kids not to bully kids that look different than you. I’d be interested in a campaign that gave as much credence to encouraging kids not to bully those other children that aren’t as smart as they are.
I’ve followed the literary career of Lisa Graff for years and have always enjoyed her books. But with Absolutely Almost I really feel like she’s done her best work. The book does an excellent job of showing without telling. For example, Albie discusses at one point how good he is at noticing things then relates a teacher’s comment that, “if you had any skill at language, you might’ve made a very fine writer.” Graff then simply has Albie follow up that statement with a simple “That’s what she said.” You’re left wondering if he picked up on the inherent insult (or was it just a truth?) in that. Almost in direct contrast, in a rare moment of insight, his dad says something about Albie that’s surprising in its accuracy. “I think the hard thing for you, Albie… is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is.” I love a book that has the wherewithal to present these different sides of a single person. Such writing belies the idea that what Graff is doing here is simple.
Reading the book as a parent, I could see how my experience with Absolutely Almost was different from that of a kid reader. Take the character of Calista, for example. She’s a very sympathetic babysitter for Albie who does a lot of good for him, offering support when no one else understands. Yet she’s also just a college kid with a poorly defined sense of when to make the right and wrong choice. Spoiler Alert on the rest of this paragraph. When Albie’s suffering terribly she takes him out of school to go to the zoo and then fails to tell his parents about this executive decision on her part. A couple chapters later Albie’s mom finds out about the outing and Calista’s gone from their lives. The mom concludes that she can’t have a babysitter who lies to her and that is 100% correct. A kid reader is going to be angry with the mom, but parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be aware that this is one of those unpopular but necessary moves a parent has to face all the time. It’s part of being an adult. Sorry, kids. Calista was great, but she was also way too close to being a manic pixie dream babysitter. And trust me when I say you don’t want to have a manic pixie dream babysitter watching your children.
Remember the picture book Leo the Late Bloomer where a little tiger cub is no good at anything and then one day, somewhat magically, he’s good at EVERYTHING? Absolutely Almost is the anti-Leo the Late Bloomer. In a sense, the point of Graff’s novel is that oftentimes kindness outweighs intelligence. I remember a friend of mine in college once commenting that he would much rather that people be kind than witty. At the time this struck me as an incredible idea. I’d always gravitated towards people with a quick wit, so the idea of preferring kindness seemed revolutionary. I’m older now, but the idea hasn’t gone away. Nor is it unique to adulthood. Albie’s journey doesn’t reach some neat and tidy little conclusion by this story’s end, but it does reach a satisfying finish. Life is not going to be easy for Albie, but thanks to the lessons learned here, you’re confident that he’s gonna make it through. Let’s hope other average kids out there at least take heart from that. A hard book to write. An easy book to read.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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Other Reviews: BookPage
- Lisa speaks with BookPage about the creation of the book.
We’re getting into the thick of summer now. Both the BEA and ALA conferences have come and gone. Folks are beginning to get a grip on the fall season. So before we go any further I’m going to provide you with a bit of a sneaky peek at Harper Collins and what all they have ah-brewing for the future. It’s a rather lovely line-up. When this preview took place I was at my pregnant-ist. Muy pregnant. Back pain, gargantuan girth, the works. I think I may have given birth two days later, so take that into account if the occasional note here sounds a bit wonky.
The room was lovely and the desserts plentiful. It was also a very full room so each switch to a table played like a game of musical chairs. But once we got ourselves in some kind of a working order fun was to be had.
First up, a table sporting the irrepressible Balzer & Bray. Our little sheets also suggested that editor Jordan Brown would be there but alas twas not the case.
Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light
We dove right into this one. HC is quite charmed by debut author/illustrator Kelly Light. You could be forgiven for thinking, at a mere glance, that this was illustrated by Tony Fucile. A fellow former animator, Light was inspired to write this book when her daughter’s art classes at school got cut. In this book Louise and her little brother Art attempt to create art (lowercase) together. Louise is fixated on creating a new masterpiece while Art is fixated on impressing his big sister. And he does get her attention . . . just not in the way she’d prefer. The cat was my personal favorite in this book. Wouldn’t mind seeing it star in a book of its own. Just sayin’. Look for Louise and Art to crop up in a whole series of I Can Read books in the future, by the way.
Tap to Play by Salina Yoon
After years of wondering at last I have my answer. Author/illustrator Salina Yoon, who has probably graced more baby and toddler homes than there are stars in the sky, lives in San Diego. I always wondered where she was! This book is a marked change of pace for the woman. It’s sort of Yoon meet Tullet. Hoping to appeal to a whole generation of young parents that grew up with Q*bert (guilty here), the book follows a little noseless hero by the name of Blip that needs the aid of the reader. You help him win the game by bouncing, tapping, tickling, etc. It’ll be paper over board, much like Press Here. Alongside Richard Byrne’s This Book Just Ate My Dog (seen at a recent Macmillan preview) we’re seeing an uptick in creatively interactive picture books this fall. I wonder what accounts for that.
Lion, Lion by Miriam Busch, ill. Larry Day
Now this is interesting. Here you have a book that reminds me not a little of Jerry Pinkney and Julius Lester’s Sam and the Tigers. In this book a small boy yells for a lion. Then things take a distinctly Pierre-like turn (consider this foreshadowing for something that comes later in this preview). It is rather nice to see a small African-American boy on a picture book. Rare enough, anyway, that it’s notable which, when you think of it, is a problem right there.
I’m Brave by Kate McMullan, ill. Jim McMullan
Alternate Title: How the Heck Have the McMullans Not Written This Yet? At least that was my first thought when I saw this book. Considering they’ve covered trains and garbage trucks and even dinos over the years, it took quite a surprising bit of time before firetrucks made their appearance. Interestingly, this book spends a great deal of time concentrating on some extensively research tools used by firefighters. Cool!
Creature Keepers and the Hijacked Hydro-Hide by Peter Nelson, ill. Rohitash Rao
They’re baaaaack! Remember Nelson and Rao? These two charmers (and they are, if you ever meet them) were behind the lovely but too little lauded Herbert and the Wormhole series a couple years back. I’m pleased to see that Harper Collins believes in them, though. In this particular book a boy moves to Florida for the summer. There, in the swamp behind his grandpa’s house, he finds a group of kids determined to protect some rare creatures like the swamp ape, the Jersey Devil, etc. Then Nessie goes missing. It reminded me a bit of the Suzanne Selfors Imaginary Veterinary series. Sounds like they’d pair well together.
The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale
For half a second there I got confused and thought that this was part of the Brian Chick Secret Zoo series (same publisher, after all). But this is entirely different and by the same guy who did that awesome Bully Book last year. In this story our hero is the son of a famous explorer turned curator of a zoo at the edge of the world. The boy suffers from a severe stutter so no one really knows him except his dad and the animals in the zoo. When it turns out that there’s a jaguar in the zoo that the boy can communicate with, things get interesting. I was reminded of a nonfiction picture book out this year called A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, ill. Catia Chien that also concerns a kid with a stutter and a jaguar. I love funny connections like that.
Guys Read: True Stories, edited by Jon Scieszka
I love any cover done by Brian Floca, but if I had to change this one I’d probably turn old George Washington there into a grinning Jon Scieszka. Am I crazy? Of all the Guys Read books out there I confess that this is the one I want to read the most. There are a number of reasons for this. First off, this 5th book in the series is entirely nonfiction. Second, the content is from folks like Steve Sheinkin, Candace Fleming and Nathan Hale. Nathan Hale!!! Want want want.
Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker, ill. Daniel Salmieri
There are about five or six books hidden in this preview that are coming out, not in the fall of 2014 at all, but early 2015!!! This is the first. Slated for release around April 2015 (wowzah!) I was surprised to see that Daniel Salmieri is creating books now with folks other than Adam Rubin. This book was described as “The Stupids with boring people” which may be my favorite catchline of the day. The book, without saying too much too early, shows the subversive ways in which the kids in this family declare that being boring is not for them. Best line: “Please. No exclamation marks in front of the children.”
With a ring-a-ding-ding we move on to our next table. And here we find the stylings of Rosemary Brosnan (not there that day, alas), Karen Chaplin, Margaret Anastas, and Nancy Inteli. Onward!
The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volumes 1 & 2 by Neil Gaiman, ill. P. Craig Russell and others
Yea verily do I salivate over these. I was intrigued to see them split the original book in twain. Guess they didn’t want too high a page count in the end. In any case, the first GN covers chapters 1-5 and the second covers the rest. #1 is slated to release in the summer and #2 in the fall. Now it looks at first like P. Craig Russell, the guy who illustrated the Coraline graphic novel, has done this one as well. In truth, however, each chapter in these books is illustrated by a different artist. This solves the problem of many a book-to-comic adaptation (Wrinkle in Time, City of Ember, the aforementioned Coraline, etc.) where the art fails to capture any real originality beyond the source material. Want to see this, I do I do!
Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine
Years ago, best beloved, Gail Carson Levine wrote a little book called Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly. It came out around 2006 or so and was purchased by systems in need of writing advice from Newbery Honor winners. Now she’s back, baby, and her latest book is a writer how-to. Filled with exercises and advice, some of it culled from her blog, its publication will come out at the same time as the newly repackaged (and aforementioned) Writing Magic. Apparently Writer to Writer is slated for early 2015 so don’t go digging about for it quite yet. Special Note: Gail is currently working on her MFA in poetry which, for those of us who were fans of her Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems is good news.
Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni
Ah HA! One I’ve actually read! Not sure if this one was out yet when they presented it but it certainly is now. I think when I initially saw this book I assumed that it was science fiction. It certainly presents itself that way at the start, but soon you get clear on where it’s truly headed. A sort of Percy Jackson meets King Arthur tale, in this story a boy discovers that for some people, when they reach the right age, there’s an extra day wedged in between Wednesday and Thursday. Salerni has taught 5th grade for over twenty years so she knows how to keep a kid’s interest. With it’s Arthurian roots it reminded me a bit of that Adam Rex series (Breakfast of Champions is the most recent). Though it stands entirely on its own, another one is slated to be released next year. FYI!
Goodnight, Already! by Jory John, ill. Benji Davies
That Benji Davies, man. He’s having a bit of a banner year. First we learn at the Macmillan preview that he has the lovely The Storm Whale coming out, and then this. You’re not in Bizzy Bear territory anymore, man (though we haven’t strayed too far since he’s still doing bears, it seems). This book lets Davies stretch his style a little alongside the author of the book All My Friends Are Dead. Remember that book? Here it is in a viral photo that’s been making the rounds lately:
Get it? Anyway, this book is a bit different. In it an overzealous duck annoys to no end an exasperated bear who just wants to tuck in for a good night’s rest. The cover alone will sell it wherever it goes. I was reminded too of A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom. Granted, in that case it’s a white goose rather than a white duck, but the similarities remain.
Aw, Nuts! by Rob McClurkan
Well I’ll be hornswaggled! Looks like Connie Hsu was right when she said at the recent Little Brown preview that “Nuts are the new legume.” Granted she was talking about The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin, illustrated by Scott Magoon, but the odds were good that there’d be at least one other nut related book this season and here it is! Bringing to mind that little squirrelly character in the Ice Age movies (albeit with better footwear), this is an interactive picture book. The “Aw, Nuts!” refrain is meant to be yelled by the audience. And yes, by looking at the art you’d be correct in assuming that Mr. McClurkan is yet another refugee from the animation world. This book also marks, to my mind, another trend for 2015. Squirrels! Clearly Flora and Ulysses is to be credited (I joke, but barely).
Our Solar System by Seymour Simon
The initial excitement of the television show Cosmos has worn off a tad, but that doesn’t mean its popularity has ebbed and waned. What better time then to update this Simon classic? Goodbye, Pluto! Consider yourself excised from the record. And happily, we learn that this will be the first in Mr. Simon’s reprinted series plus we’ll be seeing four all new titles as well. Woot!
Harlem Renaissance Party by Faith Ringgold
Remember when I did that post the other day on authors and illustrators who walk away from making any more children’s books? Well if I hadn’t already known about this book I might have included Faith Ringgold on that list. Her Tar Beach is a NYC classic as far as we’re concerned, and if you go to The ABC of It exhibit at NYPL (still going on!) you’ll see that a whole wall has been dedicated to her. Now we learn that in February of 2015 we’re going to get a picture book glimpse at the Harlem Renaissance. Good news for me! I purchase for Harlem libraries! The hero of the book is Lonnie, a kid who has appeared in other Ringgold titles as well. In this book he goes back in time to meet some luminaries like the usual suspects as well as Marcus Garvey (and where is HIS picture book bio, I might ask?). There’s a glossary and a bibliography as well as a further reading section. Backmatter! Love it!
Lemme see, lemme see. Now we’re at a table of Jen Klonsky, Alyson Day, and Kristen Pettit. A very YA table, which is a genre I don’t tend to write up, but that isn’t to say there weren’t a couple that caught my eye. For example . . .
Positive by Paige Rawl
I think I’ve had this vague sense that ever since they invented the HIV cocktail all the prejudice surrounding AIDS just magically dissipated into the ether. Not exactly. This YA memoir is the story of Paige, a kid who was born HIV positive but who, thanks to the aforementioned cocktail, has never been sick. So really it wasn’t an issue until, at a middle school lock-in, she tried to comfort a friend by confiding her own illness. Big mistake. Next thing she knew she was being called “PAIDS” and each and every adult around her failed to stop the bullying. At one point she took fifteen sleeping pills and when she survived she found a new sense of purpose. Paige lobbied her state congress to make school administrators track bullying and make a plan when it happens. Written in a very close first person p.o.v. Paige has since gone on things like The Today Show to talk about what happened. There is also a Resources section in the back for kids going through similar struggles.
This next little guy might look familiar . . .
Why mention him again (I brought him up when discussing Lion, Lion earlier)? Because I was very pleased to discover that all the books in The Nutshell Library, from Alligators All Around to Chicken Soup With Rice to One Was Johnny and, of course, Pierre will be rereleased as board books this month! Too long overdue, this move. In celebration I present a video in which the animated Pierre is set to Amanda Palmer’s rendition of the song:
Watch Out Hollywood! by Maria T. Lennon
Here’s a fun fact you might not know: Author Maria T. Lennon lives across the street from the Houdini mansion in L.A. If that were me or you it might do something seriously wacky to our brains. In her case, she simply worked it into the plot of her latest Middle Child book. In this book our heroine Charlie Cooper is back. Her father is working on the Houdini house and when Charlie saves a friend from the house’s tunnels she inadvertently becomes famous. No surprise, it goes to her head.
The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly by Ted Sanders
Love that cover. Ain’t it a beauty? Well, what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the first in a four book series. It stars an average boy who one day spots a very strange sign. Which is to say, it has his name on it. Literally. Soon he meets a secret society and gets sucked into the world of Keepers vs. Makers. All the magic in this book is based on real physics so that it’s all potentially possible. You know what that means, don’t you? Common Core!! I ain’t kidding.
Now we come to my publishing imprint (remember?). Greenwillow Books and seated here are Virginia Duncan and Martha Mihalick. And to begin . . .
Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief and Sinister ill. Alexander Jansson
Ah yes! So I see a lot of middle grade fantasy in a given year and sometimes it’s a good idea to leave that stuff up to the professionals. And by professionals I mean librarian Stephanie Whelan who has a very keen sense of what fantasy is good, what is bad, and what is particularly noteworthy. I always trust Stephanie’s opinions in these matters (and so can you if you visit her blog Views from the Tesseract which recently had a great post about the 1982 book Clone Catcher) and she’s read this book and deems it great. So I’m in. You should be too. Coming out simultaneously in both hardcover and paperback, the four authors Stefan Bachmann Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, and Emma Trevayne, met online and started a blog together. They would then write short stories on different themes (love, cake, fairies, etc.) while their editors edited their longer stuff. Calling themselves The Curators of Curiosities, this is their collaboration.
Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham, ill. Paul O. Zelinksy
Interestingly enough this was the only picture book being discussed on the Greenwillow fall list. A sequel to Z is for Moose, it returns to the dynamic duo of moose and zebra and covers shapes for the first time. One interesting question that came out of all of this: Are there any squares in nature? Your answers are appreciated. There was some talk of there being another book trailer for this book, but I haven’t been able to find it. In lieu of that, here’s that AMAZING trailer for the previous book Z is for Moose. Because of this trailer I now cannot read these books without the voice of Brian Floca standing in for the zebra.
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
Remember Ms. Nye? In terms of her novels for kids she was last seen writing the excellent Habibi. That was published in the last century, however. The time has clearly come for a new book. With that in mind, here is the story of a boy who is slated to move from Muscat, Oman to Ann Arbor, MI (yay, Michigan!). The catch? He does NOT want to go. In a form of protest he refuses to pack his suitcase, so the book focuses on his mother attempting to persuade him to do so. It’s all about the suitcase, baby. I like a lot of things about this book, but mostly I really like that the experience of moving is universal. No kid wants to do it, doesn’t matter where you live.
Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins
“Incredible Journey with squirrels.” Need I say more? That was how the latest Perkins title was described to me. With art on every spread, this definitely struck me as yet another Flora and Ulysses companion novel. It has has some darkness. When a squirrel is picked up by a hawk his companions see this and think they see him get away. With that in mind they set out to find him. Said Greenwillow, it’s a book about storytelling and stories . . . and trees.
A New Darkness by Joseph Delaney
It’s not just a new darkness for Delaney. It’s a new cover look altogether. Fans of Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice series will be pleased to see that in this book Tom Ward is now 17 and his own spook. The tale is told with two perspectives, his own and that of a 15-year-old 7th daughter of a 7th daughter who wants to be his apprentice. The book stands on its own so you need not have read the previous books in the series to understand it. It’s also part of a three book arc. Naturally I wanted to know when the movie of the first Tom Ward book was coming out. The date? February 6, 2015. Woohoo!
Poisoned Apples by Christine Happermann
I saw this at a Greenwillow event about half a year ago and I was very struck by its loveliness. I then promptly forgot its title and for months afterwards was at events involving photography in children’s literature trying as hard as I could to recall it. So, in a way, it’s a massive relief to see it finally coming out. A book of poetry, this is punctuated with eerie photographs very much in the vein of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. However, while I thought originally it had a single photographer, apparently it instead has photos from a range of up and coming artists. Like the Graveyard Book graphic novels, it’s not afraid to include more than one creative person within its pages.
Red by Michael Hall
Okay. I know this is coming out in February 2015. My head is aware of this fact, but my heart wants it now now now now now!! On the surface it may look like it was inspired by The Day the Crayons Quit. Not by half. If anything, this is a story about how appearances can be deceiving. A blue crayon is accidentally packaged in a red wrapper. So everyone insists that it draw red things, and yet it just can’t, not even after Scarlet tries to give it a pep talk. They say it’s a tale about coming to terms with you really are, and it is. But in another way this is the first picture book I’ve seen that would be perfect to hand to anyone who has come out as transgender. The metaphor is effortless. And there’s a final line in this book that’ll knock your socks off. Cannot WAIT for this to be released!
Table 5, and it’s great to be alive. Here we find ourselves in the company of Erica Sussman, Alex Arnold, and Katie Ginell with Tara Weikum now relocated to Hawaii. Nice work if you can get it, Tara! Additionally we saw Anica Rissi and Katie Bignell of Katherine Tegen Books.
Endgame: The Calling by James Frey
Not the kind of book I usually cover in these round-ups but this Frey/Johnson-Shelton collaboration has an odd little twist. Remember Masquerade by Kit Williams? No? Hmmm.. Well how about The Clock Without a Face by Mac Barnett? In both cases these were books with real world treasure hunts attached. Moves of this sort are awfully gutsy on the author/publisher’s part. The understanding is that the riddle of the book is so difficult that only a very small segment of the population is going to have the willingness (and brains) to solve all the clues. And though adults tend to be the ones solving the puzzles, the books are almost always published for children. Now, for the first time that I know of, someone is doing the same thing on the YA side. In each book in the Endgame series there is a different puzzle to be solved and a different prize to be found. Don’t ask me to clarify since that’s all I really know. That and the fact that the final puzzles will only appear in the final copies of these books and NOT in the galleys. Clever ducks.
The Scavengers by Michael Perry
Tara Weikum, the editor who I may have mentioned is now all about Hawaii, grew up in a very small town. As an adult she read author Michael Perry’s Visiting Tom (I think) about that very thing. So when Perry reached out to her about writing for kids, she was game. In this dystopian middle grade we’re hearing folks compare it to City of Ember. The environment has been destroyed and most people are living inside giant bubbles. Not our heroine Maggie (who has renamed herself Ford Falcon). She and her family live outside the bubble. Then things take a distinctly Mad Max turn. Blurbs are in from Wendy Mass, Leslie Connor, and Katherine Applegate. Oh, and my librarians really like it. I’m hearing it may be one of the best science fiction books for kids for the year. FYI.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
Before I say anything else about this book I should reiterate that the cover art shown here is by no means final. Just FYI. Now it is mighty exciting to see that Ms. Lai, last seen winning a Newbery Honor for Inside Out and Back Again, has a second novel on the horizon. Slated to release in March 2015, this book is written in prose and set in Orange County. There, a girl lives with her Vietnamese parents and grandmother. When she finds out that she’s stuck visiting Vietnam with said family she’s less than thrilled. Apparently her grandfather was lost in the Vietnam War years ago and her grandma is determined to go back and find him. So basically we have a contemporary Vietnamese middle grade. Score!
TodHunter Moon, Book One: Pathfinder by Angie Sage
Behold! It’s a spinoff series to Sage’s Septimus Heap books. Set seven years after the original, this trilogy is meant to please old fans and new. Alice TodHunter Moon is a fisher who discovers her own magic when she goes to the castle. Folks who know the series will know what that means. And yes. Septimus is in the book.
The Swap by Megan Shull
I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Mary Rodgers, author of that classic work of children’s fiction (and multiple Disney adaptation) Freaky Friday. Mary sort of pioneered the switching bodies genre in children’s books, so hat tip to her. Her influence continues long and strong with books like this one here. In it, a mean girl switches bodies with the most popular boy in school. Wowzah! You don’t usually get to see boy/girl swap books. Scieszka himself provides the cover blurb here, as you can see. That says something.
Balance Keepers #1: The Fires of Calderon by Lindsay Cummings
An epic fantasy middle grade trilogy with a cover that bring back happy memories of my mother’s old 1970s/80s fantasy novel paperbacks? Don’t mind if I do! Selling this one as “Journey to the Center of the Earth for the Percy Jackson generation”, the book is by YA author Lindsay Cummings of The Murder Complex n’ such. In this book a boy follows a map into the forest and then under the forest. His job? To keep the balance between the below and the above. If he fails fires will destroy New York City. So, y’know. No pressure. And lest you think this book is YA as well, it’s meant to hit squarely into the 8-12 age range.
Clariel by Garth Nix
Oh man. This brings me back. When I was in library school I decided I needed to read all the important YA novels as well as children’s (this was before I decided to specialize solely in the kiddo area). On my list of must reads? Sabriel by Garth Nix. A great book, and one that has its fans, most certainly. The Abhorsen trilogy is well regarded but we haven’t seen a book in the series in a long long time. Now Nix is back (he never really went away) with a prequel to Sabriel. He’s about to make some librarians out there very very happy.
And that’s all she wrote, folks. Except we simply cannot forget about the “meets” as I call them. In some ways, they’re the best part of any preview. Here are the ones I caught this time around!
- “The Breakfast Club with a body count” – Get Even by Gretchen McNeil (shouldn’t that be The Breakfast Club meets Heathers then?)
- “Graceling meets The Selection” – The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
- “The Great Gatsby meets Looking for Alaska” – Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot
- “Downton Abbey meets Cassandra Clare” – Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White (the book sounds like Rose for the YA set)
- “The Breakfast Club set in a grocery store” – Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas (or, alternatively, maybe The Breakfast Club meets Empire Records)
Many thanks to Patty Rosati and & Co. for the invite, the tasty treats, and the books!
So as I may have mentioned there’s a l’il ole book of mine coming out on August 5th by the name of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. Co-written with Jules Danielson (of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) and the late great Peter Sieruta (Collecting Children’s Books) it’s a peek into the stories behind the stories we all love.
How does one properly celebrate such a book? By showing you the cutting room floor, of course.
Consider this a Director’s Cut look at the book. Together Jules and I have concocted a nifty little website where you can read our reviews and blurbs, check out our tour dates, and other nifty things. The real lure, however, is our blog on the site.
Together, for every day until our release date, Jules and I will reveal a story that didn’t make it into our book. Ever wondered how Charles Dickens really felt about Hans Christian Andersen? What are some of the worst school visits authors and illustrators in the children’s literary business have ever experienced? And what are some of the Newbery and Caldecott Award dinner stories you haven’t heard?
Today we lift off with a preliminary post, but stay tuned ladies and gents! It’s just gonna get better and better as we go.
Like everyone I was shocked and saddened by the announcement that author Walter Dean Myers had recently passed away. The first National Ambassador of Children’s Literature to leave us, there is little to say about his life that hasn’t been said by others far more eloquently than I in the last 24 hours. However, I think it’s important to take into account the context in which the man lived. Because we haven’t just lost a great author. We’ve lost a man that filled a very great need in our children’s literary landscape. A need that is being filled, albeit slowly.
Walter died in the same year that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks trend occurred. That movement began, in large part, thanks to an article he’d written for The New York Times called Where Are the People of Color In Children’s Books? The lack of diversity in our children’s literature became a topic of conversation outside our little sphere thanks to him.
Now when I wrote my post 2013 Middle Grade Black Boys: Seriously, People? I took care to mention his Cruisers series, of course, but I also said, “it appears that unless you’re writing about history, you’re Walter Dean Myers, or you’re a basketball star / former basketball star, you simply cannot get a middle grade book about black boys out there.” Happily 2014 is another case altogether. I’ve seen a marked increase not just in books starring African-American kids but in titles written by authors of color as well.
Because that was one of my first thoughts when I heard of his death. With Walter’s death there is a great gaping hole in our universe. Who’s going to write about and visit the boys in juvenile detention? Who’s going to tackle the tough subjects and not flinch when it may not be the most popular topic of all time? Here in New York his Scorpions and Bad Boy: A Memoir are on loads of summer reading lists. Why is he the only African-American man to be listed for older readers?
And yet, I have high hopes. African-American men are writing more YA and children’s literature than before and, thankfully, publishers are publishing them. So, on the male side of the equation, this year we’re seeing Varian Johnson, Jason Reynolds, Greg Neri, Kwame Alexander, Patrick Henry Bass, and hopefully others as well. No one will ever be able to fill Walter’s shoes but maybe his legacy can be markedly increased representation.
I did not have many chances to speak with Walter. I was horribly intimidated by him in general, so I never quite knew what to say in his presence. Aside from the occasional interview we didn’t interact much. Still, he was incredibly memorable as a person. We’ll all remember Walter in our different ways. For my part, I think I’ll go reread Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. To my mind, no other book of children’s literature gives Walter his due better than that slim little title.
From Harper Collins:
WALTER DEAN MYERS, PROLIFIC AND BELOVED AUTHOR
OF AWARD-WINNING CHILDREN’S BOOKS, DIES AT AGE 76
Myers Touched So Many With His Eloquent and Unflinching Portrayal of Young
Walter Dean Myers, beloved and deeply respected children’s book author, died on July 1, 2014, following a brief illness. He was 76 years old.
In a career spanning over 45 years, Walter Dean Myers wrote more than 100 books for children of all ages. His impressive body of work includes two Newbery Honor Books, three National Book Award Finalists, and six Coretta Scott King Award/Honor-winning books. He was the winner of the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award, the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. In 2010, Walter was the United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and in 2012 he was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, serving a two-year tenure in the position. Also in 2012, Walter was recognized as an inaugural NYC Literary Honoree, an honor given by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his substantial lifetime accomplishments and contribution to children’s literature.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of erudite and beloved author Walter Dean Myers. Walter’s many award-winning books do not shy away from the sometimes gritty truth of growing up. He wrote books for the reader he once was, books he wanted to read when he was a teen. He wrote with heart and he spoke to teens in a language they understood. For these reasons, and more, his work will live on for a long, long time,” said Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Walter Dean Myers was born Walter Milton Myers on August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Walter’s birth mother, Mary Myers, died after the birth of his younger sister, Imogene. His father, George, sent Walter to live with his first wife, Florence Dean, and her husband, Herbert Dean, in Harlem, along with Florence and George’s two daughters. Walter would eventually adopt the middle name “Dean” to honor Florence and Herbert.
In Walter’s memoir, Bad Boy, he wrote, “Harlem is the first place called ‘home’ that I can remember.” This sentiment is reflected in Walter’s writing, whether via a love letter to the neighborhood in the picture book Harlem; a story of a boy’s trial for a crime committed in Harlem, in the novel Monster; or the tale of two friends struggling to see a future beyond the community they know in the novel Darius & Twig. Walter spent much of his childhood playing basketball on the courts of Harlem and checking books out of the George Bruce Branch of the New York Public Library. Florence Dean taught Walter to read in their kitchen, and when he began attending Public School 125, he could read at a second-grade level. Though Walter struggled through school with a speech impediment and poor grades, and he had trouble with discipline throughout his school career, he remained an avid reader. His love of reading soon progressed to a love of writing.
Walter wrote well in high school and one teacher, who recognized his talent but also knew he was going to drop out, told him to keep on writing, no matter what—“It’s what you do,” she said. Walter did drop out of Stuyvesant High School, though they now claim him as a graduate (which Walter always found funny). At the age of seventeen, he enlisted in the Army. Years later, after his safe return home and while working a construction job, Walter would remember this teacher’s advice. He started writing again…and he didn’t stop.
Walter’s body of work includes picture books, novels for teens, poetry, and non-fiction alike. In 1968, Walter’s first published book, Where Does the Day Go?, illustrated by Leo Carty, won an award from the Council on Interracial Books for Children. Walter and his son Christopher, an artist, collaborated on a number of picture books for young readers, including We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart and Harlem, which received a Caldecott Honor Award, as well as the teen novel and National Book Award Finalist Autobiography of My Dead Brother, which Christopher illustrated. Walter’s novel Scorpions won a Newbery Honor Medal and the Margaret A. Edwards Award, while gritty teen novels Lockdown and Monster were both National Book Award Finalists. Monster appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, won the first Michael L. Printz Award, and received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. His stunning Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel, Fallen Angels (1988), about the Vietnam War, was named one of the top ten American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults of all time. Twenty years later, Myers wrote a riveting contemporary companion novel, Sunrise Over Fallujah, which was named a New York Times Notable Book in 2008.
In Invasion (2010), Myers once again explored the effects and horrors of war through young protagonists, this time set in World War II. His upcoming books include Juba!, (HarperCollins, April 2015) a novel for teens based on the life of a young African American dancer, and On a Clear Day (Crown/Random House Books for Young Readers, September 2014). A graphic novel adaptation of Monster (HarperCollins) is also forthcoming.
Walter often wrote books about the most difficult time in his own life—his teenage years—for the reader he once was; these were the books that he wished were available when he was that age. Throughout his life, Walter worked to make sure young adults had the tools necessary to become hungry readers, thirsty learners, and, therefore, successful adults. He frequently met with incarcerated teens in juvenile detention centers and received countless letters thanking him for his inspirational words. Walter also worked with and mentored teenage fan and writer Ross Workman, and they published the novel Kick together. As the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2012-2013, Walter traveled around the United States promoting the slogan “Reading is not optional.” He strove to spread the message that a brighter future depends on reading proficiency and widespread literacy, not only during his two-year tenure as National Ambassador, but beyond. More than anything, Walter pushed for his stories to teach children and teenagers never to give up on life.
“Walter Dean Myers was a compassionate, wonderful, and brilliant man. He wrote about children who needed a voice and their stories told. His work will live on for generations to come. It was an honor to work with him for so many years,” said Miriam Altshuler, Walter’s literary agent.
Walter lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, with his wife Constance. He is survived by Constance, as well as his two sons, Christopher and Michael Dean. He was predeceased by his daughter, Karen.
I was perusing the old Top 100 Picture Books and Top 100 Chapter Books polls of yore (still my most popular posts, even after all these years) when a thought occurred. Looking at the list you can see a lot of folks who are still working to this day. Your Mo Willemses. Your Eric Carles. And you can see a lot of folks who have departed this great green plain, either long ago or recently. Your Ezra Jack Keatses. Your Margaret Wise Browns (though with that trunk of her spewing out continual books, will she ever truly leave us?).
Then you have an entirely different category. Authors and illustrators that created classics, then just left the field. Poof! No more books. These are the folks that just walked away. They’re rare but they happen and they’re the subject of today’s post.
There are two types of authors/illustrators in this respect. Those who stop at the top of their career and those who stop once they aged a bit and are tired of the business/want to do other things. Of the latter I can think of quite a few who are still kicking about doing their thing. That thing just doesn’t happen to involve producing new works for kids. Judy Blume, for example. If anyone is allowed to rest on her laurels, it would be she. Occasionally she’ll reappear and do something like the Pain and the Great One early chapter book series, but by and large she’s out of the running, doing other things in her life like the Tiger Eyes movie. Beverly Cleary at the grand old age of 98 hasn’t written anything since the last Ramona book Ramona’s World, published in 1999. She occasionally pops up for interviews when folks like NPR remember that she’s still alive. I wouldn’t put it past her to suddenly come out with a final Ramona Quimby book either (which reminds me of Peter Sieruta’s old April Fool’s post on the very topic lo these many years ago).
Perhaps the person that intrigues me most in this respect is Marcia Brown. Does the name ring a bell? She is, I believe, the woman who tied the record for most Caldecott Awards (rather than Honors) with David Wiesner. Considering that her first Caldecott came in 1954 you’d be forgiven for thinking she’d passed on, but in fact she’s currently residing in California. Early in her career she worked for New York Public Library in the same Central Children’s Room that I did and it was there that she would test out her book ideas on the kiddos. For the latter part of her life she dedicated herself to her paintings, no longer working the field of children’s literature. I believe Leonard Marcus went out and visited her relatively recently, but I’m not sure where that interview is slated to appear. Sometimes I wonder if there are books she wished she could have published.
Then there are the folks that left while they were near the peak of their popularity. These are the people that intrigue me particularly. One of the most notable cases would be that of Peggy Rathmann. If you want an example of a picture book author/illustrator who left at the top of her game, see ye no further. The creator of such fantastic books as Goodnight, Gorilla, Ten Minutes to Bedtime, The Day the Babies Crawled Away (note to self: put on hold for daughter), and Officer Buckle and Gloria amongst others, she hasn’t produced a new picture book in ten years. Aside from having the world’s greatest author photo, word on the street has it that Ms. Rathmann is perfectly happy working on her California ranch. So why no more books? No clue but I dare to dream that someday she’ll do an interview with Leonard Marcus or Jules Danielson and we’ll hear from her again. Failing that I’d settle for a new book. *bats eyes in the direction of Nicasio, California longingly*
I considered adding Lois Duncan to this list since she was a young adult author even before the term became popular. There was a time when her books were prolific and wonderful. But reading the recent and marvelously researched BuzzFeed article Who Killed Lois Duncan’s Daughter? I know that this is a very different case. There are authors that quit writing in a genre because they willingly choose to go another direction with their lives. Then there are those that choose to quite writing in a genre because they are forced to go in another direction. Ms. Duncan probably would have been happy to continue writing suspense thrillers, had the circumstances of her life been different.
How long do you give it until you declare that a person is “gone”? If they’re alive then there’s always the possibility, however remote, that they’ll pull another manuscript out from behind their backs at some point. Hope springs eternal, after all. Take J.K. Rowling, for example. Will she ever write another children’s book again? Years ago she suggested that she’d write a “political fairy tale” of some sort, but that manuscript has yet to arise. Considering how successful her nom de plume experiment with adult literature turned out to be, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to see her pull the same move on the children’s book publishing world. Think about it. What if, some year, a nondescript manuscript from a supposed debut author appeared on the Scholastic line-up and we only found out later that its true author was Ms. Rowling? I’m sort of thrilled by the potential there. It could happen.
You can never really write anyone off either. Norton Juster, for example, was capable of going decades without publishing a thing, only to reappear years later.
Have you any authors or illustrators you wonder about?
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The Mermaid and the Shoe
By K.G. Campbell
Kids Can Press
On shelves now
Why are magical creatures so hard to write? I’m a children’s librarian. That means that a goodly portion of my day can consist of small starry-eyed children asking for an array of otherworldly cuties. “Do you have any unicorn books?” “Any fairies?” “Any mermaids?” Actually, more often than not it’s their parents asking and you can read between the lines when they request such books. What they’re really saying is, “Do you have any books about a fairy that isn’t going to make me want to tear out my eyebrows when I end up reading it for the 4,000th time?” Over the years I’ve collected the names of picture books that fulfill those needs. Like fairies? The Dollhouse Fairy by Jane Ray is for you. Unicorns? You can’t go wrong with Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. But mermaids . . . mermaids posed a problem. It isn’t that they don’t have books. They simply don’t have that many. For whatever reason, writers don’t like doing mermaid books. Easy to understand why. What is a mermaid known for aside from brushing their hair or luring young sailors to a watery grave? Add in the fact that most kids associate mermaids with a certain red-haired Disney vixen and you’ve got yourself a topic that’s avoided like the plague. It takes a bit of originality, spark, and verve to overcome these obstacles. Having read his picture book Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters I knew that K.G. Campbell was a bit of a witty wordsmith. What I didn’t know was that he was capable of creating wholly new storylines that are as satisfying to adult readers as they will be to children. You want a mermaid book? The Mermaid and the Shoe is officially my latest recommendation.
Mermaids are talented creatures. Just ask King Neptune. The merman has fifty (count ‘em) fifty daughters and every single one of them has a talent. Every single one . . . except perhaps Minnow. The youngest daughter, Minnow can’t garden or train fish or sing particularly well. Instead, she asks questions. Questions that nobody seems to know the answers to. One day, a strange red object falls from above. No one, not even Minnow’s stuck up sister Calypso, can say what it is or what it does. Inspired, Minnow goes up to the surface to discover its use. What she finds shocks her, but also gives her a true purpose. She’s not just the youngest daughter in her family any more. No, Minnow is an explorer through and through.
My three-year-old daughter has a laser-like ability to hone in on any new picture book that appears in my bag when I come home from work. I hadn’t necessarily meant to try out The Mermaid and the Shoe on her, but once she zeroed in on it there was no stopping her. At this point in time she doesn’t have much of a magical creature frame of reference so it was interesting trying to explain the rudimentary basics of your everyday merman or mermaid in the context of Campbell’s book. She had a bit of a hard time understanding why Minnow didn’t know what a shoe was. I explained that mermaids don’t have feet. “Why don’t they have feet?” Not much of an answer to be given to that one. Happily she enjoyed the book thoroughly, but with its emphasis on cruel older siblings and the importance of making your own path, this is going to be best enjoyed by a slightly older readership.
As I may have mentioned before, Disney ruined us for mermaids. There will therefore be kids who read this book and then complain that it’s not a cookie cutter Ariel mass media affair. Still, I like to think those kids will be few and far between. First off, the book does have some similarities to the Ariel storyline. King Neptune/Triton is still the buff and shirtless father of a bunch of mermaid sisters and he still has his customary crown, flowy white beard (beards just look so keen underwater, don’t you think?), and triton. The story focuses yet again on his youngest daughter who longs to know more about the world up above. She’s accompanied by an adorable underwater sea creature. But once you get past the peripheral similarities, Campbell strikes out into uncharted territory, so to speak.
With this book Campbell strikes a storytelling tone. It’s a bit more classic than that found in some other contemporary picture books, but it fits the subject and the art. When you read that Calypso called her little sister “useless” the text says, “for sisters can be mean that way.” There’s an art to the storytelling. I loved that Minnow considers the shoe important because “This thing . . . was made with care. It has a purpose, and I will discover it!” As for the plot itself, I’ve never seen a book do this particular storyline before. Maybe it’s because authors are afraid of incurring the litigious wrath of Disney, but shouldn’t more mermaids be curious about our world? The fact that they’d be horrified by our feet just makes complete and utter sense. If you didn’t know they weren’t hands then of course you’d consider them knobby, gnarled and smelly (though how they know about that last bit is up for contention). Campbell knows how to follow a plotline to its logical conclusion.
I also love the core message of the book. Minnow’s talent lies in not just her brain (which I would have settled for) but also in how she sets about getting answers to her questions. At the end of the tale her father proclaims that her talent is being an explorer but I’m not so sure. I think Minnow’s a reporter. She not only asks the right questions but she sets out to find answers, no matter where they lead her. Then she comes back and shares information with her fellow mermaids, reporting her findings and sticking to the facts. You could also call her a storyteller, but to my mind Minnow is out there chasing down leads, satisfying her own curiosity over and over again. You might even say she comes close to the scientific method (though she never sets up a hypothesis so that would be a bit of a stretch).
There’s been a lot of talk over the years as to whether or not the greatest picture books out there are always written and illustrated by the same person (just look at the most recent Caldecott winners if you doubt me). You could argue both ways, but there is little doubt in my mind that Campbell just happened to be the best possible artist for this book . . . which he also just happened to write. I hate the term “dreamlike” but doggone it, it’s sort of the best possible term for this title. Notice how beautifully Campbell frames his images. In some pages he will surround a round image like a window with aspects of the scene (seaweed, fronds, or in the case of the world above, wildflowers). Consider too his use of color. The single red shoe is the only object of that particular bright hue in the otherwise grey and gloomy underwater lands. The mermaids themselves are all white-haired, a fact that makes a lot of sense when you consider that sunlight never touches them. They’re like lovely little half-human cavefish. And then there’s the man’s scope. I was reminded of a similarly aquatic picture book, David Soman’s Three Bears in a Boat in terms of the use of impressive two-page spreads. There’s an image of Minnow confronting a whale that could well take your breath away if you let it. The man knows how to pull back sometimes and then go in for the close-up. I have heard some objections to the mermaids’ teeny tiny seashells that seemingly float over their nonexistent breasts. And true, you notice it for about half a second. Then you get into the book itself and all is well.
With its can do mermaid who seeks answers in spite of her age and size, its beautiful watercolor and pencil crayon imagery, and writing that makes the reader feel like they’re indulging in a contemporary classic, there is no question in my mind that The Mermaid and the Shoe is the best little mermaid related picture book of all time. Utterly charming and unique, I can only hope it inspires other artists and authors to attempt to write more quality works of picture book fiction about magical creatures for the kiddos. It’s not an easy task, but when it works boy HOWDY does it work! Beguiling and bewitching, there’s only one true word to describe this book. Beautiful.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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By: Betsy Bird
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No time to dilly-dally, people! We’ve most of our peers and betters living it up in Las Vegas. Let’s soothe our sorrows of not attending ourselves in some lovely videos then, eh whot?
First off, you may have known that there was a recent Boston Children’s Book Trivia Night. But did you know there was video from the event as well? Indeedy. Just LOOK at that turnout! That’s Jack Gantos moderating. The only trouble with this vid is that it doesn’t contain the answer to his trivia question. Um . . . anyone want to tell it to me?
In other news, Eoin Colfer. Not that his existence is news exactly. It’s just worth making your day brighter to watch him talk a little about . . . well, pretty much anything. In this case, on getting a literary agent. Granted, he looks a bit like a great big blue floating head, but I care not.
In movie news, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex is finally finding itself in film form. Retitled Home, it has made some interesting changes. The title, for one. J-Lo is now just O. And Tip is a teenager (one suspects the film executives thought kids would start picking up their own parents’ car keys if they saw a kid in a movie driving). We shall see.
Awwww. A Harry Potter rap! It’s never too late folks (and note the complete and utter lack of snark in the lyrics).
Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.
And for our off-topic video, this one actually mentions Hagrid at one point (continuing our Harry Potter theme). So we’re awfully close to being on-topic. It’s one woman, seventeen different British accents, and one rocking pair of fantastically 1985 glasses.
By: Betsy Bird
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- As I write this there are countless souls right now in Las Vegas attending the American Library Association Annual Conference. I watch your tweets with envy, my friends. Would that I were there. Some of the first timers have asked me what they shouldn’t miss, but since I haven’t seen the official schedule of events I cannot say. Obviously you’d want to attend the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet on Sunday night. That’s a given. Other than that, I always love watching the Notable Children’s Books Committee debate up a storm. This year I don’t envy them the discussion. LOTS of good books are on the menu and it’s being chaired by my fellow Newbery committee member Edie Ching. A little sad not to see Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson, Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, Curiosity by Gary Blackwood, Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman and other favorites on the list of books being discussed but they can’t cover ‘em all. Don’t miss it!
- Anything I say on the subject of the recently deceased Nancy Garden will be inadequate. However I would like to note that she provided invaluable help with the book I recently co-wrote with Jules Danielson. Without her aid we would have been seriously up a tree. I am very sorry she won’t be able to see the final copy herself. She was a joy to work with.
- On the one hand I’m rather grateful that Christian Science Monitor thought to present a list of 25 of the Best New Middle Grade Novels of 2014. With YA always hogging the media it’s very nice to see fare for the younger set getting attention from a publication that isn’t one of the usual suspects. On the other hand, we run into the old problem with defining what middle grade actually is. Threatened by Eliot Schrefer is great but he’d be the first to tell you that the book is straight up young adult. Ditto The Art of Secrets by James Klise, The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, A Creature of Moonlight by Katherine Hahn, and A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman. Otherwise, it’s very cool how the list concentrated a fair amount on small presses and Native American authors and publishers.
- Credit Phil Nel with coming up with one of the most fascinating pieces on Dr. Seuss I’ve seen in a long time. Think you know all that there is to know about his famous chapeau donning feline? Then you haven’t seen Was the Cat in the Hat Black?
- There are few thrills quite as great as unexpectedly running into the author of a book you admire. Special credit should go to those librarians that are able to spot the authors who aren’t yet household names but create truly remarkable fare. Extra special credit and cupcakes to those librarians who then get the authors to sit down for interviews. I am a BIG fan of Teri Kanefield’s The Girl From the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement. So imagine my delight when I saw that one of my librarians recently interviewed her. Well done, Jill!
- Speaking of librarians I admire, behold this woman:
I’m mildly peeved that I didn’t learn that the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity had been awarded until I stumbled across the fact on Twitter. Reading this article I can see that the win of librarian Laurence Copel, the founder of the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library in New Orleans, is well and truly deserved. In fact, I sort of pity the committee in choosing anyone else after this. Copel kind of sweeps the floor with the competition. How on earth do you compete with THAT? Wowza.
- What do J.M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, G. K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, and A. A. Milne all have in common? Apparently they were all on the world’s worst cricket team of all time. I don’t even know how I went through life unaware of this until now. Read the article. The amusing “greatest hits” are gonna go right over a lot of American’s heads. So if any of today’s authors are interested in creating, say, a dodgeball team, I’d say there’s a precedent.
- Psst! Care to see some KILLER comics coming out this fall that you may have missed? Check these puppies out. I guarantee you’ve seen nothing like them before.
And for today’s Daily Image, I bring you the coolest idea of all time. When Angie Manfredi tweeted that her library was doing a spy party for the kids called Spy Night, I was impressed. She asked for spy picture books, but all I could come up with was Andy Rash’s Agent A to Agent Z. At any rate, this is the laser maze set-up they created in one of the stacks.
So brilliant I could cry. Thanks to Angie Manfredi for the image!
Today we deviate slightly from our usual rounds into the world of children’s literature to look at children’s television programming in the early 21st century. Put another way, I have a new baby and a three-year-old so this is about the level of literary criticism I’m capable of today. You’ll have to bear with me.
If you are unlike me and do not have a very young child then you may be completely unaware of this particular television show. But if you do know of it then you’ll probably find that this seemingly innocuous little bit of pleasant programming has a kooky core that’s worth looking into.
First off, I’ve always admired the women of the Children’s Media Association. Occasionally, because children’s books and children’s media intersect with great frequency, they’ll have me come in to moderate a panel or speak on a topic. Years and years ago they had me come in and we discussed the fact that some of them were working on this new show that was a kind of spin-off of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. All I really knew about it was that it was going to be called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Beyond that, no information. Years passed and nothing happened. Then, in September of 2012, the show finally hit the airwaves. Look at the Wikipedia entry and you’ll see that it was in the works since 2006 or so.
Now the premise of the show is what interests me the most. Without knowing anything about it I just assumed it was an animated version of The Land of Make Believe with all the same Fred Rogers characters. Not exactly. Instead, the idea is that those characters all got older (didn’t we all?) and had kids of their own. So this is the next generation of Make Believe children. Daniel Tiger is the son of Daniel Striped Tiger, a fact reinforced as true when you notice that the dad sports a watch. King Friday XIII is there with his wife but Prince Tuesday’s now in his 20s and he has a little brother that’s around Daniel’s age. X the owl has a nephew, which is a bit confusing since I always assumed that he and Henrietta were an item. You know. The owl and the pussycat and all that. Apparently not since she has a kid of her own and he doesn’t. No word on who the father of her kiddo is. I’m going to continue to hope it’s X and that the kitten shows owlish signs in the future.
Where it gets a little peculiar (and as you can see I’m already getting a bit weird about all this) is when you get to the origins of a little girl named Miss Elaina. Those of you who grew up on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood back in the day will recall this figure:
That’s Lady Elaine Fairchilde. Probably the puppet most directly influenced by old Punch & Judy shows. Voiced by Fred Rogers (a fact that my mother attributes to his mental sanity, since it allowed him to cut loose a little) Lady Elaine was the antagonist of the show. Not necessarily the villain, but she liked to stir things up. She was sort of the closest thing they had to a bad guy. Well credit to the creators of the show because somebody somewhere took a look at this . . .
. . . and said to themselves, “You know what she needs? A hot husband.” Batta bing, meet the new happy family.
Lady Elaine has been paired with Music Man Stan (who actually dates back to the original show). They cut back on her eye make-up and toned down that red nose. Then they gave her a daughter named Miss Elaina, which is sort of awesome since they’re essentially calling her Lady Elaine Jr. Miss Elaina calls everyone “Toots” just like her mom did. Seriously.
Am I the only one who finds the reinterpretation of Lady Elaine just a bit odd? She sort of lost her drive, since this show doesn’t deal in plots long enough to include baddies. Her daughter’s downright sweet as well. In fact the whole show feels like a combination of Dora the Explorer and the original Fred Rogers creation. Still and all, it’s interesting, particularly when you take into account the attention to detail the creators of this show have paid to the original. At times it’s actually a bit unnerving. It’s not just Daniel Striped Tiger’s watch. Read through the Wikipedia page and you’ll learn that the neighborhood doctor is Dr. Anna and “Though human, she shares many characteristics of the platypus family of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: their patriarch, Bill Platypus was the neighborhood physician and spoke with a foreign accent (Scottish, in his case), and his daughter was named Ana.” There are other examples as well, which means that somebody on the staff sat down and watched untold numbers of episodes of the original Mister Rogers program just to make these connections.
Anyone with small kids knows that if you watch enough children’s programming you start to create alternate narrative to the one on the screen so as to maintain sanity. Back in the day my mother really rooted for Maria and David to hook up on Sesame Street, only for the show to go the predictable route of pairing her with Luis instead. The same can be true for this show. For example, Daniel Striped Tiger apparently works in the “Clock Factory” where he grew up. Take that one step further and you can create a kind of Hugo Cabret childhood for him. Living by himself in a clock. Never really leaving. Sad, really.
All told though it’s a good show. We’ve actually used it with our daughter and it worked wonders when it came to getting a shot at the doctor’s office or waiting somewhere (though it was completely and utterly ineffective in terms of getting her to try new foods).
If you’ve other points about the peculiarities of this show, feel free to pass them along. I’m all ears.
By: Betsy Bird
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The Dumbest Idea Ever
By Jimmy Gownley
GRAPHIX (an imprint of Scholastic)
Ages 9 and up
On shelves now.
Is it or is it not a good idea to tell young people that they are special and unique? It’s a legitimate question. When I was growing up the emphasis in school was clearly on self-esteem. On Track and Field Day everybody got the standard participation ribbon. Effort, even minimal effort, was rewarded. And if you grew up in a small town there was the extra added benefit of getting to be a big fish in a small pond. The combination of being told you were one-of-a-kind, the best of the best, and more combined with local aplomb has a way of going to a kid’s head. It’s the stuff of the best memoirs, actually, but usually of the adult or YA variety. Not a lot of kids stop to think about how they stack up against the rest of the world when they’re trying to find their feet. What makes The Dumbest Idea Ever different, then, is that it combines the familiar children’s book motif of “finding the thing that makes you special” and the takes it one step further to say “but not THAT special . . . and that’s okay.” I’ve never really seen anything like it. Then again, I’ve never really ever seen an artist like Jimmy Gownley – a guy who has paid his dues and just cranks out better and better work all the time as a result. And The Dumbest Idea Ever gives us a hint of how he got started.
Jimmy’s not special. He was for a while, making the best grades and acting as the star of his Catholic school’s basketball team. But a bout of chicken pox followed by pneumonia changes everything. When Jimmy’s grades start to slip it feels like they’re now out of his control. And faced with the knowledge that he’s no longer special, Jimmy starts turning to the comfort of his comic books more than ever. When a comic he writes inspires a friend to suggest he do something a little more realistic, Jimmy’s not convinced (hence the book’s title). Yet a realistic comic is exactly what propels him out of local obscurity into small time stardom. Now he’s dating the cutest girl in school, getting interviewed by the local news, the works! It’s all going great, but what happens when you discover that the work you’ve been doing isn’t as big and important as you always thought? What happens when you realize that you’ve only just begun?
I’ve noticed an odd little theme in the middle grade (ages 9-12) novels of 2014. A lot of books are tackling the idea of what it means to be average. Books like Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, where the kid really isn’t exceptional and never will be. It’s like we were afraid to talk about this to children in the past, opting instead to drill it into our kids that they have to excel in everything at all times. Now in the age of helicopter parenting and overbooked schedules, literature for kids is backing off a tad. Admitting that while some kids really are extraordinary, for others it’s okay not to be top of your class or the best in all categories. The journey Jimmy takes in this book starts with his fall from grace as the golden boy of school. It’s the slippery slope of no longer being top dog and then having to deal with that.
I’m one of those children’s librarians who honestly thinks that Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules series is one of the greatest graphic novel arcs in children’s literary history of all time. I own every single book in the series and reread them constantly. For me, Gownley’s characters are flesh and blood and real to me in ways I’ve almost never encountered anywhere else. What’s more, the books get better as they go and aren’t afraid to bring up big questions and dark issues. When Gownley ended the series I was heartbroken. I waited with baited breath for him to give me something similar. ANYTHING, really. So when I heard that he’d penned a graphic memoir of his own life as a kid I was thrilled beyond measure . . . and wary. I’ve been burned before, man, and memoirs of children’s book authors are tricky things. I love ‘em but they’re tricky. Does the writer encapsulate their entire life or just a section? What’s interesting about The Dumbest Idea Ever is that it’s the closest thing I’ve found to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Yet through it all there is something distinctly Gownleyish about this entire endeavor that you’d never mistake for anyone else. And how he chooses to frame the book is exceedingly smart.
The heart of the novel, as I see it, is the personal journey we all have to take at some point. We all want to be good at something. Preferably something cool that few others around us are as good at. We want acclaim for this specialness. And then, ultimately, what we really want is universal love and acceptance, preferably without a whole lot of work. It’s that last desire that’ll get you in the end. The crux of the book comes with Jimmy visits New York City for the first time. In some ways, NYC was created for the sole purpose of crushing little souls, like Jimmy, into the dust under its grimy shoe. No matter how good you are at something, there’s somebody in NYC who’s better and the city isn’t afraid to let you know about that fact repeatedly. And when you face the fact that you are, indeed, ordinarily a big fish in a small pond, what do you do? Do you try to better yourself so that you can compete in a big pond, do you relegate yourself to your small pond (no shame in that), or do you give up entirely? That’s something kids everywhere need to think about, even if the choices we’re talking about won’t be something they need to deal with for a couple years.
The thing that librarians tend to forget about children is that they love reading about older kids. You think large swaths of 17-year-olds are reading Archie comics just because the kids are in high school? Not even. So when Jimmy allows himself (so to speak) to enter into high school and to start dating, I didn’t even blink. My worry is that someone will read this book, see that the character ages, and slot this book solely into the YA section of their bookstore or library. And certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. A teen would get a lot out of Jimmy’s journey too. Still I think there’s a lot of value in letting kids see what happens when a child like themselves has their ego squashed into a small pile of goo (to their betterment). It’s nothing something I’ve found in that many books for children, after all.
I live and work in New York City where all the kids I see are little fishies in the world’s biggest pond. You’ll always find little ponds within a big one (my metaphors are breaking down – abandon ship!) so kids will always find people and places that praise them, even when surrounded by a mass of other talented people. That said, NYC kids miss out on the experience of feeling special in a smaller setting. It’s something that yields remarkably creative people, and if they follow that drive to keep going and to succeed based on their own hard work then you sometimes end up with something really cool . . . like The Dumbest Idea Ever. It’s a graphic memoir covering a subject both original and incredibly familiar. Your children’s book bookshelves are better off with this book on them.
On shelves now.
Source: Borrowed printed copy from library for review.
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- Smile by Raina Telgemeier
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Misc: This is fun. Mr. Gownley went back to the schools portrayed in this book to talk about the experience of writing it.
Videos: A low-key book trailer rounds us out.
So I’m having lunch with a fellow from the entertainment industry the other day and by some quirk of conversation we begin discussing Quakerism. I attending a Quaker liberal arts college called Earlham (“Fight! Fight! Inner light! Kill, Quakers, Kill!”) and he, I believe, was raised Quaker. And since the focus of everything in my life is, eventually, children’s literature we started talking about those picture books that Quaker kids love.
Because they do, you know. Befriend enough Quakers and they’ll start talking about the books that raised them. I wasn’t raised Quaker myself but even in college I began to notice the books that came up time and time again when talking with them thar Quaker kids. Back in the day it was a lot of Brinton Turkle. One of my friends went to the same meeting as Mr. Turkle, as it happens. He was prolific in his day and will probably be best remembered for the Obadiah series he helped create. There was Obadiah the Bold, Rachel and Obadiah, and mostly notably the Caldecott Honor book Thy Friend, Obadiah. Sure they were an old timey look at Quakerism but due to the fact that they were also the ONLY picture books with a Quaker hero, they were roundly embraced by the community.
Beyond the Turkle, other books came up fairly often. Byrd Baylor, for example. The Other Way to Listen to some extent and also The Table Where Rich People Sit.
All this got me to thinking about those authors and books that are embraced by distinctive communities. It would be, in many ways, an author or illustrator’s dream to be considered a standard amongst a strong and steady group like the Quakers. So I looked at the site Quaker Books to try to get a sense of those books that would appeal to Quaker kids today. Who are the new Turkle and Baylor? It’s a tricky question. Few names came up time and time again but the site itself makes some rather nice selections, as it happens. I was very impressed by the books that cropped up under the topic of Earth Stewardship & Simplicity. Equality & Community is also quite good. The site also said that authors like Barbara Wright, Haven Kimmel, and Laurie Halse Anderson are Quaker, amongst others.
It’s also pretty up-to-date, a marvel in and of itself. But the number of 2014 titles is relatively small. Here then are some additional 2014 suggestions for anyone looking for terribly current books that reflect Quaker values. I decided to stick with nonfiction, though I’m sure there are picture books and works of fiction that would fit in as well. This is just for starters.
- Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus; ill. Evan Turk – The book that actually inspired this post in the first place. I see very few books for kids that think to discuss anger management in a realistic manner. Nonviolence is as difficult thing to promote in an everyday way for kids, but this book nails it.
- Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, ill. Christian Robinson – You might not think it a natural Quaker topic but with her interest in human rights worldwide there is much in Ms. Baker’s story to appeal here.
What else would you include?
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- First up, my little sister. My daughter recently had her third birthday so my sis came up with a craft involving what she calls Do It Yourself Cupcakes. Each cupcake sported a teeny tiny cover of one of my child’s favorite books. Then we took them to her daycare where she delightedly set about pointing out all the books she knew. I have zero crafting skills but if you do then you might want to try this sometime. It was kind of friggin’ amazing.
- Now in praise of Kevin King. The Kalamazoo Public librarian has long been hailed as one of the best in the country. Fact. Children’s authors and illustrators everywhere know his name. Fact. But when a man attended a summer reading kickoff for Kalamazoo Public Library with a gun, who confronted the fellow and asked him to please leave? Kevin King. So basically, he’s an amazing librarian AND he has the guts to talk to someone packing heat around children. Kevin King, today we salute you. I don’t know that many of us would have the courage to do what you did.
- Look, we all talk about how we don’t have enough of one kind of book or not enough of another. But what do we actually DO about it? Credit to Pat Cummings. She doesn’t take these things lying down. Check out the Hero’s Art Journey Scholarship then. As the website says, “The Children’s Book Academy is proud and excited to offer merit scholarships for writers and illustrators of color, identifying as LBGQTI, or having a disability, who are currently underrepresented in the children’s publishing industry. In addition, we are offering scholarships for low income folks who might not be able to take this course otherwise as well as to SCBWI Regional Advisers and Illustrator Coordinators who do so much unpaid work to help our field.” The first and only scholarship of its kind that I’ve certainly seen.
- Sometimes it’s just nice to find out about a new blog (even if by “new” you mean it’s been around since 2012). With that in mind, I’d like to give a hat tip and New Blog Alert to The Show Me Librarian. I believe it was Travis Jonker who led me to St. Charles City-County Library District librarian Amy Koester’s site. It doesn’t have a gimmick. It’s just an honestly good children’s librarian blog with great posts like this one on Reader’s Advisory and this one on picture book readalouds. Them’s good reading.
- Jules would never alert you to this herself, but don’t miss this interview with the woman behind the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog as conducted by Phil and Erin E. Stead. Even if you know Jules you’ll learn something new. For example, I had no idea she enjoyed Marc Maron’s podcast too.
- Speaking of Jules, who is the most tattooed children’s author/illustrator (since we already know the most tattooed bookseller)? The answer may surprise you.
- I’m sorry. I apparently buried the lede today. Else I would have begun with the startling, shocking, brilliant news that they’re bringing back Danger Mouse. Where my DM peoples at? Can I get a, “Crumbs!”? That’s right.
- I don’t read much YA. Usually I’ll pick out the big YA book of a given year and read it so that I don’t fall completely behind, but that’s as far as I’ll go (right now deciding between We Were Liars and Grasshopper Jungle). But I make exceptions and Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles fall into that gap. Now I hear that Meyer wrote a prequel called Fairest giving her villain some much needed background. That’s cool enough, but the cover? You only WISH you could see more jackets like this:
- Speaking of YA, and since, by law, nothing can happen at this moment on the internet without some mention of The Fault in Our Stars at least once, I was rather charmed by Flavorwire’s round-up of some of the odd TFIOS merchandise out there. Favorite phrase: “for the saddest party ever.”
- It’s important to remember that school library cuts aren’t an American invention. They’re a worldwide problem, a fact drilled home recently by the most recent post on Playing By the Book. If you’re unaware of the blog it’s run by the wonderful Zoe Toft and is, to my mind, Britain’s best children’s literature blog, bar none. Now Zoe’s facing something familiar to too many school librarians and it’s awful. Does anyone know of a British children’s literary magazine along the lines of a School Library Journal or Horn Book? The fact that her blog hasn’t been picked up by such an outlet is a crime.
- “I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.” As a woman with a child too young at the moment to be vaccinated against diseases like measles, every parent that refuses to get their own children vaccinated is a threat to mine. So I read with great interest what Roald Dahl felt about vaccinating your kids. It ran on BoingBoing back in 2009 but this kind of thing never dies.
- And the award for Best Summer Reading List of All Time goes to . . . Mike Lewis! His Spirit of Summer Reading list for reluctant readers can only be described in a single word: Beautiful. Designed flawlessly with books that I adore, this is the list I’d be handing to each and every parent who walks in my library door, were I still working a reference desk somewhere. Wowzah.
- A whole exhibit on Appalachian children’s literature? See, this is why I need my own private jet. Why has no one ever given me a private jet? Note to Self: Acquire private jet, because it’s exhibits like this one that make me wish I was more mobile. You lucky denizens of Knoxville, TN will be able to attend this exhibit between now and September 14th. Wow. Thanks to Jenny Schwartzberg for the link.
- So pleased to see this interview with Nathan Hale on the Comics Alternative podcast. Love that guy’s books, I do. Great listening.
- New York certainly does have a lot of nice things. Big green statues in the harbors. Buildings in the shape of irons. Parks that one could call “central”. But one thing we do not have, really, is an annual children’s book trivia event for folks of every stripe (librarians, editors, authors, booksellers, teachers, etc.). You know who does? Boston. Doggone Boston. The Children’s Book Boston trivia event happened the other day and The Horn Book reported the results. One could point out that I could stop my caterwauling and throw such an event myself. Hmm… could work. We could do it at Sharlene’s in Brooklyn… it’s a thought…
There are bookshelves that seem kooky or cool and then there are bookshelves that could serve a VERY useful purpose, if you owned them. Boy howdy, do I wish I owned this because useful is what it is. It’s a “Has Been Read” and “Will Be Read” shelf.
Thanks to Aunt Judy for the link.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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By Kate Milford
Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
On shelves August 26th
When I was a kid I had a real and abiding love of Agatha Christie. This would be around the time when I was ten or eleven. It wasn’t that I was rejecting the mysteries of the children’s book world. I just didn’t have a lot to choose from there. Aside from The Westing Game or supernatural ghostly mysteries sold as Apple paperbacks through the Scholastic Book Fair, my choices were few and far between. Kids today have it better, but not by much. Though the Edgar Awards for best mystery fiction do dedicate an award for young people’s literature, the number of honestly good mystery novels for the 9-12 set you encounter in a given year is minimal. When you find one that’s really extraordinary you want to hold onto it. And when it’s Kate Milford doing the writing, there’s nothing for it but to enjoy the ride. A raconteur’s delight with a story that’ll keep ‘em guessing, this is one title you won’t want to miss.
It was supposed to be winter vacation. Though Milo’s parents run an inn with a clientele that tends to include more than your average number of smugglers, he can always count on winter vacation to be bereft of guests. Yet in spite of the awful icy weather, a guest appears. Then another. Then two more. All told more than five guests appear with flimsy excuses for their arrival. Some seem to know one another. Others act suspiciously. And when thefts start to take place, Milo and his new friend Meddy decide to turn detective. Yet even as they unravel clues about their strange clientele there are always new ones to take their places. Someone is sabotaging the Greenglass House but it’s the kids who will unmask the culprit.
To my mind, Milford has a talent that few authors can boast; She breaks unspoken rules. Rules that have been dutifully followed by children’s authors for years on end. And in breaking them, she creates stronger books. Greenglass House is just the latest example. To my mind, three rules are broken here. Rule #1: Children’s books must mostly be about children. Adults are peripheral to the action. Rule #2: Time periods are not liquid. You cannot switch between them willy-nilly. Rule #3: Parents must be out of the picture. Kill ‘em off or kidnap them or make them negligent/evil but by all means get rid of them! To each of these, Milford thumbs her proverbial nose.
Let’s look at Rule #1 first. It is worth noting that with the exception of our two young heroes, the bulk of the story focuses on adults with adult problems. It has been said (by me, so take this with a grain of salt) that by and large the way most authors chose to write about adults for children is to turn them into small furry animals (Redwall, etc.). There is, however, another way. If you have a small innocuous child running hither and thither, gathering evidence and spying all the while, then you can talk about grown-ups for long periods of time and few child readers are the wiser. If I keep mentioning The Westing Game it’s because Ellen Raskin did very much what Milford is doing here, and ended up with a classic children’s book in the process. So there’s certainly a precedent.
On to Rule #2. One of the remarkable things about Kate Milford as a writer is that she can set a book in the present day (there is a mention of televisions in this book, so we can at least assume it’s relatively recent) and then go and fill it with archaic, wonderful, outdated technology. A kind of alternate contemporary steampunk, if there is such a thing. In an era of electronic doodads, child readers are going to really get a kick out of a book where mysterious rusted keys, old doorways, ancient lamps, stained green glass windows, and other old timey elements give the book a distinctive flavor.
Finally, Rule #3. This was the most remarkable of choices on Milford’s part, and I kept reading to book to find out how she’d get away with it. Milo’s parents are an active part of his life. They clearly care for him, periodically checking up on his throughout the story, but never interfering with his investigations. Since the book is entirely set in the Greenglass House, it has the feel of a stage play (which, by the way, it would adapt to BRILLIANTLY). That means you’re constantly running into mom and dad, but they don’t feel like they’re hovering. This is partly aided by the fact that they’re incredibly busy. So, in a way, Milford has discovered a way of removing parental involvement without removing parental care. The kids are free to explore and solve crimes and the adult gatekeepers reading this book are comforted by the family situation. A rarity if ever there was one.
But behind all the clues and ghost stories and thefts and lies what Greenglass House really is is the story of a hero’s journey. Milo starts out a soft-spoken kiddo with little faith in his own abilities. Donning the mantle of a kind of Dungeons & Dragons type character named Negret, he taps into a strength that he might otherwise not known he even had. There is a moment in the book when Milo starts acting with more confidence and actually thinks to himself, “And I didn’t even have to use Negret’s Irresistible Blandishment . . . I just did it.” Milo’s slow awakening to his own strengths and abilities is the heart of the novel. For all that people will discuss the mystery and the clues, it’s Milo that holds everything together.
Much of his personality is embedded in his identity as an adopted kid too. I love the mention of “orphan magic” that Milford makes at one point. It’s the idea that when something is sundered from its attachments it becomes more powerful in the process. At no point does Milford ever downplay the importance of the fact that Milo is adopted. It isn’t a casual fact that’s thrown in there and then forgotten. For Milo, the fact that he was adopted is part of who he is as a person. And coming to terms with that is part of his journey as well. Little wonder that he gathers such comfort from learning about orphan magic and its potential.
I’m looking at my notes about this book and I see I’ve written down little random facts that don’t really fit in with this review. Things like, “I did wonder if Milo’s name was a kind of unspoken homage to the Milo of The Phantom Tollbooth. And, “The book’s attitude towards smuggling is not all that different from, say, Danny, the Champion of the World’s attitude towards poaching.” And, “I love the vocabulary at work here. Raconteur. Puissance.” There is a lot a person can say about this book. I should note that there is a twist that a couple kids may see coming. It is, however, a fair twist and one that doesn’t cheat before you get to it. For the most part, Milford does a divine job at writing a darned good mystery without sacrificing character development and deeper truths. A great grand book for those kiddos who like reading books that make them feel smart. Fun fun fun fun fun.
On shelves August 26th.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
First Sentence: “There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.”
Interviews: Milford reveals all with The Enchanted Inkpot.
- In lieu of an Author’s Note, Kate provides some background information on Milo and adoption that is worthy additional reading here.
- Cover artist Jaime Zollars discusses being selected to illustrate the book jacket here.
- Discover how the book came from a writing prompt here.
For what it’s worth, this contest is for librarians as well as teachers.
To Honor Educators and to Highlight the August Movie Release of “The Giver,” Walden Media Announces its “Teachers are Givers” Contest
Educators Will Receive Cash Prizes for Themselves, Their Schools, and Libraries as well as a Special Hometown Screening of “The Giver”
Los Angeles, CA – June 11, 2014 – Walden Media, known for its film adaptations of literary classics like “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” “Holes,” “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Charlotte’s Web,” as well as for the education materials and contests it provides to educators, today formally announced its Teachers are Givers contest. The contest highlights the upcoming release of “The Giver,” a film based on Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal winning book and international best seller that has become a staple in schools throughout the United States. Hitting theaters nationwide on August 15th, “The Giver” stars Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush and Alexander Skarsgård.
To enter the Teachers are Givers contest, educators can visit www.walden.com and submit their ideas on how they use technology and/or social media to teach “The Giver.” Winners and their ideas will be highlighted on the Walden Media website in the Walden Media Teacher Hall of Fame. Each winner also will receive a personal cash prize of $1,000, a $1,000 donation to their school, and a $1,000 donation to their local library.
“We are so pleased to bring the literary classic “The Giver” to movie theaters this August,” noted Walden Media executive Chip Flaherty. “At its heart, “The Giver” celebrates the mentor relationship and the incredible impact an educator can have on a child’s life. This contest recognizes the significance of educators in our lives and attempts to reward the invaluable work they do.”
The inspiration for the Teachers are Givers contest came from an idea by Lori Johnson, a middle school teacher at Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, Massachusetts. Ms. Johnson uses a “Six Word Challenge” to teach her students about the power of words. This lesson is based on the legend that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words and builds upon the theme of “precision of language” found in “The Giver.”
The Teachers are Givers contest is just one component of the education materials and initiatives being developed in conjunction with the film release of “The Giver.” To learn more about these materials as well as other education program initiatives supporting “The Giver,” visit www.walden.com.
About the Movie
The haunting story of “The Giver” centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the sole keeper of all the community’s memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined – a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all – a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before. “The Giver” is based on Lois Lowry’s beloved young adult novel of the same name, which was the winner the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
For more information on the movie please visit https://thegiverfilm.com/
About Walden Media
Walden Media creates entertainment for the whole family through successful movies, award-winning books, and acclaimed television programs. A Walden Media production celebrates a great book well told, a great life well lived, or an exploration that expands present possibilities – all while inspiring and entertaining its audience. Past award-winning films include: “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” series, “Nim’s Island,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Holes,” “Amazing Grace,” and the Sundance Audience Prize Winning documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.’”
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By: Betsy Bird
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Roller Derby Rivals
By Sue Macy
Illustrated by Matt Collins
Ages 5 and up
On shelves July 1st
In my next life I will come back as a roller derby queen. Since the majority of my adult life has come and gone in complete and utter ignorance of this sport, I figure that means it’s too late for me now. But the more I learn about the sport the more I like it. Women on roller skates knocking the bejeesus out of each other in a circular fashion? Yes, please! Not that the sport has ever been particularly well documented in children’s literature. Generally speaking, roller derby tends to show up in YA literature more often than not. Since kids don’t have roller derby teams in elementary school or junior high, fiction leaves them high and dry. That means nonfiction would have to be the place to go, but until Sue Macy decided to write Roller Derby Rivals there wasn’t much to find. Meticulously researched, funny, and fast, Macy and Collins (who perfected their partnership in their previous title Basketball Belles) give us a highly original sports book like no other. A slam bang offering (with an emphasis on the “slam”).
The year: 1948. The place: New York’s 69th Regiment Armory. The event: Roller derby, baby! It’s here that two derby rivals, Midge “Toughie” Brasuhn and Gerry Murray give life to the game. Toughie’s the bad guy in this storyline. A down and dirty girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Gerry’s the glamour girl and the crowd favorite. In a typical game the two take potshots at one another. It’s the era of television and the sport is more popular than ever. But the truth? These two gals are actually friends, and one couldn’t exist without the other. An extensive Author’s Note, Roller Derby Time Line, and listing of Sources and Resources (including Film Clips, Web Sites, and Books) alongside Source Notes and Roller Derby Rules at the start of the book give the tale context.
When writing this book, author Sue Macy had to decide what era of roller derby to cover. She definitely wanted to cover a rivalry, but would she go with something recent or older? Ultimately she went with an older rivalry, and one that wasn’t as well known today. The derby of the 40s and 50s was really something. Here you had post-war women quietly going back to their roles as wives and mothers, and meanwhile on the television other women were knocking the stuffing out of one another on a rink. As Macy puts it, “The bruising, brawling women of Roller Derby were a throwback to the raucous war years, when women’s achievements knew no bounds.” Finding examples for kids of occasions when the women of the past weren’t Donna Reid can be tricky. Here’s one such example.
One thing I’ve never really realized about the sport of roller derby is how similar it is to professional wrestling in terms of “story”. There’s a reason that roller derby, wrestling, and boxing became the most watched sports during the rising of television programming. As Macy explains in her Author’s Note, “they took place indoors and in a confined area, so camera operators could control the lighting and focus on the faces of the participants as well as the action.” Little wonder that personality became an integral part of the sport as well. You had your heroes and you had your villains. Macy acknowledges this in the text for only the briefest of moments right at the end when she writes, “Fans would be shocked to learn that the two women, sworn enemies on the track, actually get along just fine. After all, they need each other. Every hero needs a villain. And every villain needs a worthy opponent.” Admittedly I would have liked the book to spend just a little more time on this topic. The showmanship of roller derby becomes an important part of the sport and one begins to wonder what’s real and what isn’t (and if the audience is implicit in this show or unaware that it’s happening). But I suppose those aren’t suppositions for a picture book, no matter how cool the subject matter might be.
A friend of mine recently pointed out to me that I’m a hard-core stickler for accuracy in my nonfiction picture books. To be blunt about it, I’m not very nice. If I think that a book is dodging accuracy for the sake of interest (including fake dialogue, merging or making of characters, etc.), I get very down on the whole kerschmozzle. How then to judge a book where the original television footage is lost? It’s not as though Macy isn’t just as much a stickler for accuracy as I am. Heck, the woman’s first four books were edited by Marc Aronson, so backmatter and factual writing is important to her. In the case of this book her backmatter includes “An important Notice from the Author and Illustrator” in which they note that since no television footage of the December 5th match survives they had to recreate it from their sources. “All dialogue and skating action are dramatizations based on our research.” Some folks may balk at where their suppositions take them, but I think Macy keeps it pretty within the realm of possibility at all times.
Illustrator Matt Collins gives the entire enterprise a kind of hyper reality. He has a lot to play with here, too. From women flying over rails into audiences to the look and feel of the late 40s/early 50s, this is a cool enterprise. One shot of people gathered outside an appliance store to watch the televisions there has a brilliant view of the seams up the back of a mother’s pantyhoes. There’s an attention to detail here worth noting. You are left in no doubt of the time and place.
One objection I’ve heard to the book is that the Author’s Note is so interesting it makes the rest of the book pale in comparison. I don’t happen to agree with that assessment, though. That’s sort of kicking a book for having interesting source material. It also suggests that though the picture book is interesting, what the reader really wanted was a chapter book on the subject. And believe me, a chapter book on Gerry and Toughie would be fabulous, but that’s a different project. What we have here is a picture book that wants to show a rivalry and does so. And professional rivalries in children’s books can be rare things. Few books for kids tell the really interesting stories about political or sports rivals. Rollerderby Rivals just proves that you’ve gotta start somewhere.
If you tell a kid to find a nonfiction picture book about a sport, nine times out of ten they’ll grab a book about baseball. That’s because baseball makes for perfect children’s literature. Fiction, nonfiction, you name it, baseball is king. Once in a great while another sport will get their day in the sun, but it’s rare. For once, I’m happy to read a book about women. And since finding a book that discusses TWO female athletes at the same time is almost impossible (single bios proliferate but multiples, not so much) it’s just an extra treat that Roller Derby Rivals is as enjoyable as it is. Not like anything else out there, and worthy of note. Ladies and gentlemen, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
On shelves July 1st
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Interviews: Sporty Girl Books talks with Macy a bit about this project.
A simply lovely book trailer for this book, featuring roller derby expert Gary Powers:
Curious to see what Toughie really looked like? I sort of adore this film she starred in. Love the narrator too.
Howdy, folks! We’re approaching Father’s Day here which makes today’s post a bit premature. Then again, the concept of dads reading to their kids is for forever, not a single day. You see Zoobean is launching this campaign in conjunction with The Good Men Project from June 2 – June 15, just in time for Father’s Day. It’s called the #DadsRead campaign and is designed to get dads reading. Always a good thing.
I was asked if I wanted to do something in conjunction with this campaign. Of course, I don’t have to go very far to find an example of a man reading to a kid. I’ve got one of those. One man, two kids. So in honor of the campaign, here is the resident husband and one of the resident children and the many books they love to read.
And yes. This is just an excuse to show pics of my cute kid. To say nothing of my cute spouse.
Reading Heads by Matthew Van Fleet
Reading Good Morning, Toucan by Dwell Studio
Reading the pop-up edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar
and the board book edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Reading Water in the Park by Emily Jenkins
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- So the big news this week was that a writer at Slate decided that now was an ideal time to take a potshot at adults reading young adult books. And, as you might expect, everyone got quite hot under the collar about it. To arms! To arms! Considering that this sort of thing happens pretty much every time a new YA book hits the mainstream I wasn’t quite as upset as some. Honestly, I thought Roger Sutton’s piece Why Do We Even Call It YA Anymore? was much more along my own thinking. I could not help but enjoy Marjorie Ingall’s response as well.
- It’s one of those stories that’s just so crazy you don’t quite believe it at first. So about a year ago I attending a lovely dinner for Stephan Pastis, author of the book Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (as well as the other Timmy books that would follow). Stephan was one of those fellows just filled to the brim with stories. And, as luck would have it, his stories were about syndicated cartoonists; one of my favorite things in the world to talk about! I heard him wax eloquent on the subject of Gary Trudeau, Berkeley Breathed, you name it. He even had ties to Charles Schulz (a fact that served me well when I interviewed Sparky’s wife Jean). But when I dared to ask if he’d ever met the elusive Gary Larson or Bill Watterson (of Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes fame respectively) he confessed he had not, though Watterson had once sent him a nice note about one of his comics. Well bust my buttons, but recently Pastis got a lot more out of Watterson than a mere note. He got three illustrated comic strips! Read this post to learn how he did it and why this is as extraordinary a fact as it is. Wowza!
- I was very sad to hear about the recent death of legendary children’s book editor Frances Foster. Read this remarkable interview with her from Horn Book, conducted by Leonard Marcus to get a sense of the woman we just lost. PW provided a very nice obituary for her here.
- Essentially, this is kind of a real world case of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, but with a dark dark twist.
- The voting may be over, but I can’t help but love the collection of different Penguin Random House logos that dared to combine the publishing behemoth. My personal favorite? Right here:
- I’ve oohed and cooed to you about the fact that Shaun Tan’s rather brilliant picture book Rules of Summer has an accompanying app with music by the amazing and fantastic Sxip Shirey. However, when I mentioned this fact before the app was not available for purchase. Now it is. Go get that thing then. You can even hear a selection of Sxip’s music for it here.
- Speaking of Rules of Summer, did you see Travis Jonker’s predictions of what he thinks will win the New York Times Best Illustrated Awards? Sort of a brilliant list to predict (and I think he’s completely and utterly dead on with his selection).
- Brain Pickings recently featured a selection of photographs of fictional meals from your favorite books. The photos are from the book Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals. Though not strictly limited to children’s literature, it contains a handful of tasty treats worth noting. Be sure to check out the meals of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, Heidi, and a Chicken Soup With Rice that will knock your socks off.
- Just a quick shout out to my fellow metropolitan librarian Rita Meade who just sold her first children’s book. Go, Rita, go go go!
- One minute he’s winning a Tony. The next minute he’s turning The Dangerous Book for Boys into a television show. Wait . . . say what now?
- Did you guys happen to see Grace Lin’s rather remarkably good Cheat Sheet for Selling Diversity? Selling, heck. This should be disseminated into all the MLIS programs in the States. Future children’s librarians should be memorizing it by heart. THIS is how you handsell to a kiddo or a parent, guys. And Grace did all the work for you!
Thanks to Marci for the link.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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By Scott Campbell
Atheneum (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
On shelves August 26th
Do you remember that old Shel Silverstein poem “Hug O’ War”? This may be considered sacrilege but did you ever notice how the guy could do something brilliant one moment, like “Sister For Sale” and then turn around and do something just doggone maudlin like “Hug O’ War” the next? Here’s a taste of what I mean: “Where everyone hugs / Instead of tugs / Where everyone giggles / And rolls on the rug”. You get the picture. The trouble is that hugs are hard. Adults love ‘em. Kids love ‘em. But writing about them inevitably drops you into sad saccharine territory where even great men like Silverstein find themselves inextricably mired in goo. It takes a sure and steady hand to navigate such territory. For that reason I think you need to take a close look at what Scott Campbell’s done with Hug Machine. There’s nothing wrong with writing a sweet picture book so long as it’s smart and/or funny. It’s harder than just pouring sugar in there and hoping people go along for the ride, which may explain why the market is glutted with schmaltz. Forget the “cute” picture books that make obvious overtures for your heartstrings. Opt instead for something that comes by its adorableness honestly. Hug Machine, man. It’s just the best.
Just call this kid a hugaphiliac. If there’s something out there he can wrap his arms around, he’s going to hug it. In fact, he’s so incredibly good at hugging that he has dubbed himself a “Hug Machine”. “No one can resist my unbelievable hugging,” says he, and he’s right. And what does the Hug Machine do on an average day? Well, it might hug everyone on the street. It might hug animals that are easy (turtles) and animals that are hard (porcupines). What does it eat? Pizza. And what does it hug? Everything! But when the day is done and the Hug Machine can hug no more, it takes a special set of arms to get the Hug Machine back in business again.
Some folks just take to the picture book form like a duck to water. I wish I could say that every cartoonist out there has the knack, but it just ain’t so. Many’s the time I’ve picked up a book from an artist I admired, hoping against hope that the transfer from adult to children’s books was seamless, only to find they just didn’t have what it took to speak to the small fry. Now the nice thing about Scott Campbell is that he’s sort of eased his way into the form. Under the name “Scott C.” he has penned many a grand book for grown-ups, like The Great Showdowns. Now we see his picture book authorial debut in Hug Machine. The verdict? I’m happy to report that all is well and right with the world. Here is a man who knows how to pack humor and heart all within a scant 40 pages.
This isn’t Campbell’s first time at the rodeo, of course. The man has tackled the wide and wonderful world of picture books before. If he wasn’t drawing romance stricken zombies on the one hand (Kelly DiPucchio’s Zombie in Love) then it was Bob Dylan lyrics (If Dogs Run Free) or, my personal favorite, dragons with conflict resolution issues (Robyn Eversole’s East Dragon, West Dragon). What do these all have in common? Probably just the simple fact that Campbell was doing the art on these books. Not the writing. And in at least one or two cases the art clearly outshone the texts. So how does he fare when he’s doing his own book? Magnificently, I’m happy to report. Because while I loved the art here, it was the text that made it work. Consider, for example, the section where The Hug Machine (there really isn’t any better term for him) encounters a porcupine. The porcupine laments, “I am so spiky. No one ever hugs me.” Turn the page and the boy has outfitted himself in a catcher’s mask, pillow on the middle, and oven mitts. The text reads, “They are missing out!” It is a wonderful phrase and not one you’d necessarily expect to see in a picture book. For whatever reason it reminded me of the wonderful wordplay of fellow picture book author/illustrator Bob Shea. To my mind it takes a special kind of talent to pluck just the right words out of the ether and to apply them at the perfect moment.
I mentioned earlier that Campbell, under the name of “Scott C.” created such amusing fare as The Great Showdowns. A bit of that aesthetic comes to mind when you check out the endpapers of this book. It necessitated an explanation to my three-year-old about what exactly a checklist is. You see, on the front endpapers of Hug Machine you see a range of different characters, each next to a little box. Turn to the back of the book and on these endpapers each character has been checked off. A child reader could easily spend hours matching each character to its appearance in the book. By the same token, kids could also have a great deal of fun just counting the number of hugs in this book in total.
I’ve little doubt that there will be an adult out there who is disturbed by the notion of a kid hugging complete strangers. I would point out, though, that we don’t actually know whether or not the people he’s hugging are strangers or not. For all we know he lives in a small town and is knows every person’s name, from the picnickers to the joggers to the construction workers. And that pretty much encapsulates any possible objections I could possibly find to the book. It would be an ideal readaloud for storytime (I’m jealous of the librarians and booksellers who will get to use it) to say nothing of reading it one-on-one. A real keeper. Share it with your own resident hug machine today.
For ages 3-6.
On shelves August 26th
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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I was listening to a Pop Culture Happy Hour show the other day when the topic turned to posthumous works published after a creator’s death. When is it okay to raid a dead author or illustrator’s drawers for unpublished material? Is it ever okay? And is there a significant difference between works that someone finished midstream vs. works they finished entirely but never submitted?
All this comes to mind this year since the Margaret Wise Brown trunk of never ending material has yielded yet another composition. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with this trunk. You see when MWB died in 1952 she left behind a trunk, a literal trunk I say, of unpublished works. Publishers Weekly gives you the inside scoop on the matter here. This year we’re seeing the publication of Goodnight Songs which brings to light many of her lyrics, each with its own separate illustrator. Yet this is hardly the first MWB book to hit bookstore shelves (I’m quite partial to a different title called The Fathers Are Coming Home, illustrated by Stephen Savage). Nor is she alone in posthumous output.
Over the years the estates of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein have shown no qualms in bringing to light many an unpublished title. Remember Daisy-Head Mayzie? No? How about Runny Babbit then? Like Tupac Shakur they just keep churning out the titles. More recently we’ve seen Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson publishing books after their demise. However, in those cases the authors were pretty much done with their books. Does this difference matter?
I’ve been trying to think whether or not there is a children’s literature equivalent to the case of A Confederacy of Dunces. Has a children’s book ever debuted a dead hitherto unknown author? Not to the best of my knowledge though if you know of such a case please let me know.
The fact of the matter is that we live in an era when it’s very difficult for anything or anyone to really “die”. All the cartoons from my youth have been rehashed and reimagined for younger generations. Heck, my kid watches a television show where characters from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood have grown up and had kids of their own (stand-by for my take on the weirdness that is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood in the future). It is simply in keeping with the times that authors would continue to publish and republish long after their own demises.
Let this serve as a warning to the authors of today then. Margaret Wise Brown died when she was 42. You could go at any time (Happy Friday the 13th, everybody!). If you have something you’re hanging onto that you do NOT want to see published, trash that puppy. Be it physical manuscript or a file saved on your desktop, your works are no longer your own once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.
For a similar but significantly different take on the matter please be so good as to indulge in the College Humor piece I Think They’re Running Out of Material for New Shel Silverstein Books which contained the following:
“These poems were never meant to be read,
If you’re seeing them, that means I’m dead.
Please don’t be a jerk,
Stay away from my work,
And go raid Dr. Seuss’s instead.”
*With apologies to Glen Weldon who came up with the phrase first.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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A couple thoughts on that video. First off, it is sung by author Deborah Underwood (whatta pretty pretty voice, eh?) and editor Arthur A. Levine (whatta pretty pretty voice, eh?) at what Vimeo calls an “agency retreat in Brandon, Vermont”. So I had to wonder what precisely an “agency retreat” really is. Well, there’s a perfectly logical explanation for it right here. I wouldn’t mind having the chance to go on a retreat but what I really want is to be in a band. Anyone wanna start one with me? I can’t play any instruments but I do know all the word to “Shoop” by Salt n’ Pepa. Does that count for anything?
And now, ladies and gentlemen . . . . why we love LeVar Burton.
Thanks to Jules for the link!
Our Kickstarter video of the day (since we always have at least one per Video Sunday these days) is a good one. Remember the Slate article that came out earlier this year called “This Is What a Librarian Looks Like”? Well the fellow behind the piece wants to go to ALA and do something with a huge swath of librarians. And for a modest sum of $3,000 too. Granted he’s already doubled his goal, but no reason why he shouldn’t triple it, eh?
Oh my! A hat tip as well as a big thank you to Travis Jonker for locating this video of author/illustrator John Hendrix. As a big time fan of his work, I found this a real treat.
Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.
I wasn’t able to make Book Expo this year and, by extension, wasn’t able to attend the BEA Children’s Breakfast. So this Mem Fox speech at said breakfast is NOT persuading me that I wasn’t missing anything, people. Doggone it.
And for your off-topic video of the day, ain’t nothing hotter than women who make classical musical funny and incredibly difficult all at the same time. Love this stuff.
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Sloooooowly the predictions begin. As I post this I’m hitting the sweet spot right between Book Expo and the annual American Library Association conference. Which is to say, this is the moment in time when some folks have seen the fall galleys from BEA while other folks are about to see them at ALA. On maternity leave, I am hampered significantly by what I see. Most galleys are being sent to my workplace where they are out of my reach. So while I’ve still seen a wide swath of things, I know that there are books I’m missing. The fall prediction edition will be more complete, I am certain. Plus, by that time we’ll see Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott back up and running and predicting as well.
Meantime, I’m not the only one making predictions these days. If you missed it, Travis Jonker did a heckuva great post when he predicted this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated. These are books that might not be eligible for the Caldecott but that would be complete and utter contenders under different circumstances. Worth your glance.
And now, some thoughts on the matter!
2015 Newbery Predictions
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
I’ve been very happy with the buzz surrounding Auxier’s latest. When I reviewed it back in March I suspected that it had fine, outstanding qualities worthy of award consideration. That suspicion has since been confirmed several times over by the multiple starred reviews and the online conversations I’ve observed. Typical of the dark fantasy trend in middle grade in 2014 (aside from Snicker of Magic, everything’s pretty gloom and doom this year) Auxier’s book does what Doll Bones did last year, blending classic horror elements with deeper themes and questions for young readers. His is a book that asks kids to question the nature of storytelling and lying (another 2014 trend, and a prevalent one that I intend to explore more thoroughly). At the very least, I predict that this will be showing up on many many Mock Newbery lists this year.
Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood
This is actually not garnering the buzz I’d expect of it this year. Surprising since the release of a new Blackwood is a cause for celebration. My suspicion is that the man has been out of the middle grade field for so long that new crops of young librarians are unaware of his work. This is a true pity since Curiosity hits all the pleasure points of a Brian Selznick story. With a killer cover and some superb writing, my hope is that the buzz is just on a low-boil and will be turned up significantly as we near the award season. Perhaps this is my dark horse candidate this year, but I don’t think you should count it out. It could definitely pull a Paperboy or Breaking Stalin’s Nose surprise win out of its hat.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
For years I’ve wanted a Lisa Graff book to make it onto my prediction lists, but every time there was just something holding me back. No longer. The remarkable thing about Absolutely Almost is that it dares not to be remarkable. Or rather, it celebrates kindness over being special. I’ll keep my thoughts to myself for the review I’ll write of it but Graff has accomplished here is something incredibly difficult. Plus I love the idea of a major award going to a book that celebrates Captain Underpants like this one does.
The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Another dark horse, and maybe one of the more divisive books on this list. Loftin makes a lunge for magical realism with her story, which is a very difficult thing to do in middle grade novels. The controversy surrounding it concerns The Emperor and what he did or did not do to the story’s heroine. To my mind, any child reader who goes through this story will only recognize that he stole the girl’s voice by recording it. End of story. But because this book can be read very differently by adults vs. children, that may inhibit its chances. Only time will tell. The writing, few can argue, is superb.
The Greenglass House by Kate Milford
One of my favorite books of the year. Pure pleasure reading through and through. I’ve heard it described as “Clue meets The Westing Game” and that’s not too far off. We haven’t had a Westing Game kind of book win a Newbery in a while, unless you count When You Reach Me. It would be awfully nice for a mystery to win once more, and Milford’s talents at creating a whole and complete world within her pages is stellar. Definitely a contender.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
There are only two books out this year that I think are surefire Newbery contenders, and this is one of them (you’ll meet the other soon). Preus is a marvel. This book, again, taps equally into darkness and storytelling vs. lies while also managing to pluck all the use out of fantasy and yet remain fairly historical fiction-y. It’s a quick read and a gripping one. Additional Bonus: Lockjaw!
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
Good buzz is surrounding Wilson’s latest, which is excellent. I’ve already felt a little pushback to it, but the strong writing is working very well in its favor. It’s not a sure thing, but if any Wilson book can finally make a decent lunge for the Newbery it is this. Already I can predict that Heavy Medal will have a hard time with it (I would LOVE to be mistaken about this, though). Plus it probably has the best book trailer of the year thus far.
brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The frontrunner, as far as I can tell. No question. There is nothing one can call a sure thing when it comes to Newbery or Caldecott books. Heck, a couple of years ago I would have said that One Crazy Summer was a shoo-in. Shows what I know. That said, if this book does not win the Newbery proper then there will be blood in the streets. Gushing torrents of scarlet red blood. In a year of #WeNeedDiverseBooks what a capper it would be to give the Award to what is, not only, the best book of the year but also one that stands as a necessary piece of African-American history. Not that the committee can think in those terms. All that they can do is say whether or not the book is one of the most distinguished of the year. Spoiler Alert: It is.
That’s what I think in terms of the frontrunners. But there are plenty of other books that people are discussing. Consider, for example, Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin. She won a Newbery Honor years ago. Will she be able to recapture the magic with her latest? Maybe, but not with this particular book. It’s nicely done but as a woman hepped up on postpartum hormones, it tried to make me cry and didn’t quite get there. That’s telling. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm is another fantastic and fun read (and pure science fiction, which is very rare indeed). It feels like a slightly younger When You Reach Me, which is a fine and fancy pedigree. But Newbery? I didn’t feel it. The Riverman by Aaron Starmer was definitely one I was thinking of when I first read it, but when I heard it was the first in a series that changed my interpretation of the ending. Will the committee feel the same way? The writing is, after all, fabulous. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana was a book I loved earlier in the year. I still love it, though in the wake of other strong contenders I’m not sure if it’ll make it to the award finish line. And, of course, there is Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. Forget what I said about Nightingale’s Nest. THIS is the most divisive book of 2014. The writing is very accomplished and it’s got great lines. Plus it’s nice to see something But Newbery? To win it’ll have to convince the committee that the (totally unnecessary and occasionally infuriating) cutesy parts are overwhelmed by the good writing. Its win relies entirely on the tone of the committee. I don’t envy them the debates.
Phew! Moving on . . .
2015 Caldecott Predictions
Um . . no idea. Honestly, I haven’t felt this out to sea in terms of the Caldecott in years. I’m just not feeling it this year. There are some superb books but surprisingly few of them grab me by the throat and throttle me while screaming “CALDECOTT!!!!” in my ear. I always fall apart on Caldecott predictions anyway. Last year at this time I only mentioned two of the eventual winners, not even mentioning the other two (and HOW on earth did I fail to mention the glorious Flora and the Flamingo, I ask you?!?). This year I just keep coming back to the books I mentioned in my spring prediction edition. Fortunately, a couple additional books caught my jaded eye . . .
Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, ill. Jonathan Bean
Bean wowed the world last year with his Building Our House, a winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. But you know what Caldecott committees really like? Variety. That’s why his latest change of style is so exciting. The beautiful simplicity of Underwood’s text, which manages to tell a complete story with a minimum of words, is matched page for page by Bean’s art. The pairing results in a particularly strong product and since Caldecott committees are extraordinarily interested in books that pair art and text well, it seems to me we may have a winner on our hands here.
A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey, ill. Floyd Cooper
A Floyd Cooper. An honest-to-god Floyd Cooper prediction. Considering the man’s output, this may strike some as surprising. No one ever contests that he’s accomplished but he’s one of those perpetual Caldecott bridesmaids never brides (see my post on such folks here). It doesn’t matter how gorgeous his art is, he gets passed by time after time. Except . . . something about this book is different. My librarians, for one thing, who have always been Cooper-tepid are GAGA over this. It’s not just the fact that the text manages to do the whole Live Your Dream storyline without getting cheesy. There’s some stellar art at work. This is a bad scan, but if this book does well I think it’ll be because of this image:
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, photographs by Tim O’Meara
Speaking of always bridesmaids . . . but this book. I mean, just wow. Not that a Caldecott committee has ever, to the best of my knowledge, awarded three-dimensional art (scholars, correct me!). But that’s the wonder of this book. It isn’t JUST three-dimensional art, but two-dimensional as well. The book itself celebrates the very concept of being an artist (a swell thing for a Caldecott committee to reward) and as I learned last year, Ms. Morales has residency here in the States so she certainly could win this thing. Some folks don’t like that it isn’t a straight biography but something a little more artistic and esoteric. Pfui to them, sez I. You simply cannot read this and not find it stunning.
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
Never count out a Muth. Though this book has far less lofty ambitions than his past Caldecott win, it has heart and lovely watercolors. This could easily be sidelined altogether, or go for the big gold. Certainly hard to say at this point.
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
It’s my personal #1, which makes me worry for its future. When I get emotional about a book I find it sometimes hampers my view of its award chances. That said, no one doubts the sheer beauty of the art here. Soman’s always been someone to watch, even when working on something as popular as the Ladybug Girl series. Can he win hearts and minds with bears? I say yes.
Firefly July and Other Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
We know Sweet is automatic Caldecott bait, but you’re never quite sure which of her books will attract the committee. This book isn’t afraid to be long and strong on the poetry. I’ve heard grumbles in some quarters that the poems don’t always necessarily pair with one season or another, but that’s nothing against the art. Still, it might affect its chances in the end.
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
If any debut deserves love it’s this one. A remarkable combination of art and heart, with different styles and a heckuva great take on the subject matter. Turk’s one to watch and this book is already one of the year’s favorites. Even if it doesn’t win, it bodes well for the artist’s future.
In terms of books getting some nice buzz, I’ve heard some folks mentioning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. I love me a good Santat and Dan certainly poured his heart and soul into this one. So why don’t I think it’s a surefire winner? Hard to say. The art is certainly nice enough. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes hasn’t shown up on a lot of lists, but Anne Isaacs has a way of writing books that catch the eye of award committees. My own librarians are very taken with this latest effort, and Hawkes should at least get a mention if only for the sheer disgustingness of his desperadoes. Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson is one of those books that should, by rights, be a Caldecott contender. Indeed there are some stirring images here. Unfortunately there’s something off about this particular Nelson book. It’s hard to pinpoint but it lays in the art. Nelson’s due for a big gold someday. This, however, probably won’t be “the one”. Breathe by Scott Magoon is absolutely lovely and I would love Magoon to get an award one of these days. It definitely belongs to the whale trend of 2014. Will it get an award? It may be too subtle for that. We’ll see. Finally, Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans, is the book getting a lot of the buzz. I loved the story and the art but while I found it lovely and funny by turns I didn’t feel the award hum at work. I think Appelhans is definitely one to watch. You’re just going to have to keep watching.
For additional thoughts, be sure to check out the Goodreads lists of Newbery 2015 and Caldecott 2015 to see what the masses prefer this year.
So! What did I miss?