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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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So I’m in the office talking with my colleagues about A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk and how awesome it is. Then the topic shifts to books with African-American protagonists published in 2013 for kids between the ages of 9-12. You know. Middle grade fiction. And in the midst of my lamenting how few African-American girl protagonists I’ve seen in 2013 it hits me. Yeah, I’ve seen few girls, but I’ve seen pretty much ZERO boys.
I run through my mental database and the results are not good. I’ve read approximately fifty-one middle grade novels for 2013 by this point. Of these, one starred an African-American male character (Etched in Clay by Andrea Cheng). Of the other books, I’ve seen quite a few black girls as either the hero’s friend or as the hero herself. And I have seen ZERO ZERO ZERO African-American boys. Like, zip.
COME ON, PEOPLE!!! Seriously now. Is the rule that we can’t let anyone besides Greg Neri and Walter Dean Myers write middle grade fiction with boys? Is no one writing anymore? What is the friggin’ deal?
After venting my venom at Twitter I got a couple suggestions. Some were YA, some early chapter fare (though I am seriously gonna grab that Karen English book Dog Days the minute it gets within my periphery), a picture book here, an adult novel there. Here then is a complete list, insofar as I can tell, of ALL the books starring African-American boys in middle grade fiction for 2013. Don’t blink or you might miss it.
That’s all she/he wrote, folks.
I have the sense that there’s an obscure historical middle grade from a very small publisher that I’m forgetting here. Otherwise, it appears that unless you’re writing about history, you’re Walter Dean Myers, or you’re a basketball star / former basketball star, you simply cannot get a middle grade book about black boys out there. Sorry to be a debbie downer but this is something we friggin’ need to talk about. Full credit, by the way, to the publishers listed here that actually ARE publishing something. Imagine if they weren’t.
Please for the love of all that’s good and holy, tell me what I’m missing. If you’re hiding a full cache of these books somewhere (or you know of some awesome fall releases that are unknown to me) I’d love to hear it.
A treat for you today.
Yesterday I had the very great pleasure of sitting down with author Dr. Chitra Divakaruni, illustrator Susy Pilgrim Waters, and their editor Neal Porter. You may be aware of the remarkable collaboration these clever folks have concocted. The book is called Grandma’s Great Gourd and it’s a Bengali folktale of unparalleled loveliness.
Ms. Divakaruni is quite the author in the adult book world (you may have heard of her Oleander Girl) and it is a pleasure to see folktales from her. While speaking, she told me that she owed a turning point in her life to librarians. I asked to hear her story and she has kindly allowed me to print it here. Since it involves a Chicago librarian I think it’s a great tie-in to the upcoming ALA. It makes me think of my Chicago librarian peeps out there like Julie Jurgens who blogs at Hi, Miss Julie,Eti Berland, and Heather and Jennifer Norborg.
For the librarians.
Here’s To You, Mrs. Berenson
It was a blustery evening in Chicago, the sky colored like slate. As I waited for the bus, my eyes watered in the bitter, biting wind that was colder than I had ever imagined wind could be. The cold pierced through my bright orange coat—a coat that I’d bought with high hopes in Calcutta, my hometown, just a month ago. There, friends had exclaimed over its cheery brightness in admiration. Here, the few people waiting at the bus stop (dressed in sober browns and blacks) eyed it—and the sari I wore under it—with silent suspicion.
Finally, the bus appeared around the corner, its doors wheezing open. I climbed in and sank into a seat thankfully. The toddler whom I babysat had been cranky all day. At dinner, he had thrown his bowl of spaghetti-and-sauce at me, ruining my sari. When I’d remonstrated, he promptly flung himself onto the floor and indulged in a tantrum. A long one. But at least it was over. Soon I’d be at the apartment where I was staying with relatives. In a few hours, after dinner and dishwashing and comedy shows on TV with indecipherable jokes, I’d be able to pull out the sofa-bed and crawl into it.
Just then the bus shuddered to a stop. The engine rattled loudly. This was followed by an ominous silence. The driver fiddled with various mechanisms. Then he announced that the engine was dead. We would have to get down and wait for the next bus.
Hunched in my orange coat which miserably failed to keep out the freezing wind, I followed the others down the sidewalk. Maybe, I thought as I trudged along, coming to America had been a mistake. Maybe I should give up on my dreams of higher studies and go back. Agree to an arranged marriage like my cousin had done.
Then I saw the small building with its brightly lit glass walls, the American flag in front, the sign on the wall. Library, it announced. It looked so warm inside, I couldn’t resist, even though I knew I’d get late, that my relatives would worry. I walked in a little fearfully. In libraries back home, you had to buy a membership before you were allowed to sit at the reading tables or check out the two books each patron was allowed. And I had no money to spare.
But here no one stopped me. The woman at the desk—an older lady in a cardigan with her white hair pinned back in a neat bun–gave me a welcoming nod. I walked past her to the stacks filled with books, breathing in their unique smell. It struck me that I hadn’t been in a library ever since I’d arrived in America. I hadn’t read a single book.
I came back to the desk and asked the woman—a tag pinned to her cardigan said, A. Berenson, Librarian—if I could borrow a book. She asked me if I had identification. I produced it. She typed out a card with my name on it. It was that simple. When I asked her how many books I could borrow, she said, “As many as you can carry out! What are you looking for?”
There was such genuine interest in her voice, that I was emboldened to confide to her a dream that seemed to be slipping further from my grasp each day.
“I want to go to graduate school and study American Literature,” I whispered.
I had expected a look of disbelief, perhaps even pity. But she nodded as though what I said was entirely possible. She took me to the stacks where she paused, considering carefully, then handed me a book. The Great Gatsby, the title proclaimed. I had never heard of it, but already I trusted Mrs. Berenson. She picked out several other books. When I walked out of the library, hugging their sweet weight, the night had grown warmer. Or was the warmth inside my heart?
That night I opened The Great Gatsby and plunged into a fascinating world of affluence and excess, of desire and disappointments. My own problems receded as I participated in Gatsby’s drama and waited tensely to see if he would find love. I stopped reading only when exhaustion forced my eyes shut.
I took the book to work the next day and read it in between my duties. When my young charge threw his usual tantrum, I ignored him and kept reading. This novel response astonished him into silence. In three days, I’d finished the book. I took it back to Mrs. B, and expressed to her my outrage that Gatsby had been killed, that fiction could be as unfair as life. She listened with her calm smile, then said, “But it’s made you care. It’s made you want to do something about such things, if you get a chance. Isn’t that more important?”
I’d never thought about reading in that way before. A small, very small thought flashed in my mind for a moment: I’d like to write like that someday. Outrage my readers. Make them care. Make them do something about injustice.
Over the next months, Mrs. B gave me many other books. Native Son. The Woman Warrior. Sister Carrie. The Turn of the Screw. My Antonia. Fahrenheit 451. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Cat’s Cradle. Bless me Ultima. After I finished each one, she took time to listen to my responses. And in between, “because fun is important,” she introduced me to her favorite singers, from Billie Holiday to Simon and Garfunkel
Something happened to me in those months that I can’t explain. Though my outer circumstances hadn’t changed, my attitude was different. Perhaps it was because Mrs. B took my opinions seriously and encouraged me to think large. Perhaps it was that she chose for me books where characters struggled, like me, to achieve the American Dream—often under circumstances far worse than mine. Maybe it was the spirit of the songs I listened to on the portable cassette player she had loaned me: a spirit full of hope and compassion and joyfully aware of the fragility and beauty of human life. In any case, I became determined that I wouldn’t give up. I saved my salary, studied seriously each night, took the required exams, got accepted into college, put aside my pride and borrowed money for relatives to pay my fees. I got one degree and then another. I married, moved across the country, had children, started teaching, and slowly, tentatively, began to write. In all the busyness of my life, Mrs. Berenson slipped into the cracks of my memory.
Years later, when my first book of stories was published, I walked into our local library—a place my children loved as much as I did—and went to the stacks. There it was, nestled between Dickinson and Dybek: Arranged Marriage, by Chitra Divakaruni. I had to touch it to make sure it was real. And suddenly I was in that other library, those other stacks, and Mrs. B was smiling at me, handing me The Great Gatsby. A song she’d loved flowed through my mind, the words molding themselves to fit what I felt, what I never got a chance to tell her: God bless you please, Mrs. Berenson, I owe you more than I can ever say. And then, because fun is important: Hey, hey, hey.
What does this have to do with children’s literature? Oh ye of little faith. Read on everything shall be revealed to you. It’s right there in the fourth paragraph, bright and shiny and new. I’m so pleased and proud. Many many thanks to Melanie for inviting me in the first place.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PLAID IS ALL THE RAGE FOR THE UNDER 7 CROWD!
Hip Tot Music Fest Welcomes the Ska Sounds of
The Trummytones for Mother’s Day
HIP TOT MUSIC FEST
will be hosting its first Mother’s Day show on Sunday, May 12th with The Trummytones, a skanking pop zydico reggae kindie band. Doors open at noon and the band will perform two sets, one at 12:30 and one at 2:00. The show opens with a story read by Author/Illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg and there is a fun intermission show featuring the students of Jeté Dance Center.
are an exciting new children’s music band led by world-renowned trombonist and front man Vinny Nobile (Bim Skala Bim, Pilfers). The Trummytones fuses tuba, drums, accordion, and Vinny’s high-energy performance into an organic acoustic pop zydico and reggae fun for all ages.
The Trummytones are perennial favorites performing for the “musicon the menu” series in the Greenwich Public Schools where entertainment and education meet. When the Stepping Stones Children’s Museum needed music for their annual beach party they called on the The Trummytones and the kids danced the night away! The summer of 2012 saw The Trummy tones headlining the children’s stage at The Gathering Vibes Festival and the Greenwich Town Party warming up for Dave Mathews and Paul Simon.
A surprise addition to this show, Amelia Robinson, creator of Mil’s Trills, will be joining the Trummytones on stage with her supersonic electric ukulele. If we are lucky we might even get a song or two from the quirky Brooklynite whose incredible voice takes you to era of the past.
Along with our house author/illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg
, this month we have special guest Betsy Bird
reading her book Giant Dance Party! Betsy is New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Specialist. She blogs about children’s literature regularly at A Fuse #8 Production
and has reviewed professionally for Kirkus, TimeOut Kids New York
, and The New York Times
. Betsy is the author of Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career
and a book about the true stories behind children’s books due out with Candlewick in Fall 2013.
Hip Tot is welcoming back local artist Monica Rodriguez
. Monica takes found objects and collages them in brightly colored recycled paper. The results are extraordinary! Brilliant colors with somewhat recognizable objects that you just want to love. Monica will be creating traditional Mexican tissue flowers with the kids to give to mom.
Both resident parent-photograpers will be on hand at this month’s show to capture all the fun. Beth Eisgrau-Heller, mom to one super cute lil guy, comes to us with experience in music in all forms. From her involvement with Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, to vocalist, to event coordinator to photographer for KEXP radio, Beth understands the ins and outs of photographing a music performance. Our portrait photo artist, Edward Kay
, brings his incredible still life photography talent to our vivacious photo booth! Edward’s photos can be purchased on his website at edwardkphoto.com
Hip Tot producers Gabby and Adam have worked hard to create an incredible community for families, which includes activities, snacks, music and more. Hip Tot Music Fest
is famous for the best live Kindie music, complete with story time, mid-show entertainment, craft activities, a cardboard castle, giveaways and photo station. Hip Tot is like no other family show!
“I was thrilled to experience such a strong community event that is focused on music, creativity, and staying hip.” - Mama Goes Natural
See you on Sunday, May 12th ready to celebrate Mother’s Day with music, stories, dance, art and fun!
About Hip Tot Music Fest
The family-centric Hip Tot Music Fest is a series of live performance and music concerts for families at state-of-the-art performance and art space Littlefield in Brooklyn. Co-produced by Adam Meyer and Gabby Napolitano, Hip Tot Music Fest brings family and community merchants together with live performance for a true fest. Pre-show entertainment includes well known childrens’ author Melanie Hope Greenberg, local dance troupe The Jeté Dance Center, arts and crafts and snacks.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Reviews 2013
, 2013 nonfiction
, 2013 poetry
, 2013 reviews
, Jan Sonnenmair
, middle grade poetry
, Nancy Bo Flood
, nonfiction middle grade
, Add a tag
Cowboy Up!: Ride the Navajo Rodeo
By Nancy Bo Flood
Photography by Jan Sonnenmair
Wordsong (an imprint of Highlights)
On shelves now
Sometimes I think half my job simply consists of making lists. Not that I’m complaining. I love lists. I love making them, and checking them, and adding to them. Lists let the organizational part of my frontal lobe feel needed and wanted. Still, once in a while you get stuck on a list and it’s hard to move. For example, just the other day I was asked to come up with a list for Kindergartners of books that talk about Native American tribes. Some of the books, I was told, would also have to talk about American Indians living today. Now I don’t know anything about you. I don’t know if reading this review you’re a teacher or a librarian or an interested parent or my mom. Whosoever you might be, you are still probably very aware that asking for nonfiction titles for very young children on Native Americans is akin to asking for the moon and the stars above. Half the stuff on library and bookstore shelves is woefully out-of-date and offensive while the other half is written for kids ten-years-old and up. The pickings for small fry are slim. Enter Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo. The rare book that is both poetry and fact, with content for both big and little, here we have a title that finally fills that gap. Best of all, you don’t have to be looking for school or specialty fare to enjoy this one. Like wild bucking stallions and bulls that could impale you without so much as a snort? Welcome to the world of Navajo rodeo.
“Can’t sleep. Can’t eat. Mind keeps figuring, figuring, figuring – how tight to hold, how far to lean, how hard to squeeze to stay on top.” That’s just a sample of the thoughts going through a person’s head before the Navajo rodeo. Though it has its roots in places like Arizona and Texas, rodeos can be found all over the Navajo Nation and are family affairs. Setting her book during the course of a single rodeo day, author Nancy Bo Flood plunges readers into what might be an unknown world. We see children near bucked from woolly riders (sheep), adults flung from broncos, women who sweep the barrel racer events, steer wrestlers, and, best of all, bareback bull riders. Saturating her text with facts, background information, and tons of photographs, this is one title that will prove tempting to kids already familiar with the rodeo world and those approaching it for the very first time.
It’s a challenge facing any work of standard nonfiction for kids: How do you prefer to present your material? In this particular case, Ms. Flood has a wealth of information at her fingertips regarding the Navajo rodeo circuit. Trouble is, you can fill your book to brimming with the brightest and shiniest photos that money can buy, but if you’ve long blocks of nonfiction text you might lose your readership before you’ve even begun. Now in this book Ms. Flood presents her material over the course of a single rodeo day. It’s a good format for what she has to say, but the downside is that there are sections at the beginning that aren’t all that thrilling. If kids are coming to this book to see some high-flying riders, they’ll have to first wade through explanations about the announcer and the arena. That’s where the poetry comes in. Sure, there are big blocks of explanatory text before the action begins, but Flood tempers each two-page spread with not just photos and explanations but also poems. The advantage then is that younger children can read the poems while older ones get something out of the nonfiction sections. Win win!
It sounds strange to say but in many ways the book that to me feels the closest to the format of Cowboy Up! is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. Both books find that the best way to get kids to swallow a spoonful of nonfiction is with a bit of first person narration. With that in mind, the poems in Cowboy Up! offer great promise. Each one is written in the first person and could easily be considered short monologues. The small child auditioning or the teacher who wants to do a theatrical presentation with readily available material would do well to take these poems and use them freely. Now granted, the poetry can be touch-and-go at times. I’ve a friend who personally cannot stand free verse in children’s books because to her it just looks like the author took a paragraph and broke it up into arbitrary lines. I happen to like free verse, insofar as I like any poetry, but I admit that the ones found here varied widely in terms of quality on a case-by-case basis.
Much like the poetry, the photography in this book can vary. Some of the shots (created by photographer Jan Sonnenmair) are brilliant. I’m quite fond of the image on the jacket as well as shots of riders mid-air (one hand waving freely about their heads), the portraits (love those endpapers, though the decision to flips the images was a poor one when you consider library processing techniques), and even one of a rainbow rising behind the honor guard. On the other hand, there are times when it feels as though the book ran out of the good photographs and had to rely on some of the lesser variety. For example, there’s a shot of an announcer that looks like it appears twice in two pages, only flipped. This is a rare occurrence, but it happens early enough in the book that a reader could be forgiven for wondering if more duplication is bound to happen.
When I think of books that talk about contemporary Native Americans today, the pickings for kids are slim. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian isn’t exactly meant for the 12 and under crowd. Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky is pretty good, if a bit poetic (this might have something to do with the fact that it’s a book of poetry). And the book Native Americans: A Visual Exploration by S.N. Paleja covers a lot of ground, but only in brief. No, the whole reason Cowboy Up! even works is because it’s not trying to be about anything but how particularly cool this kind of rodeo is. This is Navajo life in the 21st century. So forget depressing texts that cover the past with all the interest of a phone book. Flood and Sonnenmair have culled together a look at the just-as-interesting present, and given it a format that will stand it in good stead. Cowboys and cowboys-to-be everywhere, stand up and rejoice. Your rodeo is here.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Professional Reviews: Kirkus
- A lesson hard learned. When searching for this book on any online site, I advise you to search via the ISBN 978-1-59078-893-6 rather than typing in the words “Cowboy Up”. Let’s just say that the bulk of titles you’ll find with the same title are a bit . . . ah . . . saucy.
- Download a free activity guide here.
The 19th Annual Children’s Book Art Auction has been a highlight of children’s programming at BookExpo America and raises funds in support of the free speech rights of young readers. This event offers a unique opportunity to buy beautiful, original art in children’s literature from leading, award-winning artists and illustrators of children’s books and a chance to socialize with friends from around the country, while supporting the all-important efforts opposing the censorship of children’s books and authors nationwide. This is a highly anticipated and fun event on the industry’s social calendar, and the only annual event where the entire children’s book industry is in the same room, including booksellers, publishers, authors, artists, illustrators, other industry professionals, and fans of illustrated children’s books and supporters of the free speech rights of young readers.
The event will be held on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm in the River Pavilion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City in conjunction with BookExpo America. Proceeds will support the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression’s defense of the free speech rights of young readers. ABFFE is a co-founder of the Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP) and a principal sponsor of Banned Books Week, the only national celebration of the freedom to read.
The event is shaping to be a really fun event: Bestselling authors Jack Gantos and Lauren Myracle are co-hosting, many of the illustrators will be in attendance, there will be a live auction, a special tribute to the late Maurice Sendak will feature pieces created by children’s book illustrators in honor of Sendak, who mentored and inspired many artists. A special auction area will be devoted to the items. Check out some of the Sendak-inspired artwork that has arrived so far. We’re announcing today that we’ve acquired an actual, original, signed sketch by Sendak! There will be food, drinks, raffle items, a couple of bookish-related photobooth props, and more.
In addition to the auction website, we’re promoting it on Flickr, Facebook and Pinterest. Most of the art is already online (I’m working as fast as I can to get the rest up!) We just got a great article and slideshow in today’s Huffington Post.
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: We’ll be setting up all day on Wednesday, May 29 at the Javits Center, the event itself is that evening from 5:30 – 7:30pm, then break-down will probably last about an hour or so. What does your schedule look like that day? We’ll have you for any and all! We’re going to need a set-up crew, greeters, ticket checkers, raffle ticket sellers, photographers, art monitors, tweeters, a break-down crew, and a whole lot more. For more info, please visit http://abffesilentauction.wordpress.com/volunteer/. For questions or to volunteer, please contact the auction’s manager, Kristen Gilligan Vlahos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ONLINE AUCTION OPEN TO PUBLIC: Please be sure to check out the online auction just prior to BEA with different art. It begins on Saturday, May 18 at 9am and closes on Friday, May 24 at 9pm. It can be found here: http://myworld.ebay.com/abffe. It’s open to the public, so feel free to spread the word. For more info, please visit the auction’s website.
- My little sister Kate (who has taken it upon herself to become the best friend a picture book author ever had) created this little video of my recent appearance at the Bookbug bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ll be doing a proper write-up of that day (two words: smoke machine) but for now here’s a taste of what you might see if you headed on over to the WORD Bookstore this Sunday at 1:30. I may even show up this time. Bonus!
- By the way, my fantastically talented illustrator Brandon Dorman just wrote a piece for the Greenwillow blog that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the early and preliminary images he created for Giant Dance Party. Like process? Like art? This post’s for you.
Are you ready for an adventure? With beautiful illustrations, imaginative journeys, and timeless lessons, a great children’s book captures the hearts and minds of all generations. Whether you’re looking for the perfect book to fit in with the Common Core State Standards or you’re just looking to spice up story time, this free webcast is for you. Join Groundwood Books, Teacher Created Materials, and Random House Inc. as they present the best new upcoming books for kids from Shell Education, Archie Comics, National Geographic for Kids, Blue Apple Books, and Quirk Books.
- Aw heck. It’s just that kind of day. Planning on coming to BEA? Then check out the autographing roster. Then figure out when I’m signing and come keep me company. My nightmare is that they put me next to someone like Mo Willems and I stare at an empty sea of nothingness while he manages thousands of rabid fans. Maybe the seating will be alphabetical. That would be okay. Just no Willems, dear god, no Willems.
- Now let’s keep it within the family. You may know that the remarkable children’s book editor Cheryl Klein has a regular podcast with her squeeze James Monohan. For those who would seek it out it’s called The Narrative Breakdown. Well my own squeeze, Matt Bird (he of the smart-as-a-whip blog Cockeyed Caravan) is on their latest episode. The topic? The Power of Irony. You’re going to have to check it out, I’m afraid. It’s your required listening of the day.
- You have seen children’s fan letters before. You may also have read my recap of what happened when Lemony Snicket, Jon Klassen, and Neil Gaiman all shared a stage together at Bank Street. But you have NOT seen the honest-to-goodness hilarious (there is no other way to describe them) “fan” letters sent to the attendees. Gold, guys. These things are gold. My favorite is the one that shows two stick figures, and one of them is reclining and eating what is clearly a shiny red apple. Thanks to Allie Bruce for the link!
- It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the recent death of Gregory Rogers, author illustrator, and Australia’s first Kate Greenaway Medal winner (for Way Home by Libby Hathorn). Of course my favorite books of his were The Boy, the Bear, the Baron and the Bard and Midsummer Knight. I only met him briefly when he was in New York, but he was a charming fellow. Godspeed.
- Mentioning to you a Kickstarter campaign to promote a library podcast that has already reaching its primary funding goals sounds a bit odd, but I have my reasons. You see, one of the rewards on offer is a piece of commissioned artwork by Tom Angleberger, the author of the Origami Yoda series. Tell me you wouldn’t want a piece of that!
Not much more to say about this next one except that it combines two of my favorite things: robots and librarians. Now THERE’s a picture book idea.
Now someone go get me a pair of her shoes.
Culled from the Flavorwire post 25 Vintage Photos of Librarians Being Awesome.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Best Books of 2013
, Reviews 2013
, 2013 chapter books
, 2013 historical fiction
, 2013 middle grade fiction
, 2013 mysteries
, 2013 reviews
, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
, historical fiction
, Katie Quirk
, middle grade fiction
, middle grade historical fiction
, middle grade mysteries
, multicultural fiction
, multicultural middle grade
, Add a tag
A Girl Called Problem
By Katie Quirk
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
On shelves now.
Who says that mystery novels for kids all have to include the same tropes and settings? I tell you, half the time when a kid comes up to a reference desk asking for a mystery they think what they want is the standard white kids in suburbia model perfected by Encyclopedia Brown and his ilk. They’re wrong. What they really want is great writing and a good mystery with a twist they don’t see coming. So I will hereby give grand kudos and heaping helpfuls of praise to the librarian/bookseller/parent who hears a kid ask for a mystery and hands them Katie Quirk’s A Girl Called Problem. This book is a trifecta of publishing rarities. A historical novel that is also a mystery set in a foreign country that just happens to be Tanzania. Trust me when I say your shelves aren’t exactly filled to brimming with such books. Would that they were, or at the very least, would that you had as many good books as this one. Smart commentary, an honestly interesting storyline, and sharp writing from start to finish, Quirk quickly establishes herself as one author to watch.
The thing about Shida is that in spite of her name (in Swahili it would be “problem”) you just can’t get her down. Sure, her mom is considered a witch, and every day she seems to make Shida’s life harder rather than easier. Still, Shida’s got dreams. She hopes to someday train to be a healer in her village of Litongo, and maybe even a village nurse. In light of all this, when the opportunity arises for all of Litongo to pick up and move to a new location, Shida’s on board with the plan. In Nija Panda she would be able to go to school and maybe even learn medicine firsthand. Her fellow villagers are wary but game. They seem to have more to gain than to lose from such a move. However, that’s before things start to go terribly wrong. Escaped cattle. Disease. Even death seems to await them in Nija Panda. Is the village truly cursed, just unlucky, or is there someone causing all these troubles? Someone who doesn’t want the people of Litongo there. Someone who will do anything at all to turn them back. It’s certainly possible and it’s up to Shida to figure out who the culprit might be.
The trouble with being an adult and reading a children’s work of mystery fiction is that too often the answer feels like it’s too obvious. Fortunately for me, I’m terrible at mysteries. I’ll swallow every last red herring and every false clue used by the author to lead me astray. So while at first it seems perfectly obvious who the bad guys would be, I confess that when the switcheroo took place I didn’t see it coming. It made perfect sense, of course, but I was as blindsided as our plucky heroine. I figure if I honestly as a 35-year-old adult can’t figure out the good guys from the bad in a book for kids, at least a significant chunk of child readers will be in the same boat.
Now I’ve a pet peeve regarding books set in Africa, particularly historical Africa, and I was keen to see whether or not Ms. Quirk would indulge it. You see, the story of a girl in a historical setting who wants to be a healer but can’t because of her gender is not a particularly new trope. We’ve seen it before, to a certain extent. What chaps my hide is when the author starts implying that tribal medicines and healing techniques are superstitious and outdated while modern medicine is significantly superior. Usually the heroine will fight against society’s prejudices, something will happen late in the game, and the villagers will see that she was right all along and that she’ll soon be able to use Western medicine to cure all ills. There’s something particularly galling about storylines of this sort, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that Quirk was not going to fall into that more than vaguely insulting mindset. Here is an author unafraid to pay some respect to the religion of the villagers. It never dismisses curses but acknowledges them alongside standard diseases. Example: “Though Shida was certain Furaha should take medicine for malaria, she was equally certain she should guard the spirit house that night. Parasites were responsible for some sicknesses and curses for others, and in this case, they needed to protect against both.”
Quirk is also quite adept at using the middle grade chapter book format to tackle some pretty complex issues. To an adult reading this book it might be clear that Shida’s mother suffers from a severe form of depression. There’s no way the village would be prepared to handle this diagnosis, and Shida herself just grows angry with the woman who stays inside all the time. You could get a very interesting book discussion going with child readers about whether or not Shida should really blame her mother as vehemently as she does. On the one hand, you can see her point. On the other, her mother is clearly in pain. Similarly well done is the final discussion of witches. Quirk brings up a very sophisticated conversation wherein Shida comes to understand that accused witches are very often widows who must work to keep themselves alive and that, through these efforts, acquire supposedly witchy attributes. Quirk never hits you over the head with these thoughts. She just lets her heroine’s assumptions fall in the face of close and careful observation.
All this could be true, but without caring about the characters it wouldn’t be worth much. I think part of the reason I like the book as much as I do is that everyone has three dimensions (with the occasional rare exception). Even the revealed villain turns out to have a backstory that explains their impetus, though it doesn’t excuse their actions. As for Shida herself, she may be positive but she’s no Pollyanna. Depression hits her hard sometimes too, but through it all she uses her brain. Because she is able to apply what she learns in school to the real world, she’s capable of following the clues and tracking down the real culprit behind everyone’s troubles. Passive protagonists have no place in A Girl Called Problem. No place at all.
Finally, in an era of Common Core Standards I cannot help but notice how much a kid can learn about Tanzania from this book. Historical Tanzania at that! A Glossary at the back does a very good job of explaining everything from flamboyant trees to n’gombe to President Julius Nyerere’s plan for Tanzania. There are also photographs mixed into the Glossary that do a good job of giving a contemporary spin on a historical work.
Windows and mirrors. That’s the phrase used by children’s literature professionals to explain what we look for in books for kids. We want them to have books that reflect their own experiences and observations (mirrors) and we also want them to have books that reflect the experiences and observations of kids living in very different circumstances (windows). Mirror books can be a lot easier to recommend to kids than window books, but that just means you need to try harder. So next time a 9-12 year-old comes to you begging for a mystery, upset their expectations. Hand them A Girl Called Problem and bet them they won’t be able to guess the bad guy. In the process, you might just be able to introduce that kid to their latest favorite book.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Notes on the Cover: Now was that so hard? We ask and we ask and we ask for brown faces on our middle grade fiction and still it feels like pulling teeth to get it done. Eerdmans really blew this one out of the water, and it seems they spared no expense. The book jacket is the brainchild of Richard Tuschman who you may know better as the man behind the cover of Claire Vanderpool’s Newbery Award winning Moon Over Manifest. Beautiful.
Other Blog Reviews: Loganberryblog
Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus
- This is utterly fascinating. In this post author Katie Quirk talks about the process that led to the current (and truly lovely) cover.
- And Ms. Quirk shares what a typical day for Shida might look like in this video.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 30, 2013
THESOCIETY OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS ANNOUNCES THE WINNERS OF THE ANNUAL CRYSTAL KITE MEMBER CHOICE AWARDS
The SCBWI is excited to announce the winners of the 2013 Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards for our fifteen regional divisions:
● Neil Malherbe – The Magyar Conspiracy (Tafelberg Publishers)
● Meg McKinlay – Ten Tiny Things (Illustrated by Kyle Hughes-Odgers) (Fremantle Press)
● Katherine Applegate – The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Southeast (Florida/Georgia/South Carolina/North Carolina/Alabama/Mississippi)
● Augusta Scattergood - Glory Be (Scholastic)
● Sharon Cameron – The Dark Unwinding (Scholastic)
● Benjamin Martin – Samurai Awakening (Tuttle Publishing)
● Aaron Reynolds – Creepy Carrots (Illustrated by Peter Brown) (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Southwest (Nevada/Arizona/Utah/Colorado/Wyoming/New Mexico)
● Jean Reagan – How to Baby Sit A Grandpa (Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books)
New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island)
● Jo Knowles – See You At Harry’s (Candlewick Press)
● Kate Messner – Capture the Flag (Scholastic)
Atlantic (Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey/Wash DC/Virginia/West Virginia/Maryland)
● Ame Dyckman – BOY + BOT (Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino) (Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books)
● Lynne Kelly – Chained (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.)
The Americas (Canada/Mexico/Central & South America)
● Jennifer Lanthier - The Stamp Collector (Fitzhenry and Whiteside)
● Dave Cousins – Fifteen Days without a Head (Oxford University Press)
West (Washington/Oregon/Alaska/Idaho/Montana/North Dakota/South Dakota)
● Kim Baker – Pickle (Illustrated by Tim Probert) (Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan Publishers)
About the Crystal Kite Awards
The Crystal Kite Awards are given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to recognize great books from the seventy SCBWI regions around the world. Along with the SCBWI Golden Kite Awards, the Crystal Kite Awards are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators, making them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.
Founded in 1971, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers’ and illustrators’ organizations, with over 22,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children’s book authors and leaders in the world of children’s literature. For more information about the Crystal Kite Award, please visit www.scbwi.org, and click “Awards & Grants.”
The road to publication is not a straight line. It’s not even a single line. Sometimes it feels to me that there are as many ways to publish a book as there are books to publish. I started out as a children’s librarian. From there I started to blog. Then from blogging came some books. I never began the blog with the specific intent to publish someday. Some do, I suppose, and all power to them. For me, it was just a natural outgrowth of what I already do: Write every day.
So I got to thinking about others in my field who have followed similar paths from blogging to book publication. The successes, if you will. With that in mind, here are some names that come immediately to mind and in no particular order:
Jules Danielson – Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (and, by extension, the late and great Peter Sieruta of Collecting Children’s Books) – I tapped Jules and Peter to write a book with me which is now slated for Spring 2014. The title? Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. It will effectively put down the notion of children’s authors as fluffy, silly individuals. It was also, no surprise, a hoot to write.
Jay Asher – The Disco Mermaids – Oh, how quickly folks forget. But long before he came to fame via 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher was one of three blogger/writers known as The Disco Mermaids. I should know. I have one of their coffee cups in my cabinet even as I write this. The blog officially ended in 2009 (I am trying not to think of how long ago that was) but it remains in our hearts and minds, and on our servers, still.
Tanita Davis – [fiction, instead of lies] and Finding Wonderland – Want to know how dedicated Tanita is to blogging? Well, her first post went up in 2005 and she hasn’t stopped yet. All this in spite of the fact that she’s written such YA showstoppers as Happy Families, Mare’s War, A La Carte, and the more that are sure to come.
Gwenda Bond – Shaken & Stirred – Don’t be fooled by its fancy new URL. The original Shaken & Stirred premiered in 2002, making Gwenda perhaps the earliest children’s book/YA blogger-to-author crossover I know of. Her two books Blackwood and The Woken Gods prove her customary voice is capable of coming out in fiction as easily as through a bloggy format.
Colleen Mondor – Chasing Ray – People ask how I’m able to blog and write, but c’mon. I write picture books. How Colleen balances the two is beyond my ken. The author of The Map of Dead Pilots, Colleen’s blog (named, unsurprisingly, after Ray Bradbury) is remarkable not just because of the insightful plunges into hot topics in YA and juv literature, but also because she dedicates so much of her time to causes like helping to buy books for the Ballou Library. She’s a good man, Charlie Brown.
Monica Edinger – Educating Alice – Those who know Monica are aware that there are few individuals as keenly dedicated to the world of children’s literature as she. That’s why it was such a thrill to finally hold in my hands a galley of her upcoming Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad, slated to be released by Candlewick this fall. An early chapter book filled to brimming with facts and illustrated beautifully by Robert Byrd, if you read only one book this October, read this one. She has bridged the gap between blogger and author (of children’s books, since she’s written many professional ones in her time) ably.
Lenore Appelhans – Presenting Lenore – Blogging and writing is one thing here in the States. Now imagine blogging and writing in Germany! Not only that, Lenore has managed to write both a YA novel (Level 2) as well as a picture book (Chick-O-Saurus Rex, which was illustrated by her husband Daniel Jennewein) all at the same time, practically. Talk about wild flexibility!
Liz Burns – A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy – Professional resources can be a lot more difficult to write than fiction. It is probable that nobody knows this better than Liz, the librarian/blogger who isn’t afraid to use her SLJ site to dissect hot topics no one else has the chutzpah to discuss. Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect to Your Whole Community was written alongside Sophie Brookover came out a couple years ago but Liz continues to plug it even now. THAT is how you do it, folks.
By the way, I think it’s interesting to note that of the bloggers mentioned here, my agent represents four of them. He rules!!
I’m sure there are other children’s/YA literary bloggers turned authors (authors turned bloggers need not apply). If you can think of any, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
It seems to me that if Raina Telgemeier, Art Spiegelman, Roz Chast, Stephan Pastis, Mo Willems, Dave Roman, and other cartoonists who double as children’s book creators can have the chutzpah to participate in this video where they speak out against gun violence, the least we can do is to post it. Frequently. And everywhere.
Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.
In a switch of gears, here are happy authors talking about happy Newbery calls and what it means to be “chosen”. So to speak. Sort of works double duty as bragging rights from Random House on how many Newbery Award and Honor winners they have too. Certainly they’ve had a good run in recent years. Would love to see other houses doing something similar.
Thanks to Mr. Schu for the link.
Okay. Now let’s watch the world’s most adorable children. Teacher Arturo Avina contacted me recently about his Kindergarten class.
“My students and I recently took this classic story and adapted it for the small screen. What started off as a class project on school and community became an epic production that blended technology, music, and dramatic arts, and at the same time, developed reading comprehension, vocabulary, and oral language skills. The students were encouraged to be creative and work collaboratively, and the results have been rewarding to say the least. The reaction to our movie has been enthusiastically positive by all who have watched it so far. At this point, several parents and teachers have contacted me to let me know that their kids absolutely LOVE it!”
The result is Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard.
Thanks to Arturo Avina for the link.
By the way, I’m sure I don’t have to tell YOU that for the first time in history a Judy Blume novel is coming to the silver screen. What you may not have known was that it’s Tiger Eyes. Yep. Surprised me too. Here’s the trailer:
Speaking of classics hitting the screen, three words: Phantom. Tollbooth. Documentary.
Check out the full website here. Thanks to Marjorie Ingall for the link.
And it’s just not a Video Sunday without a good book trailer. And brother? This one is good. It even has its own theme song.
A fun Kickstarter page also brought itself to my attention this week. Done in conjunction with 826LA (a group I particularly like) “students wrote short stories about their imaginary friend that I had professional artists illustrate to.” The group partnered with illustrators from Pixar, Disney, Nickelodeon, and DC Comics to bring the stories to life and they’re donating at least 25% of proceeds from the book sales to 826LA. Further info is found here: http://www.grworks.com/pentopaper/
The kickstarter closes on May 5th, so there you go.
And as per usual, my off-topic video could probably be considered on-topic… but it’s just too weird.
Thanks to Ben for the link.
Picture a Tree
By Barbara Reid
Albert Whitman & Company
On shelves now.
If you weren’t a teacher or a librarian you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of how critically important tree units are to our school systems. They’re huge. Each and every year when I worked as a children’s librarian I would watch as mountains of tree-related picture books got sucked out of my branch by teachers and kids assigned arboreal units. The end result tended to be a hyperaware state where whenever I found myself within a close approximation of a tree picture book my internal radar would start ah-beeping. Imagine, if you will, little invisible antennae rising up on my head when I found myself inextricably compelled to pick up and read Barbara Reid’s Picture a Tree. From its magnificent cover to its jaw-dropping interior spreads, Reid has just upped the bar on the whole “tree genre”, such as it is. From here on in, when a kid asks a librarian for a tree book, that library had better have a copy of the Caldecott winner A Tree Is Nice on the one hand, and Picture a Tree on the other.
Endpapers display trees in a myriad of forms, from thunderstruck deciduous to the mushrooms that grow on a trunk. Says the text, “There is more than one way to picture a tree”. You might consider that the tree sporting birds or snow is engaged in a game of dress-up. Or you might think a tree-lined walkway a tunnel or (seen from above) an ocean. Delving deftly into the many different ways that trees can be seen and interpreted and equated with the humans that dart above their roots, Reid creates all new ways of looking at and enjoying our fine leafy friends. Her final words, “Picture a tree. What do you see?”
I’m a sucker for a glorious glob of Plasticine. Seems I can’t get enough of that colorful little substance. My first encounter with it in a children’s picture book was the remarkably lovely (and catchy) City Beats: A Hip-hoppy Pigeon Poem by Kelly S. Rammell, illustrated by Jeanette Canyon. In this particular case author/illustrator Barbara Reid is hardly a Plasticine newbie. Her work on books like Perfect Snow cemented her early on as one of our premiere picture book Plasticine artist experts. In Picture a Tree Reid has committed “a Peter Sis”. Which is to say, she’s made her job harder than it needs be and ended up with something truly beautiful as a result. I don’t know Ms. Reid so I can’t say whether not she actually said to herself, “Today I’m going to make a book that will require me to make five billion teeny tiny individual Plasticine leaves.” Regardless, that’s what she’s done here. “Five billion” might be a tad bit of an exaggeration but I suspect that if you were to corner Ms. Reid at a party she would admit that’s what it felt like in the end. A book of this sort could have worked perfectly well if the trees had been big blobs of color rather than little bitty dots of delightfulness. Hat tip to the artist for going the extra mile.
There are some artists out there (who shall remain nameless) for whom a tricky medium is an end in itself. Were they to work in the realm of Plasticine they would think it a triumph to merely produce something coherent. So what really allows Reid to stand apart from her peers isn’t necessarily her love of a relatively new artistic technique but that technique’s blending with great storytelling to boot. The fact that she’s able to discuss trees in a fun and interesting way without ever sounding cutesy or saccharine is remarkable. Playing in leaves really does feel like “A wild good-bye party” the way she displays it. Ditto a blanketing of snow as a “snowsuit”. The text shown here takes its time and carefully considers different seasons and the ways kids interact with trees on a day-to-day basis. Best of all, it balances out urban tree experiences with rural tree experiences. You don’t have to live in the suburbs to get what Reid is doing here. Hers is a tree book for all comers, all seasons.
The trick to any good picture book is the marriage of text and art. If you were to frame the art in a picture book, would it stand on its own and in its own right, free of context? And if you received a manuscript of this book with only the words, would you consider it a strong read? What I love about Picture a Tree is that it not only makes for an eye-popping visual jaw-dropper, and that it not only reads like a dream, but that it also fulfills a purpose. Kids need tree books. Good tree books. Original tree books that won’t bore them to tears. Reid delivers. Hers is a book you can enjoy any time of the year in any context, tree assignment or no tree assignment. Celebrate Arbor Day early. Grab yourself a bit o’ tree. A book that makes its pulped paper proud.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- And here are the bulk of the other reviews.
Here’s the book trailer for this one.
And here’s a little behind-the-scenes peek into the art.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour where employees of NPR dissect some aspect of pop culture in a smart and funny way each week. The show works for me because as I age I become worse and worse at knowing what is out there and this show allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of youth with the additional benefit of a thick veneer of class. A recent podcast spent half its time dissecting the Mad Men debut and the other half discussing the idea of the unreliable narrator in film, books, and music.
Listening to the talk, it sounds as if the unreliable narrator breaks down into at least three different types: The narrator that purposefully leads you astray, the narrator whose view of the world is so strident that by sheer force of will they are attempting to lead you astray, and the narrator who does not attempt to lead you astray but does by dint of their youth and inexperience. And though they cited mostly The Catcher in the Rye and Room as examples of that last type, I found myself drifting into thinking about how this applies to the picture books of the past and the present.
This isn’t just idle speculation. With the rise of the Core Curriculum kids are beginning to learn more about opposing viewpoints and alternative perspective. They’re walking into libraries asking for first person narratives in picture book formats. Which means, it might not be long before savvy teachers start to provide elementary school insights into what is a remarkably advanced concept.
On the aforementioned podcast, Glen Weldon says the following: “It [the unreliable narrator] puts you in the head of somebody else… it exaggerates your faults. Where YOU think the world is this way and you’re willing to kind of assert it until the dam busts. And it’s a way to teach a moral lesson without doing it in a very heavy-handed way . . . It’s the ultimate post-modern thing where this thing we’ve trusted for centuries, the narrative voice, is now called into question.”
This caught my ear since picture books are, in some cases, meant to be repositories of moral lessons. And if a person can give a moral lesson without didacticism they are seen as doing a very good job. I am starting to write picture books myself. Now imagine being able to write for kids and impart ideas without sounding preachy. It can be done! Examples?
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith – If you Google the term “unreliable narrator” and “picture books” this is pretty much the only thing that comes up. Probably because it’s the best of the genre. If Scieszka is remembered for nothing else it will be for applying sophisticated ideas to picture books, ending with products that both inform and amuse kids and adults (keep a VERY sharp eye out for his Battle Bunny this fall, co-written with Mac Barnett, and a game changer in a different way altogether). Of course no brilliant idea comes without a price. This book started the trend of villains telling their sides of their tales in picture books. It’s an idea we’re still suffering through, to a certain extent.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – Interesting because it’s actually a shift. The narrator begins as reliable and then becomes unreliable by the end of the book. Is this a tale about the hero’s journey? Or is it actually the hero’s fall? All I care is that the bunny had it coming.
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen - I didn’t mean to cite the most recent Caldecott Award winner but the Horn Book referred to this as a book featuring an unreliable narrator. I would argue that it’s not so much that he’s unreliable as much as he’s just wrong.
Olivia Saves the Circus – If Scieszka’s wolf is the kind of narrator trying to lead you astray then Olivia is a force of will, attempting to make you believe precisely what she too wants to believe. She tests the tensile strands of precocious tolerance and gets away with it. Probably because the text is so good on this one. My favorite Olivia book, bar none.
Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters From Obedience School – Author Mindy Hardwick came up with this one (read her post for suggestions on writing an unreliable narrator if you’re interested in making your own). This book has the dual advantage of not only being unreliable but an epistolary picture book as well. Kids ask for such things already.
Mention the others if you can! I wouldn’t mind putting together a list of as many as folks can conceive of. It would be interesting to note the years they started becoming more common.
Folks, I’ll be stepping away from the desk/office/city/state for the next few days as I do a tiny little self-propelled book tour. In fact, if you happen to live in Chicago or Grand Rapids, MI or Kalamazoo then you are in luck. I’m nigh! Here are the appearances for the next few days:
April 25th at 6:30 p.m.
The Magic Tree Bookstore - 141 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, Il.
April 26th at 10:30 a.m.
Pooh’s Corner – Breton Village – 1886 1/2 Breton Rd. S.E., Grand Rapids, MI
April 27th at 3:00 p.m.
Bookbug – 3019 Oakland Drive, Kalamazoo, MI
Hope I see a small chunk of you soon!
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Well sir, it’s a heckuva week. Book stuff is happening out the wazoo, but for a moment I’d like to concentrate on what else is going on in the wider children’s literary world. What say we Fusenews it up a bit, eh?
- Of course there’s no way to begin today without a hat tip to the late, great E.L. Konigsburg. The only person, I believe, to win both a Newbery Award and a Newbery Honor in their debut year. Top THAT one, folks! The New York Times pays tribute to one of our luminaries. We had managed to do pretty well in 2013 without losing one of our lights. Couldn’t last forever. Godspeed, Elaine.
- Speaking of deaths, I missed mentioning my sadness upon hearing of Roger Ebert’s passing. Jezebel put out a rather nice compilation of Roger Ebert’s Twenty Best Reviews. I wonder if folks ever do that for children’s book critics. Hm. In any case, amongst the reviews was this one for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s rather brilliant. See for yourself.
12. On the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:
“Kids are not stupid. They are among the sharpest, cleverest, most eagle-eyed creatures on God’s Earth, and very little escapes their notice. You may not have observed that your neighbor is still using his snow tires in mid-July, but every four-year-old on the block has, and kids pay the same attention to detail when they go to the movies. They don’t miss a thing, and they have an instinctive contempt for shoddy and shabby work. I make this observation because nine out of ten children’s movies are stupid, witless, and display contempt for their audiences, and that’s why kids hate them….All of this is preface to a simple statement: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz. It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren’t: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination. Willy Wonka is such a surely and wonderfully spun fantasy that it works on all kinds of minds, and it is fascinating because, like all classic fantasy, it is fascinated with itself.” [January 1971
- New Blog Alert: Now I would like to brag about my system’s children’s librarians. They are uniquely talented individuals. Smart as all get out. One that I’ve always been particularly impressed with is Stephanie Whelan, a woman I trust more than anyone else when it comes to finding the best in children’s (not YA) science fiction and fantasy fare. Now Stephanie has conjured up one doozy of a blog on that very topic. It’s called Views From the Tesseract (nice, right?) and it looks at a lot of science fiction and fantasy specifically with side views of topics in the field. You’ll find posts with subjects like A Matter of Taste: Preferring One Genre Over Another, Five Fantasy Pet Peeves, and the fascinating delve into the world of Tom Swift in The Swift Proposal. Stephanie also has access to galleys so be sure to check out her early reviews for books like William Alexander’s Ghoulish Song and Sidekicked by John David Anderson (which I’m reading right now on her recommendation).
- Turns out that the Mental Floss piece 11 Book Sequels You Probably Didn’t Know Existed spends an inordinate amount of time looking at children’s books. Check it out for mentions of the 101 Dalmatians sequel (missed that one), the E.T. sequel The Book of the Green Planet (which, if memory serves, was illustrated long ago by David Wiesner and is the only book he no longer owns the art of), and more.
- Nice blogger mentions this week. Thanks to Sara O’Leary for mentioning my new website and to Jen Robinson’s for the nice review of Giant Dance Party. I appreciate it, guys! Plus Jen is the first review I’ve read that draws a connection between my book and the Hunger Games series. Few can say so much.
Speaking of reviews, I owe Travis Jonker a debt of gratitude for reviewing Marguerite Abouet’s Akissi. I read that book in the original French a year or two ago and was completely uncertain if it would ever see the light of day here in the States due to a final story that, quite frankly, DEFIES anything I’ve seen in children’s literature before. The kind of thing that makes Captain Underpants look tame. You have been warned. Great book, by the way. Let’s not lose sight of that.
- Not too long ago I spoke to a group of 6th graders at Bank Street College’s school about contemporary book jackets and how they’re marketed to kids. Only a portion of my talk was dedicated to race or gender. Fortunately, the kids have been thinking long and hard about it. Allie Bruce has posted twice about a covers project the kids have participated in. Be sure to check out race and then gender when you have a chance. Food for thought.
- What do Pinkalicious, A Ball for Daisy, and Square Cat all have in common? Read ‘em to your kids and you’ll be teaching them that consumerism is king. So sayeth a 196-page thesis called “Cultivating Little Consumers: How Picture Books Influence Materialism in Children”, as reported by The Guardian. And they might have gotten away with the premise to if they just hadn’t brought up I Want My Hat Back. Dude. Back away from the Klassen. Thanks to Zoe Toft (Playing By the Book) for the link.
- Required Reading of the Day: There are few authorial blogs out there even half as interesting as Nathan Hale’s. And when the guy gets a fact wrong in one of his books, he’ll do anything to set it right. Even if it means going to Kansas. Here’s how he put it:
We made a HUGE historical error, and we are going to fix it! We are going to learn why Kansas wasn’t a Confederate state–why it was a “Free State,” and how it happened. We are also going to visit Kansas on an official apology and correction trip. When we are finished, all Hazardous Tales readers will know how to correct their own copy of Big Bad Ironclad! Stay tuned!
You can see the official ceremony here, but be sure to read all the blog posts he drew to explain precisely why Kansas was a free state anyway. You can see Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six.
It’s not the holiday gift giving season, but if you know a librarian in need of a unique gift, I have your number.
Awesomesauce. Thanks to Marchek for the link.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Giant Dance Party
By Betsy Bird
Illustrated By Brandon Dorman
Greenwillow (an imprint of Harper Collins)
On shelves now.
I’m just messing with you. No, I’m not going to actually review my book here. I’m not going to wax rhapsodic over the hidden meanings lurking behind the mysterious cupcake on the cover. I’ll refrain from delving deep into how Lexy’s emotional journey with the giants is just a thinly disguised metaphor for U.S. / Russia relations between the years of 1995-2004 (it isn’t, for the record). I won’t even talk about the twist ending since spoilers make for interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reviews.
No, I’ll just talk instead about how happy I am that publication day is here at all. And how pleasant it is to share that day with my buddy / pal / illustrious illustrator Brandon Dorman. I’ve had a couple chances to present the book so far (including one disaster that I’ll get to in a moment) and here is what I have learned.
1. It is possible to read this book to 3-year-olds thanks in large part to the pictures.
This is true. The text is bouncy, which doesn’t hurt matters any, but when one is dealing with very small fry it is also mighty helpful when you have eye-popping visuals on your side. And let me tell you, kids like the art of Brandon Dorman. More than that, they love it.
2. It is possible to read this book to 4-year-olds thanks in large part to the mentions of dances.
I have discovered by reading this at a couple daycares that if you teach kids jazz hands, interpretive dance, the twist, and the chicken dance in the course of reading this book, they don’t get bored. As a children’s librarian I was always the storytime reader whose peripheral visual would zero in on the single kid out of thirty that looked bored. This flaw in the programming has carried over to reading my own book. If one kid is bored I suddenly get this manic tinge to my voice and everything becomes a little more frantic. Be warned, easily bored children. I’m gunning for you.
3. Etsy is the creator of and solution to all of life’s woes.
I learned this truth when I constructed a necklace out of Caldecott cover Shrinky Dinks. To make the necklace I wanted something that featured fuses (as a nod to the name of this blog). So what do you do when you get such an urge? You go to Etsy and search for such a thing. In the case of my book presentations I decided I wanted blue furry boots. So I type “blue furry boots” into Etsy and what do I get? Something even better. Blue furry rave legwarmers. Oh, they’re the pip. Here’s what I look like talking to the kids in ‘em.
Dance for me, little children. Dance, I say!
They are also very easy to snuggle, if snuggling is what you want to do.
Special thanks to Melanie Hope Greenberg for the pics.
4. When you decide to go to a bookstore you’ve never visited before, give ‘em your phone number. Beforehand.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are TWO bookstores in Brooklyn called Powerhouse? As of Saturday, I did not. And thus begins my tale of woe.
I think there’s a general understanding out there that authors have at least one bad author experience tale they can tell. But that experience, as important as it may be, is not usually their VERY FIRST BOOKSTORE APPEARANCE. Because, you see, on Sunday I knew I was speaking at Powerhouse. So I Googled it, got the address in Dumbo, and merrily traipsed over there. The poor staff was cleaning up from an event the previous night and had no clue what I was talking about. Still, they were very nice and helpful and though they didn’t have any copies of my book I just figured folks might order it. Mind you, “folks” was a pretty optimistic term to be using in my head since nobody was there. I mean nobody. Little tumbleweeds would have been my audience had I spoke.
After giving it some time I packed up, the clerks apologized, and I went home. Mildly mortifying that no one in Brooklyn came to see me, but it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Not ideal.
And I would have proceeded in my merry little bubble for whole weeks at a time had I not gotten an email the next afternoon that made it very clear that I had gone to the wrong Powerhouse. That there are, in fact, TWO stores out there with the same name. Two. Not one. Two. And my lovely publicist at Harper Collins had even gone so far as to send me a link to the event with the address front and center. An address that was not in DUMBO at all but Park Slope.
So apparently (and this is where I sink into a puddle of 100% sheer uncut mortification) folks DID come to my event. Folks I like. Folks I would want to see. Folks who would want to see me and who failed to do so because this doofus author merrily went to the wrong friggin’ store.
What have we learned here today, children? Even if a publicist sets everything up for you, give the store your cell phone. All this would have been solved if the store had had my info and had given me a ring. There are other lessons of course (actually READ what your publicist sends you might be right up there) but you can bet I’ll be contacting all my future store appearances with my cell # right now. Yup yup yup.
Onward and upward my patient fellows.
On shelves April 23rd (happy birthday to me!)
Source: Wrote the darn book.
Like This? Then Try:
- For the Harper Collins site I came up with a little explanation of How to Throw a Giant Dance Party. Electric blue Kool-Aid may or may not play a hand in it all.
I would be amiss in not including them.
Admittedly I’ve been a bad blogger. How long has it been since I did a Video Sunday? Well, you can just bet that this one will be extra good to make up for it.
To be perfectly frank, nonfiction book trailers don’t usually look as good as the one I’m about to show you. When you can find them at all, of course. Rare little beasties, they are. This one is for Mary Losure’s Wild Boy, a book that is circulating amazingly well in my system right now!
Speaking of lovely trailers, I couldn’t help but be impressed by this one. It’s for the lovely fairy tale The Girl of the Wish Garden by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Nasrin Khosravi, and based on Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina. A prettier book, you could not hope to find.
Who is the patron saint of children’s literature? To my mind it’s a toss up between Ashley Bryan and LeVar Burton. Here, LeVar answers questions on CNN.
A shift in gears. This past week was a tough one, what with the bombing in Boston. I do appreciate it whenever anyone brings up the Mr. Rogers line about watching the helpers. However, it is a little sad that the only time Mr. Rogers is mentioned these days is when there’s some horrible event in the news. Here’s the man in happier times. It was Travis at 100 Scope Notes and Zachariah Ohora that got the scoop on an old Mr. Rogers episode where he visits none other than Eric Carle. It starts at 12:17 (just in case you don’t want to indulge in Fortune Cookie Man at this precise moment).
Now THAT is how you get paint on a smock, my friends.
Finally, for our off-topic video of the day, I had to go with this one. Consider it a sample from the nonexistent television show I would most like to see someday.
Maria Had a Little Llama / Maria Tenia Una Llama Pequena
By Angela Dominguez
Henry Holt (an imprint of Macmillan)
On shelves August 20th
Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you a humbled woman. A woman who “knew” certain facts but, until she saw them working in her own personal life, was made up of knowledge that was almost entirely speculative. Case in point, as a children’s librarian I “knew” (there are those quotation marks again) that nursery rhymes were important to children. But until I had spawned my own sprog I never really saw their power at play. All it took was one little sing/reading of Tomie de Paola’s board book version of Mary Had a Little Lamb and we were off! Suddenly my kiddo had to have every possible version of that same song. So we grabbed titles like the Kate Willis-Crowley Mary Had a Little Lamb, the Laura Huliska-Beith Mary Had a Little Lamb, and even the somewhat misleading Mary and Her Little Lamb by Will Moses. Read enough of the same thing to your kid over and over again and they’ll open to reinterpretations. So when Maria Had a Little Llama walked into my life I was on board. It’s beautiful, bilingual, and a one of a kind little specimen that I’m pleased to report now has a home on my shelves. If you’re burning out on the same-old, same-old, consider cranking it up a notch by ditching the familiar for a little Maria/llama action. You’ll be glad you did.
How does that old tune go? Ah yes. “Mary had a little lamb / its fleece was white as snow / And everywhere that Mary went / the lamb was sure to go.” Of course, should one choose to set the book in Peru, the lyrics could take on a slightly different tone. Instead of Mary we now have Maria. Instead of a little lamb, it’s a little llama. And though the bones of the song are the same (the school, the children, the laughing) author/illustrator Angela Dominguez imbues her book with a distinctive one-of-a-kind flavor and feel.
It’s a surprise to few that children’s books containing Latino characters are rare beasts. In spite of a significant population nationwide, try coming up with a single early chapter book series starring a Hispanic kid. Go on. Name me one. Picture books fare a little better, but usually there’s a didacticism lurking in the wings. A book that contains Spanish words is so often trying to teach those words that the storytelling gets lost in the process. Naturally there are exceptions to this (if your local library doesn’t own a single Gary Soto written Chato title then I advise you to petition them immediately if not sooner) and Angela Dominguez has penned one such book.
Recently I was in Spain and I encouraged my kiddo to count to ten in Spanish for a waiter at a restaurant. When she finished he asked how it was possible that she knew Spanish. I told him that they teach Spanish in daycares these days and he looked puzzled, “Why?” I could have launched into a long explanation about the benefits to the human brain of knowing more than one language, but why get into that? Still, the fact of the matter is that more and more kids are learning Spanish every day and as a result the demand for books that cater to their growing knowledge are in the increase Add the fact that Maria Had a Little Llama sports a familiar tune we all know only sweetens the deal, really.
Some bilingual books for kids feel like afterthoughts. Sometimes this makes sense since the books were originally published in one language and then became bilingual in subsequent printings. But some books just don’t adequately prepare for dual languages even when they come out as bilingual the first time. I don’t want to get to deep into the world of typography, page layouts, and design, but suffice to say when you know you’ll have to make additional space in a book for a translation, inform the book’s artist. In this particular case, Dominguez is both author and illustrator, so she was prepared from the get-go. Part of what I like so much about Maria is the fact that the Spanish lines are apparent and easy to read while also occupying their own space. The English words tend to be in bold with the Spanish slightly less dark below. Then as you read the book the words leap around the page. My favorite comes when we get to the lines “That was against the rules / Eso iba contra las reglas”. Dominguez cleverly places these words on a little framed blackboard hanging on the wall, as if the allusion to the rules were the rules themselves. But what makes it nice is that the attention paid to one language equals the attention paid to another. It’s the moment that clarifies best that this book was meant to be bilingual from the moment it was conceived. Awesome.
Then there’s the art. Picture books set in Peru are not as common as all that on my library shelves. The notable exception I suppose would have to be Love and Roast Chicken by Barbara Knutson, which is a delightful folktale that involves the deliciousness of guinea pigs as part of the plot. Old MacDonald by Jonas Sickler, a lovely little indestructible book, shares the most in common with Maria since it sets its own nursery rhyme in a similar setting (and yes, there are llamas galore). Part of what I liked so much about Dominguez’s book was how seamlessly she integrates the background into the story. There are loads of clever details about the region worked in (at one point Maria walks past a map that shows everything from the Andes to Inca Trails to Machu Picchu) but they don’t feel forced. You are thoroughly immersed in Maria’s world, until an extraordinary wordless two-page spread when it is clear that the author/illustrator wants you to pay attention to something other than the words. The shot is taken from above, looking down over the roofs and houses to a market square where Maria and her llama approach their school. The watercolors do an excellent job of bringing out the reds and purples found in some of the clothing. I also loved that when we reach the last page of the book, not only is the clothing accurate to the region but the instruments some of the folks are playing are completely out of my wheelhouse. I found myself wishing that for all that I loved the book’s sparse, spare feel, it would be great if there was a tiny Afterword explaining what these instruments were. Particularly that harp-like thing on the big guy’s shoulder that’s tied around him by purple bands of ribbon.
Yeah, it sort of works on every level. You can sing it (and therefore use it in a storytime VERY easily), it’s remarkably beautiful, the design works, the multiple languages are awesome, and it stars a kid from South America, which is a rare bright jewel in the publishing marketplace these days. All told, it’s a classy and successful effort. Beautiful from tip to toe, and necessary, this is one of those purchasing no brainers. You’re just gonna love it anyway. Might as well go out and buy this sucker. Satisfaction guaranteed.
On shelves August 20th.
Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Interviews: Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interviewed Angela this year, though admittedly the focus is on Angela’s other 2013 release.
Special Note: If you should find yourself with an F&G of this title, please note that the Spanish in the galley will not reflect the Spanish in the final edition. I had this book vetted by a friend from Spain and a friend from Mexico and they caught many mistakes. However, after checking with the publisher I learned about the changes being made to the final text.
Misc: A behind-the-scenes peek at the book.
They asked me to do some promotional videos for my book.
I came up with these instead. Life is too short not to have your legs eaten by legwarmers. I’m inclined to name them The Electric Blue Boogaloo.
I have fun.
Recently I was offered the chance to debut an original piece of art from the multi-talented Bob Staake. The reason? Well, National Screen Free Week is almost upon us. I don’t think I’m the only one who has noticed a small growth in books that encourage kids to put down their shiny rectangles and engage in life, living, the pursuit of happiness, etc. Whether they’re books that display the delights of blackouts or titles where cell phones are a thing of the past, it’s a growing movement.
The key facts for why this might be?
Here then, is a lovely little work by the aforementioned Staake-man.
Unplug & Reconnect With Books!
Random House Celebrates National Screen Free Week
Inspired by Dan Yaccarino’s DOUG UNPLUGGED
April 29th – May 5th
NEW YORK (March 14, 2013)— Random House Children’s Books issues the challenge to UNPLUG & READ this spring in support of National Screen Free Week—the annual celebration from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) that encourages turning off screens and turning on life. To spread the word, we’re touring four of our most distinguished picture book artists, including Chris Raschka, Bob Staake, Dan Yaccarino and Tad Hills.
The centerpiece of the tour will feature Dan Yaccarino’s latest project, Doug Unplugged (On sale February 12, 2013) about a robot who dares rebel against the constraints of digital learning.
For Yaccarino, a digital artist and self-confessed tech nerd, this may seem counterintuitive. With his two children, however, Yaccarino takes a harder line. “I feel very strongly about the message of my book, DOUG UNPLUGGED. A lot of us spend much of our day in front of one kind of screen or another and we can sometimes lose sight that these screens only reflect life, and that there’s a big, beautiful world out there full of real experiences, people and places.”
Because we at Random House Children’s Books agree with both Dan and his robot friend Doug, we will be launching Random House Unplugs during National Screen Free week, (April 29th – May 5th). This initiative brings together some of the most well-known names in children’s illustrated books, including Chris Raschka, Bob Staake and Tad Hills, to participate in a national tour, school beautification projects and various other activities that help families encourage screen free time. Each of these bestselling picture book creators is uniquely positioned to speak to the boundless benefits of engaging in screen-free activities and will use their new releases to inspire creativity. In select markets, the illustrators will create indoor and outdoor murals, encouraging students to contribute their own art to the creation.
Screen Free Week is the annual celebration from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) that encourages you to turn off screens and turn on life. CCFC’s Screen Free Week is a creative response to growing public health concerns about the unprecedented time children spend with entertainment screen media—television, computers, video games, and smart phones. Unplugging for one week provides an opportunity to reset media habits, establishing a healthy, sustainable tradition of media consumption in households and schools.
To support the message of Screen Free Week, Random House Children’s Books will create a Random House Unplugs Video featuring our four illustrators, release exclusive art from each creator with their interpretation of what it means to UNPLUG, and launch a blog tour counting down the days until Screen Free Week, suggesting picture books through teen titles to turn to when the screens turn off. To support parents in their efforts to encourage Screen Free activities, a Guide with book suggestions for all ages, activities and tips for screen-free entertaining is also available.
Apparently I’m under the impression that it would be a good idea to write a potentially hot and toasty topic while I walk beneath the Spanish sun with limited access to the internet. But this is something that’s been on my mind a lot recently, and it all came a head the other day as I was assigning various picture books to the branches of my library system.
In the course of my work I get a lot of books to consider for both purchase for NYPL and review for Fuse #8. I was, on this day, handling some copies of 100 Animals on Parade by Masayuki Sebe. Compared in some circles to Richard Scarry it received stellar reviews from Kirkus, PW, etc. and is a lot of fun to thumb through. Unfortunately I noticed something that Kirkus had taken the time to note (well played, Kirkus). In one spread we see a long line of marching bears. The child reader is asked to find a lot of things, and must answer the question, “Are there any girl bears?”
Come again? Seeing as how the bears are bereft of genitalia and boobs (which, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for) one has to assume that the book is asking kids to say that the bears with the long eyelashes, bows in their hair, and dresses are the girls. Oh, how far we’ve sunk back down, eh? Time was when folks got more than a bit peeved when you started limited girls in this way. The most famous example of this involves the aforementioned Richard Scarry. I’m sure you guys are familiar with the following comparison between Richard Scarry’s The Best Word Book Ever, 1963 and 1991.
This is a very fun and very systematic look at how Scarry was given a more open-minded outlook on the roles men and women play in everyday life. And sure, the girls have dresses and bows and the men suits and sneakers, but at least their work in the home and occupations are a bit more interesting. These days I’m noticing that some children’s books, particularly those of the mass market ilk, are going the way of our toy stores. Which is to say, they’re getting VERY gendered. Sometimes this is directly because of the gendering of toys (the “girl version” of LEGOs was kind of the last straw for me) but other times it’s just a reliance on the old sexist standbys.
The exception to all of this is our 21st century Scarry, Brian Biggs. I’m consistently impressed with his Everything Goes series, and Mr. Biggs takes special care to challenge your assumptions. Everything Goes In the Air, notably, makes the pilot of the airplane a woman without blowing it up into a great big deal. Women fly planes. It happens. Deal with it.
Fair play too to books like Guinea P.I.G.: Pet Shop Detective series where the guinea pig in question is female (Sasspants is her name, solving crimes her game) and doesn’t walk around with four foot eyelashes and loads of pink accoutrements.
I’d be interested in what other folks have seen as well. Naturally there are some books out there for girls that don’t want to be fairy princesses and boys who like reading a pink book (like Babymouse) once in a while for fun (though admittedly the amoeba spin-off was ostensibly aimed at the boy folks). Still, is it just me or are things getting frighteningly boys-do-this / girls-do-this these days in our children’s literature?
The rules are simple. Reinterpret a famous scene from any Maurice Sendak book in the style of another famous children’s picture book artist. Perhaps you’d like to do Pierre ala Ezra Jack Keats or Outside Over There in the style of Marcia Brown. All power to you. Whatever you prefer, if you think this is a fun notion send me a scan of your idea and I’ll cull together a post filled with some of the different submissions and post the results on the anniversary of the publication of Where the Wild Things Are (October sumthin’ sumthin’). And if you want to do it in the style of someone living (Mo Willems, Kevin Henkes, etc.) it could be fun but let it be on your head. Admittedly, last time Dan Santat did a Jon Klassen that was absolute perfection.
See our previous post on how to Re-Seussify Seuss if you’ve any questions.
All submissions must be received at Fusenumber8@gmail.com by April 30st.
Olivier Tallec & Oliver Jeffers
Moderated by Pamela Paul
Wednesday, May 1st | 6pm
Place: NYPL, Berger Forum
Olivier Tallec and Oliver Jeffers are both avid world travelers and authors whose bold and colorful children’s books are bestsellers in the US. Join them for an animated conversation at the New York Public Library, moderated by Pamela Paul, Children’s Book Editor of the New York Times Book Review.
This event is presented in conjunction with the series: Picture This! Conversations with illustrators from Paris and NY, organized by Cultural Services of the French Embassy. More info: http://frenchculture.org/books/festivals/picture-this
- Olivier Tallec’s books are as colorful as his travels. After graduating from the École Supérieure d’Art graphique in Paris, he worked as a graphic designer in advertising before devoting himself to illustration. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines and he has illustrated over 50 books for children, including Waterloo and Trafalgar (Enchanted Lion Books) and the well-known series ‘Rita and Whatsit’ (Chronicle Books). In 2010, Big Wolf & Little Wolf was chosen as a Batchelder Honor Book.
- Oliver Jeffers brings a strong sense of artistry and whimsy to his books. Originally from Northern Ireland, he graduated from the University of Ulster with a degree in Visual Communication. He is widely known for his picture books for children, including How to Catch a Star, The Great Paper Caper, and This Moose Belongs to Me (Philomel). Lost and Found received the Blue Peter Book Award in 2006 and The Incredible Book Eating Boy was named Children’s Book of the Year at the 2007 Irish Book Awards. He now lives and works in Brooklyn.
Hi-ho, readers one and all!
I am back in the States, apparently in one piece, and raring to go. In the coming weeks I’ll be gearing up for a bunch of Giant Dance Party appearances, and I will subject you to the announcements quite soon, I’m afraid.
A quick note or two about my recent jaunt to Spain. It was, as one might hope, shockingly beautiful and lots of fun. I saw old friends. Wrangled my almost two-year-old with the help of my husband, in-laws, and six-year-old niece. And then I proceeded to discover that I was flying out on the same day that the Barcelona International Children’s Book Fair called Mon Llibre 2013 was slated to begin. That’s right. I managed to fly across an ocean and miss a unique and one-of-a-kind children’s book fair experience by a day.
That is all right. I’ll just have to make a point to pay more attention in the future. In any case, it’s great to be back! Happy Monday!
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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No Fits, Nilson!
By Zachariah Ohora
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
On shelves June 13th
The small child is a frightening beast. A truly terrifying creature that can level the most powerful adult with the mere pitch of their fury laden screams. As a children’s librarian I used to tell my husband that mine was one of the few jobs I knew where an average day was punctuated by human sobs and screams of terror, misery, and fury. What then is the reasoning behind the idea that you should read a child a book about a fellow kiddo having a meltdown? Well, kids can get a lot out of that kind of identification. They can put themselves into the role of the parent, to a certain extent. Or maybe it’s just good old schadenfreude. Better her than me, eh? Whatever the reasoning, meltdowns make for good picture book fodder. Add in a giant blue gorilla with a penchant for wristwear and you’ve got yourself a picture book as fine as fish hair. A treat to eye and ear alike, Ohora is truly coming into his own with a book that truly has universal appeal. And a gorilla. But I repeat myself.
Amelia and Nilson are inseparable. They play together, eat together, and with some exceptions (Nilson is afraid of water so no baths) they’re never out of one another’s sight. The fact that Amelia is a little girl and Nilson a gigantic blue gorilla? Not an issue. What is an issue is the fact that Nilson has a terribly short fuse. Good thing Amelia knows exactly what to do to calm him down. Don’t want to go with mom to do chores? Amelia calls them adventures instead. Nilson’s getting testy waiting in line at the post office? Amelia hands him her froggy purse. It’s the moment that Nilson gets the the last banana ice cream that Amelia’s composure finally breaks down. Now she’s the one who’s upset. Fortunately, Nilson knows the perfect way to make everything right again.
When we think of the great tantrum picture books out there, the mind immediately leaps to the be all and end all of fits, When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry by Molly Bang. That book sort of set the standards for meltdown lit. It’s simple, it gets to the point, it teaches colors (though that’s more a nice bonus rather than anything else). After Sophie authors tried to come up with different unique takes on a common occurrence. Rosemary Wells came up with Miracle Melts Down, Robie Harris dared to discuss the unmentionable in The Day Leo Said “I Hate You “. And who could forget David Elliott’s truly terrifying Finn Throws a Fit? In the end, this book is almost an older version of Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (it involves preschooler fits rather than toddler fits, which as any parent will tell you are a different beast entirely). But part of what I like most about No Fits, Nilson! is that it sort of harkens back to the early days of Sophie. Ohora makes a metaphor out of the familiar and in doing so makes it even more understandable than it would be if his gorilla was nowhere in sight.
Ohora’s previous picture book, Stop Snoring, Bernard! was a lovely book to look upon. As an artist, the man has cultivated a kind of acrylic mastery that really does a wonderful job of bringing out the personalities of his characters within a limited color palette. However, while the art in Bernard was at times beyond stunning, his storytelling wasn’t quite there yet. It was all show without the benefit of substance. So it was a great deal of relief that I discovered that No Fits, Nilson! had remedied this little problem. Story wise, Ohora is within his element. He knows that there is no better way of describing a kid’s tantrums than a 400-pound (or so) gorilla. Most important of all, the metaphor works. Nilson is a marvelous stand-in for Amelia, until that moment of spot-on role reversal.
As I mentioned before, the acrylics threaten to become the stars of the show more than once in this book. Limiting himself to blue, red, pink, yellow/beige and green, Ohora’s is a very specific color scheme. Neo-21st century hipster. Indeed the book appears to be set in Brooklyn (though a map on one of the subways manages to crop out most of the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and half of Brooklyn, so maybe I’m reading too much into the setting). As I also mentioned before, painting beautifully is one thing, but coming up with delightful, memorable characters is what separates the RISD grads from the true picture book masters. Nilson is the one that’s going to get the kids the most excited to read this book so it was important for Ohora to make him a unique blue gorilla. Not the kind of guy you’d run into on the street. To do this, Ohora chooses to accessorize. Note the three watches Nilson wears on his left arm and the three on his right. Note his snappy black beret with the yellow trim, and yellow and black sneakers. Next, the artist has to make Nilson a gorilla prone to the grumps but that is essentially lovable in spite of them. For this, Amelia is a very good counterpoint. Her sweetness counteracts Nilson’s barely contained rage. Finally, Ohora throws in some tiny details to make the reading experience enjoyable for adults as well. The typography at work when the tiny words “banana ice cream” move from Amelia’s mouth and eyes to Nilson’s mouth and eyes is a sight to behold. Ditto the funny in-jokes on the subway (New Yorkers may be the only folks who get Ohora’s “Dr. Fuzzmore” ads, and the one for the zoo is a clear cut reference to Stop Snoring, Bernard!).
Yeah, I’m a fan. Kids may be the intended audience for books like this one, but it’s parents that are shelling out the cash to buy. That means you have to appeal to grown-up sensibilities as well as children’s. What Ohora does so well is that he knows how to tap into an appreciation for his material on both a child and adult level. This is no mean feat. Clearly the man knows where to find the picture book sweet spot. A visual feast as well as a treat to the ear, this is a book that’s going to find an audience no matter where it goes. At least it better. Otherwise I might have to sick my own 400-pound gorilla on someone, and believe me . . . you do NOT want to get him angry.
On shelves June 13th
Source: Review from f&g sent from publisher.
Like This? Then Try:
- Whence the inspiration for the book? This comparison chart should clear everything up (WARNING: CONTAINS SOME SWEET KICKS).
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Okay, folks. This is where we start the self-promotion machine. I’m looking at it right now and it’s rusty and corroded and clearly falling apart at the seams. Nonetheless, I shall grab my proverbial gas can, fill the tank, pull the cord, let ‘er rip, and see where she takes me.
So first and foremost, check this puppy out: www.betsybirdbooks.com
It’s me very own website! Still in a transition phase admittedly (I’m putting the final touches on some promotional videos that’ll appear later this week) but a lot of fun. Note the lovely tabs that aid in ease of movement. Note the links to my Reviews, which happen to include this fan-freakin’-tastic one from Bookie Woogie. Seriously, it’s kind of depressing that my best review had to come out right now. Everything after this point will be downhill (though you are more than welcome to attempt to prove me wrong on this point).
Note too the fact that www.betsybird.com was already taken by a Memphis painter. Alas that I have such a potentially common name.
Lest you think I have mad website building skills, full credit for my site goes out to my sister Kate. Kate slaved relentlessly on this, which is why it’s as lovely as it is. Thank you, sis!
It’s funny to think that I’d be so new to this brave new world of marketing myself, but honestly things change so quickly these days that it can be hard to catch up. For example, I’ve made a Pinterest page for my book (it’s rather fun, I have to admit), and I’ve created a Lesson Plan for the book. Currently I’m working on making the Lesson Plan a little more aligned with the Core Curriculum (it’s fortunate that I can speak the lingo).
So what does that leave?
Party party parties!
Yes, I’m going to start doing appearances. Very very silly appearances. Appearances that are well worth viewing, if I do say so myself (oh, storytime skills don’t fail me now).
My very first appearance will be this Saturday (oh me, oh my) at the Children’s Center at 42nd Street in the main branch of NYPL at 11:30 a.m. There will be a reading. There will be dancing. There will be books for sale. There will be boots that looked like I took the pelts of chinchillas and died them in electric blue Kool-Aid. Oh, it shall be a good time!
And to be fair to Brooklyn, the very next day on this Sunday I will be appearing at Powerhouse Arena at 11:30 a.m. So if you miss one appearance you can attend another. And if it seems as though you’ve missed both? I’ll be making stops in Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo (as well as more in Brooklyn) this months. See my Events for more details.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.