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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
Statistics for A Fuse #8 Production
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Have you ever read the adult book How I Became a Famous Novelist? Bear with me for a second here, I know what I’m doing. You see, in the title the author decides that he wants to become a New York Times bestseller. In the course of his quest he runs across a variety of different authors who embody a variety of different types of novels. His own aunt decides she wants to be a children’s author and sets about doing so by writing a work of historical middle grade fiction. The book is about a girl living in Colonial America who wants to be a cooper. In only a page or two author Steve Hely puts his finger on a whole swath of children’s books that drive librarians like myself mildly mad. They find familiar situations and alter very little aside from location and exact year to tell their tales. The result is an increasing wariness on my part to read any works of historical fiction, for fear that you’ll see the same dang story again and again. With all this in mind you can imagine the relief with which I read Krista Russell’sThe Other Side of Free. Not only is the setting utterly original (not to mention unforgettable) but the characters don’t fill the same little roles you’ll see in other children’s novels. If you have kids that have tired of the same old, same old, The Other Side of Free will give them something they haven’t seen before.
We’ve all heard of how slaves would escape to the North when they wished to escape for good. But travel a bit farther back in time to the early 18th century and the tale is a little different. At that point in history slaves didn’t flee north but south to Spain’s territories. There, the Spanish king promised freedom for those slaves that swore fidelity to the Spanish crown and fought on his behalf against the English. 13-year-old Jem is one of those escaped slaves, but his life at Fort Mose is hardly stimulating. Kept under the yoke of a hard woman named Phaedra, Jem longs to fight for the king and to join in the battles. But when at last the fighting comes to him, it isn’t at all what he thought it would be. A Bibliography of sources appears at the end of the book.
There are big themes at work here. What freedom is worth to an individual if it means yoking yourself to someone else. If militia work really does mean freedom, or just slavery of a new kind. Jem himself chafes under the hand of Phaedra, though I think it would be obvious, even to a kid reader, that he’s immature in more than one way. But with all that said, it’s the lighter moments that make the book for me. Omen the owl is a notable example of a detail that makes the book more than just a work of history. In this story Jem adopts an owlet and raises it as his own. In your standard generic fare the owl would be a beloved friend and companion, possibly ultimately dying for Jem in a heroic scene reminiscent of Hedwig’s death. Instead, the owl is hell on wings. A nasty, chicken-snatching, very real and wild creature that is, nonetheless, beloved of our hero. Again, expectations are upset. I love it when that happens.
I liked the individual lines Russell used to dot the text as well. For example, in an early character note about Phaedra the book describes her construction of a grass basket. “Her fingers snatched at the fronds again and again, until each strip was bent and shaped to her will.” It’s worth noting that it’s Jem who is saying this about her. Almost the whole book is told through his own perspective and, as such, may not be entirely trustworthy. He has his own prejudices to fight, after all. I also like Russell’s everyday descriptions. “Adine handed each man a jug of water. They drank until it ran down their faces, leaving tails like gray veins down their throats.” Beautifully put.
Honestly it would make a heckuva stage play. The settings are necessarily limited, with Jem spending most of his time in Fort Mose and the rest of it in St. Augustine. Not having been familiar with the people of Fort Mose before, I found myself incredibly anxious to learn what became of them. Russell ends the book on a hopeful note, but you cannot help but wonder. If there were freed slaves in Florida in 1739 then what happened when that state became the property of the English in 1763? All Russell says at that time is “At this time, the free Africans of Mose relocated to Cuba.” Kids will just have to extrapolate a happy ending for Jem and his friends from that.
A great work of historical fiction does a number of things. It introduces you to unfamiliar places and people. It establishes a kind of empathy for those people that you otherwise would never have met. It puts you in their shoes, if only for a moment. And most of all, it surprises you. Upsets your expectations, maybe. For most kids in America, the history of slavery is short and sweet. Slaves came from Africa. They escaped North. They were freed thanks in part to the Civil War. What more is there is say or to learn aside from some vague info on the Underground Railroad? Russell challenges these assumptions, bringing us a tale that is wholly new, but filled with facts. If the rote and familiar don’t suit you and you want a book that travels over new ground, you can hardly do better than The Other Side of Free. Smart and original, it’s a one-of-a-kind novel. Hardly the kind of thing you run across every day.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Notes on the Cover: I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I can see what Peachtree was going for here. In this image you get the dense canopy of a Floridian forest. You even have a black boy on the cover (albeit completely turned away from the viewer, which is kind of a cheat). But all in all, whether it’s the art or the design or the color palette, this book is not the most visually appealing little number I’ve seen in all my livelong days. I’m having a devil of a time getting folks to pick it up of their own accord. One hopes that if it goes to paperback someday, maybe it’ll be given a cover worthy of its content.
What does the fox truly say? That it ain’t from around these here parts.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the art found in children’s picture books and those particular styles favored by artists in one nation or another. All this began when I recently reviewed of Wild by Emily Hughes. In the review I made the following statement: “A British/Hawaiian author/illustrator, Emily Hughes’ art is fascinating to look at, partly because it’s so incredibly European. It’s something about the eyes, I think. Or maybe just the way the landscape and the animals intertwine. The bears, for example, reminded me of nothing so much as the ones found in The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud (a Frenchman).”
Naturally my European readers picked up on this and began debating whether there truly can be called a “European” style, as I so off-handedly put it. Ah, sweet hyperbole. Joel Stewart pointed out that what I categorize as “European” is, in fact, mighty similar to the work of such U.S. illustrators as Mary Blair. He went on to speculate that perhaps the internet is shifting previously perceived borders for illustrators, making it harder to identify them from one country or another.
What it really comes down to for me is what styles fail to translate here in America. Which brings us back to the fox. Or, rather, the YouTube sensation turned picture book:
Let me say right now that I was pleased beyond measure when I discovered that this title, widely touted as being turned into a picture book, would be illustrated by a Norwegian illustrator. I can count on one hand the number of living Norwegian children’s authors I see on American shelves (it sort of begins and ends with Jo Nesbo). And artists? Meet Svein Nyhus. At his blog you can hear about the differences between the American and Norwegian versions of this book (though I cannot vouch for the translated summaries at the beginning of each post). That said, I think it is fair to say that there is no way in the WORLD that an illustrator could get away with this kind of art if he or she originated in the United States and originally published here as well.
You see, over the years I’ve been able to identify books that my children’s librarians (not all, but definitely some) don’t like immediately upon seeing. This year in 2013, some of my librarians had a hard time with the following books:
If these books have anything in common (and they almost don’t) it’s their unique art styles. The kicker is that often the person objecting can’t put a finger on precisely why they don’t like the book.
Looking at these covers, if you took away the artists’ names you wouldn’t necessarily be able to ascribe nationalities to them. The same cannot necessarily be said to be true of French board book artists. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed the significant influx of French board books to our shores over the last few years (oh, Herve Tullet what hast thou wrought?). Those titles have a very distinctive simplicity to them that makes them easier to identify than some titles.
But aside from those, I think Joel was right when he said the internet was blurring the lines. That said, it’s still incredibly clear when an illustrator hails from another country (at least to American eyes). You might not be able to pinpoint the precise nation, but you’ll know it isn’t native to our shores. This begs the obvious question: Is there a distinctly American style that is all our own? I’m not sure. Probably so, but if there is I doubt we’d be able to see it.
Shout-out to my buddy Haddon Kime. The man wrote the music and lyrics for a new musical version of The Snow Queen now playing at the San Jose Repertory Theatre with dreams of Broadway. Years ago he created the opening music and words for my now long dead podcast. It’s great seeing his star on the rise. This past Christmas we discussed various children’s versions of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, including this year’s by Bagram Ibatoulline (which he hadn’t seen) and Breadcrumbs (which he thinks is brilliant). This is a tiny look at the production but I do love that in this Steampunky SQ the little robber girl gets to sing a punk rock song. Awesome. She has always been my favorite character anyway.
Small children standing on chairs. If book trailers need anything more than this, I don’t want to hear about it. Here we have fantastic MG author N.D. Wilson’s daughter reading his self-published (and, if I hear correctly, soon to be professionally published) picture book Hello, Ninja.
Of course I can’t link to a video by N.D. Wilson without thinking of that AMAZING one he created years ago for the first Ashtown Burials book. I was reminded of that video when I saw this recent one for Cragbridge Hall: The Inventor’s Secret by Chad Morris. Many of us only DREAM of having a trailer of this caliber for our own titles:
With the advent of Saving Mr. Banks, some of you may be curious about the real P.L. Travers. Fortunately it looks as if the documentary P.L. Travers: The Real Mary Poppins is available through YouTube. Here’s the first part:
And for today’s off-topic video, special thanks to Gregory K for this one. It looks like the world’s most ambitious flashmob. It’s not. The amount of attention paid to facial hair should have given that much away.
Well, the Bird family had a lovely Christmas down in old Atlanta, GA. We didn’t lose any offspring either going there or back again, so I consider that a win. And the presents! Whether it was the Matilda soundtrack (yes, I’m a million years old and still request CDs as presents) or the collected Pogo comics (Vol. 2!) or a new laptop, this was a good little year.
What I did not know when I flew back at 6:15 a.m. yesterday was that I was rapidly winging my way home to an unexpected gift like no other. A gift that can only be described as one-of-a-kind. Indeed, unless more than one was produced this season, I may have the only one quite like this.
You will all recall Alison Morris. Dubbed “The Mayor of Children’s Books” by T.A. Barron she is one of the smartest, wittiest people I know. She is also now currently living in Washington D.C. which is a crime against man (or at least, against the convenience of seeing her as often as I’d like).
There lives in every child an animal. A wild, untamable creature that will emerge without fail at the worst possible moments, rendering its parents helpless and hopeless all in one swoop. There also exist in this world picture books that touch on this restrained/free duality. You might even argue that the BEST children’s books touch on this in some way (Where the Wild Things Are being the most obvious example). In 2013 alone we saw Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild talk about the need in every child for order as well as wild uninhibited freedom. Wild, in contrast, is a simpler story. Following just one girl from her path from nature to the city and back again, it has a different lesson in mind. It is all well and good for some to find a happy medium between chaos and order but for some kids chaos is clearly MUCH more appealing!
“No one remembered how she came to the woods, but all knew it was right.” A green-haired baby smiles contentedly on a forest floor as a bear, bird, and fox look on. Over the years the bird teaches her to speak, the bear to eat, and the fox to play. Unfortunately a hunter’s trap catches the child by her foliage-like hair and a pair of baffled hunters takes her back with them to civilization. There the child is forced to reside in the home of a well-meaning psychiatrist and his wife. Attempts to normalize her fail resoundingly and at last she flees back to the wild, the family dog and cat in tow. After all, “you cannot tame something so happily wild.”
A British/Hawaiian author/illustrator, Emily Hughes’ art is fascinating to look at, partly because it’s so incredibly European. It’s something about the eyes, I think. Or maybe just the way the landscape and the animals intertwine. The bears, for example, reminded me of nothing so much as the ones found in The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud (a Frenchman). The heroine herself is somehow big-eyed without devolving into preciousness (a delicate balance). Her plant-like hair almost looks like it might be sentient at times. People in general are rendered with a fine hand. My favorite shot is of the wild child being brought to civilization by the two clearly shell-shocked hunters. As the men, and even their dog, drive in the rain, their eyes ringed with worry, the child sits on the front seat with only her eyes visible over the dash. She is clearly silent and livid.
It’s interesting to look at the settings and colors in the book as well. As the girl is raised there isn’t a white page to be seen until the last fateful line of “And she understood, and was happy.” Then, when humanity intervenes, the white pages begin to proliferate. Interior spreads are either grey/green or peach/brown and nothing else. It’s as much a relief to the reader’s eye as it is the child’s spirit when she escapes again into the wild. I was particularly pleased too with the two-page wordless humanless spread displaying only the child’s wanton path of destruction. As for the wild itself, here we have a utopian Eden, where animals might eat the occasional fish but never a green-haired baby child. Or, for that matter, one another.
One quibble I have with the book is the final line. It ends on an ellipsis, you see. Now I’m as big a fan of your average everyday ellipses as the next gal. And I understand that there must have been long editorial discussions with the author/illustrator that justified its presence on the last page. I just have absolutely no idea what those justifications could possibly be. The line reads, “Because you cannot tame something so happily wild…” Maybe the dot dot dot is there to suggest that this isn’t the end of the story? I haven’t a better idea.
Oh, they’ll tag this as an eco-centric morality tale, I’m sure. Wild/nature = good, civilization/standardization = bad. That sort of thing. Honestly, I think it has a lot more to say about the inner life of a young child than any overt messagey message about Mother Earth. But there aren’t any rules governing how you use a book, so go on! Use it to talk to kids about nature and the outdoors. Use it to talk about acceptable and non-acceptable behavior and when those rules break down. Use it to discuss tropes most common in European vs. American books, or what makes this book a stand out in its field. Talk about it any old way you like, but make sure you talk about it. A surprisingly lovely little piece that bears similarities to hundreds of pictures books out there, but isn’t really like a single one. One of a kind.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Ambition. It’s not a term I usually associate with children’s graphic novels. Your average everyday children’s comic is not particularly ambitious. There are so few of them out there that you can’t make any grand sweeping statements about them, except maybe to stress that the difference between a GN for adults and a GN for kids is scope. While an actual prose novel for the kiddos can set its sights rather high (see: The Golden Compass, Hokey Pokey, The Book of Everything, etc.) children’s graphic novels have more of a tendency to limit themselves. They might encompass sprawling narratives over the course of several books (see: the Bone series, the Amulet series, etc.) but in a single book? Usually there’s not a lot you can say (unless you’re Shaun Tan, of course). So I would have thought prior to picking up Lieberman and Rawlings’ The Silver Six. What looks on the outside to simply be yet another tame adventure tale for the kiddos turns quickly into a story so packed with excitement that in any other author’s hand this could easily have been split into a trilogy (at the very least). With a large diverse cast, a relatable heroine, and a good old-fashioned evil corporation, Lieberman and Rawlings dare to dream big and it pays off. Like I say . . . ambitious!
Phoebe Hemingway’s been doing okay. Sure, her parents died in a mysterious crash about a year ago and ever since she’s been faking it with her robot Oliver, living on their own. But when child welfare services track her down and send her to the ultimate nasty futuristic orphanage she discovers she may be in grave dangerd. Fortunately she meets up with five other kids that share some shocking similarities to Phoebe. Like the fact that their parents all died in the same crash. Or that they all willed to their children the same moon registration forms. Now the team is on an epic quest to escape the orphanage, travel off the planet, dodge the bad guys, and find out the true conspiracy behind their parents’ deaths.
They say that people relate to action movies/books/comics etc. because immediate peril is instantly understandable and accessible to an audience. That said, you can write all the action thrillers in the world but unless you’ve a little additional heart it’s not going to have a lot of emotional impact. What makes “The Silver Six” a little different from the other books out there is that it isn’t afraid to go for the emotional heart more than once. So you’ve six orphans, and that’s fairly heartrending on paper. And you’ve one of the villains dealing with his own tragic past as well. But the moment that makes all the difference in the world comes when Phoebe must willingly give up the one last family member she has for the greater good. When you sacrifice the comic relief to stop the baddies, that’s tough enough. When you actually LIKE said comic relief? Pull out those hankies and blow.
And I love the way the book rewards rereadings. As you read through and pick apart the conspiracies, the first page is going to make a lot more sense. Throwaway moments, like when a character sees the initials S.O.S. scrawled on a wall, are explained at length later. Then there are the little in-jokes. My personal favorite was the tech geek who worries that he didn’t feed his fish that morning, with a glance later at the fish he’s since raised in their absence. Trust me, it makes sense in the book.
The art itself wasn’t a lure at first. Darren Rawlings hails from the world of animation and motion graphics, so there’s going to be a certain level of slickness to any enterprise he stands behind right from the start. I’ve no idea if Mr. Rawlings did his own inking and coloring (no one else is credited) but it’s a good job. Still, the first thing you’ll notice is how much the man has had to cram onto each and every page. I’m not just talking words but number of panels and even images that appear on those panels. You get the distinct impression over the course of this book that Rawlings would do best if the pages were long and extended as you might find in a Tintin or Little Nemo collection. Yet for all that, I never had the feeling that the pages felt cramped. The art packs a punch but at the same time it has a way of carrying you along. I wouldn’t give it to a novice GN reader, but for those kids with some experience it’s going to be enormously satisfying.
If there’s a problem with the book, and there are surprisingly few, I suppose it’s the ending. The big showdown with the baddie happens and then everything looks lost. Then we get a LOT of exposition and badda bing, badda boom, end of story. In a book of false climaxes and honestly awesome moments where the action rises and falls, this letdown of an ending momentarily sours an otherwise skillful outing. I won’t deny that there’s a sweet justice in the way the villain personally brings about his own destruction, but it’s odd watching your heroes stand idly by while the world comes around to their way of thinking.
Many is the parent who decides to buy their kids some comics for vacation only to find that within the first 20 minutes of the car trip their children have read every single one. If you want something with a little more meat that’s going to keep their attention for AT LEAST an hour, The Silver Six is your friend. Also recommended for fans of epic adventures, bored kids, comic lovers, boys, girls, anyone who likes snarky robots, and people who has to read these kiddos bedtime stories. A quick and exciting little package (the book literally begins with an explosion) with a surprising amount of depth. Nicely done.
You know why I’m looking forward to 2014? It’s not the fresh start that comes with every turn of the globe. It’s not the incipient birth of my second child (I lie . . . it is that, but for the purposes of this piece we’re going to pretend that it’s not). It’s not the fact that I’ve mistakenly thought it was 2014 already for half the year (this is what early galleys hath wrought).
It’s none of these. It is, in fact, the plethora, the godsend, the sheer number of books with kids of color on the middle grade covers coming out in 2014.
None of you have been blind to the fact that when a middle grade novel stars a kid of color, there is a 75% chance that you’re not going to see their face on the book jacket. Heck, Allie Bruce’s posts on the subject are worth the price of admission alone. Then there’s the fact that sometimes even finding kids of color can be a challenge (see: 2013 Middle Grade Black Boys: Seriously, People?). With that in mind I’ve been watching the galleys for the 2014 season and I am feeling cautiously optimistic. While the books that I’m about to list here are still just a miniscule percentage of the swath of middle grade (by which I mean, novels for kids between the ages of 9-12) titles out there, they mark a 400% improvement over . . . um . . . ever. Here’s what I’m seeing for Spring 2014 alone:
A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo
Nicely done. Big full-face with the dad in the background. Makes it clear it’s historical without feeling off-putting. Of course the cover originated in Britain, but we’ll take what we can get.
Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells
The first in what appears to be a series, this is a SUPER rarity. Dark-skinned boy (who is NOT a sidekick or best friend) alone on the cover of a book that actually looks fun and not meaningful or historical. And a mystery at that? Somebody buy me a lottery ticket quick, because I think my luck’s about to change!
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Branda Woods
I don’t care that it’s just half a face. It’s still a nice cover and I’m all for it.
Saving Baby Doe by Danette Vigilante
Contemporary Latino boy?! This is also wildly uncommon. Kind of dig the gorgeous cover design as well.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
What, you thought we got rid of all the silhouette-stand-ins-for-black-kids covers? Think again.
The Lion Who Stole My Arm by Nicola Davies
Another silhouette, but at least the title and cover blurb (which may or may not be on the American edition) are awesome.
Susan Marcus Bends the Rules by Jane Cutler
Look at this cover long enough and you might be convinced that the “Susan Marcus” mentioned in the title was the African-American girl at the center of the other girls’ attention. Nope. That girl isn’t even our heroine. A bit misleading but I sort of like the image so I’m torn.
Winter Sky by Patricia Reilly Giff
A close kin to the silhouette cover is the back-of-the-head cover where, again, you cannot determine the character’s race. That said, I actually like this one. Look at her head and hands and her race is instantly apparent (it’s a little harder to see here but trust me that when you see the actual book it will be clear). And due to the fact that there are 5 billion YA novels with white girls running away from the viewer, nothing wrong with a middle grade novel doing it’s own similar thing.
Painting the Rainbow by Amy Gordon
Like the “Susan Marcus” book, the boy pictured here is not the hero of the tale but someone being investigated (so to speak) by the two girls in the boat. This is, by the way, the only book with an Asian or Asian-American character I’ve seen with the sole exception of . . .
Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
It’s historical (a rare fantasy set in Maoist China) and distinctly unique.
Almost Super by Marion Jensen
Maybe she’s not the heroine proper but the character of Juanita Johnson fills me with hope. She and Gum Girl should get together sometime and save the world.
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Winner of the Most Blurbs for a Galley award of 2014.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Hurricane Katrina by Rodman Philbrick
There is an understanding these days that you cannot CANNOT write a middle grade novel about Hurricane Katrina without the book being about a dog in some way. This title is no exception. It does, at first, look like a series of silhouettes but if you look at the actual book you’ll see it’s more detailed than that. I’m giving it points too for just looking like a book a kid might actually want to read.
Conclusions? As I mentioned before, Asian characters are more difficult than usual to find this publishing season. I was tempted to include The Dirt Diary by Anna Staiszewski in that rare category but I haven’t read the book so I wasn’t certain that I was correct. I’ve also not seen any books about Native American kids, but unless you’re Joseph Bruchac or Louise Erdrich they won’t be putting your face on the cover anyway (Written in Stone was 2013′s rare exception).
I would also be amiss in not mentioning the fact that these are just books that are featuring kids of color on their book jackets. I’m not mentioning the books that feature multicultural kids within the pages (just not on the covers). These would include titles like Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana and The Sittin’ Up by Sheila P. Moses amongst many others. Books that I am incredibly grateful for, but feel like the publishers missed a golden opportunity somewhere down the road when it came to their covers. Ah well. There’s always next year.
By the way, I just know that since I’m listing this books from the galleys I’ve received that there are bound to be some covers I’ve missed. So lay ‘em on me! What’s also out there that I’m failing to note?
It’s been a good week and it’s only Thursday! I’ve cooed and oohed and aahed over NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013 list before. Nothing new to say . . . or is there? I don’t suppose you happened to see NPR’s interactive booklist consisting of their Best Books of 2013 (in a rare moment of bliss, I like all their children’s book choices though some diversity wouldn’t have been out of place). Well, NYPL took one look at that list and thought, “Heck. We can do that.” And so they did! Meet the Interactive Books List of NYPL. It’s gorgeous. It’s user friendly. It’s the only place you can find animated Melissa Sweet. Overall, I rather love it. Hope you do too.
In other best book news, Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller teamed up at BuzzFeed and produced a list of 20 of the Best Children’s Books 2013. And AGAIN I like all the choices. Do you know how rare this is? Extra points for including Donner Dinner Party. Love that thing. Love anyone who includes it on a list.
Having trouble keeping track of all the Best Of lists out there? Mr. Schu’s your man. Thanks to him, we now have a nicely compiled 2013 Best Books Lists posting. It’s very attractive. Of course, if you want the most complete listing out there, there’s no better place to go than Chicken Spaghetti. The information is AMAZING over there.
A lot has been said lately about how big Best lists of children’s books this year have neglected to include any Latino characters (NPR and The New York Times most notably). Perfect timing then for the 2014 Reading Challenge suggested by Latin@s in Kid Lit. Take a look at the guidelines and join, but seriously? One book a month? I think you can handle that. They even have some suggestions to start you off (yay, Nino!).
And, of course, if you read only one Best list, read the 100 Scope Notes highly hilarious Year in Miscellanea. Plus he mentions my superfluous little cupcake. Quoth he it’s, “the Axl Rose Hair Metal hair of picture book cover cupcakes.” You’re just going to have to read his piece to understand what that means.
Tempted to see Saving Mr. Banks in the theater this holiday season? Feel free but be aware that the film may be throwing P.L. Travers under the bus in the process. A great piece from Jerry Griswold, former Director of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature.
Anyone who has ever attended one of James Kennedy’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festivals will attest that they are a bundle of fun. Just the most delightful little films, created by kids, turning Newbery winners into concise 90-second films. Some are, understandably, better than others but there’s nothing cooler than sitting in a theater next to a kid who gets to see their film projected on a big screen for the first time in their young lives. Want to join in? The deadline for the next 90-second films is January 20th. So get cracking, young geniuses! For lots more information about the events and the showings, go here.
Awww. This is so sweet. Over at Mocking It Up, Rebecca did me a solid and created this simply gorgeous infographic on the books that are topping the Mock Newbery lists around the country (she compiled results from 19 different Mocks). That’s a ton of work but the results are simply gorgeous. Wowzah! Well done, madam.
Well, every year I like to put out my list of 100 Magnificent Children’s Books from the publishing year. So far I’ve done this in 2010 and 2011 and 2012. And every year the list looks suspiciously similar in some spots to the 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list that NYPL produces. Little wonder, but I always like to use my own particular list to highlight those titles I love more than life itself but that are getting passed over. Here then were some favorites of the year. Not all my favorites, obviously (I read quite a bit of magnificent stuff) but at the very least 100 I care for with links to those I reviewed. And yes. I’m shamelessly self-promoting at the same time.
Picture Books (For Children Ages 2-6)
Battle Bunny by Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Matthew Myers. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Ben Rides On by Matt Davies. Roaring Brook Press The Dark by Lemony Snicket. Illustrated by Daniel Handler. Candlewick Press Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle. Chronicle Books Giant Dance Partyby Betsy Bird. Illustrated by Brandon Dorman. Greenwillow Books Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley. Peter Pauper Press Here I Am by Patti Kim. Illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. Capstone Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon. Roaring Brook Press It’s Monday, Mrs. Jolly Bonesby Warren Hanson. Illustrated by Tricia Tusa Beach Lane Books Journey by Aaron Becker. Candlewick Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick The Mighty LaLouche by Matthew Olshan. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Schwartz & Wade Mr. Tiger Goes Wild! by Peter Brown. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales. Roaring Brook Press No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OHora. Dial Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Taleby Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams Books for Young Readers Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid. Albert Whitman & Co. The Silver Button by Bob Graham. Candlewick Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon. Atheneum Books for Young Readers Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. Disney – Hyperion Water in the Park: A Book About Water and the Times of Day by Emily Jenkins. Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. Schwartz & Wade Wild by Emily Hughes. Flying Eye Books Yes, Let’sby Galen Goodwin Longstreth. Illustrated by Maris Wicks. Tanglewood Publishing
Folktales and Fairy Tales
Aesop in California by Doug Hensen. Heyday Can’t Scare Me! by Ashley Bryan. Atheneum Books for Young Readers Demeter and Persephone by Hugh Lupton & Daniel Morden. Illustrated by Carole Henaff. Barefoot Books Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters. Roaring Brook Press Hansel and Gretel by The Brothers Grimm. Illustrated by Sybille Schenker. minedition Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse. Illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters & Mortals by Donna Jo Napoli. Illustrated by Christina Balit . National Geographic Whiskers, Tails and Wings: Animal Folktales from Mexico by Judy Goldman. Illustrated by Fabricio Vanden Broeck. Charlesbridge
Bowling Alley Bandit (The Adventures of Arnie The Doughnut #1) by Laurie Keller. Henry Holt and Co. Call Me Oklahoma by Miriam Glassman. Holiday House Gum Girl: Chews Your Destiny by Rhode Montijo. Disney – Hyperion The Meanest Birthday Girl by Josh Schneider. Clarion Books Mysterious Traveler by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow Books Starring Jules (As Herself) by Beth Ain. Scholastic The Truth of Me by Patricia MacLachlan. Katherine Tegen Books
Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You or Me by Emmanuel Guibert Illustrated by Marc Boutavant. Papercutz Bluffton: My Summer With Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan. Candlewick Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox. Graphix Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale. Harry N. Abrams Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists ed. by Chris Duffy. First Second Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson. Flying Eye Books Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt. Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Groundwood Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown. Scholastic, Inc. Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell. Top Shelf Productions The Silver Six by A. J. Lieberman. Illustrated by Darren Rawlings. GRAPHIX
Stories (For Children Ages 9-12)
Africa is My Home: A Child of the Amistadby Monica Edinger. Illustrated byRobert Byrd. Candlewick Ballad by Blexbolex. Enchanted Lion Press Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federele. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Candlewick The Center of Everything by Linda Urban, Harcourt Children’s Books Doll Bones by Holly Black. Margaret K. McElderry Books Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by K.G. Campbell. Candlewick Press A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers The Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell. Harper Collins Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli. Alfred A. Knopf How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks. HMH Books for Young Readers One Came Home by Amy Timberlake. Knopf Books for Young Readers The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell. Peachtree Publishers Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarrett Krosoczka. Walden Pond Press The Real Boyby Anne Ursu. Walden Pond Press Rose by Holly Webb. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost. Farrar, Straus and Giroux The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co.) by Jonathan Stroud. Disney-Hyperion Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis. Candlewick Press The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt. Atheneum Books for Young Readers The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore. Walker Children’s Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones. Candlewick Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry. Random House Books for Young Readers The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow
Best Foot Forward: Exploring Feet, Flippers, and Claws by Ingo Arndt. Holiday House The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős by Deborah Heiligman. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook Press The Boy On the Wooden Box:How the Impossible Became Possible… OnSchindler’s List by Leon Layson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith, Jr. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Amistad The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle. Lerner Publishing Group Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First BlackParatroopersby Tonya Lee Stone. Candlewick Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton by Meghan McCarthy. Paula Wiseman Books Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People by Susan Goldman Rubin. Abrams Books for Young Readers Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin. Readers to Eaters Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey. Lerner Publishing Group Jumping Penguins by Jesse Goossens, illustrated by Marije Tolman. Lemniscaat Locomotive by Brian Floca. Richard Jackson Books The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan. Roaring Brook Press Master George’s People: George Washington, His Slaves, and His RevolutionaryTransformationby Marfe Ferguson Delano. National Geographic Children’s Books Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret Weitekamp and David DeVorkin. Illustrated by Diane Kidd. Abrams Books for Young Readers A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Knopf Books for Young Readers To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by C. F. Payne. Disney -Hyperion The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a CityForever by H. Joseph Hopkins. Illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Beach Lane Books Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World by Ann Downer. Lerner Publishing Group.
As promised I said I’d be your eyes on the sky, keeping a close watch over the Mock lists coming out in the coming weeks and months. With the ALA Media Awards just around the corner, there’s a lot to keep track of. So what do folks like? Read through this and you’re sure to see some trends emerging.
Here’s what I have thus far. Feel free to leave a comment with more Mocks that you know of:
They’ve only gotten as far as the shortlist stage. They’ll announce the Mock Caldecott results on January 22. Here’s what they have under consideration:
Journey by Aaron Becker
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
Locomotive by Brian Floca
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
In a bit of a twist, Ossining’s Mocks are chosen by actual honest-to-goodness children. The results:
Winner: Journey by Aaron Becker
Honors: Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid
Honors: The Dark by Lemony Snicket, ill. Jon Klassen
Brooklyn Public Library
Brooklyn has a particularly long shortlist this year. We’re having some discussion in our office as to whether or not Nino Wrestles the World is eligible. I sure hope they’re right and it is. Under consideration is:
- The Dark - illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Lemony Snicket
- Journey - Aaron Becker
- Locomotive - illustrated & written by Brian Floca
- The Mighty Lalouche - illustrated by Sophie Blackall; written by Matthew Olshan
- Nino Wrestles The World - illustrated & written by Yuyi Morales
- On A Beam of Light - illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky; written by Jennifer Berne
- The Tortoise & The Hare - illustrated & written by Jerry Pinkney
Dayton Metro Library
Good old Dayton. Pretty straightforward when all is said and done.
Winner: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild written and illustrated by Peter Brown
Honors: Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me Illustrated by Brian Collier, written by Daniel Beaty
Honors: Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Becker
Honors: Eat Like a Bear illustrated by Steve Jenkins, written by April Pulley Sayre
Colorado Association of Libraries - http://catsig.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/mock-caldecott-and-mock-printz-awards/
All decisions will be made on January 23rd. Though they’re still in the finalist phase they’ve a nice shiny list of contenders up and running. These include:
Bluebird by Bob Staake The Dark written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle Journey by Aaron Becker Locomotive by Brian Floca Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner On a Beam of Light written by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky Building our House by Jonathan Bean Have you Seen my New Blue Socks? by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger Unicorn Thinks he’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea Tiger in my Soup by Kasmira Sheth, illustrated by Jeffery Ebbeler Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip Christian Stead Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone, ill. by Marjorie Priceman Polar Bear Morning by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Stephen Savage Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike by M. Markel, ill. by Melissa Sweet Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex How to be a Cat by Nikki McClure
Know a school doing its own Mock list? Pass it on! I’ll take any and all comers. This particular school has only listed the finalists at this point. They are:
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Saint Anne’s School in Brooklyn Heights
Another Brooklyn school. A different list of finalists. They are:
Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Jinx by Sage Blackwood
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blackmore
White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan
Packer’s School in Brooklyn Heights
Aw, heck. Three’s the charm. Here’s another list of finalists:
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
PS Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
Jinx by Sage Blackwood
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Brooklyn Public Library
This time the shortlist of titles comes directly from the public library itself. The books are:
- Courage Has No Color written by Tanya Lee Stone
- Doll Bones written by Holly Black
- Flora & Ulysses written by Kate DiCamillo
- Serafina’s Promise written by Ann Burg
- The Thing About Luck written by Cynthia Kadohata
Dayton Metro Library – Mock Newbery
I’m particularly fond of this list of winners. One shouldn’t have favorites, but this is very nice indeed.
Cool! Austin created a Bibliocommons list of their particular finalists. Nicely done. And those up for contention include:
The Golden Day by Ursula Duborsky
Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan
Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Winger by Andrew Smith
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolstone
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
This particular system is knocking out contenders left and right. So far the remaining finalists include:
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
More Than This by Patrick Ness
Fire Horse Girl – Kay Honeyman
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick
Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
In this particular case the final decision will be made on January 2nd. Until then the possible titles include:
Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
More Than This by Patrick Ness
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgewick
Counting by 7s by Holly Sloan
Winter by Andrew Smith
5th Wave by Rick Yancey
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
Love the PDF they made for this one. Extra points for the form with room to write in your thoughts. The final decisions will be made January 25th. Here are the finalists:
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
A Corner of White by Jacyln Moriarty
More Than This by Patrick Ness
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgewick
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolstone
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
On January 23rd we’ll find out their choices. Until then, here are the finalists:
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, illustrated by Julian Crouch
Today we are doing one and only ONE video because it was sent to me by approximately 500 people and on the strength of that alone I think it deserves to be our one and only video today. Et voila, Mike Jung and Co.:
It’s got a beat and you can dance to it. Good job, folks!
New Digital Literary Agency Utilizing Crowdfunding Now Open for Author Submissions
Quill Shift Literary Agency LLC asks readers to decide what manuscripts it sends to publishing houses by putting money behind their favorite choices
New York, NY – December 10, 2013 – Ayanna Coleman launched Quill Shift Literary Agency LLC quietly on Sunday, December 1st, 2013 by opening her website for submissions and starting an Indiegogo campaign to gain support. Quill Shift embraces social media and crowdfunding to empower readers to join in on the publishing process and, through this engagement and empowerment, expand and strengthen the reach of authors’ work while demonstrating their market appeal to publishing houses. Books will be publicized before publishing houses even decide to buy them and readers will be given the chance to dictate what’s sold in the market before the story sits on the bookstore shelves.
“Through my work connected to diversity initiatives in the children’s publishing industry, I’ve realized that if I want to see change in the publishing industry I can’t just ask other people to do it, I’ve got to stick my neck out there and make it happen,” Coleman explains. “The industry is changing quickly, readers’ preferences are changing even faster, and publishing houses need help to achieve the dynamism to profit from these shifts. I want to make sure that representative stories aren’t falling to the wayside, especially because the makeup of our country is so diverse.
What I’m seeing is that children’s publishers are hesitant to take a chance on new authors featuring nonwhite characters because they don’t think readers will buy those books. That’s why Quill Shift Literary Agency is so important. Readers need the chance to say that they want to read those stories before publishers have a chance to say no.”
For the past two years, Coleman has organized educational and social events for children’s book publishers. During her time organizing, attending, and moderating panels, discussion groups, and industry meetings, she realized that the children’s publishing industry needs a serious shift to find more diverse and broad work.
Coleman claims, “I’m a librarian at heart. I’ve been taught by some of the best that you have to ask the readers questions–and really listen to and extrapolate from their answers–to fully understand what they truly want to devour next. I’m ready to ask the questions and I’m excited to see what kind of answers I receive.”
For more information about whom Quill Shift Literary Agency represents, how to share reading preferences with the Agency, and how publishers can get involved, visit www.quillshift.com.
About Quill Shift Literary Agency LLC
Quill Shift Literary Agency LLC is a boutique agency representing the intellectual property rights of authors who create children’s and young adult books. Quill Shift executes traditional representation services such as editorial consultation, contract negotiation, and business management as well as services beyond the traditional, including establishing a solid platform and buzz for an author before their manuscript is sent to a publishing house.
In the past I’ve done posts about Weirdo Picture Books and others on Out-of-Print Crimes Against Humanity. Today’s featured book could have fallen into both categories, were it not for the fact that there is justice in the universe. Previously out of print, 1997′s A Small Miracle by Peter Collington is back by popular demand and now available from Knopf in paperback. And well it should be. There’s a reason it was featured in the Publishers Weekly 12th Annual Off-the-Cuff Awards as booksellers’ Book We’re Sorriest to See Go Out of Print.
Here is the plot of the book as described in the SLJ review:
“An old woman, living alone in a trailer, spends her days playing an accordion on the street for money. But times are especially difficult, even in this middle-class town. Desperate, she sells her accordion for cash, only to have it stolen by a masked bandit who then pilfers the poor box from the local church and vandalizes its manger scene. Intercepting the thief, the woman is able to return the money and does her best to set the scene to rights. Then, exhausted and hungry, she collapses in the snow. The manger figures come to life and take her home, where they all pitch in to see that she has her accordion back and that she has food. It’s all part of the miracle that none of the merchants or townspeople are at all surprised at the sight of the small figures making deals at the pawn shop or prowling the aisles at the supermarket.”
I’m glad they mentioned the supermarket because that may have been the point in the book when it totally won me over. Stealing from old ladies can be pretty dark stuff, and the elderly collapsing in the snow is worse, but there’s something so ridiculously charming about the tiny creche figures pushing shopping carts down fluorescent lighted lanes that you can’t help but give in to it.
I wish I could find an image of the shopping scene because it really is worth it. The book is just chock full of these small details that make you want to read and reread the story. There is, for example, the fact that Mary is always holding the Baby Jesus, but that doesn’t get in the way of her helping out. Though obviously she’s not able to remove the old woman from the snow with the other guys, note that she’s holding their Three Kings gifts, crooks, etc. while they take care of things. You know what the book really reminded me of? The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It’s that remarkable combination of humor and affection and an honestly religious tone. This is a straight up Christian Christmas book. Really good ones are out there, but they’re often a bit more difficult to find than you’d think. This is one of the few.
And who is Peter Collington? Well, according to his website he’s an Englishman residing in Dorset. In his picture books he prefers a kind of wordless paneled technique reminiscent of folks like Raymond Briggs. As far as I can ascertain he’s done a lot of other things lately, but not so much in the way of picture books. He seems to have stopped sometime around the late 90s. If anyone knows more about him, I’d love to hear it.
So there you go. Should you feel inclined to locate a weirdly touching little wordless tale for your holiday enjoyment, seek thee this puppy. I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve read. And should you have other odd holiday books you’d like to give a shout out to, feel free to list them in the comments here.
For the record, someone did turn this book into a short film, but I feel like the weirdness of the book is completely lost in the translation. Still, if you’re curious you can go here.
Thanks to Alison Morris for the introduction to this book!
I will, on occasion, get ideas for posts on this blog from friends and internet companions. Some of these ideas are good. Some of these ideas are unfortunate. And today’s idea? Top-notch fabulousness. It’s actually probably best suited for children’s librarians but the rest of you can stick around if you want. It is, after all, the brainchild of the daughter of a Newbery winner and her Newbery winning buddy. I kid you not.
For lo, little children, there is a fabulous school in Baltimore called The Park School. And at that school you will find what can only be described as the cream of the children’s librarian crop. This is because The Park School is serviced not only by Twig George, author and daughter of Jean Craighead George, but also by Laura Amy Schlitz, Newbery Award and Honor winner for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! and Splendors and Glooms respectively. And they aren’t merely good writers. They’re honest-to-god GREAT librarians to boot. Laura recently sent me the following idea that Twig concocted and it’s so cool that I begged her to allow me to post the information here. As you’ll see, this is a program that would be easy to conduct in your school library or public library (or children’s bookclub for that matter) simultaneously benefiting both kids and great books in your collection that simply don’t get enough circ. But I’ll allow Laura to describe it herself:
“I wanted to tell you, as a fellow librarian, about a little program we’re doing at Park. It’s called the BROWSE-O-RAMA. It began as the brainchild of Twig George. Both of us (Twig does K-2 and I do 3_5) have noticed that children don’t BROWSE enough; they read series, or they ask for their parents or librarians to hand them books, and while the former is harmless enough, and the latter has it’s charm (why shouldn’t they get some personal attention from the librarian, for crying out loud?) we were worried, because BROWSING is an essential skill. You need to be able to go into a bookstore or a library and open books and read pages and scruff through and come out with the right book. (The Browse-O-Rama motto is ‘Sink your claws into the best book you’ve never read!’ (The song goes to the tune of Oklahoma)).
So we decided to have a month-long Browsing Festival. Because I was doodling cats when we discussed it, Twig suggested that the cat could be the Browse-O-Rama mascot, because the cat is stealthy and curious, persistent and fastidious, good at sniffing and pouncing and curling up and purring. So we ordered cat tattoos, and made a big scroll called the Browse-O-Rama Wall of Fame, where distinguished browsers can sign their names and stamp the scroll with a paw print stamp. We started by having kids read wordless books (to sharpen observation skills and to slow them down) and then we searched the library for good covers and bad covers, for older books (because nobody ever looks inside our older books) for first sentences, alluring inside flaps…well, you can get the general idea. We plan to award particularly good browsers by painting their eyebrows with face paint, so that when they go home their parents will say, ‘What’s that gunk on your face?’ allowing the child the opportunity to say, ‘I BROWSE!’ Get it?
I tried one experimental class where the children leaped from cushion to cushion to Beethoven’s Fifth (Scherzo movement) and when the music stopped, they were to sit down on the nearest cushion and browse through the books on the nearest shelf. I have to tell you, this didn’t work too well. The energy that you use to leap from cushion to cushion is quite different from the energy you use to browse through books and I ought to have considered this. The children who got into pouncing were reluctant to browse, when the time came, and the children who became engrossed in browsing were disconcerted when the music started up and they were supposed to resume pouncing in time to the music. It wasn’t what you’d call a watertight assignment. However, nobody was hurt, and I greatly enjoyed watching them leap from cushion to cushion. It’s good to have a little chaos in the library from time to time.
Anyway, the thing that’s been surprising to Twig and me is, they are BUYING this. Two children told me they had dreams about the Browse-O-Rama! They are foaming at the mouth to have the cat tattoos (awarded to those students who could find the best and worse covers) or to sign the Wall Of Fame. And actually, they are browsing. They are taking out older books. They are finding stuff that they’ve never looked at before.
Our real aim was not to circulate older materials (though we’re for this, believe me) but to develop browsers–and I do think the children are more willing to take books off the shelf, really look at them, and consider something new and unfamiliar. We weren’t at all sure this was going to work, but I think it’s working, honest to Pete, it is.”
Betsy here again. What a great idea. As I may have mentioned before, in the public librarian sphere you could either do a whole program around this, or you could get your already existing groups to partake. For example, I used to run a children’s bookgroup for 9-12 year olds. It was a lot fun but I found that there were certain weeks where the kids would happily discuss the books for half an hour, leaving another 30 minutes for me to kill. My own solution had been to grab an array of new and old children’s books and to put them into brown paper envelopes. Then I’d tell the kids the titles and plots and make them guess if it was an old book or a new book. A lot of the time they’d want to check out the strange older titles, which made the entire exercise a kind of game in booktalking. Now imagine if I’d been able to do the Browse-O-Rama with them! I could have honed their browsing skills and given them some information they could carry with them through life.
Many thanks to Laura for the pictures. The one at the bottom here features Twig showing two different jackets of My Side of the Mountain (with the Wall of Fame in the background) and at the beginning of this post was the Browse-O-Rama sign. As Laura said of it, “I like it that the sign is tethered by a cast iron cauldron on one side (the cauldron is full of poems photocopied on brightly colored card stock) and a whale vertebra on the other.” The bookmarks seen here were designed by a 13 year old Park Student.
Thanks to Twig and Laura for the great idea. Now let’s turn those kiddos into some serious browsers!!
Don’t you hate it when you’ve saved oodles of links for a Fusenews only to find your computer apparently ate them without informing you? Fun times. So if I promised some of you that I’d post something and then I didn’t, remind me of the fact. Clearly me brain is running on fumes.
Stop. Before you go any farther I will show you something that will make you laugh. It is this post by my sister on making a particularly unique gingerbread creation. If nothing else the photos at the end will make you snort in a distinctly unladylike manner.
Please remind me the next time I wish to garner outrage to simply tap Philip Pullman. The man has sway. Big time sway.
This is fun:
The SCBWI is proud to announce the winner and honor recipients of the 2013 Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award. Congratulations to winner Eve Feldman, author of such works asBilly and Milly Short and Silly (Putnam) and Dog Crazy (Tambourine). Eve has been a children’s book author and SCBWI member for over twenty years. To learn more about Eve visit www.evebfeldman.com.
Two Honor Grants were also awarded to authors Verla Kay and Deborah Lynn Jacobs. Verla Kay is the author of Civil War Drummer Boy (Putnam) and Hornbooks and Inkwells(Putnam) among others. Learn more at www.verlakay.com. Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author of the young adult novels Choices (Roaring Brook Press) and Powers (Square Fish). Learn more at www.deborahlynnjacobs.com.
Gift giving to a young ‘un when you yourself are without young ‘uns? Well, this post A Message to Those Without Children is dead on. She doesn’t mention alternatives but I can: What about books instead? Board books! Give it a whirl, prospective gift givers.
The most amusing part of this Harry Potter Swimsuit Line to my mind isn’t the content so much as it is the models they got to wear the outfits. Most of them don’t seem to have any clue what they’re wearing. However, #2 in the Snape dress model appears to have been cast solely for the part and #3 has the decency to look slightly embarrassed to be there at all. Thanks to Liz Burns for the link.
Speaking of HP, we all knew that the covers of the Harry Potter books were being re-illustrated here in the States. But how many of us knew that the Brits were planning on releasing full-color illustrated books with art by Jim Kay? Does the name Jim Kay ring a bell for you, by the way? You might be thinking of the art he did for A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. That was a far cry from that cutesy Harry picture included in the article. Suddenly I can’t wait to see what the man can do with Dementors. Thanks to Ben Collinsworth for the link.
Doggone it. Yet again I delayed posting my Fusenews a day and failed to mention Jarrett Krosoczka’s Joe and Shirl Scholarship Auction in time. Sorry Jarrett! Fortunately, the man is no stranger to auctions of every stripe. This past Sunday there was a big fundraiser for First Book Manhattan at Symphony Space. The actors involved were HUGE and Jarrett was the lucky guy who got to host (he even played Glowworm to Paul Giamatti’s Centipede).
As part of the fun, Jarrett created this cool art. The Dahl estate then signed off on it to be auctioned off to continue to benefit First Book. Like what you see? Then buy here!
This is probably going to be of the most interest to those of you who have an interest in comic book inking in general. Paul Karasik, who is the head of programming for Comic Arts Brooklyn, interviewed Jeff Smith while he (the creator of the Bone graphic novel series) inked a Bone illustration for the audience. I admit it. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff.
Thanks to Phil Nel for the link.
Someday I hope I’m a big enough picture book author that I’m able to encourage grown people to put tacos down their pants. It’s a dream, but I think it’s one worth pursuing. Note: Ignore the contest mention at the end. The date is long past, children. Long past.
Thanks to Lori for the link (and for starring in it!).
We had the pleasure of hosting French illustrator Marc Boutavant at a recent Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL last month. He is, as you may know, the man behind the art of Mouk, his best known picture book creation. There is, in fact, a Mouk television show debuting here. I, for my part, much prefer the French. The intro is just doggone charming. Can’t vouch for the show itself, but dig that catchy rhythm:
Speaking of television shows based on works of children’s literature, I was inordinately pleased to hear that they were turning Michael Rex’s Fangbone into a show of its own. Makes perfect sense. They’ve a fun little video element up right now where kids can vote on the animated voices and background sounds. Enjoy!
Oh yeah. This next guy’s embraced his time in France.
Probably fits in like a native.
I was pleased to see this Steve Jenkins video for his latest collage masterpiece The Animal Book making the rounds. If only because it gives you insight into how he creates his art.
Finally, for our off-topic video, a commercial. A blatant, sentimental commercial. And danged if it didn’t make me well-up. I must be getting soft in my old age.
For 102 years, NYPL has consistently been producing the same list highlighting some of the best books for kids in a given year. Now we’re pleased to announce our 2013 list and all the myriad titles it holds. Admit it. This is one of the most gorgeous covers on a booklist you ever did see, isn’t it?
This was, quite simply, too cool not to promote in some way. It’s precisely touching on a topic we’ve all been discussing for a while. I would kill to go:
The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies is pleased to announce the 2014 National Latino Children’s Literature Conference to be held in Tuscaloosa, AL on March 13-14, 2014. This exclusive conference was created for the purpose of promoting high-quality children’s and young adult books about the Latino cultures and to offer a forum for librarians, educators, researchers, and students to openly discuss strategies for meeting the informational, educational, and literacy needs of Latino youth (children and teens) and their families.
Featuring nationally-acclaimed Latino literacy scholars and award-winning Latino authors and illustrators of children’s and young adult books, this exclusive conference is truly an unforgettable experience. Authors for 2014 include Margarita Engle, Meg Medina, Lila Quintero Weaver, Laura Lacamara, and Irania Patterson. Latino children’s literature publicist Adriana Dominguez will also present on the state of Latino children’s literature publishing.
Request for Proposals: We invite poster and program proposals that contribute to and extend existing knowledge in the following areas: Latino children’s and young adult literature, bilingual education, Latino family involvement in the school curriculum, Latino cultural literacy, library services to Latino children and their families, literacy programs utilizing Latino children’s literature, educational needs of Latino children, educational opportunities and collaborations with El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day), Latino children’s responses to culturally-responsive literature, social influences of children’s media on Latino youth, Noche de Cuentos literacy programs in schools and libraries, creating cross-cultural connections with Latino children’s literature, and other related topics. Presentations and posters can share recent research or provide practical suggestions for current or preservice librarians and educators. The National Latino Children’s Literature Conference is both a research and practitioner conference and proposals are peer reviewed.
Program/Paper Proposals: Programs/papers can be a presentation of research or practical suggestions for teachers, librarians, and other educators. To submit your program/paper proposal, please provide the following information: a 250 word (maximum) abstract of your presentation along with the program title; the name of the program organizer; the names of all presenters and their affiliations along with their preferred contact phone, email, and address; and your preferred presentation day (Thursday, Friday, or Either) to conference chair Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to put “program proposal” in your subject heading.
Poster Proposals: Posters can be a presentation of research or practical suggestions for teachers, librarians, and other educators. To submit your poster proposal, please provide the following information: the title of your poster; a 200 word (maximum) abstract of your poster; the subject of your poster (choose Literature/Media Studies, Programs & Services in Libraries, Educational & Literacy Strategies, or Exemplary Programs); your name and affiliation; your preferred contact phone, email, and address; and your preferred presentation day (Thursday, Friday, or Either) to conference chair Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo at email@example.com. Please be sure to put “poster proposal” in your subject heading. Easels will be provided for posters and additional information about poster size will be provided with the acceptance letters.
The deadline for proposal submissions is midnight December 9, 2013 with notification of acceptance on or before December 18, 2013. More information is available on the conference website: http://www.latinochildlitconf.org/.
AFTER TWO DECADES, LEE & LOW BOOKS CONTINUES TO GROW
WITH ACQUISITION OF SHEN’S BOOKS
November 18, 2013— New York, NY— LEE & LOW BOOKS, an independent
children’s book publisher focused on diversity, has acquired children’s book publisher
Shen’s Books. The acquisition is a new milestone in the growth of LEE & LOW
BOOKS, which published its first book twenty years ago and has maintained its
commitment to diversity in children’s books for two decades.
Originally based in California, Shen’s Books was founded as a retailer in 1985 and
began publishing books in 1997. Its books emphasize cultural diversity and tolerance,
with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia. Titles include the popular
Cora Cooks Pancit, about a young girl cooking up a favorite Filipino dish with her
mother, and the Cinderella series, which features retellings of the Cinderella story from
cultures around the world.
“I am thrilled that our titles will be joining the amazing catalog of books at LEE &
LOW,” said Renee Ting, president and publisher of Shen’s Books. “There is no better
publisher I can think of to carry on the values and spirit of Shen’s Books and advance
the cause of diversity in children’s publishing.”
Shen’s Books will now become an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, which will publish
both backlist Shen’s titles and new books. The Shen’s Books imprint of LEE & LOW
BOOKS will release seven reprints in early 2014, as well as one new title in the spring:
Summoning the Phoenix, a collection of poems about Chinese musical instruments by
Emily Jiang and illustrated by April Chu.
“We have admired the work that was done by Shen’s in the past, and we are honored to
continue their legacy,” said Jason Low, Publisher of LEE & LOW BOOKS. “LEE &
LOW’s emphasis on diversity, cultural authenticity, and high-quality artwork makes it a
perfect home for Shen’s Books.”
The acquisition comes a year after LEE & LOW’s acquisition of Children’s Book Press,
another California-based multicultural children’s book publisher. Since then, LEE &
LOW BOOKS has brought over 85% of Children’s Book Press’s backlist titles back into
print, with several more planned for the upcoming year.
LEE & LOW BOOKS is the largest children’s book publisher in the country specializing
in diversity. The company provides a comprehensive range of diverse books for young
readers, from Bebop Books for children just learning to read to picture books from its
LEE & LOW and CBP imprints, to gripping speculative fiction for young adults from
Happy Video Sunday to you! I’m pleased to report that I had so many delightful videos today that I had to save some for an upcoming weekend. Woo-hoo!
So I’ve been pretty unaware of this Movies in Real Life series the improv folks started. More fool I since they created a pretty realistic Harry Potter doing his best British accent at Penn Station not too long ago.
Me with the talkety talk. If you are curious about the nature of my upcoming book with Candlewick, co-authored with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta, Rocco Staino was kind enough to tape me talking about it at a recent Candlewick preview. I find that no matter where I pause it, my eyes are bugging out in some fashion. Fantastico.
Speaking of Rocco, I do believe he is responsible for (thankfully) taping Barbara Cooney’s son Barnaby Porter (a great name in and of itself) speaking on her behalf at the recent Society of Illustrators Gala. This guy was amazing. I could have listened to him all night. And just because I’m mean, I’m going to save the follow-up video to this where he discusses what his mom used to do for Halloween for a Halloween post. It’ll be worth the wait.
And now, our feature presentation. I like to call it:
BRITISH CHILDREN’S BOOKS YOU DIDN’T READ
AND DIDN’T KNOW THEY WERE TURNING INTO FILMS.
You doubt me? Example A: The film is called The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box but it’s based on a G.P. Taylor novel (I kid you not) Mariah Mundi. A show of hands from all you Yanks who read that one.
Example B: I cannot believe this is happening but I’m thrilled. Years and years ago (2006, to be exact) I adored the Alan Snow novel Here Be Monsters, but nobody else seemed to care about it (sentient cheese notwithstanding). So you can imagine my shock and delight when I was in the movie theater the other day and saw a poster for a film slated to be released in September of 2014. They’re calling it The Boxtrolls but they couldn’t hide it from me. I can tell it’s the same dang book. And after watching this trailer, I already love it:
This one’s oddly lovely. Someone flew a drone around my library (“my library” is apparently how I now will be referring to the main branch of NYPL until the day I die). The lingering in front of the Gutenberg is a bit harrowing, but otherwise it’s entirely peaceful.
And finally, for today’s off-topic video, if you’re not a fan of French clowning you could well miss this one. At least I think it’s French. Whatever it is it’s mighty well done, and not just because the fellow playing the woman somehow manages to keep the same expression on his face the entire time.
Happy Tuesday to you, one and all! Hope your weather isn’t as bitingly cold as ours has been. Time to warm up with some fresh and festive children’s literature tidbits. Personally, I’m trying to figure out why I wrote today’s headline a couple days ago. I’m sure there was a reason for it. Hmmm.
The recent NPR piece on Gertrude Stein’s children’s book reminds me that it would be great if someone wrote a fun article for The Horn Book that consisted of a systematic accounting of cases where adult authors wrote children’s books and failed miserably in the attempt (with the occasional success stories, i.e. Sylvia Plath, along the way). The article could take into account similarities between such books, or trends in more recent examples (today we have Salman Rushdie, Michael Crichton, etc. and back then we had Gertrude Stein, Donald Barthelme, etc.). So somebody go do that thing. I’d love to read it.
Best book lists are popping up hither and thither and yon. We recently saw the release of the rather massive Kirkus Best Books List for Children as well as this one from Publishers Weekly. Always interesting to see which non-starred books made the cut. Now SLJ announces that they’ll reveal their 2013 Best Books on Twitter. The big reveal is Thursday, November 21, 8 pm EST.
Allie Bruce has two fantastic blog posts up on the Lee & Low site these days discussing conversations she’s had with the kids in her school about race (amongst other issues) and book jackets. Part one is here and part two is here. This would be your required reading of the day. It’s fun and makes for a great conversation. Plus, I love how these conversations help to make kids into savvier consumers.
Oh! And while we’re over at ShelfTalker, they’ve updated The Stars Thus Far. Look at Locomotive! Doesn’t that do your heart good? I completely missed that it was the only children’s book this year to get six out of six. Wow!
Things You Might Have Missed Because I Sure As Heck Did: James Howe guest blogged over at TeachingBooks.net and his post is just the smartest thing. From personal history to a sneak peek into his upcoming 2014 title, this is just fantastic stuff. I tell you, man. Guest blogging is where it’s at.
This next one is just so cool. I’ve been hearing from various folks the ways in which they’ve been having Giant Dance Parties as inspired by my book. But NONE of them quite compare to this party that took place at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. The accompanying craft is just brilliant! They even made little roses. Awwww. Still not convinced? Then let this adorable child be the ultimate lure:
Resist if you can. You can’t! Thank you Dana Sheridan for the link!
If you’re anything like me you scanned through this admittedly very cool Most Popular Books of All Time piece and looked to see how the children’s materials panned out. Very well, it seems! And the top of the pops? Mr. Hans Christian Andersen himself. Now and forever, baby. Thanks to Aunt Judy for the link.
My workplace is so weird. Ask me sometime about the day Bjork came to visit Winnie-the-Pooh.
Stockholm’s Tio Tretto Library is so cool. If the kitchen didn’t clinch it then the sewing area would. Stockholm tweens are clearly the luckiest in the world.
Happy Turkey Day, y’all! A day to eat large birds, stare at large balloons, and generally feel happy. It’s not much of a post but I do have three little Thanksgiving links I’d love to share with you today.
This post is a year old but it’s just as cool as it ever was. Over at Book Riot Ms. Cassandra Neace listed all the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons that could be conceivably based on children’s literature characters. Anyone who can find an image of the Wild Thing balloon will have my undying love and approbation.
New Yorkers are singularly single minded. It’s not enough that our city be rich, popular, and famous. We apparently are so neurotic that we need to see it EVERYWHERE. In movies, on television, and, of course, in books. Children’s books, however, get a bit of a pass in this regard. It doesn’t matter where you grow up, most kids get a bit of a thrill when they see their home city mentioned in a work of literature. Here in NYC, teachers go out of their way to find books about the city to read and study with their students. As a result of this, in my capacity as a children’s librarian I make a habit of keeping an eye peeled for any and all New York City related books for the kiddos. And as luck would have it, in the year 2013 I saw a plethora of Manhattan-based titles. Some were great. Some were jaw-droppingly awful. But one stood apart from the pack. Written by an Aussie, Herman and Rosie, author Gus Gordon has created the first picture book I’ve ever seen to successfully put its finger on the simultaneous beauty and soul-gutting loneliness of big city life. The fact that it just happens to be a fun story about an oboe-tooting croc and deer chanteuse is just icing on the cake.
Herman and Rosie are city creatures through and through. Herman is a croc with a penchant for hotdogs and yogurt and playing his oboe out the window of his 7th story home. In a nearby building, Rosie the deer likes pancakes and jazz records and singing in nightclubs, even if no one’s there to hear her. Neither one knows the other, so they continue their lonely little lives unaware of the potential soulmate nearby. One day Rosie catches a bit of Herman’s music and not long thereafter Herman manages to hear a snatch of a song sung by Rosie. They like what they hear but through a series of unfortunate events they never quite meet up. Then Herman gets fired from his job in sales and Rosie’s favorite jazz club goes belly up. Things look bad for our heroes, until a certain cheery day where it all turns around for them.
You can know a city from afar but never quite replicate it in art. I do not know how many times Gus Gordon has visited NYC. I don’t know his background here or how often he’s visited over the course of his lifetime. All I know is he got Manhattan DOWN, man! Everything from the water towers and the rooftop landscapes to the very color of the subway lines is replicated in his pitch perfect illustrations. Maybe the medium has a lot to answer for. I love the map endpapers that identify not just where Herman and Rosie live, but also where you can find a great hot dog place. I like how the art is a mix of real postcards showcasing everything from Central Park (look at the Essex House!!) to the Rose Reading Room in the main branch of New York Public Library.
But the art is far more than simply a clever encapsulation of a location. It took several readings before I could see a lot of what Gordon was up to. Here’s an example: Take a look at the two-page spread where Herman is leaving his office for the last time with all his goods in a box, while on the opposite page Rosie trudges home from the closing club, her high heeled red shoes sitting forlornly in the basket of her bike. The two images take place at different times of the day, but if you look closely you’ll see that they’re the same street corner. Yet where Herman’s New York is filled with loud angry voices and sounds, Rosie’s is near silent, a black wash representing the oncoming night. Note too that while Herman’s mailbox was a mixed media photo, Rosie’s is painted in a black wash with some crayon scribbles. It’s a subtle difference, but I love how it sort of represents how objects become less real when the lights begin to dim. And the book is just FILLED with tiny, clever details. From the pictures and instructions that grace Herman’s cubicle at work to the fact that Rosie clearly washes her clothes at home (the clothesline the runs from her bike to the old-fashioned vacuum tube television was my first clue) to Herman’s bed in the living room, Gordon is constantly peppering his book with elements that give little insights into who these two characters really are.
And that right there is the the crux of the book. Time and time again Gordon returns to this idea of how lonely it can be to live in a busy place. The idea that you can be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and feel as alone as if you were on a desert island is a tricky concept to convey to small fry. Herman’s whole personality, in a way, hinges on the fact that he’s terrible at his job as a telecaller because all he wants to do is talk to people on the phone, not sell them things. He longs for connection. Rosie, meanwhile, finds a certain level of connection through her singing gig. Once that gig leaves, her feelings of extreme loneliness echo Herman’s with the loss of his job. Their sole lifelines to the outside world have been severed against their wills. If this were a book for adults we’d undoubtedly also get a couple scenes of the various failed dates they fine themselves on (well, Rosie certainly… I’m not so sure that Herman’s the serial dater type). Kids understand loneliness. They get that. They’ll get this.
The book also plays on the natural inclination for a happy resolution, and the near misses when Herman almost meets Rosie and Rosie just barely misses Herman can be excruciating. You are fairly certain the two are made for one another (the natural tendencies of crocs to eat deer notwithstanding) so it can be particularly painful to see so many almost wases. This feeling is, admittedly, partly diluted by the fact that you’re not quite sure what will happen when the two DO meet. Are they going to fall in love? Well, not exactly. There may be a kind of child reader that hopes for that ending, but instead we’re given a conclusion where the two just learn to make beautiful music together, and in the course of that music happen to find financial success as well. This is New York, after all. Love’s great but a steady paycheck’s even better.
The truth of the matter is that Herman and Rosie could be set in L.A. or Minneapolis or Atlanta or even Sydney and I’d still love it as much as I do with its New York flavor, tone, and beat. It wouldn’t be exactly the same, but it’s the bones of the book that are strong. The setting is just a bonus, really. With original mixed media, a text that’s subtle and succinct, and a story that rings both true and original (for a picture book medium anyway), this is a city book, a true city book, to its core. Author Markus Zusak said the book was “Quirky, soulful and alive”. Can’t put it any better than that. What he said.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Finding books of historical fiction for kids about Native Americans is an oddly limited proposition. Basically, it boils down to Pilgrims, the Trail of Tears, the occasional 1900s storyline (thank God for Louise Erdrich), and . . . yeah, that’s about it. Contemporary fiction? Unheard of at best, offensive at worst. Authors, it seems, like to relegate their American Indians to the distant past where we can feel bad about them through the conscience assuaging veil of history. Maybe that’s part of what I like so much about Rosanne Parry’s Written in Stone. Set in the 1920s, Parry picks a moment in time with cultural significance not for the white readers with their limited historical knowledge but for the people most influenced by changes both at home and at sea. Smart and subtle by turns, Parry tackles a tricky subject and comes away swinging.
A girl with a dream is just that. A dreamer. And though Pearl has always longed to hunt whales like her father before her, harpooning is not in her future. When her father, a member of the Makah people of the Pacific Northwest, is killed on a routine hunt, Pearl’s future is in serious doubt. Not particularly endowed with any useful skills (though she’d love to learn to weave, if anyone was around to teach her), Pearl uncovers on her own a series of forgotten petroglyphs and the plot of a nefarious “art dealer”. Now her newfound love of the written word is going to give her the power to do something she never thought possible: preserve her tribe’s culture.
It’s sort of nice to read a book and feel like a kid in terms of the plot twists. Take, for example, the character of the “collector” who arrives and then immediately appears to be something else entirely. I probably should have been able to figure out his real occupation (or at least interests) long before the book revealed them to me, and yet here I was, toddling through, not a care in the world. I never saw it coming, and that means that at least 75% of the kids reading this book will also be in for a surprise.
I consider the ending of the book a bit of a plot twist as well, actually. We’re so used to our heroes and heroines at the ends of books pulling off these massive escapades and solutions to their problems that when I read Pearl’s very practical and real world answer to the dilemma posed by the smooth talking art dealer I was a bit taken aback. What, no media frenzied conclusion? No huge explosions or public shaming of the villain or anything similarly crass and confused? It took a little getting used to but once I’d accepted the quiet, realistic ending I realized it was better (and more appropriate to the general tone of the book) than anything a more ludicrous premise would have allowed.
If anything didn’t quite work for me, I guess it was the whole “Written in Stone” part. I understood why Pearl had to see the petroglyphs so as to aid her own personal growth and understanding of herself as a writer. That I got. It was more a problem that I had a great deal of difficulty picturing them in my own mind. I had to do a little online research of my own to get a sense of what they looked like, and even that proved insufficient since Parry’s petroglyphs are her own creation and not quite like anything else out there. It’s not an illustrated novel, but a few choice pen and inks of the images in their simplest forms would not have been out of place.
Now let us give thanks to authors (and their publishers) that know the value of a good chunk of backmatter. 19 pages worth of the stuff, no less (and on a 196-page title, that ain’t small potatoes). Because she is a white author writing about a distinct tribal group and their past, Parry treads carefully. Her extensive Author’s Note consists of her own personal connections to the Quinaults, her care to not replicate anything that is not for public consumption, the history of whaling amongst the Makah people, thoughts on the potlatch, petroglyphs, a history of epidemics and economic change to the region (I was unaware that it was returning WWI soldiers with influenza that were responsible for a vast number of deaths to the tribal communities of the Pacific Northwest at that time), the history of art collectors and natural resource management, an extensive bibliography that is split between resources for young readers, exhibits of Pacific Northwest art and artifacts, and resources for older readers, a Glossary of Quinault terms (with a long explanation of how it was recorded over the years), and a thank you to the many people who helped contribute to this book. PHEW! They hardly make ‘em like THIS these days.
I also love the care with which Parry approached her subject matter. There isn’t any of this swagger or ownership at work that you might find in other authors’ works. Her respect shines through. In a section labeled “Culture and Respect” Parry writes, “Historical fiction can never be taken lightly, and stories involving Native Americans are particularly delicate, as the author, whether Native or not, must walk the line between illuminating the life of the characters as fully as possible and withholding cultural information not intended for the public or specific stories that are the property of an individual, family, or tribe.” In this way the author explains that she purposefully left out the rituals that surround a whale hunt. She only alludes to stories of the Pitch Woman and the Timber Giant, never giving away their details. She even makes note the changes in names and spellings in the 1920s versus today.
I don’t know that you’re going to find another book out there quite like Written in Stone. Heck, I haven’t even touched on Pearl’s personality or her personal connections to her father and aunt. I haven’t talked about my favorite part of the book where Pearl’s grandfather haggles with a white trading partner and gets his wife to sing a lullaby that he claims is an ancient Indian curse. I haven’t done any of that, and yet I don’t think that there’s much more to say. The book is a smart historical work of fiction that requires use of the child reader’s brain more than anything else. It’s a glimpse of history I’ve not seen in a work of middle grade fiction before and I’d betcha bottom dollar I might never see it replicated again. Hats off then to Ms. Parry for the time, and effort, and consideration, and care she poured into this work. Hats off too to her editor for allowing her to do so. The book’s a keeper, no question. It’s just a question of finding it, is all.
Now that we’re all back at work (though, naturally, there are a LOT of librarians out there who had to work the day before and after Thanksgiving, and so a hat tip to them) we have time to ruminate on matters that are aided and abetted by ample time. Finding myself awash in 2014 materials but determined to finish reading as many 2013 books as I can, I still can’t help but notice certain interesting trends in the coming year. Trends that actually make me happy, that is. We’ll have plenty of time to think about problematic trends later on down the road.
Today we’re talking about backmatter.
WAIT . . . WAIT A MINUTE . . . DO NOT DARE CLICK AWAY.
Okay. So admittedly the term “backmatter” isn’t exactly a sexy term. Not like “infographic” or “Pinterest board” or what have you. But in this age of Common Core State Standards, it’s becoming vastly more important. Obviously in nonfiction, yes, but in fiction as well. I’m sure many of you have noticed the copious factual notes that are now gracing our works of fiction. Everything from science experiment ideas to historical points of interest.
Actually, when it comes to something like a work of historical fiction, backmatter can be critical to a book’s success in the education and library market. A kid could probably care less if their novel was stuffed full of factual importance in the last pages but for an educator working on a unit or a librarian who wants some reassurance that an author did their homework, this sort of thing becomes invaluable.
What I don’t think a lot of us consider is the role of the editor in all this. An author might have great grand dreams of stunning, magnificent backmatter, only to be told that there simply isn’t enough space. This all came to mind recently when I was reading Rosanne Parry’s Written in Stone. Aside from being just a great book about a 1920s reservation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, it may honestly have more backmatter than any other work of middle grade fiction I’ve ever encountered. 19 pages worth, if we’re going to be precise, and it’s all amazing and reassuring. Yet if editor Jim Thomas had put his foot down and reeled in this amount of work, the end result wouldn’t have the same power.
Or look at the endpapers of Deborah Heiligman’s The Boy Who Loved Math. On the outset it’s a relatively simple picture book biography of a mathematician and his life made magnificently child-friendly. But look at that gorgeous backmatter. We’re not just talking additional points about the man’s life but drawn theorems and explanations about what LeUyen Pham’s art is doing. It’s jaw-dropping, and in an entirely good way.
Now in 2014 we’re going to see even more books putting, in some cases, as much effort into what comes after as what came before. I can’t help but think of this as a good thing. The only question becomes whether or not the mindset of editors will change and if some of this will become more obligatory than voluntary. Could it also be misused in certain cases?