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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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26. The Unlikable Female Character: Thoughts on Middle Grade Literature

While making the rounds through the old internets I came across a recent New Statesman piece entitled Why I want more unlikeable female characters. The premise pretty much boils down to a desire to see “women who are every type of humanity – assholes and all” in our literature and popular culture.  And while the piece was not specifically about children’s literature (though Katniss was referenced on the YA side of things) it got me to thinking about what our expectations are when we read children’s books.

First off, let’s back up a bit and think about whether or not children’s books (and we’ll include everything from picture books on up to middle grade novels) are even allowed to have unlikeable protagonists.  For the most part, likeability is pretty much in the eye of the beholder.  I might cringe at the exploits of Eloise or get all frowny when I look at David’s antics, but for every adult that fails to approve, there are a millions kids crowing and capering along with their antiheroes.  A little older and there are unlikeable characters out there, but they’re usually not allowed to stay unlikeable.  Some are explicitly evil, like Artemis Fowl, while others are merely annoying/racist like Gilly Hopkins.  Very very few are permanently unsympathetic.  If they are, it is interpreted as a kind of failure on the part of the author.

Indeed, when discussing books with my fellow NYPL children’s librarians last year, I was struck time and again by the sentence, “I just didn’t like the main character.”  Normally this would be enough to condemn the book right there and then, but that was before I noticed that from time to time, and it IS rare, we aren’t really supposed to like the main characters in our books all the time.

Which brings us to the unsympathetic female character.  Two books were published in America in 2014 with such a creation gracing the pages.  And in both cases I found myself having a devil of a time convincing my fellow librarians that while normally not liking the main character was a mark against a title, in these books it was the novel’s very strength.

The first book is an Aussie import that flew almost entirely under the radar:  Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett.  A divisive book, to say the least, I enjoyed it but was cowed early on by people I knew who complained about its unsympathetic heroine.  Cecily , the girl in question, is a spoiled, rather dim little upper class twit that, upon finding herself in the country during WWII, proceeds to steal the book’s spotlight from the far more interesting, if introspective, character of May.  “Annoying” is how people describe Cecily and they’re not wrong.  It is, however, rather the point of the book.  Cecily’s attitude and her thick headedness both make her a good foil for the action taking place around her.  In this book Hartnett takes an incredible risk.  May, a refugee Cecily’s family takes in, would have been the obvious choice of heroine in most novels.  By instead focusing on Cecily the reader is forced to see the world through the eyes of someone shockingly ignorant.  Since I read the book I’ve met person after person who has commented on how much they really loved and appreciated this title.  I now regret that I didn’t fight for it more last year.

The other singularly unlikeable heroine that comes to mind is one I did fight for.  Gerta from West of the Moon by Margi Preus is an original.  Here we have a character that is sympathetic and yet not someone you particularly love.  This was a distinct choice on the part of the author and not some kind of misplaced flaw in the writing.  Preus made the conscious choice to have Gerta do things that would twist and upset our sympathies for her.  She cheats the good and kind, just to rescue herself and her sister.  She lies outright and gains passage to America through questionable means.  Do the ends justify these means?  One of the things that I liked so much about the book was how it dared to ask this very question.  Yet like the Hartnett title, the objection lobbed most consistently in the book’s direction was Gerta’s unsympathetic demeanor.

Is this a quality condemned more consistently in books starring girls vs. books starring boys?  Actually, I don’t think so.  To my mind, any children’s book that stars a kid who isn’t harboring a secret heart of gold beneath a crusty exterior, just more crust, falls under intense scrutiny.  We demand role models for our child readers.  Moral complexity upsets that expectation.  So as 2015 proceeds apace I’ll be keeping watch for characters that deliberately eschew our hearts.  Sometimes, there’s more to them than meets the eye.



10 Comments on The Unlikable Female Character: Thoughts on Middle Grade Literature, last added: 2/19/2015
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27. African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide (2010-2015)

We’re in the thick of the month of February now and recently I ran into an interesting problem.  It being Black History Month and all I was looking to create a list of Black Experience children’s books for my librarians to pull from for displays and purchasing and such.  So I trolled about online looking for a recent list of titles.  Don’t get me wrong – I love books like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, but in spite of the relatively small publishing numbers we really have had some wonderful books come out in the last few years.  So I looked about and looked about and found almost nothing.  If it’s not an award winner or 20+ years old, it’s hard to find lists of recent books.

So I created my own.  I wanted a list of titles from the last five years.  Moreover, I didn’t want to limit it to just historical books.  So in the end what I came up with was an African-American Experience Literary Reference Guide.  This is by NO MEANS an all-encompassing list.  It’s just some of the recent things I’ve liked and enjoyed and that we all have a need for. Please note that all listed titles are currently in print. Also, they are organized by where they are cataloged in the New York Public Library system.

Enjoy and feel free to add your own in-print titles out in the last five years in the comments.

Picture Books

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9780316209175

Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha, illustrated Nicole Tadgell, ISBN: 9780807547823

Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781419707926

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780670012855

Can’t Scare Me! by Ashley Bryan, ISBN: 9781442476578

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9781570917004

Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780399233425

Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9780399166150

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780399252846

Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780312603267

Underground by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781250056757

We March by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781596435391

The Hula Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781600608469

My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, ISBN: 9780761458104

My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780810983281

Lullaby (For a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes, illustrated Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780547362656

Goal! by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780763658229

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, ISBN: 9780689873768

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, ISBN: 9780803735118

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781423119548

Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated Don Tate, ISBN: 9780399160011

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, ISBN: 9780399252136

Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter, ISBN: 9780399250033

Every Little Thing: Based on the Song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781452106977

One Love by Cedella Marley, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, ISBN: 9781452102245

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780547215662

Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson, illustrated by R.G. Roth, ISBN: 9780375833342

H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination by Christopher Myers, ISBN: 9781606842188

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete & Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9780545094665

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Bettye Stroud, Bettye, and John Holyfield, ISBN: 9780763640583

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780761352556

Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780545166720

Me and Momma and Big John by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by William Low, ISBN: 9780763643591

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9781600608988

I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9781619631786

In the Land of Milk and Honey by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780060253837

As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781600603488

Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780802720825

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780060583101

Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9780807576502

A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9781590787120

Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, ISBN: 9781416961239

This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, Jacqueline, illustrated by James Ransome, ISBN: 9780399239861

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, ISBN: 9780399239878

Early Chapter Books

Dog Days by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547970448

Election Madness by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547850719

Skateboard Party by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780544283060

Birthday Blues by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547248936

Nikki and Deja by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780547133621

Substitute Trouble by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman, ISBN: 9780544223882

Keena Ford and the Secret Journal Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780142419373

Keena Ford and the Field Trip Mix-Up by Melissa Thomson, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780142415726

EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670784998

EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670784974

EllRay Jakes Walks the Plank! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670063062

EllRay Jakes Is a Rock Star by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670011582

EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, ISBN: 9780670062430

Ellray Jakes Rocks the Holidays! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780451469090

Ellray Jakes Is Magic! by Sally Warner, illustrated by Brian Biggs, ISBN: 9780670785001

Middle Grade Fiction

Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, ISBN: 9781423178705

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, ISBN: 9780544107717

How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen, ISBN: 9780061992728

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett, ISBN: 9780545299886

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass, illustrated by Jerry Craft, ISBN: 9780545132107

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond, Victoria and T.R. Simon, ISBN: 9780763643003

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth, ISBN: 9780545224963

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, ISBN: 9780545535649

Riding on Duke’s Train by Mick Carlon, ISBN: 9781935248064

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, ISBN: 9781600604515

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, ISBN: 9780545156646

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd, ISBN: 9780763650384

Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake, ISBN: 9780545609609

Winter Sky by Patricia Reilly Giff, ISBN: 9780375838927

The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris, ISBN: 9780547255194

Buddy by M.H. Herlong, ISBN: 9780142425442

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, ISBN: 9780545525527

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana, ISBN: 9781452124568

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin, ISBN: 9781595145468

True Legend by Mike Lupica, ISBN: 9780399252273

The Sittin’ Up by Sheila P. Moses, ISBN: 9780399257230

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson, ISBN: 9780763649227

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes, ISBN: 9780316043083

8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, ISBN: 9780545097253

The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell, ISBN: 9781561457106

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells, illustrated by Marcos Calo, ISBN: 9780544238336

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, ISBN: 9780060760885

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, ISBN: 9780061938627

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, ISBN: 9780399257148

Crow by Barbara Wright, ISBN: 9780375873676


What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld, and Ben Boos, illustrated by A.G. Ford, ISBN: 9780763645649

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, ISBN: 9780375867125

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9781580893879

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome, ISBN: 9781416959038

Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Ballerina by Michaela Deprince, Michaela and Elaine Deprince, illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780385755160

Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey by Gary Golio, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, ISBN: 9780547239941

Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, ISBN: 9780618852796

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood, ISBN: 9780802853868

The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, ISBN: 9780061259210

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, ISBN: 9781596435407

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9780316107310

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ISBN: 9781442420083

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield, ISBN: 9781419707964

Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman: Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9781590788509

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson, ISBN: 9781561456277

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Various, ISBN: 9781452101194

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780807580356

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Will Allen, illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin, ISBN: 9780983661535

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, ISBN: 9780061783746

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
by Kadir Nelson, ISBN: 9780061730740

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls, ISBN: 9780763664596

Martin & Mahalia: His Words – Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Andrea Davis, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9780316070133

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9781423142577

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, ISBN: 9780316070164

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson, ISBN: 9781452103143

Jackie Robinson: American Hero by Sharon Robinson, ISBN: 9780545569156

Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige Vs. Rookie Joe Dimaggio by Robert Skead, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780761366195

Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN: 9780061920820

Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934
by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Frank Morrison, ISBN: 9780689866388

Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans, ISBN: 9781596434738

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickels: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, ISBN: 9780763651176

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, ISBN: 9781600602603

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Don Tate, ISBN: 9780061349201

My Uncle Martin’s Words for America: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Niece Tells How He Made a Difference by Angela Farris Watkins, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9781419700224

My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart by Angela Farris Watkins, Angela illustrated by Eric Velasquez, ISBN: 9780810989757

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, ISBN: 9780399252518


11 Comments on African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide (2010-2015), last added: 2/17/2015
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28. 2015: The Year of the Spiders and the Flies

Let’s face facts.  When doing a trendwatch piece, it’s almost impossible to top Travis Jonker’s 2014 bit of brilliance 2014: The Year of the Whale. Prior to that piece I had done The Year of the Chloe, The Year of the Jackalope, and The Year of the Raven.  And now, in 2015, I’m calling it early.  And rather than limit it to a single creepy crawly, I am opening my heart to those eternal enemies, the spiders and the flies.  They seem unexpectedly prevalent and it’s only February!  How can I be so sure that they’re the insects and arachnids to watch in 2015?  Consider the evidence:

The Year of the Fly

I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos. Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

It’s little wonder that nonfiction flystuffs should abound.  Last year Elise Gravel’s The Fly was the one to watch.  This year, Heos and Plecas give us a bit of sympathy for those members of the family Muscidae.

Fly! by Karl Newsom Edwards

Stand aside, Fly Guy.  There’s a new crop of characters in town and they are sometimes awfully cute.  Truth be told you won’t find a more adorable little cutie than this fellow.  Told in very simple text, it’s one of those books about finding out where your talents lie, yet it manages the moral without moralizing (no small feat).  Plus how do you resist that face?  Awwwww.

Astrid the Fly by Maria Jonsson

Astrid’s a Swedish import, and you wouldn’t really know it from the text.  She too is rather adorable, though you cannot help but shudder in horror when you see how many brothers and sisters she has.  Extra points for making her such a fan of Danish salami.

The Fly by Petr Horacek

You heard it here first folks – This is the best readaloud picture book of 2015.  I kid you not, it’s brilliant.  Reminding me not a little of Jim Aylesworth’s classic Old Black Fly, Horacek uses his trademark thick flaps to give a not AT ALL cute fly (it’s all in the eyes, man) a distinct point of view.  Anyone performing a storytime is going to get a huge kick out of the final THWAP as you close the book on the flying pest.

Super Fly: The World’s Smallest Superhero! by Todd H. Doodler

A show of hands.  Who here does NOT hear that classic 1972 Curtis Mayfield song whenever you read this title?  Because if not, I envy you.  Doodler abandons bears and their undergarments for the Kirkus starred early chapter book.  I like that it clarifies the true enemy of the fly: the cockroach.  And I think if it came down to the two of them, give me a housefly any day of the week.

The Year of the Spider

Just Itzy by Lana Krumwiede. Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli.

That’s one thing the flies never had going for them: catchy nursery rhymes (notable exception: “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me”). Last year the old Itsy Bitsy Spider song inspired Dosh Archer’s Urgency Emergency: Itsy Bitsy Spider.  This year it, alongside 2-3 other spider related nursery rhymes (there’s an abundance of them), has inspired Just Itzy.  Itzy is sick to death of his nickname (he could do without the “Bitzy”). He then proceeds to change his fate and his name.  Pizzoli is in his element.

Seaver the Weaver by Paul Czajak. Illustrated by The Brothers Hilts

Ever heard of the publisher Mighty Media Kids?  Well, if this book is any indication they might be one to watch.  The Brothers Hilts did that lovely little book The Insomniacs a couple years ago and then were never heard from again.  This book, about a spider that thinks outside the web, makes good use of their skills. Particularly the parts where Seaver must attend to this “guest”.

I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

I collect funny women and Bethany Barton has recently shot up to the top of my list.  Known best at this point for her Monster books (This Monster Needs a Haircut & This Monster Cannot Wait), this latest title pairs nicely with the Petr Horacek fly title since there are a LOT of smushed up spiders between the pages.

Now lest you think such trends are restricted solely to the realm of the picture book, you are sadly mistaken.  At least in the case of spiders, the middle grade fiction titles are active and aware:

The Spider Ring by Andrew Harwell

There’s a bit of wish fulfillment at work in this one.  I mean, what bullied kid could receive a ring that helps them control spiders and NOT sick ‘em on the classmate that makes their life a misery?  Creepy and crawly all at once.

Ferals by Jacob Grey

I mentioned this one in a recent Harper Collins preview.  The villain of this piece is named The Spinning Man.  If you suffer from arachnophobia, I’d steer clear of this one for a time.

Any others you’ve seen?  They have to be pubbed in 2015.  I’d say we’re off to a good start thus far too.


3 Comments on 2015: The Year of the Spiders and the Flies, last added: 2/18/2015
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29. A 2015 Summer Reading List for Visually Impaired Young Patrons

It’s not what I would call an overly well known fact but here at New York Public Library we are proud to include the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library amongst our branches.  The site “provides talking books and magazines and braille for people who are blind, visually impaired, or are otherwise physically unable to read standard print.”  And each year when the five boroughs of NYC create a summer reading list we try to note when books are available in braille or talking book formats.  Just the same, it’s usually a paltry number of titles, so this year the incomparable Jordan Boaz did the world a solid and created a summer reading list of braille and digital book titles consistent with the 2015 theme (“Every Hero Has a Story”).  If you serve a community that has need of such titles, feel free to use this list.




Three Bears in a Boat     Soman, David                BR21018

Afraid to face their mother after breaking her beautiful blue seashell, three bears set out on a high-seas adventure to try to find a replacement. PRINT/BRAILLE.



Gaston          DiPucchio, Kelly                        BR21020

A proper bulldog raised in a poodle family and a tough poodle raised in a bulldog family meet one day in the park. PRINT/BRAILLE.



Baby Tree     Blackall, Sophie                        BR21021

After learning that his parents are expecting a baby, a young boy asks several people where babies come from and gets a different answer from each before his parents have a chance to give the right answer. PRINT/BRAILLE.



Adventures of Beekle   Santat, Dan               BR21022

An imaginary friend waits a long time to be imagined by a child and given a special name, and finally he does the unimaginable–he sets out on a quest to find his perfect match in the real world. PRINT/BRAILLE.


Bone by Bone      Levine, Sara                      BR21035

Guide to discovering the similarities and differences between human and animal skeletons. PRINT/BRAILLE.


Niño Wrestles the World    Morales, Yuyi       BR21026

Lucha libre champion Niño has no trouble fending off monstrous opponents, but when his little sisters awaken from their naps, he is in for a no-holds-barred wrestling match that will truly test his skills. PRINT/BRAILLE.



Rosie Revere, Engineer     Beaty, Andrea      BR21028

Aspiring young engineer Rosie must first conquer her fear of failure before she can create the new gizmos and gadgets she dreams about. PRINT/BRAILLE.



How to Cheer Up Dad        Koehler, Fred       BR21029

A young elephant sees his dad in a bad mood and tries to cheer him up, not realizing his own mischief caused the grumpy mood in the first place. PRINT/BRAILLE.



Extraordinary Jane      Harrison, Hannah E.    BR21030

Jane the dog doesn’t have a unique talent in the circus like the rest of her family, until the ringmaster discovers what is truly special about her. PRINT/BRAILLE.



I Am Jazz            Herthel, Jessica                 BR21044

Autobiography of Jazz Jennings, a transgender child, who recounts her early awareness that she is a girl in spite of male anatomy and the acceptance she finds through a wise doctor who explains her natural transgender status. PRINT/BRAILLE.



Biggest Snowman Ever        Kroll, Steven          DB79775

When the mayor of Mouseville announces a contest, mice Clayton and Desmond compete to win the prize for building the biggest snowman. Commercial audiobook.


How the Meteorite Got to the Museum      

Hartland, Jessie                                    DB79410       

Recounts the steps that brought a meteor from outer space, across the eastern US, to the roof of a car in Peekskill, New York in 1992. Later, part of it was verified, tested, and exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History.


EARTH Book         Parr, Todd                              DB79690

Illustrates how children can help protect the Earth and make it a better place. Commercial audiobook.


Rain Came Down  Shannon, David                     DB79773

An unexpected rain shower causes hilarious chaos among the members of a small community. Commercial audiobook.


Pigsty              Teague, Mark                                DB79774

When Wendell doesn’t listen to his mom and clean up his room, a whole herd of pigs comes to live with him. Commercial audiobook.


Alice the Fairy                Shannon, David             DB79776

Alice, who claims to be a temporary fairy, still has a lot to learn, such as how to make her clothes put themselves away in the closet and how to float her dog on the ceiling. Commercial audiobook.


Gingerbread Man  Schmidt, Karen                      DB79889

After a daring escape from the oven, the Gingerbread Man is chased by a little boy, an old man and woman, a group of farmers, a bear, and a wolf–and he outruns them all! But will the clever fox outsmart the quick cookie? Commercial audiobook.


Giraffes Can’t Dance            Andreae, Giles       DB79890

Gerald the giraffe is too clumsy to dance with all the other animals at the Jungle Dance, until he finds the right music. Commercial audiobook.


Bad Case of Stripes              Shannon, David     DB79891

In order to ensure her popularity, Camilla Cream always does what is expected, until the day arrives when she no longer recognizes herself. Commercial audiobook.


Memoirs of a Hamster          Scillian, Devin        DB78669

Though Seymour, a pet hamster, thinks life is perfect inside his cage, Pearl the family cat talks Seymour into exploring the sunroom outside the cage. But once he’s out, Seymour misses his cozy–and safe–home.



The New Kid at School         McMullan, Kate      BR16997

Although small and tenderhearted, Wiglaf’s destiny is to become a hero. So he heads off to the Dragon Slayers’ Academy not expecting to be sent out to slay the dragon Gorzil on the very first day of school.


Revenge Of The Dragon Lady   McMullan,Kate  BR18126

After accidentally killing a dragon, Wiglaf hopes his friends at Dragon Slayers’ Academy will help him be a hero when he faces the dragon’s mother, Seetha, the Beast from the East. Sequel to February Friend (BR16997).


Nate the Great and the Phony Clue

Sharmat,Marjorie Weinman                 BR07462

When Nate the Great finds a torn piece of paper on his doorstep with “vita” written on it in ink, he and his dog Sludge set off to find out why.


The Puppy Place                   Miles, Ellen             BR20263

A guide for finding the right dog for you and your family. Discusses different breeds and offers tips on providing the right equipment, food, and training for your new pet.


Magic Bone: Careful What You Sniff For           

Krulik, Nancy E.                                     BR20366

As punishment for breaking a vase, sheepdog puppy Sparky is banished to the backyard. He digs up a magical bone and gets transported to London.



Dogs on Duty         Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw     BR19626

Details the training and jobs military working dogs, or MWDs, including jumping out of aircraft, searching for bombs, and protecting their handlers.


For Good Measure: The Ways We Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old

                                        Robbins, Ken                 BR20005

Explains units of measure–such as foot, yard, ton, teaspoon, bushel, second, month–and each word’s history and meaning. PRINT/BRAILLE.


Amelia Bedelia Unleashed   Parish, Herman     BR20029

When Amelia Bedelia asks her parents for a baby brother or sister, her dad eagerly suggests getting a dog instead. To find the dog of her dreams, she helps Diana walk dogs and Eric groom his dog for a dog show, which doesn’t go as planned.


Look up! : Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer                           Burleigh, Robert                           BR20035

Biography of Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921), an astronomer who helped discover the first method to correctly measure distances in space during a time when women were not allowed to use the telescope in observatories. PRINT/BRAILLE.


Humphrey’s World Of Pets  Birney, Betty         BR20351

Humphrey, the hamster from classroom 26, provides tips on finding and caring for the right pet for you. Lists fun facts–and tells jokes–about gerbils, frogs, cats, and other animal friends.



Lost Stone: The Kingdom of Wrenly, Book 1    

Quinn, Jordan                                        DB79006

When Lucas, Prince of Wrenly, is finally allowed to play with Clara, the daughter of the queen’s seamstress, the pair decide to team up and search the land for a missing jewel.


Lulu’s Mysterious Mission    Viorst, Judith          DB79094

When Lulu’s parents go on vacation, the formidable Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky comes to babysit. Lulu behaves as badly as possible to get her to leave, until Ms. Solinsky reveals her secret.


March Mischief: Calendar Mysteries  Roy, Ron DB79104

When three leprechaun statues disappear just before St. Patrick’s Day, Bradley, Brian, Nate, Lucy, and other friends follow clues in order to solve the mystery.


Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake   Sternberg, Julie                                                                                                    DB79130

When Eleanor’s best friend Pearl is assigned to be the new student’s buddy, Eleanor fears she can’t compete. But a new set of problems arises when Eleanor’s chosen for the lead in the springtime musical.


Judy Moody and Stink: The Big Bad Blackout  

McDonald, Megan                         DB79412

As Hurricane Elmer hits, Judy, Stink, and the entire Moody clan hunker down and ride out the storm. But when the power goes out, Grandma Lou proposes some activities to pass the time in the dark.


Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man      

Kirby, Stan                                     DB79494

When second-grader Eugene’s favorite comic book goes missing, he blames his best friend Charlie, even though he has no evidence.


Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse     

Kuhlmann, Torben                                DB79746

In a country far away, a new invention–the mechanical mousetrap–has caused all the mice but one to flee to America. Now stranded in this dangerous place, the last mouse decides to build a plane and fly to the land of freedom. Translated from German by Suzanne Levesque.


June Jam: Calendar Mysteries  Roy, Ron          DB79758

As a Father’s Day gift to the twins’ dad, Bradley, Brian, and their friends Lucy and Nate try to identify and stop whatever creature is biting fruits and vegetables in the garden.


Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive  

DiCamillo, Kate                              DB80240

Leroy Ninker dreams of being a cowboy. He has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse–until he meets Maybelline, and then it’s love at first sight. But when Leroy forgets a rule when caring for Maybelline, disaster ensues. Commercial audiobook. For grades 2-4.


Buried Sunlight              Bang, Molly                    DB80137

Authors present a clear, concise explanation of the fossil-fuel energy cycle that began with the sun and now runs most of the manufacturing, transportation, and energy use in our world.



Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities      Jung, Mike                                                                                                     BR19809

Twelve-year-old Vincent and his fellow members of the Captain Stupendous Fan Club help a new superhero learn how to use his–or should that be her?–powers.


The Tales of Beedle the Bard        Rowling, J.K.                                                                                                        BR18267

The heroes and heroines who triumph in these five stories demonstrate great kindness, common sense, and ingenuity rather than powerful magic.


Adventures of the Greek Heroes McLean, Mollie                                                                                                      BR03297

Adventures of six Greek heroes including Hercules, Theseus and Perseus.


The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom 

Healy, Christopher                                BR19625

The lazy bards have it all wrong–there are actually four princes charming: Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav. Instead of rescuing princesses, they team up to battle dangerous creatures to stop an evil plot that endangers their kingdoms.


Are All the Giants Dead?  Norton, Mary              BR04285

A reporter takes a young boy on a moonlight visit to a fanciful world where he meets Beauty and the Beast, now the middle-aged parents of a lovely daughter who has been captured by an evil spirit


I Never Wanted To Be Famous   Clifford, Eth    BR07093

Humorous story about Goody Tribble, an average thirteen-year-old with average grades and an average life. But when he saves a choking baby at the dentist’s office and becomes a local hero, his ambitious mother launches an ambitious campaign to make him really famous and, maybe, even president of the United States.


Flora and Ulysses         DiCamillo, Kate              BR20592

Comic-reading cynic Flora Belle Buckman rescues a squirrel after an accident involving a vacuum cleaner. She is astonished when the squirrel, Ulysses, demonstrates incredible powers of strength and flight after being revived.


Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

Levy, Dana Alison                         BR20590

The adventures of a family with two fathers, four adopted boys, and a variety of pets as they make their way through a school year and deal with a grumpy new neighbor.


Third Grade Angels               Spinelli, Jerry         BR20583

George “Suds” Morton competes with his third-grade classmates to earn the first halo of the year for good behavior. Being good turns out to be more stressful than he anticipated.


Starry River of the Sky         Lin, Grace              BR20448

Young runaway Rendi gets a job as a chore boy for the innkeeper in the remote village of Clear Sky. He takes note of the peculiar inhabitants and their problems–and the missing moon.



Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons

 Cowell, Cressida                                  DB79023

It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but he needs to save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished. He sneaks into the Meathead Public Library to steal the Vikings’ sacred book, but must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian, the army of Meathead warriors, and the driller dragons. Commercial audiobook.


Lord and Lady Bunny–Almost Royalty!      Horvath, Polly                                                                                        DB79113

Madeleine and her hippie parents from Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire! (DB 76222) travel to England to run a candy shop. Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Bunny also travel to England, where Mrs. Bunny tries to weasel her way into the ranks of royalty. Commercial audiobook.


Fairest of All: Whatever After  Mlynowski, Sarah DB79339

After moving to a new house, ten-year-old Abby and her younger brother Jonah discover an antique mirror that transports them into the Snow White fairy tale. Commercial audiobook.


Candy Smash                Davies, Jacqueline       DB79322

As Valentine’s Day approaches and a crush on a classmate develops, Evan develops a secret fondness for writing poetry. But his sister Jessie plans on exposing all in her newspaper.




Magic Trap     Davies, Jacqueline                       DB79381

Siblings Evan and Jessie try to put on a show in the face of an approaching hurricane, but nothing prepares them for what blows into town–their long-lost dad.


Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey                        Moulton, Erin E.                     DB79488

Nine-year-old Maple and her older sister, Dawn, must work together to face treacherous terrain, wild animals, and poachers as they trek through Vermont’s Green Mountains seeking a miracle for their prematurely born sister.


Dash               Larson, Kirby                                         DB79541

When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, her classmates, and her beloved dog Dash. Mitsi clings to her one connection to the outer world, the letters from the kindly neighbor who is caring for Dash. Commercial audiobook.


Island: A Story of the Galápagos   Chin, Jason DB79701

Biography of a Galápagos island–from birth, through adolescence, to adulthood and beyond.


Dexter the Tough  Haddix, Margaret Peterson  DB79761

After Dexter punches a kid on the first day, a sympathetic teacher and the writing assignment she gives the class help the fourth-grader deal with being the new kid in school.


I Survived Series, Books 1-10     Tarshis, Lauren   DB80018

Books one through ten, written between 2010 and 2014, feature kids surviving terrifying and exciting events throughout history.



Blood of Olympus: The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5

Riordan, Rick                                 BR20537

The Greek and Roman demigods must prevent the Earth Mother, Gaea, from waking and, at the same time, stop war from breaking out at Camp Half-Blood.


Rain Reign             Martin, Ann M.                       BR20539

Struggling with Asperger’s, Rose shares a bond with her beloved dog. But when the dog goes missing during a storm, Rose is forced to the limits of her comfort zone–which may mean leaving her routines in order to search for her pet.


Brown Girl Dreaming  Woodson, Jacqueline     BR20541

Autobiography told through vivid poems. Jacqueline Woodson explores her childhood as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement.


P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows 

Lawrence, Caroline                       BR20547

1862 Nevada. Twelve-year-old P.K. Pinkerton’s detective agency is thriving, and he takes on a partner, Ping. Then Opal Blossom abducts P.K. and hires him to track her ex-fiancé and P.K.’s mentor, Poker Face Jace. Some violence.


Storm                      MacHale, D.J.                        BR20503

Tucker and his surviving friends, from SYLO (BR 20161), escape the quarantine on Pemberwick Island, only to find the mainland caught in the middle of a battle between the air force and the navy. Some violence.


“The President Has Been Shot!”

Swanson, James L.                      BR20521

Account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in Dallas, Texas. Some violence.


Strike              MacHale, D.J.                                BR20527

While on the run from the SYLO team, Tucker, Tori, and Kent are driven directly into another base of the enemy, where they become prisoners and await their fate. Sequel to Storm (BR 20503). Some violence.


Handbook for Dragon Slayers   Haskell, Merrie      BR20379

While visiting a neighboring noble to assist him with his tax records, reluctant Princess Matilda is kidnapped by her cousin in a plot to steal her lands. Matilda’s crush Parz and handmaiden Judith rescue her, and the trio go on the run–and learn dragon slaying.


Shadow Girl                   Stine, R. L.                     BR12858

Spending a month with her cousin Jada near Chicago, Selena is dismayed by the mean tricks Jada plays on her. Then Selena finds a secret room with a superhero costume inside it and new dangers to fear.


Jessica Darling’s It List    McCafferty, Megan    BR20579

The day before seventh grade begins, twelve-year-old Jessica Darling gets a list from her sister, whose popularity and beauty made her a junior-high standout. But when Jessica tries to follow the advice, all goes awry. She even loses her best friend.



My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar: Middle School      

Patterson, James                          DB79397

Georgia Khatchadorian plans to excel at Hills Village Middle School in all the places her troublemaking brother Rafe failed. Commercial audiobook.


Brown Girl Dreaming     Woodson, Jacqueline DB80026

In this autobiography told through vivid poems, Woodson explores her childhood as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement. Commercial audiobook.


Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy    Foxlee, Karen DB78958

After the death of her mother, eleven-year-old Ophelia suspends her disbelief in things nonscientific when she meets an extraordinary boy trapped in a museum where her father works. Commercial audiobook.


Rain Reign                     Martin, Ann M.               DB79921

Struggling with Asperger’s, Rose shares a bond with her beloved dog. But when the dog goes missing during a storm, Rose is forced to the limits of her comfort zone–which may mean leaving her routines in order to search for her pet.


Great Greene Heist               Johnson, Varian    DB79874

After the last disaster, prankster Jackson Greene tries to fix his reputation at Maplewood Middle School. But when fellow student Keith tries to steal the election for school president from Jackson’s former best friend Gabriela, Jackson assembles a team to thwart the challenger.


I Am Malala            Yousafzai, Malala                  DB79878

Memoir of corecipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Recounts how Malala risked her life for the right to go to school. Raised in a changing Pakistan, Malala stood up against the Taliban and remained an activist for girls’ education. Commercial audiobook.


Girl from the Tar Paper School    Kanefield, Teri  DB79529

Describes the peaceful protest organized by teenager Barbara Rose Johns in order to secure a permanent building for her segregated high school in Virginia in 1951, and explains how her actions helped fuel the civil rights movement.


Night Gardener      Auxier, Jonathan                   DB79649

Irish orphans, fourteen-year-old Molly and ten-year-old Kip, travel to England to work as servants in a crumbling manor house where nothing is quite what it seems to be. Soon the siblings are confronted by a mysterious stranger and secrets of the cursed house.


Space Rocks!                O’Donnell, Tom                      DB79653

Chorkle describes the adventures of Earth children Hollins, Becky, Nicki, and Little Gus,  who are marooned on an asteroid,as he watches over them with his five eyes.


On a Clear Day             Myers, Walter Dean      DB79719

In 2035, Dahlia Grillo, a sixteen-year-old math whiz, joins with six other American teens traveling to England to meet with groups from around the world in hopes of stopping C8, the companies that control nearly everything for their own benefit. Unrated. Commercial audiobook.


To find a Braille and Talking Book Library serving your area go to http://www.loc.gov/nls/find.html

Many thanks to Jill Rothstein for passing this list along and to Jordan Boaz for creating it. If you’d like to know more about the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library you can watch this recent video:


1 Comments on A 2015 Summer Reading List for Visually Impaired Young Patrons, last added: 2/12/2015
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30. Review of the Day – Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh
By Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt (an imprint of Macmillan)
ISBN: 978-0805097153
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

I worked in close proximity to the real Winnie-the-Pooh for five years. From 2006 to 2011 he was a daily delight. To clarify, I was working alongside the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys owned by the real Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne in New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room. We had Piglet, Tigger, Kanga (no Roo), Eeyore, and Winnie himself. Though ironically I never read his books as a child, in my time as a children’s librarian working in the Children’s Center at 42nd Street I became well versed in his story. Winnie was purchased at Harrods for Christopher Robin who eventually named him “Winnie” after some bear he’d seen in a zoo. If pressed to conjure up facts about that zoo bear I might have been able to tell you that its name was Winnipeg, but that was about as far as my knowledge on the matter went. Sometimes it takes a children’s book to learn about a children’s book character. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh relates the true history of a man and his bear. Illustrated with aplomb by Jonathan D. Voss, the book’s charm is the true measure by which you can assess how well it lives up to its namesake. Accuracy and adorableness in one small, furry package.

There are many things Harry Colebourn could have purchased as his troop passed through the small train station, but what did he end up with? A baby bear. A baby black bear, if you want to be precise about it. Good natured and orphaned, Harry promptly names her “Winnie” after his company’s hometown “Winnipeg” and she becomes the darling of his troop. When WWI calls his company across the wide ocean, Winnie comes along. But killing fields are no place for a baby bear so it’s to the London Zoo that Winnie goes. Once there, Harry promises her that when the war is done he’ll take her back to Winnipeg. It’s a promise he doesn’t keep. Upon his return Harry sees that Winnie is not only happy but a star of the zoo. She’s so gentle that children everywhere come to see her. Even a boy by the name of Christopher Robin . . . Copious photographs of the real Winnie and Harry grace the front endpapers while Christopher Robin graces the back. There is an additional Author’s Note on Harry, Winnie, and black bears as well as a Bibliography of sources.

As I began reading the book I wondered if the story of Winnie would be akin to other military animal tales out there. Would Winnie aid the Allies much in the same way as Voytek in Poland or was she more of a mascot like Stubby? Neither, as it happens. Though Winnie did make it onto a boat headed for France, her keeper was smart enough to recognize that while some bears would thrive in a war zone (see: Voytek), Winnie was not one of them. Really she was just a baby and after seeing her playing and cuddling with Harry the thought of her existing in a place where bullets would fly is terrifying. This is a sweet wartime tale, perfect for reading to younger children who take things on face value and aren’t aware of what WWI really entailed.

The art of Jonathan D. Voss caught me by surprise. With just a half glance at the cover I initially though the illustrator was Amy June Bates (who illustrated the somewhat similar Christian, the Hugging Lion back in 2010). An understandable mistake but once I actually went so far as to, oh I dunno LOOK at the book, I could see that Voss has a crisper line as well as a sure and steady grasp on the material. This being the first picture book that he has illustrated, he does a good job of making some really iconic images. The view on the cover of Harry hugging Winnie to his chest, as one might cuddle an infant, is downright heartwarming. Likewise the image of Winnie asleep under Harry’s cot as his long arm drapes down, his wrist bending in sleep, works. And if the four shots of Harry playing with Winnie were a YouTube video they’d get more hits than any other cute animal video to date. There is the occasional misstep, I’m afraid. A boy riding Winnie later in the book bears the slack-jawed look of a very small grown man and not a little boy. Indeed Voss appears to be most comfortable when Winnie is his focus. There’s not a single image where that bear doesn’t feel 100% authentic. One suspects the artist spent a great deal of time studying baby black bears and how they move. He also does a decent job of rendering the stuffed Pooh accurately. The arms are admittedly a bit long but the stance and nose are on target.

One objection I’ve heard to the story is that there isn’t enough Christopher Robin / real Winnie-the-Pooh info included in this story. I can see where this critic is coming from but I respectfully disagree. To my mind, Winnie’s story is fascinating in and of itself regardless of what famous literary character she ended up inspiring on some level. Hers is a story of tragedy turned to great good luck. Few orphaned bears in the WWI era would have found such a caring owner, let alone one that let them travel to Europe. Her life was notable at the time and makes for no less an interesting story today.

For my part, the book gets into tricky territory when we view the quoted dialog. Now Ms. Walker is a known entity. She does this stuff for a living. Wins big nonfiction awards like the Sibert for Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and the like. So when we get to a section where Harry is quoted saying “I’ll feed her condensed milk. She can stay with me in camp. Winnipeg can be our mascot,” then we have to naturally assume that the quote comes from one of the listed sources Walker provides at the back of the book. The quotes are not sourced but since Harry’s diary is one of those aforementioned sources, there’s a strong likelihood that the quotes come from there. I’m giving the book the benefit of the doubt in this matter, since faux dialog is the bane of the modern nonfiction picture book.

Read this book and few will wonder that after seeing Winnie in person, Christopher Robin wanted a bear of his very own. Indeed, the vast majority of children who are read Winnie may think to themselves (or say out loud) at some point, “When do I get my own?” Sorry, kids. If it’s any consolation you can see the Winnie-the-Pooh toys in the main New York Public Library location anytime the building is open. Maybe it won’t be the same as getting to ride a sweet bear in the zoo, but it’s still a part of this story on some level. Cute, not saccharine, and pleasing to boot, this is one story-behind-the-story kids will definitely appreciate. Lovers of Pooh welcome but not required.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Interviews: Julie Danielson interviews Sally M. Walker about the book over at BookPage.

Misc: For more interior illustrated spreads, go to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Video: Forgot a movie was made out of this story as well, didn’t you?  You’re forgiven.  It came out in 2004 and was made for TV after all.  That said, it had some big name cast members.  Michael Fassbender starred.  Stephen Fry shows up.  David Suchet. And someone put the whole thing up on YouTube so if you’ve an hour and a half to kill . . .


1 Comments on Review of the Day – Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, last added: 2/13/2015
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31. Walking and Talking with . . . Laura Vaccaro Seeger!

Behold the latest entry in Steve Sheinkin’s “Walking and Talking” series.  When he’s not winning a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honor for Port Chicago 50 Steve can be found interviewing his fellow authors and illustrators and bringing their talks to comic life.  In his latest episode we see not just a drawn version of Caldecott Honor winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger but of her editor Neal Porter as well.  Enjoy!

Previous editions of this series include:


5 Comments on Walking and Talking with . . . Laura Vaccaro Seeger!, last added: 2/11/2015
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32. Cover Reveal: The Latest From Frank Cottrell Boyce

I am lucky in my profession.  Lucky not simply because I have a blog where I am offered the chance to reveal the American cover of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s latest book The Astounding Broccoli Boy.  No, I’m lucky because I work in a profession where I even know who Boyce is and how fantastic his books can be.  And if you’ve read Millions or Cosmic or The Unforgotten Coat then you know what I’m talking about.  His latest is an exercise is absurdity that maybe owes more to Cervantes or maybe Ionesco than your average everyday middle grade novel.

Here then, is his latest cover.

Rory, the main character, is half-Guyanese by the way.  And penguins make everything good.



3 Comments on Cover Reveal: The Latest From Frank Cottrell Boyce, last added: 2/9/2015
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33. Video Sunday: “White inside the hambone always”

When actress Lena Dunham started talking in the news about how she wanted to turn Catherine Called Birdy into a film, I was intrigued.  And apparently she’s not a fly-by-night children’s book lover either.  All her tattoos are children’s literature inspired.  Hearing this I figured she’d have the usual suspects.  Eloise, sure.  And she does have some normal ones like Ferdinand the bull and Olivia.  But then she starts talking about her Little Golden Book tat (for Pals).  The kicker, however, is the Fair Weather by Richard Peck tattoo.  I think I’m safe in saying that this may well be the only Fair Weather tattoo in the history of the world.  Now she’s created a documentary on Hilary Knight called It’s Me, Hilary. Some additional info:

Thanks to Michael Patrick Hearn for the link.

And now a lovely little video in tribute of my workplace.  I do love that main branch.  It would be awfully nice if a video like this was made of each of the branches as well.  We have 86+ but boy would it be cool.

The art of the book trailer, and I would call it an art, requires a certain level of absurdity. After all, we’re talking about a video medium celebrating a literary one (by extension, my Video Sunday series is a regular exercise in peculiarity). So when a trailer comes along that is purposefully absurd and sets the correct tone (music, voiceover, visuals, etc.) it is worth highlighting. Behold Night Circus by Etienne Delessert. It works, man. It works.

Night Circus from ZauberGuitarre on Vimeo.

Full credit to Travis Jonker for locating this next one.  In case you missed it, it’s Dr. Seuss and how he created Green Eggs and Ham.

And while it’s not really off-topic, let’s just end with a cheery video of Lori Prince and I reacting to Yuyi Morales’ Pura Belpre win.  This is pretty typical for both of us, I’d say.

Reacting to the ALA Youth Media Awards from School Library Journal on Vimeo.


1 Comments on Video Sunday: “White inside the hambone always”, last added: 2/9/2015
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34. Review of the Day: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin)
ISBN: 9780803740815
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

As a child I was what one might call a selective reader. Selective in that I studiously avoided any and all works of fiction that might conceivably be considered “depressing”. Bridge to Terabithia? I’ll have none please. Island of the Blue Dolphins? Pass. Jacob Have I Loved? Not in this lifetime. Lord only knows what caused a book to be labeled “depressing” in my eyes before I’d even read it. I think I went by covers alone. Books picturing kids staring out into the vast nothingness of the universe were of little use to me. Happily I got over this phase and eventually was able to go back to those books I had avoided to better see what I had missed. Still, that 10-year-old self is always with me and I confer with her when I’m reading new releases. So when I read The War That Saved My Life I had to explain to her, at length, that in spite of the premise, cover (again with the kids staring out into nothingness), and time period this isn’t the bleak stretch of depressingness it might appear to be. Enormously satisfying and fun to read, Bradley takes a work of historical fiction and gives the whole premise of WWII evacuees a kick in the pants.

Ada is ten and as far as she can tell she’s never been outdoors. Never felt the sun on her face. Never seen grass. Born with a twisted foot her mother considers her an abomination and her own personal shame. So when the chance comes for Ada to join her fellow child evacuees, including her little brother Jamie, out of the city during WWII she leaps at the chance. Escaping to the English countryside, the two are foisted upon a woman named Susan who declares herself to be “not nice” from the start. Under her care the siblings grow and change. Ada discovers Susan’s pony and is determined from the get-go to ride it. And as the war progresses and things grow dire, she finds that the most dangerous thing isn’t the bombs or the war itself. It’s hope. And it’s got her number.

I may have mentioned it before, but the word that kept coming to mind as I read this book was “satisfying”. There’s something enormously rewarding about this title. I think a lot of the credit rests on the very premise. When a deserving kid receives deserving gifts, it releases all kinds of pleasant endorphins in the brain of he reader. It feels like justice, multiple times over. We’re sympathetic to Ava from the start, but I don’t know that I started to really like her until she had to grapple with the enormity of Susan’s sharp-edged kindness. As an author, Bradley has the unenviable job of making a character like Ada realistic, suffering real post-traumatic stress in the midst of a war, and then in time realistically stronger. This isn’t merely a story where the main character has to learn and grow and change. She has this enormous task of making Ava strong in every possible way after a lifetime of systematic, often horrific, abuse. And she has to do so realistically. No deus ex machina. No sudden conversion out of the blue. That she pulls it off is astounding. Honestly it made me want to reread the book several times over, if only to figure out how she managed to display Ada’s anger and shock in the face of kindness with such aplomb. For me, it was the little lines that conveyed it best. Sentences like the one Ada says after the first birthday she has ever celebrated: “I had so much. I felt so sad.” It’s not a flashy thing to say. Just true.

You can see the appeal of writing characters like Ada and Jamie. Kids who have so little experience with the wider world that they don’t know a church from a bank or vice versa. The danger with having a character ignorant in this way is that they’ll only serve to annoy the reader. Or, perhaps worse, their inability to comprehend simple everyday objects and ideas will strike readers as funny or something to be mocked. Here, Bradley has some advantages over other books that might utilize this technique. For one thing, by placing this book in the past Ada is able to explain to child readers historical facts without stating facts that would be obvious to her or resorting to long bouts of exposition. By the same token, child readers can also pity Ada for not understanding stuff that they already do (banks, church, etc.).

Ms. Bradley has written on her blog that, “I don’t write in dialect, for several reasons, but I try to write dialogue in a way that suggests dialect.” American born (Indiana, to be specific) she has set her novel in historical England (Kent) where any number of accents might be on display. She could have peppered the book with words that tried to replicate the sounds of Ada’s London accent or Susan’s Oxford educated one. Instead, Ms. Bradley is cleverer than that. As she says, she merely suggests dialect. One of the characters, a Mr. Grimes, says things like “Aye” and ends his sentences with words like “like”. But it doesn’t feel forced or fake. Just mere hints of an accent that would allow a reader to pick it up or ignore it, however they preferred.

Basically what we have here is Anne of Green Gables without quite so much whimsy. And in spite of the presence of a pony, this is not a cutesy pie book. Instead, it’s a story about a girl who fights like a demon against hope. She fights it with tooth and claw and nail and just about any weapon she can find. If her life has taught her anything it’s that hope can destroy you faster than abuse. In this light Susan’s kindness is a danger unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. Ms. Bradley does a stellar job of bringing to life this struggle in Ada and in inflaming a similar struggle in the hearts of her young readers. You root for Ada. You want her to be happy. Yet, at the same time, you don’t want your heart to be broken any more than Ada does. Do you hope for her future then? You do. Because this is a children’s book and hope, in whatever form it ultimately takes, is the name of the game. Ms. Bradley understands that and in The War That Saved My Life she manages to concoct a real delight out of a story that in less capable hands would have been a painful read. This book I would hand to my depression-averse younger self. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s one-of-a-kind.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Notes on the Cover: I may poke fun at the fact that this cover looks so much like the “serious” ones I avoided like the plague in my youth, but I should point out that it’s doing something that almost no other similar children’s books dare.  Inevitably if a book is about a kid with a physical ailment of some sort, that ailment will not make the cover.  Much as publishers avoid putting overweight kids on book jackets, so too do they avoid physical disabilities.  Here, however, the artist has shown Ada’s foot, albeit in a simplified manner.  It’s not particularly noticeable but it’s there.  I’ll take what I can get.

Professional Reviews:

Misc: The author stops by Matthew Winner’s fabulous Let’s Get Busy podcast to chat.

Video: And finally, see Ms. Brubaker Bradley talk about the book herself.


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35. Cover Reveal: Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann

Folks, I make no bones about the books that I love.  And when I saw that jaw-dropping picture book Lindbergh last year in all its high-flying mousie glory, I knew I was looking at something special.  Now I am so pleased and honored to offer you a quickie peek and glance at German author/illustrator Torben Kuhlmann’s next glorious book.  It’s Moletown (ISBN: 978-0735842083).  And it’s amazing:

Sort of The Lorax by way of The Rabbits, no?  And these interior spreads haven’t even shown you the moles’ intricate underground city.  It’s an absolute jaw-dropper.

The book has the distinction of having a remarkably cool title in its native Germany: “Maulwurfstadt”.  If you know the language you can get some additional information about the book here.

Coming to shelves in America on September 1st!


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36. Niblings Announcement: New Niblings Nigh

The Niblings (a group consisting of bloggers Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes, Jules Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Philip Nel of Nine Kinds of Pie, and Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production) are pleased to announce two new inclusions into their happy little sphere.

To fill the much-needed YA slot, Mitali Perkins joins us. A distinguished author, responsible for such books as Rickshaw GirlBamboo PeopleSecret Keeper, and this April’s upcoming Tiger Boy, Mitali has maintained her blog, Mitali’s Fire Escape (http://www.mitaliblog.com/), since 2005, where she discusses books between cultures. You may also find her on Facebook or Twitter.

We’ve also been impressed by and big fans of the work of Minh Le for years. Not only has he been blogging for Book Riotthe Huffington Post, and Bottom Shelf Books, but he recently sold his debut picture book, Let Me Finish!, to Disney-Hyperion. You can also find him on Twitter.

We’re feeling pretty fantastic adding these to powerhouses to our roster.  Thanks to them and thanks to all of you for following The Niblings on Twitter and Facebook for all the best up-to-date children’s literature news.

Big time thanks to Hilary Leung for creating the LEGO Nibling image seen here.


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37. The PreGame/PostGame ALA Youth Media Awards Videos and Some Vids From the Winners As Well

Hi ho, folks!  And what an exciting morning we had today.  Lori Prince and I had a blast in the SLJ office predicting winners and then discovering how wrong (or occasionally right) we were.  Here’s the PreGame Show, in case you missed it live.  Note how Lori successfully predicts a Newbery combo that was far from a given:

For more fun, check out our PostGame Wrap-Up in which we caterwaul with great good fervor:

Here’s the video of the folks who won getting “the call”, which is fun:

And for additional fun, here are some videos from today’s winners on hidden things about their books.  These videos were created for my website with Jules Danielson celebrating our book Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.

On the Caldecott side, winner Dan Santat talks about the behind-the-scenes story of Beekle:

Caldecott Honor winner Lauren Castillo talked about her own Nana in the City:

On the Newbery side, Cece Bell won an Honor and proffered this video about El Deafo:

Candace Fleming won several awards for The Family Romanov including a Sibert Honor.

And Duncan Tonatiuh won a Pura Belpre Honor as well as Sibert Honor for Separate Is Never Equal:



Lori and I after some of the Caldecott announcements.



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38. Mocks Amuck

Each year I like to keep track of all the Mock Caldecotts, Mock Newberys, Mock Siberts, etc. that I can find.  It’s not easy.  At this point in time it’s not as if ALA or SLJ has created a centralized site where folks can plug in their Mock results for all the world to see (*bats eyelashes in general direction of ALA and SLJ*).

In lieu of that, I’ve compiled as many Mocks as I can find.  This year’s findings were a bit hampered by a snowstorm that caused many a Mock Newbery on the East Coast to be cancelled.

If you feel that I’ve left someone off here, do let me know. When I do the PreGame/PostGame ALA Youth Media Awards Show on Monday at 8:30 a.m. EST I’ll be calling out the winners who got the awards right.

In no particular order . . . .

Mock Caldecotts

Deschutes Public Library in Oregon

Winner: Farmer and the Clown illustrated by Marla Frazee

Honor Books: Telephone written by Mac Barnett, and illustrated by Jen Corace


Bridgeport CT Public Library

Winner: Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Honor Books:

Sam and Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett, illus by Jon Klassen

Following Papa’s Song by Gianna Marino


Dayton Metro Library

Winner: Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Honor Books:

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah, Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean

May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain, illustrated by Nikki McClure

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld


Suffolk Cooperative System in NY

Winner: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Honor Books:

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson


Sacramento Public Library

Winner: Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Honor Books:

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah Harrison

Gravity by Jason Chin

Johnson County (KS)

Winner: The Noisy Paint Box written by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPré

Honor Books:

The Farmer and the Clown written and illustrated by Marla Frazee

Extraordinary Jane written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison

A Dance Like Starlight written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper


The Lane Libraries, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and various other schools/agencies in the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region

Winner: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Honor Books:

Draw! by Raul Colon

The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary GrandPre and written by Barbara Rosenstock

Viva Frida written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales and photographed by Tim O’Meara


Oregon Library Association

Winner: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee.

Honor Book:

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison


San Francisco Public Library and San Francisco Unified School District


Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy

Honor Books:

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Brian G. Karas

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light


Kent State School of Library & Information Science

Winner: Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Honor Books:

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson


Cuyahoga County

Winner: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Honor Books:

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato


Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, IN)

Winner: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, words by Jen Bryant and pictures by Melissa Sweet

Honor Books:

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, written and illustrated by Dan Santat

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen

The Farmer and the Clown, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse, written by Patricia MacLachlan with pictures by Hadley Hooper


Takoma Park Maryland Library

Winner: The Farmer and the Clown, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee

Honors Books:

Bad Bye, Good Bye, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Jonathan Bean

The Iridescence of Birds, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper

The Noisy Paint Box, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary GrandPre

The Right Word, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet


Springfield-Greene County Library

Winner: Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light

Honor Books:

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray, illustrated by Kenard Park

Firefly July by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet


Toledo-Lucas County Public Library (Ohio)

Winner: Flashlight illustrated and written by Lizi Boyd

Honor Books:

Draw! illustrated and written by Raúl Colón

The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock

Extraordinary Jane, illustrated and written by Hannah E. Harrison

Winter is Coming, illustrated by Jim LaMarche, written by Tony Johnston


Denver Public Library

Winner: The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Honor Books:

Aviary Wonders, Inc. Spring Calendar and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk


Wayland (MI) Union Schools

Winner: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Honor Books:

Draw! by Raul Colon

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean


Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth, ME

Winner: Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

Honor Books:

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Sparky by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans


Frank Sarris Public Library in Canonsburg, PA

Winner: Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson

Honor Books:

Viva, Frida! by Yuyi Morales

Sparky by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans


South Valley School in Moorestown, NJ

Winner: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Honor Books:

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee


Mountain Way School in Morris Plains, NJ (2nd graders)

Winner: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Honor Books:

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Maple by Lori Nichols

Mock Newberys

Northport-East Northport PL

Winner: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd


The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord


Rhode Island OLIS

Winner: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Honor Books:

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie Lamana


Sacramento Public Library

Winner: West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Honor Books:

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Dayton Metro Library

Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Honor Books:

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Rain Reign by Ann Martin


The Lane Libraries, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and various other schools/agencies in the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region

Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Honor Books:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Greenglass House by Kate Milford



Winner: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Honor Books:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Hudson Valley Library Association

Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Honor Books:

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford

The Family Romanov, by Candace Fleming


KC Metro

Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Honor Books:

Rain Reign by Ann Martin

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier


San Diego


The Family Romanov, by Candace Fleming

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Honor Books:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Cuyahoga County

Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Honor Books:

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm


Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Winner: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Honor Books:

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.


Denver Public Library

Winner: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

Honor Books:

The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

West of the Moon by Margi Preus


Emerson School

Winner: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Honor Books:

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

The Swap by Megan Shull

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Nassau Library System (Long Island)

Winner: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Honor Books:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier


Darien Library

Winner: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Honor Books:

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Greenglass House by Kate Milford


Springfield-Greene County Library

Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Honor Books:

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

West of the Moon by Margi Preus


St. Joseph County Public Library – Kids Club

Winner: The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Honor Books:

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin


St. Joseph County Public Library – Adult Club

Winner: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Honor Books:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science

Winner: Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Honor Books:

The Art of Secrets by James Klise

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean

Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth, ME

Winner: The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Honor Books:

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd


Westchester Library Association / Westchester Library System

Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Honor Books:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

El Deafo by Cece Bell


Madison Metropolitan School District Madison, WI

Winner: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Honor Books:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Greenglass House by Kate Milford


Ossining Public Library in Ossining, NY

Winner: When Audrey Met Alice, by Rebecca Behrens

Honor Books:

Greenglass House by Kate Milford


The Horace Mann Mock Newbery Committee

Winner: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Honor Books:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd


Mock Siberts

The Children’s Services Division of the Oregon Library Association

Winner: The Right Word by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Honor Books:

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming


Mock Printzs

Brooklyn Public Library

Winner: This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Honor Books:

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

The Family Romanov by Candice Fleming


Mock Coretta Scott Kings

Denver Public Library

ILLUSTRATOR: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katherine Russell-Brown, Illustrated by Frank Morrison


The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

Searching for Sarah Rector by Tonya Bolden


Madison Metropolitan School District Madison, WI

ILLUSTRATOR: All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom (E.B. Lewis, ill)

AUTHOR: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander


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39. Animated and Opinionated: The SLJ Pre-Game / Post-Game Show Returns!

Observe the following:

SLJ-Pre-game Show dance number: ALA Youth Media Awards 2014 from School Library Journal on Vimeo.

If it is not immediately clear, this is a video of me dancing with partner-in-crime Lori Prince to the ALA hold music. More specifically, it’s the music that they play as you wait for the live webcast of the ALA Youth Media Awards to begin. In the past it was dour stuff, like Bon Iver on Valium.  They must have gotten complaints because there was a distinct tonal shift last year.  Hence Lori and I doing a boogie number in the SLJ offices.

Why do I bring this up?  Because, oh best beloveds, this coming Monday the ALA Youth Media Award announcements will be upon us again.  And once again Lori and I will be hosting the Second SLJ PreGame / PostGame Show!!!

What is the pregame/postgame show?  Well, it’s commentary.  Half an hour before the awards (8:30 EST) Lori and I will do a live feed of thoughts, predictions, likes, and dislikes for the day.  At 9:00 we’ll break and everybody will watch the live feed.  Then afterwards (sometime between 10-10:30) the awards will end and everybody will head back to our feed to hear our post game wrap-up.  We’ll talk about the surprises and how it all played out.

Interested in watching us?  We’re mighty friendly and as an extra added bonus I’ll give shout outs to all the Mock Newberys and Mock Caldecotts that got the final winners right!  I’ve been keeping track of them this year.  I’ll even do a post about them tomorrow.

If you’d like to see the show, here’s where to go:

On Monday, February 2nd:

- At 8:30 a.m. go here: https://plus.google.com/events/col68hatlfv13jlsdaadsmclmd4

- At 9:00 a.m. you’ll watch the live webcast of the awards here: http://live.webcastinc.com/ala/2015/live/

- When the announcements end you’ll come back to us here: https://plus.google.com/events/crbo64c4rr1b6ohtlhln832p5cc

Couldn’t be simpler!

The official press release of our show is here, in case you’ve any additional questions.  And I do sincerely hope you join us.  We’re going to have a LOT of fun.


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40. Review of the Day: Mr. Squirrel and the Moon by Sebastian Meschenmoser

4 Comments on Review of the Day: Mr. Squirrel and the Moon by Sebastian Meschenmoser, last added: 2/23/2015

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41. Morning Mailbag: Trinkets, Treasures, and Apples

We’re experiencing that time of the year when the mail comes fast and loose and continual. Every day it seems like there’s something interesting to see. So while it lasts, let’s have another round of Morning Mailbag where I highlight some of the more interesting items that have cropped up in my office this week.

First up, Circles by Yusuke Yonezu (ISBN: 978-9888240678) which is a minedition book.  If you’ve seen Yonezu’s other board books you’ll know what to expect.  Good thick lines and bright colors.  This one has loads of cut outs as well.  Plus it’s hard to resist the back of the book.


Moving on, the publisher Little Bigfoot’s been upping the ante lately.  I don’t know why but their books have been getting increasingly lovely on the eye.  Sure they’re all about the Pacific Northwest in some way, but why should that stop me from enjoying them?  One of the latest is My Wilderness: An Alaskan Adventure by Claudia McGehee (ISBN: 978-1570619502).  It’s sort of a memoir with the dimensions of a picture book.

Plus the interiors are drop dead gorgeous.

In other news, any book from Emily Gravett is cause for celebration.  Bear and Hare Go Fishing feels like a no-brainer.

This next book took me totally by surprise.  It’s In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries by Gerda Raidt (ISBN: 978-1580896306).  As someone who has to deal with the continual Ellis Island assignments given kids in NYC, it’s a relief to see a book that actually attempts to systematically remove the veil of confusion surrounding historical immigration and to show what it would have typically consisted of for European immigrants.

Note how it shows the different parts of the ship and what the sleeping arrangements would have resembled.

And in an interesting twist it shows a farmhouse when it was first built . . .

. . .  and what it looks like today!

Then there’s poetry.  Or the lack thereof.  In the past I had a hard time finding good fairytales and folktales in a given year.  Now?  Good poetry can be difficult.  Fortunately there are times when something like this comes along:

Curious?  It’s Beastly Verse by debut author/illustrator Joohee Yoon (ISBN: 978-1592701667).  I’d tell you more but I’ll be doing a little Enchanted Lion Press roundup soon and I don’t want to give too much away.

Finally, today we’re going to look at one of the more peculiar bits of advertising swag I’ve received in a long time.  I received a box of a peculiar size and weight.  Oh ho, thinks I.  Weirdo swag!  I’m fond of weirdo swag, particularly when it’s edible.  At first, though, I couldn’t quite figure out what to make of this.

On the one hand you had this little booklet for The Isle of Lost written for Disney by none other than Melissa De La Cruz (ISBN: 978-1484720974).  This appears to be a little novel to accompany the made-for-TV movie about the adventures of the Disney villains’ kids.  Yes, they all had kids.  Jafar, Cruella, Maleficent, the works.  I read an Entertainment Weekly piece on the film a couple months ago.  I had no idea a book would accompany it as well.

So there was the booklet.  Then there was this odd looking wooden box.  Open it up . . .

Nope.  They’re not real apples.  More like stress balls.  And that little purple piece there screams like a banshee if you open it. Me oh my.

Now to see what next week may bring!


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42. Fusenews: Don’t Let the Pigeon Shoot First

  • Hi-ho, folks. Well, there’s a nice little second part to that interview I did with Kidlit TV last week.  Basically, if you’ve ever wanted me to predict the Newbery and Caldecott on air or offer up my assessment of the worst written children’s book of 2014, you are in luck.  I think there may even be some additional free copies of WILD THINGS: ACTS OF MISCHIEF IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE in the offering as well.
  • In other news, I wouldn’t call this next link workplace safe.  Not because it’s gross or inappropriate in any way.  More because it’s going to make you laugh out loud, probably in a rude snorting-like fashion.  The kind of sound a hippo might admire.  When I worked the children’s reference desk there were certain websites I was not allowed to read because they’d make me give great gulping guffaws and scare the little children.  And a close close examination of Goodnight Moon?  Yep.  That would be dangerous.  Ditto the author’s previous post on Knuffle Bunny.
  • Hey, New Yorkers! Those of you who happen to find yourself with time to spare this Sunday and need somewhere to be.  You like author Gregory Maguire?  You like Tuck Everlasting?  You like the idea of actually seeing Natalie Babbitt for yourself live and in person?  Well Symphony Space is having a heck of a cool event with all these elements put together, and I cannot help but think you’ll have a good time if you attend.  Just sayin’.
  • I come home from work the other day and my husband says, “So. You heard about that J.J. Abrams / Mo Willems thing, right?” Come again?  What the which now?  Yes indeed, there was a story going around the news about a case of mistaken identity between Mo Willems and Mo Williams.  It’s a funny piece, but I do wish they let us know if Abrams ever actually got in touch with Mo.
  • Full credit to Zetta Elliott.  She has created a list of all the 2014 African American Black-authored middle grade and young adult novels were published in the US in 2014.  She found 40.  An incredibly low number, but the list should prove useful to those of you preparing for some African-American book displays in your libraries and bookstores.

New Blog Alert: With two small children in the house (slash taking up valuable cranial real estate) I haven’t indulged in my blog readings like I used to.  I miss things.  So a picture book blog like Magpie That can exist for lord only knows how long before I see it.  And talk about content!  Or a beautiful layout!  If the plethora of illustrators providing magpies along the side are any indication, this site’s been up for a while. A lovely thing to stumble upon then.

Oo!  Thing!  So recently PW was kind enough to write up my last Children’s Literary Salon on the topic of science fiction for kids (as in, why the heck don’t we have any?). Now I know that some of you are planning on coming to NYC for the SCBWI Conference at the beginning of February.  I’m sure you have a lot on your plate, but if you just happen to be free on Saturday, February 7th at 2:00 p.m., take a stroll over to the main branch of NYPL for my (free!) Children’s Literary Salon on “Collaborating Couples“. The description:

Living together is one thing.  Working together?  Another entirely.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, join married couples Andrea & Brian Pinkney (MARTIN & MAHALIA) and Sean Qualls & Selina Alko (THE CASE FOR LOVING), and Betsy & Ted Lewin (HOW TO BABYSIT A LEOPARD) as they discuss the pitfalls and pleasures of creating collaboratively.

For a full roster of my upcoming Salons (more are in the works) go here.

  • Speaking of NYC, there was an interesting piece in the Times on how we need a children’s literature mascot for the city.  London has Paddington, so what do we have?  Some good suggestions are on hand (Patience and Fortitude amongst them) and it’s tricky to come up with the best of the lot.  I guess if I had my wish it would be the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys.  They’re immigrants, they live in the library, and everybody loves them.  What more could you want in a New York mascot?
  • Daily Image:

The old Daily Image well appears to have run dry. Would you accept this picture of an adorable baby Bird asleep in his books instead?

Darn right you would.


10 Comments on Fusenews: Don’t Let the Pigeon Shoot First, last added: 1/22/2015
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43. Review of the Day: Over the Hills and Far Away collected by Elizabeth Hammill

Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
Collected by Elizabeth Hammill
Illustrations by Various
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7729-9
Ages : All
On shelves March 10th

Not all nursery rhyme collections are created equal. That is something you discover when you have small children. A parent, even a children’s librarian type parent, will inevitably come to a shocking realization sometime during their child’s early years that when you read a nursery rhyme, the kiddo really and truly seems to love it. Nursery rhymes, far from simply being “good for the child” in some lofty, educated manner, have stuck around as long as they have because they really and truly do speak to the kids. The cadences and rhythms and images are incomparable, and that is regardless of nation or heritage. So as you seek out new nursery rhyme books, you begin to fancy yourself a kind of connoisseur. Some authors provide the classics in an effective manner (Lobel, de Paola, etc.) while others seem to be finding their footing. And really, how many ways can you re-imagine Little Boy Blue anyway? One thing you don’t find in a lot of nursery rhyme collections? Diversity. You pick up something like Over the Hills and Far Away and you see that “more than 70 celebrated artists” are included. It ain’t lying. It also ain’t the white white world we’re so used to in nursery rhyme collections. Tsimshian and Creole, Jamaican and Australian, Chinese American and Chippewa, this is a book that not only speaks to a wider audience than nursery rhyme collections of the past, it’s cleverly constructed and perfectly illustrated to boot. Hammill has clearly created the very first nursery rhyme collection of note for the 21st century.

Read the publication page of the book and you will be told that “Over the Hills and Far Away gathers poems from various parts of the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, the Caribbean, Australia, and the United States. Regional spellings and usage have been retained in order to preserve the integrity of the originals.” Fair enough, and I understand why this statement reads the way it does, but it does run the risk of leading the casual reader to believe that this book only collects poems from the English-speakers of the world. Happily, even the most cursory flip through will relieve you of that mistake (to say nothing of reading the Introduction). Because if there is one thing the nursery rhyme books of your average library lack, it is diversity. Generally speaking, if a person wants to find Inuit, Jamaican, Latino, or South African nursery rhymes, you find separate collections of them and that’s that. Almost never do you find them integrated seamlessly with English and American rhymes. Hammill notes in her Introduction that “Nowhere… have I found a wide-ranging collection that sits alongside these Mother Goose favorites and injects fresh life into them – providing a genuine intercultural experience.” Why? Research. Dedication. It takes a single-minded intensity to not only track them down but to also pair each and every one with just the right artist.

And the artists, in this particular case, are jaw-dropping. It isn’t just the number of well known names on display. Certainly Mo Willems, Shaun Tan, Lucy Cousins, Ed Young, Jon Klassen, Shirley Hughes, Jerry Pinkney and so on and such are impressive right from the get go. It’s also the fact that there are a great number of artists working here who are not, first and foremost, famous names. Hammill says in her opening that these artists included both the established and the emerging, as well as winner of an Illustration Competition for U.K. art students.

And how do these illustrators do? I was pleased. Every collection out there is going to have its stronger and weaker elements. So there were some artists who had clearly put a lot of time and thought into their art, while others seemed to phone it in. The Marcia Williams take on “Old Mother Hubbard” reminded me of the poem in Nursery Rhyme Comics which also turned the rhyme into sequential comic art (it really lends itself to the form well). Meanwhile Eric Carle’s art is just a series of animals taken from his previously published books. Jerry Pinkney created original art of a familiar character when he referenced his Caldecott Honor title Noah’s Ark in the rhyme “Who Built the Ark?” Sometimes the artists alleviate potential creepiness (as with Gus Gordon’s rather charming if carnivorous “Algy Saw a Bear”) while others add to it (I’m thinking of the uber-sketchy men peering at the cheerful girl eating her food alongside the rhymes “Brow Bender”, “Earkin-Hearkin”, and “Knock at the Door”). But by some great good fortune, the bulk of the work is very strong, charming, and actually honestly interesting to kids. Let’s not forget that little factor.

I was charmed by the art. I was taken with the selection. But the real reason Hammill’s work on this book blew me away as much as it did? It’s simple. The woman has a gift for pairing complimentary rhymes together. As the mother of a 3-year-old and a new baby I’ve done my due diligence and read every nursery rhyme book I could get my hands on. Yet while artists like Tomie dePaola and Arnold Lobel would pair similar rhymes together in clever ways (rain poems on one page, love poems on another), Hammill sort of kicks everything up to another level. First there are the pairings that are so obvious you’re shocked you haven’t seen them before. “Yankee Doodle” next to “The Grand Old Duke of York”. Or glutinous “Hannah Bantry” with “Jack Sprat” and wife. In her introduction, Hammill notes that in her research she “came upon anthologies of parallel rhymes and verse that have entered and enhanced the English lexicon from Asia, the Caribbean, and African, Native-American, and Hispanic cultures and elsewhere.” It reminds me of that old collection of world fairy and folktales World Tales collected by Idries Shah, which noted similarities in single stories throughout different cultures. Here you’ll see how well some poems pair. Some pairs are the lighthearted kind mentioned above. Others have quite a bit more to say, as when “Hush-a-bye, Baby” sits alongside the Chippewa “Little Baby, Sleep” and artist Olivia Lomenech Gill crafts a fascinating construct of “baby” King George falling off the tree while, on the other page, a Chippewa mother holds her child’s cradle board.

In the back of the book you will find a list of sources used to find some of these poems and rhymes. This is followed by a section thanking directly some of the people who helped to find these rhymes, like Pascale Arpin, coordinator of Arts Programming at Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association and Ashley Bryan who opened “his extensive personal library to me and introducing me to important collections of African and Caribbean verse and rhyme”. Many of the collections sourced are older, from the 1929 rhymes from the Bureau of American Ethnology to the 1900 Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes. I’m no nursery rhyme historian so I take it on faith that Hammill took steps to ensure accuracy where the poems are concerned. You need a certain level of trust in these cases. I leave it to others to ascertain one source’s authenticity over another’s.

Gone are the days when the publishing industry could put out nursery rhyme collection after nursery rhyme collection and not have to think about the diverse audience who might be reading the poems. Generally when nursery rhymes are produced these days the hat tip made to cultural diversity rests squarely on the shoulders of the illustrator, not the selection of poems themselves. What sets Over the Hills and Far Away apart is the fact that not only has Elizabeth Hammill found a wide range of interesting and intelligent rhymes, she has found ways to interweave them with similar rhymes from other cultures to create a real understanding of why rhymes from children are universally desired and important. For all that we talk about diverse books for kids, I’ve never heard anyone suggest that someone create a book like this before. Now it is here. If you own only one nursery rhyme collection on your shelves, own this one.

On shelves March 10th.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Misc: See more images from the book here.


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44. Video Sunday: Meeting All Your Sleer n’ Thneed Needs

2014 marked a distinct increase in attention spent on children’s books with diverse characters. However, this is not to say that all books with diverse characters got the same amount of attention.  Take, for example, Saving Baby Doe by Danette Vigilante.  It was one of the only middle grade books in 2014 to sport a Latino boy protagonist (go on . . . name me two others in 2014).  It had great writing as well, so why has almost no one talked about it?  NYPL put it on their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list and recently our local station NY1 interviewed Staten Island resident Ms. Vigilante about the book in our Stapleton branch.  Watch carefully and you may see me in my cameo role as “New York Public Library” itself.

You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. 90-SECOND NEWBERY FILM FESTIVAL IS COMING TO TOWN!!!  You can see the full listing of where the festival is headed here.  In the meantime, here’s one of the new videos.  Is it bad that it actually scared me?  It’s a bunch of kids doing The Graveyard Book (The Dance Macabray as kickline = inspired) but I had the same reaction to it that I had to Shaun of the Dead.  I honestly found parts of it (the sleer) scary.  I is wimp!!

Maybe I’ve been reading The Lorax to my kiddo too much but you know what this is, don’t you?

It’s a Thneed! Thanks to Aunt Judy for the video.

Have you seen the latest trailer for a new version of The Little Prince?  For the first 30 seconds or so of this you’re going to be confused, possibly angry.  Stick with it.  Please.

Beats Bob Fosse as The Snake, anyway.  Then again, points docked for not having any Gene Wilder. (Fun Fact: Most movies are docked points for this very reason)

No no no no no. Not allowed.  I call foul.  Illustrators have enough talent as it is.  They are NOT allowed to also be excellent authors and even if they happen to be precisely that they are NOT allowed to have pitch perfect voices that can read selections from their books with all the vocal skills of the highest paid celebrity.  Back you go, Chris Riddell.  Ply your magic dulcet tones elsewhere.

A Reading with Chris Riddell: The Wyrmeweald Trilogy – Returner’s Wealth from Beth Sabey on Vimeo.

At this point there are too many fantastic 2015 picture books out there to tell you about.  Thank goodness some of them make book trailers, then.  For example, have you heard about Kathi Appelt’s fabulous When Otis Courted Mama, illustrated by Jill McElmurry?  If not then remedy is at hand:

Now another trailer.  As blurbs go, “This book smells great” may be my pick of the week.

And for the off-topic video of the day, it’s a Swing vs. Hip Hop dance off from Montreal.  As my friend Marci put it, “the first swing round is sort of meh but it gets better.”

Thanks to Marci for the link.


7 Comments on Video Sunday: Meeting All Your Sleer n’ Thneed Needs, last added: 1/12/2015
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45. Review of the Day: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song
By Frances Hardinge
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
ISBN: 978-1419714801
Ages 10 and up
On shelves May 12, 2015

I was watching the third Hobbit movie the other day (bear with me – I’m going somewhere with this) with no particular pleasure. There are few things in life more painful to a children’s librarian than watching an enjoyable adventure for kids lengthened and turned into adult-centric fare, then sliced up into three sections. Still, it’s always interesting to see how filmmakers wish to adapt material and as I sat there, only moderately stultified, the so-called “Battle of the Five Armies” (which, in this film, could be renamed “The Battle of the Thirteen Odd Armies, Give Or Take a Few) comes to a head as the glorious eagles swoop in. “They’re the Americans”, my husband noted. It took a minute for this to register. “What?” “They’re the Americans. Tolkien wrote this book after WWI and the eagles are the Yanks that swoop in to save the day at the very last minute.” I sat there thinking about it. England has always had far closer ties to The Great War than America, it’s true. I remember sitting in school, baffled by the vague version I was fed. American children are taught primarily Revolutionary War, Civil War, and WWII fare. All other conflicts are of seemingly equal non-importance after those big three. Yet with the 100 year anniversary of the war to end all wars, the English, who had a much larger role to play, are, like Tolkien, still producing innovative, evocative, unbelievable takes that utilize fantasy to help us understand it. And few books do a better job of pinpointing the post traumatic stress syndrome of a post-WWI nation than Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song. They will tell you that it’s a creepy doll book with changelings and fairies and things that go bump in the night. It is all of that. It is also one of the smartest dissections of what happens when a war is done and the survivors are left to put their lives back together. Some do a good job. Some do not.

Eleven-year-old Triss is not well. She knows this, but as with many illnesses she’s having a hard time pinpointing what exactly is wrong. It probably had to do with the fact that she was fished out of the Grimmer, a body of water near the old stone house where her family likes to vacation. Still, that doesn’t explain why her sister is suddenly acting angry and afraid of her. It doesn’t explain why she’s suddenly voracious, devouring plate after plate of food in a kind of half mad frenzy. And it doesn’t explain some of the odder things that have been happening lately either. The dolls that don’t just talk but scream too. The fact that she’s waking up with dead leaves in her hair and bed. And that’s all before her sister is nearly kidnapped by a movie screen, a tailor tries to burn her alive, and she discovers a world within her world where things are topsy turvy and she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. Triss isn’t the girl she once was. And time is running out.

From that description you’d be justified in wondering why I spent the better half of the opening paragraph of this review discussing WWI. After all, there is nothing particularly war-like in that summary. It would behoove me to me mention then that all this takes place a year or two after the war. Triss’s older brother died in the conflict, leaving his family to pick up the pieces. Like all parents, his are devastated by their loss. Unlike all parents, they make a terrible choice to keep him from leaving them entirely. It’s the parents’ grief and choices that then become the focal point of the book. The nation is experiencing a period of vast change. New buildings, new music, and new ideas are proliferating. Yet for Triss’s parents, it is vastly important that nothing change. They’re the people that would prefer to live in an intolerable but familiar situation rather than a tolerable unknown. Their love is a toxic thing, harming their children in the most insidious of ways. It takes an outsider to see this and to tell them what they are doing. By the end, it’s entirely possible that they’ll stay stuck until events force them otherwise. Then again, Hardinge leaves you with a glimmer of hope. The nation did heal. People did learn. And while there was another tragic war on the horizon, that was a problem for another day.

So what’s all that have to do with fairies? In a smart twist Hardinge makes a nation bereaved become the perfect breeding ground for fairy (though she never calls them that) immigration. It’s interesting to think long and hard about what it is that Hardinge is saying, precisely, about immigrants in England. Indeed, the book wrestles with the metaphor. These are creatures that have lost their homes thanks to the encroachment of humanity. Are they not entitled to lives of their own? Yet some of them do harm to the residents of the towns. But do all of them? Should we paint them all with the same brush if some of them are harmful? These are serious questions worth asking. Xenophobia comes in the form of the tailor Mr. Grace. His smooth sharp scissors cause Triss to equate him with the Scissor Man from the Struwwelpeter tales of old. Having suffered a personal loss at the hands of the otherworldly immigrants he dedicates himself to a kind of blind intolerance. He’s sympathetic, but only up to a point.

Terms I Dislike: Urban Fairies. I don’t particularly dislike the fairies themselves. Not if they’re done well. I should clarify that the term “urban fairies” is used when discussing books in which fairies reside in urban environments. Gargoyles in the gutters. That sort of thing. And if we’re going to get technical about it then yes, Cuckoo Song is an urban fairy book. The ultimate urban fairy book, really. Called “Besiders” their presence in cities is attributed to the fact that they are creatures that exist only where there is no certainty. In the past the sound of church bells proved painful, maybe fatal. However, in the years following The Great War the certainty of religion began to ebb from the English people. Religion didn’t have the standing it once held in their lives/hearts/minds, and so thanks to this uncertainty the Besiders were able to move into places in the city made just for them. You could have long, interesting book group conversations about the true implications of this vision.

There are two kinds of Frances Hardinge novels in this world. There are the ones that deal in familiar mythologies but give them a distinctive spin. That’s this book. Then there are the books that make up their own mythologies and go into such vastly strange areas that it takes a leap of faith to follow, though it’s worth it every time. That’s books like The Lost Conspiracy or Fly By Night and its sequel. Previously Ms. Hardinge wrote Well Witched which was a lovely fantasy but felt tamed in some strange way. As if she was asked to reign in her love of the fabulous so as to create a more standard work of fantasy. I was worried that Cuckoo Song might fall into this same trap but happily this is not the case. What we see on the page here is marvelously odd while still working within an understood framework. I wouldn’t change a dot on an i or a cross on a t.

Story aside, it is Hardinge’s writing that inevitably hooks the reader. She has a way with language that sounds like no one else. Here’s a sentence from the first paragraph of the book: “Somebody had taken a laugh, crumpled it into a great, crackly ball, and stuffed her skull with it.” Beautiful. Line after line after line jumps out at the reader this way. One of my favorites is when a fellow called The Shrike explains why scissors are the true enemy of the Besiders. “A knife is made with a hundred tasks in mind . . . But scissors are really intended for one job alone – snipping things in two. Dividing by force. Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between. Certainty. We’re in-between folk, so scissors hate us.” If I had half a mind to I’d just spend the rest of this review quoting line after line of this book. For your sake, I’ll restrain myself. Just this once.

When this book was released in England it was published as older children’s fare, albeit with a rather YA cover. Here in the States it is being published as YA fare with a rather creepy cover. Having read it, there really isn’t anything about the book I wouldn’t readily hand to a 10-year-old. Is there blood? Nope. Violence? Not unless you count eating dollies. Anything remarkably creepy? Well, there is a memory of a baby changeling that’s kind of gross, but I don’t think you’re going to see too many people freaking out over it. Sadly I think the decision was made, in spite of its 11-year-old protagonist, because Hardinge is such a mellifluous writer. Perhaps there was a thought to appeal to the Laini Taylor fans out there. Like Taylor she delves in strange otherworlds and writes with a distinctive purr. Unlike Taylor, Hardinge is British to her core. There are things here that you cannot find anywhere else. Her brain is a country of fabulous mini-states and we’ll be lucky if we get to see even half of them in our lifetimes.

There was a time when Frances Hardinge books were imported to America on a regular basis. For whatever reason, that stopped. Now a great wrong has been righted and if there were any justice in this world her Yankee fans would line the ports waiting for her books to arrive, much as they did in the time of Charles Dickens. That she can take an event like WWI and the sheer weight of the grief that followed, then transform it into dark, creepy, delicious, satisfying children’s fare is awe-inspiring. You will find no other author who dares to go so deep. Those of you who have never read a Hardinge book, I envy you. You’re going to be discovering her for the very first time, so I hope you savor every bloody, bleeding word. Taste the sentences on your tongue. Let them melt there. Then pick up your forks and demand more more more. There are other Hardinge books in England we have yet to see stateside. Let our publishers fill our plates. It’s what our children deserve.

On shelves May 15th.

Source: Reviewed from British edition, purchased by self.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

  • Here’s the review from The Book Smugglers that inspired me to read this in the first place.
  • And here’s pretty much a link to every other review of this book . . . um . . . ever.

Spoiler-ific Interviews: The Book Smugglers have Ms. Hardinge talk about her influences.  Remember those goofy television episodes from the 70s and 80s where dopplegangers would cause mischief.  Seems they gave at least one girl viewer nightmares.


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46. KidLit TV: Not Bird, Nor Plane, Nor Even Frog Just L’il Ole Me

This falls directly into the category of “Me Stuff”.  That said, some of you may be aware of the presence of Kidlit TV out there.  Just to recap, it’s the closest thing we have right now to an all-children’s literature related blog channel.  The brainchild of Julie Gribble with host Rocco Staino and a whole crew of fellow staff members, I’ve been watching the consistently interesting and intelligent fare over the last few months.  And now?  Now they’re talking to me.  I am with the gabby gab, as they say.  So much so that they couldn’t fit everything into a single video.  This week is part one.  Next week we’ll be seeing part two.

Primarily I’m discussing the book I co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta, Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.  Don’t have a copy of your own?  Well, you’re in luck.  A giveaway is at hand and you could get yourself a free one.  Just go here to see me yammer and to win.

Many thanks to Julie, Rocco, and the whole crew (including the make-up artist who hid very well her horror at my inability to understand the most rudimentary aspects of eyeliner).  Enjoy!

Fascinating to see what I look like with make-up on, isn’t it?


10 Comments on KidLit TV: Not Bird, Nor Plane, Nor Even Frog Just L’il Ole Me, last added: 1/15/2015
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47. Fuse #8 TV: Victoria Jamieson!

I didn’t really plan it this way, but this week is basically just wall to wall videos of me yammering till the cows come home.  Fortunately, in the case of the latest episode of Fuse #8 TV I’m at least joined by the lovely and infinitely talented graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson.

In this, the latest of my video series, I decide to take you guys on a tour of a castle.  A castle chock FULL of children’s literature.  Don’t believe me?  Then prepare to be amazed.

After that I sit down with Ms. Jamieson and we discuss Roller Girl, an all new graphic novel that combines the fun and personal relationships you might find in a Raina Telgemeier comic with the fury and glory of a roller derby match.

Many thanks to the good people at Penguin Young Readers for letting me speak with Ms. Jamieson.  You can find her book Roller Girl on your shelves March 10th.  And you can find full episodes of Fuse #8 TV here.


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48. Morning Mailbag: Changes, Rarities, and Surprises

In a given day I dive through gobs of mail.  Boxes of books from publishers for myself, my current co-workers, my former co-workers, this blog, you name it.  And since I pay attention to what’s being buzzed, I notice oddities.  In this new series I’ll show you some of the more interesting fare.  The items being published for kids that it’s possible you haven’t heard about yet.

I keep this book on my desk at all times.  It amuses me.  Deeply.  If ever I am feeling down or out, all I need to do is to look at this “boyfriend” flip-a-book where you construct “the perfect guy” ala Frankenstein by flipping through different eyes and hair and smiles.  It’s so shameless that it perks me up instantly.

I wouldn’t have recognized her if I hadn’t read the titles.  Oh, Leila Roy, whatever will you think?

Latino heroine in a middle grade fantasy novel.  Honestly, is there any more you need me to say? This I took home.

And just in case my kids need to experience magic mushrooms without any real chemical influence . . . .

Voila!  New Herve Tullet board books from Phaidon!  My daughter is addicted to this series.  She “reads” them to herself all the time.  When she finds out that there are more, I expect her to do the three-year-old equivalent of a happy freak out.

And finally . . .

It’s a good thing I’m not going to ALA Midwinter later this month.  I’d probably just lollygag around the Eerdmans booth next to this book asking passersby “Don’t YOU think this looks like Roger Sutton?”  The truth of the matter is that the book is a Belgian import, so if Roger really was the inspiration then his influence is far vaster than we ever suspected.

That was fun!  I’ll try to keep it up regularly.  Just a spot of color on a dreary Friday for you.


4 Comments on Morning Mailbag: Changes, Rarities, and Surprises, last added: 1/18/2015
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49. Video Sunday: “Some tenderness to the tree, Will.”

Over Christmas break I got to go to an Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo to see Into the Woods. The theater?  Remarkably fun! The show? Um . . . well there were some problems with it. Enjoyable, sure, but . . . some problems. Problems that I suspect would not be replicated in this fabulous pared down version currently being performed by the Fiasco Theater

Thanks to Aunt Judy for the link.

Okay. So let us say that you’re a celebrity. You have written a children’s book. For whatever reason, you thought the Israel/Palestinian conflict would provide just the right kind of fodder. Now you are being called upon to do a little book promotion for your title. Your options are myriad. You could be enthusiastic and really work to engage the watching potential readership in your book’s story and plot. That’s Option A. Option B would be to compare your book to Charlotte’s Web and Animal Farm (oo de lally) and then sort of phone in the whole thing.  Let us see which option Mr. Duchovny is opting for here.

Don’t nobody tell me nothing. Why was I not informed that the Eerdmans Books for Young Readers site now has its own YouTube channel?  More to the point, why are they one of the few smaller publishers to do this?  It’s easy.  It’s cheap.  Actually, if you back up and look you’ll see that the video posts are just part of the new blog for the publisher called Eerdlings.  And as design layouts go I think they’ve just won.  As for the YouTube show Coffee Break, Ahna and Katherine are remarkably enjoyable to watch and they appear to have been doing this for some time.  I was tempted to link to their video that mentions me alongside some other bloggers (because I am vanity incarnate where the blog is concerned) but instead I’ll link to the infinitely useful How to Be an Author on Facebook episode instead.

Ta, ladies.

Arg!  How did I miss this?  Put this in the pantheon of the greatest book trailers of 2014.  I’m ashamed that it has only now come to my attention.  Great gobs of gratitude to Matthew Winner for drawing my attention to it:

You’ve undoubtedly already seen this on 100 Scope Notes who found this scoop faster than anyone else, but just in case you hadn’t it’s pretty cool. It’s information about an exhibition making the rounds about the country called Hats Off to Dr. Seuss. Blimey.

And for our off-topic video, I am bereft of shame.  Let’s watch animals jumping into things. That is why the internet was invented, yes?  So that we might watch things jump into things?  That is how they’re going to teach it in school 100 years from now anyway.


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50. Graphic Novels for Kids: A Year in Review

I like comics.  I like ‘em a lot.  Always have, and as a librarian I’ve watched with interest the changing mores in my profession concerning their presence in a library setting.  Who has two thumbs and a copy of Seduction of the Innocent on her bedroom bookshelf?  This guy, that’s who!

So with the turn of the new year it seemed like a good idea to check in with the folks at First Second, Macmillan’s graphic novel wing, to see what they thought of comics in 2014/15.  Speaking with me today are Gina Gagliano (Associate Marketing and Publicity Manager) and Mark Siegel (Editorial Director).

Betsy Bird: Let’s talk about the state of graphic novels for kids today.  First off, how was First Second’s 2014 year?

Gina Gagliano: Really good!  We started off the year winning the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults for Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints– the first time a graphic novel has ever won that award – and things have just gotten better from there, with wonderful books throughout the year.

Mark Siegel:  The First Second collection continues to grow in all three age categories, but this year our youngest readers are getting some new treats—a line of picture books. They’re closer to the conventional picture book format, but they’re from proven comics creators, and will often feature some of the styling of the graphic novel. And I’m very pleased to say, there are more coming. First off we presented Ben Hatke’s Julia’s House for Lost Creatures which was wonderfully received. And the first of the Anna Banana books, called Sleep Tight, Anna Banana—a delicious, hilarious, adorable new character who will bring laughs to bedtime reading. They’re by Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal, an exceptional mother and son team from France, where these are national bestsellers. The next one comes out this year, in 2015, and is called Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion. Try it on a child sometime, the howling laughter should speak for itself.

BB: Yes indeed.  Julia’s House for Lost Creatures appeared on NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list for 2014 as well.  Now First Second has been around since 2006.  What are some of the changes in the graphic novel industry that you’ve noticed since your debut?  How has First Second itself changed?

GG: I just spent a day visiting bookstores in the New York City area, and one of the changes I noticed is that graphic novels are everywhere!  When First Second started publishing books, most stores didn’t have a graphic novel section – or if they did, it would be for literary comics for adults.  Now, most stores also have a separate comics section specifically for kids.  That’s a pretty big change!

First Second has changed a lot in that time, too!  We’ve got different staff, different offices, and new books and authors every year.  But our core values of quality, thoughtfulness, and originality haven’t changed, and they’re things we hope will never change about :01.

BB: Considering how popular comics are with kids, why aren’t we seeing more graphic novel imprints at the other big publishers?  What’s the reluctance?

GG: Even though a dedicated graphic novel imprint may not be right for every publisher, it’s clear that all the major publishers are including graphic novels in their lists in some way.  And with First Second, Graphix, Abrams Comic Arts, and Toon, there are definitely some comics imprints making a name for themselves out there!

That said, graphic novels can really be a challenge to acquire, edit, print, market, and sell if you don’t have a staff that appreciates and understands the format.  It’s really wonderful to have Macmillan’s support behind us here!

BB: What does First Second have in store next year?

GG: Lots!  You’ll be seeing new books from George O’Connor, Andi Watson, Jay Hosler, Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, Gene Luen Yang, Ben Hatke, Maris Wicks, and many other awesome authors and illustrators.  We’re going to be publishing twenty-two graphic novels, which is our all-time high number so far.  It’s going to be a year filled with great stories and amazing artwork!

MS: Among our young titles, there are a great many goodies! The second of the Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents… is coming! And after Macbeth it’s now Romeo and Juliet. If instead of his Stratford-on-Avon troupe Shakespeare had had the cast of the Muppet Show to work with—you’d get something like this.

Then there’s another continuing series—our bestselling adventures of Claudette, by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado. Giants Beware! came first, and introduced us to a lovable, thrilling little world.  Dragons Beware! confirms that this is indeed a whole world young readers will never tire of returning to—and that Aguirre and Rosado are superb storytellers, creating something for the ages.

And wait there’s more! Gene Luen Yang has many a juicy surprise up his sleeve, and here’s the next: Secret Coders, with art by Mike Holmes! It’s a brand new fantasy series which also happens to teach computer coding… Something like a Hogwarts for coders!

Just to mention one more (and there’s still more, besides) is a very special offering from Ben Hatke: Little Robot. After the award-winning Zita Spacegirl trilogy and his Julia’s House for Lost Creatures picture book, Ben’s new work is in a new style, and it’s exciting and tender and magical, and continues to reveal an A-list author at the top of his game.

BB: So where do you see the future of comics and graphic novels going?

GG: I think the future of comics and graphic novels is more of them, everywhere!  With the positive reception that we’re seeing for the format, I know that lots of people are being inspired to sell them, teach them, read them, and even create them.  Soon the day will come where no one will have to ask, ‘A graphic novel?  What’s that?’


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