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1. The Diversity List: Picture, Easy, and Early Chapter Books of 2015

Red-Yellow-Blue1So I’m going to confess something to you.  All year long, from January onward, I’ve been keeping track of any picture book, easy book, or early chapter book I’ve seen containing some kind of diversity.  Have I missed books?  Of course I have!  You cannot make a list like this without missing something.  Books from publishers like Kar-Ben Books and Inhabit Media (amongst others) should be better represented, but I failed to keep proper track early in the year.  There probably isn’t enough Lee & Low or Cinco Punto either.  At the same time, the books that I was able to gather could be potentially useful to folks.  You will find them organized by their publication release dates.

I apologize beforehand that sometimes the notes here do not mention the specific ethnicities of the characters.  Often this is because the book itself has not made it clear.  For these titles, you will need to look at the books individually.

As ever, if you see something missing here please note it in the comments. Also, if you think I’ve included wrong information about a book, let me know so that I can make the change.


Title                              Author            Pub Date     Age        Subjects                               Type

Families Shelley Rotner & Sheila M. Kelly 1/1/2015 Ages 3-6 family, alternative lifestyles, same sex families Picture Book
3, 2, 1, Go! Emily Arnold McCully 1/1/2015 Ages 4-6 strong girls, science girls, STEM Easy Reader
How to Grow a Friend Sara Gillingham 1/6/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, nature Picture Book
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich Julia Sarcone-Roach 1/6/2015 Ages 4-6 nature, bears, cities, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Last Stop on Market Street Matt de la Pena 1/8/2015 Ages 4-6 family, multigenerational, lower income, African-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
The Tea Party in the Woods Akiko Miyakoshi 1/8/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Asian, animals, tea parties Picture Book
Ready, Set, Kindergarten! Paula Ayer 1/9/2015 Ages 4-5 Diverse Main Character, starting school, biracial Picture Book
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay Cari Best 1/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Disability, friendship, sports, African-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Freedom’s School Lesa Cline-Ransome 1/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, American history, freedom Picture Book
Juna’s Jar Jane Bank 1/15/2015 Ages 3-6 multi-cultural, moving, Asian-American, friendship, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Harlem Renaissance Party Faith Ringgold 1/27/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, American history Picture Book
Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure Jacqueline Jules 2/1/2015 Ages 6-9 family, Latino-American, Diverse Main Character Chapter Book
Sofia Martinez: The Missing Mouse Jacqueline Jules 2/1/2015 Ages 4-6 family, Latino-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
A Dozen Cousins Lori Haskins Houran 2/3/2015 Ages 4-6 family, Multi-ethnic Cast, boys, girls Picture Book
The New Small Person Lauren Child 2/10/2015 Ages 4-7 family, new baby, siblings, jealousy, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
I Had a Favorite Hat Boni Ashburn 2/17/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, Clothing, Imagination Picture Book
The Red Bicycle Jude Isabella 3/1/2015 Ages 4-7 multi-cultural, Africa, bicycles, philanthropy, world culture, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
The Sock Thief Ana Crespo 3/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Latin America, soccer, sports, altruism, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Jessica’s Box Peter Carnavas 3/1/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, Disability, friendship Picture Book
Party Croc! A Folktale from Zimbabwe Margaret Read McDonald 3/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, folktale, promises Picture Book
No, No, Kitten! Shelley Moore Thomas 3/3/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Cats, Pets Picture Book
Stone Angel Jane Yolen 3/3/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, WWII, Holocaust, hope Picture Book
Red Jan De Kinder 3/9/2015 Ages 4-7 Bullying, Friendship, School Picture Book
Bird & Diz Gary Golio 3/10/2015 Ages 4-7 jazz, African-American, American history, music, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
My Pen Christopher Myers 3/10/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, Imagination, Drawing, Art Picture Book
Red, Yellow, Blue (And a Dash of White Too!) C.G. Esperanza 3/10/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Imagination, Colors, Art, African-American Picture Book
Peace Is an Offering Annette Le Box 3/10/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, peace, friendship Picture Book
15 Things Not To Do With a Baby Margaret McAllister 3/15/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, new baby, siblings Picture Book
Thank You, Jackson Niki Daly 3/15/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, manners, Africa Picture Book
Salsa: Una Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem Jorge Argueta 3/17/2015 Ages 4-6 cooking, Latino-American, family, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
And What If I Won’t? Maureen Fergus 3/17/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, family, mothers, behavior Picture Book
Drum Dream Girl Margarita Engle 3/24/2015 Ages 5-7 Diverse Main Character, Cuba, music, girls, multi-racial Picture Book
Families, Families, Families! Suzanne Lang 3/24/2015 Ages 4-6 family, alternative lifestyles, same sex families Picture Book
How to Surprise a Dad Jean Reagan 3/24/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, fathers, family Picture Book
The Best Friend Battle Lindsay Eyre 3/31/2015 Ages 6-9 friendship, jealousy, Latino-American, Multi-ethnic Cast Chapter Book
The Five of Us Quentin Blake 3/31/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, ability, self-esteem Picture Book
Finding the Music / En Pos de la Musica Jennifer Torres 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, music Picture Book
Poems in the Attic Nikki Grimes 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, family Picture Book
The Flying Hand of Marco B. Richard Leiter 4/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, imagination, flying Picture Book
My Family Tree and Me Dusan Petricic 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Asian-American, biracial, family tree Picture Book
Never Give Up: A Story About Self-esteem Kathryn Cole 4/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, self-esteem, perseverance Picture Book
I Am Ivan Crocodile Rene Gouichoux 4/1/2015 Ages 5-7 bullying, disability, emotions Picture Book
Grandma in Blue With a Red Hat Scott Menchin 4/14/2015 Ages 4-6 family, multigenerational, art, African-American, Diverse Main Character Picture Book
Hens for Friends Sandy De Lisle 4/14/2015 Ages 5-7 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, farm life, chickens Picture Book
There’s No Such Thing As Little LeUyen Pham 4/14/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, concepts, perception Picture Book
Little Sleepyhead Elizabeth McPike 4/14/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, bedtime, babies Picture Book
Little Chanclas Jose Lozano 4/15/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, clothing Picture Book
Princess Nina Marlise Achterbergh 4/21/2015 Ages 4-6 alternative lifestyles, princesses, strong girls Picture Book
Big News! Ida Siegal 4/28/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, Latino-American, mystery Chapter Book
Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner Gareth Edwards 4/28/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, dinosaurs, bedtime Picture Book
Izzy Barr, Running Star Claudia Mills 4/28/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, sports, friendship, African-American Chapter Book
Race the Wild: Rain Forest Relay Kristin Earhart 4/28/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, nature, adventure, animals Chapter Book
The Nesting Quilt Cathryn Falwell 5/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, new baby, crafts Picture Book
A Day at Grandma’s Mi-ae Lee 5/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Korea, sleepovers, separation, family Picture Book
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story Reem Faruqi 5/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Muslim, holidays, differences Picture Book
Grandma Lives in a Perfume Village Fang Suzhen 5/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Taiwan, death, grandparents Picture Book
Ally-Saurus Richard Torrey 5/5/2015 Ages 4-6 friendship, strong girls, gender stereotypes, dinosaurs Picture Book
Stella Brings the Family Miriam B. Schiffer 5/5/2015 Ages 4-7 family, alternative lifestyles, same sex families Picture Book
Don’t Throw It to Mo! David A. Adler 5/5/2015 Ages 6-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, Diverse Main Character, sports, football, self-esteem Easy Reader
Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split Anica Mrose Rissi 5/5/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, friendship, fighting Chapter Book
Interstellar Cinderella Deborah Underwood 5/5/2015 Ages 3-6 strong girls, science girls, STEM, fractured fairytales Picture Book
Feet Go to Sleep Barbara Bottner 5/12/2015 Ages 4-6 family, bedtime, body parts, Multi-ethnic Cast Picture Book
Bright Sky, Starry City Uma Krishnaswami 5/12/2015 Ages 5-7 science, strong girls, astronomy, urban life Picture Book
With a Friend By Your Side Barbara Kerley 5/12/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship Picture Book
Sunday Shopping Sally Derby 5/15/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, shopping, money Picture Book
One Family George Shannon 5/26/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, alternative lifestyles, family, multigenerational Picture Book
Battle Bugs: The Lizard War Jack Patton 5/26/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, action, insects, reptiles, adventure Chapter Book
Battle Bugs: The Spider Siege Jack Patton 5/26/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, action, insects, spiders, adventure Chapter Book
In a Village By the Sea Muon Van 6/9/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Vietnam, Cumulative Tale Picture Book
What James Said Liz Rosenberg 6/9/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, rumors Picture Book
One Word from Sophia Jim Averbeck 6/16/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, Diverse Main Character, manners Picture Book
Vamonos! Let’s Go! Rene Colato Lainez 7/1/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, Latino, nursery rhymes, transportation Picture Book
Rosie Goes to Preschool Karen Katz 7/7/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, starting school, preschool, friendship Picture Book
Freckleface Strawberry: Backpacks Julianne Moore 7/14/2015 Ages 4-6 alternative lifestyles, same sex families, cleaning Easy Reader
We’re Getting a Pet Sue Fliess 7/14/2015 Ages 2-4 Diverse Main Character, new pet, animals Picture Book
Charlotte and the Quiet Place Deborah Sosin 7/21/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, New York City, peace Picture Book
Bucky and Stu Vs. The Mikanikal Man Cornelius Van Wright 7/28/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, African-American, superheroes, imagination, friendship Picture Book
Double Happiness Nancy Tupper Ling 7/28/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, Asian-American, moving, travel Picture Book
Marvelous Cornelius Phil Bildner 7/28/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, hope, hurricanes, African-American Picture Book
Shanghai Sukkah Heidi Smith Hyde 8/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, China, history, holidays Picture Book
Talia and the Very Yum Kippur Linda Elovitz Marshall 8/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main character, Jewish, holidays Picture Book
Meg Goldberg on Parade Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum 8/1/2015 Ages 4-6 Jewish, parades, New York City Picture Book
The Seeds of Friendship Michael Foreman 8/4/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, immigrants, friendship, Africa Picture Book
The Great and Mighty Nikko! Xavier Garza 8/4/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, bilingual, Latin-American, counting, Mexican wrestling Picture Book
I’m New Here Anne Sibley O’Brien 8/4/2015 Ages 4-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, immigration, immigrants, friendship Picture Book
The Green Musician Mahvash Shahegh 8/7/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Muslim, folktales Picture Book
Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox Danielle Daniel 8/11/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, feelings, animals, Native American Picture Book
In the Canyon Liz Garton Scanlon 8/18/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, nature, animals Picture Book
Pumpkin Day! Candice Ransom 8/25/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, autumn, seasons Easy Reader
Happy In Our Skin Fran Manushkin 8/25/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, self-esteem, celebrating differences Picture Book
Mango, Abuela, and Me Meg Medina 8/25/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, grandparents, immigration, Latino-American Picture Book
Leo Mac Barnett 8/25/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, ghosts, friendship Picture Book
Elephant in the Dark Mina Javaherbin 8/25/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, Iran, folktale Picture Book
What Does It Mean to be Kind? Rana DiOrio 8/25/2015 Ages 4-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, kindness, life skills Picture Book
My Two Blankets Irena Kobold 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, immigrants, friendship, Africa Picture Book
On the Ball: Unleash Your Imagination Brian Pinkney 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, soccer, persistence Picture Book
In a Cloud of Dust Alma Fullerton 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Africa, bicycles Picture Book
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation Edwidge Danticat 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, immigration, separation, Carribean Picture Book
Sail Away Langston Hughes 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, poetry, water Picture Book
Poo in the Zoo Steve Smallman 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, zoo, poop, rhyming picture books Picture Book
Sadako’s Cranes Judith Loske 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Japan, WWII, hope, peace Picture Book
Backyard Camp-Out Jerdine Nolen 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, camping, friendship Easy Reader
Block Party Surprise Jerdine Nolen 9/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, parties, friendship Easy Reader
Monster Trouble! Lane Fredrickson 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, monsters, bedtime Picture Book
The Little Kids’ Table Mary Ann McCabe Riehle 9/1/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, holidays, dinner, manners Picture Book
Lizard From the Park Mark Pett 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, NYC, dinosaurs, friendship Picture Book
Oskar and the Eight Blessings Richard & Tanya Simon 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, NYC, holocaust, Hannukah, Christmas Picture Book
I Am a Bear Jean-Francois Dumont 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 homelessness, poverty, compassion, bears Picture Book
It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon Jarrett J. Krosoczka 9/8/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, feelings, problem solving Picture Book
Jumping Off Library Shelves: A Book of Poems Lee Bennett Hopkins (ed) 9/8/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, poetry, libraries Picture Book
Flop to the Top Eleanor Davis 9/15/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, friendship, popularity, pets Easy Reader
P’esk’a and the First Salmon Ceremony Scot Ritchie 9/15/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Native Americans, history Picture Book
Oscar Lives Next Door Bonnie Farmer 9/15/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, jazz, music, illness Picture Book
Miracle on 133rd Street Sonia Manzano 9/22/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, NYC, Latino-American, Christmas Picture Book
How the Sun Got to Coco’s House Bob Graham 9/22/2015 Ages 4-6 Multi-ethinic Cast, daytime, the world Picture Book
Roar! Tammi Sauer 9/29/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, dragons, friendship Picture Book
Kamik’s First Sled Matilda Sulurayok 10/1/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Native voices, dogs Picture Book
Ketzel the Cat Who Composed Leslea Newman 10/6/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, cats, music Picture Book
Mixed Me! Taye Diggs 10/6/2015 Ages 3-6 Diverse Main Character, biracial, self-esteem Picture Book
Little Shaq Shaquilloe O’Neal 10/6/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, basketball, African-American, self-esteem Chapter Book
Two White Rabbits Jairo Buitrago 10/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Mexico, migrants, immigration Picture Book
West Meadow Detectives Liam O’Donnell 10/13/2015 Ages 6-9 Multi-ethnic Cast, autism, detective stories Chapter Book
Me and My Dragon: Christmas Spirit David Biedrzycki 10/13/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, Christmas, dragons, poverty Picture Book
Today is the Day Eric Walters 10/13/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, orphans, Kenya, birthdays Picture Book
Bottle Cap Boys Go Dancing on Royal Street Rita Williams-Garcia 10/15/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, African-American, dance, New Orleans Picture Book
Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein Amanda Peet & Andrea Troyer 10/20/2015 Ages 4-7 Diverse Main Character, Jewish, Christmas, Hanukkah Picture Book
Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption Jose Domingo 10/20/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, graphic novels, adventure Chapter Book
Little Red Gliding Hood Tara Lazar 10/27/2015 Ages 4-6 Diverse Main Character, fairy tales, ice skating, fractured fairy tales Picture Book
Strictly No Elephants Lisa Mantchev 10/27/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, differences, inclusion, pets Picture Book
I Can’t Wait! Amy Schwartz 10/27/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, friendship, emotions Picture Book
Bigfoot Does Not Like Birthday Parties Eric Ode 10/27/2015 Ages 3-6 Multi-ethnic Cast, Bigfoot, birthday parties Picture Book
One Today Richard Blanco 11/3/2015 Ages 4-7 Multi-ethnic Cast, poetry, patriotism Picture Book
Lola Levine is Not Mean! Monica Brown 11/3/2015 Ages 6-9 Diverse Main Character, biracial, Jewish, Latino-American Chapter Book
Specs for Rex Yasmeen Ismail 11/3/2015 Ages 4-7 glasses, self-esteem, first day of school Picture Book
The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk Kabir & Surishtha Sehgal 11/3/2015 Ages 2-4 Multi-ethnic Cast, India, nursery rhymes, transportation Picture Book
Snow Rabbit Camille Garoche 11/3/2015 Ages 4-6 Disability, sisters, nature, rabbits Picture Book
The Little Tree Muon Van 11/10/2015 Ages 4-7 adoption, nature, environment Picture Book
Don’t Feed the Geckos Karen English 12/1/2015 Ages 6-9 Multi-ethnic Cast, soccer, cousins, Latino, family Chapter Book


19 Comments on The Diversity List: Picture, Easy, and Early Chapter Books of 2015, last added: 11/25/2015
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2. The Strangest Pinocchio I Know

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about illustrated books for children (as opposed to picture books) in all their various forms.  And since I’ve a penchant for nostalgia, I often think of my youth and the illustrated novels I read then.  The mid to late 1980s were an odd time for illustration in general.  For whatever reason, fantasy illustrators who worked primarily in the field of adult literature would occasionally show up on the covers of middle grade, or what passed for YA, titles at this time.  And once in a great while they’d even illustrate the interiors.  Hence today’s example.

I first discovered the work of artist Greg Hildebrandt through, of all things, a fully illustrated version of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.  That, in turn, lead me to what I still consider one of the strangest and most interesting books I’ve seen to date.  It was a lushly illustrated version of Pinocchio, and the first time I’d seen anything that wasn’t Disney.  It was odd and original and I’ve never quite forgotten it.  Eventually I’d learn about Hildebrandt’s background in fantasy illustration as well as his work on books like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Wizard of Oz.  But, for me, Pinocchio is still the most memorable.  Some illustrations from the book:







1 Comments on The Strangest Pinocchio I Know, last added: 11/23/2015
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3. Review of the Day: Emu by Claire Saxby

By Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Graham Byrne
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7479-3
Ages 4-7
On shelves now.

Alas for poor emu. Forever relegated to be consider a second rate ostrich, it encompasses all of the awkwardness and none of the stereotypes. Does anyone ever talk about burying your head in the sand like an emu? They do not. Are schoolchildren routinely called upon to ooh and aah at the size of an emu’s egg? They aren’t. And when you watch Swiss Family Robinson, do you ever find yourself wishing that the kids would try to saddle an emu for the big race? Not even once. Emus are the second largest living bird in terms of height, coming right after the ostrich, and you might be fooled into believing that they are the less interesting of the two. There, you are wrong. Wrongdy wrongdy wrong wrong wrong. I do not wish to start a war of words with the prominent ostrich societies of the world, but after reading Emu by Claire Saxby (illustrated by Graham Byrne) I’m a bit of what you might consider an emu convert. Chock full of interesting information and facts about what a typical emu might experience in its day-to-day life, the book is full of thrills, chills, and a species that gives stay-at-home dads everywhere a true animal mascot.

Meet the emu. Do not be offended if he fails to rise when you approach. At the moment he is safeguarding a precious clutch of eggs from elements and predators. While many of us consider the job of hatching eggs to be something that falls to the female of the species, emus are different. Once they’ve laid their eggs, female emus just take off, and it is the male emu that hatches and rears them. In this particular example, the male emu has a brood of seven or so chicks but though they’re pretty big (ten times bigger than a domestic chicken hatchling) they need their dad for food, shelter, and protection. The chicks find their own food right from the start and within three to four months they’ve already lost their first feathers. They zigzag to escape predators, live with their fathers for about a year, and have a kick like you would not believe. Backmatter of the book provides more information about emus, as well as an index.

Emu2This is not what you might call Saxby and Byrne’s first rodeo show. The Aussie duo previously had paired together on the book Big Red Kangaroo, a book that did just fine for itself. Following a kangaroo called “Red”, the ostensibly nonfiction title was best described by PW as, “An understated but visually arresting portrait of a species.” For my part I had no real objections to the book, but neither did I have anything for it. Kangaroo books are not rare in my children’s rooms, though the book was different in that it was written for a younger reading level. That same reading level is the focus of Emu and here I feel that Saxby and Byrne have started to refine their technique. One of the problems I had with Red was this naming of the titular kangaroo. It felt false in a way. Like the author didn’t trust the readers enough to show them a typical day in the life of an animal without having to personalize it with faux monikers. Byrne’s art too felt flatter to me in that book than it does here. This may have more to do with the subject matter than anything else, though. Emu faces, after all, are inherently more amusing and interesting than kangaroos

In terms of the text, Saxby utilizes a technique that’s proven very popular with teachers as of late. When kids in classrooms are given open reading time there can sometimes be a real range in reading levels. With this in mind, sometimes nonfiction picture books about the natural world will contain two types of text. There will be the more enticing narrative, ideal for reading aloud to a group or one-on-one. Then, for those budding naturalists, there will be a complementary second section that contains the facts. On the first two pages of Emu, for example, one side introduces the open forest with its “honey-pale sunshine” and the emu’s job while the second block of text, written in a small font that brings to mind an expert’s crisp clean handwriting, gives the statistics about emu (whether or not they can fly, their weight, height, etc.). In the back of the book under the Index there’s actually a little note about these sections. It says, “Don’t forget to look at both kinds of words”, and then writes the words “this kind and this kind” in the two different fonts.

Emu3Artist Graham Byrne’s bio says that he’s an electrical engineer, builder, and artist. This is his second picture book and the art is rendered digitally. What it looks like is scratchboard art, with maybe an ink overlay as well. I enjoyed the sense of place and the landscapes but what really made me happy was how Byrne draws an emu. There’s something about that bright yellow eye in the otherwise impassive face that gets me. I say impassive, but there are times when one wonders if Byrne is fighting an instinct to give his emu some expression. There’s a scene of the emu nosing his eggs, his beak appears to be curling up in just the slightest of smiles. Later an eagle threatens his brood and there’s almost a hint of a frown as he runs over to the rescue. It’s not enough to take you out of the story, but such images bear watching.

In comparing the emu to the ostrich I may have omitted certain pertinent details. After all, the emu doesn’t have it quite so bad. It appears on the Australian coat of arms, as well as on their money. There was an Emu War of 1932 where the emus actually won the day. Heck, it’s even not too difficult to find emus on farms in the United States. Still, culturally they’ve a far ways to go if ever they are to catch up with their ostrichy brethren fame-wise. Books like this one will help. I think there must be plenty of teachers out there a little tired of using Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse as their de facto responsible-dads-in-the-wild motif. Now kids outside of Australia will get a glimpse of this wild, wacky, wonderful and weird creature. Consider it worth meeting.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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4. Press Release Fun: Picture Book Summit Yields Big Rewards for We Need Diverse Books

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                CONTACT: Emma Walton Hamilton




Picture Book Summit 2015 Raises Over $7000 for

We Need Diverse Books


Event Featured Mac Barnett, Peter Brown, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Other Top Children’s Authors


New York, NY – The first annual Picture Book Summit, an international online conference for children’s picture book authors, raised more than $7000 for the nonprofit group We Need Diverse Books. The announcement was made at New York Media Works, the headquarters of Kidlit.TV – a sponsor of Picture Book Summit.

Picture Book Summit 2015 took place on October 3rd, and featured keynotes from bestselling authors Mac Barnett, Peter Brown and Andrea Davis Pinkney, as well as workshops led by the co-founders and panel discussions with editors and agents. Hundreds of working and aspiring children’s book writers attended the event, logging in from six continents.

“We’re thrilled to be making this contribution,” said children’s book author and Picture Book Summit co-founder Emma Walton Hamilton. “We’d hoped to raise a significant amount, but attendance at the Summit exceeded our expectations – so our contribution was even greater than we’d hoped.

“We selected We Need Diverse Books as this year’s recipient because of the great work they’re doing bringing awareness to this important cause,” added author/illustrator and Picture Book Summit cofounder, Katie Davis.

The five founders of Picture Book Summit – including author Julie Hedlund, and Jon Bard and Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider – are longtime colleagues and friends who joined forces to create a unique event to help working and aspiring picture book authors improve their craft and chances of publication.

In addition to Kidlit.TV, sponsors for Picture Book Summit 2015 included the Institute of Children’s Literature, the 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge, Just Write Children’s Books, and Children’s Book Insider.

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. The organization recognizes all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. According to WNDB president, Ellen Oh, the Picture Book Summit contribution will be used to support the WNDB in the Classroom program – an initiative that brings diverse authors and their books into Title One schools.

The 2016 Picture Book Summit is scheduled for October 1st, 2016. For more information, visit http://picturebooksummit.com.


Emma Walton Hamilton (r) and Katie Davis (l) of Picture Book Summit present a donation to Ellen Oh (c-r) and Dhonielle Clayton (c-l) of We Need Diverse Books at New York Media Works on November 16. Picture Book Summit, the largest ever one day online picture book-writing conference, raised more than $7000 for the nonprofit.


2 Comments on Press Release Fun: Picture Book Summit Yields Big Rewards for We Need Diverse Books, last added: 11/21/2015
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5. Fusenews: “He’s a person and people don’t eat people”

  • It’s funny how you can start something and never see how that thing might be used in the future.  When I created the Top 100 Picture Books Poll and the Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll back in the day, I figured they could be useful books insofar as they take the pulse of those books that mean the most to readers today.  Bookshare Communications recently alerted me to the fact that in conjunction with SLJ they had adapted the Picture Books list to a format that included image descriptions for the visually impaired.  Why do this?  They explain it this way:

“Imagine for a moment, however, that you can’t see the illustrations, nor can anyone describe them for you. Your reading and listening experience would certainly be incomplete. The Bookshare team decided to remedy this shortfall so young members could visualize the wild rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are and all the food devoured by The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In 2014, we embarked on a special project to create a collection of classic picture books containing original illustrations with complete image descriptions.”

I’m so pleased to have been a part of this, if only in the sense that I helped put together the list from my readers’ responses.  Thanks to Benetech for the heads up.

  • scarrypigsThough it could easily have devolved into a Buzzfeed list, the Dave Gilson thoughts on Richard Scarry’s odd attitudes towards his pig characters and their predilections for bacon and ham is well worth reading.  Says he, “The separate-and-unequal logic is also reflected in the unspoken taboos that surround meat eating in Busytown. People can only eat animals, and only animals can become meat. In other words, the Kenny Bear’s pigs will become bacon, but Mr. Pig will not. He can walk past the butcher’s counter secure in the knowledge that he won’t suddenly be stuffed into an oven with an apple in his mouth. He’s a person, and people don’t eat people.”  Thanks to Phil Nel for the link.
  • The Bologna Book Fair is in New York City?  Nope, but this might be the next best thing.  Publishers Weekly and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair are pairing together for a Global Kids Connect Conference on December 2nd.  From a publishing standpoint, this is very enticing.  Thanks to Deborah Topolski for the link.
  • Credit Travis Jonker.  I think he’s inadvertently the reason this happened at all.  Not too long ago the Kansas City Public Library and the Toronto Public Library got into an all time spine poetry slapdown Twitter feud . . . in a nice way.  You see, apparently The Kansas City Royals were playing The Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series and the libraries started tweeting spine poetry at one another.  Here’s an example:


You can read two different articles (and see a LOT of smack downs) here and here.  Thanks to Jill Skwerski for the link.

  • Things That I Know: (1) That there is a Children’s Book Guild of Washington D.C. (and they are lovely folks). (2) That there is an author by the name of Tonya Bolden (and she’s a lovely personage).
  • Things That I Did Not Know:  The Children’s Book Build of Washington D.C. is giving to Tonya Bolden their annual nonfiction award.  They have a nonfiction award?  Annually?  Best news I’ve heard all day.
  • Daily Image:

When I was pregnant with my two children I found myself inexplicably drawn to the films Alien and Aliens (which I suppose beats wanting to watch Rosemary’s Baby, but still…).  With these films fresh in my mind, I cannot help but think that this book (which you really can buy) is going to be the hit of the holiday season.  A picture book we can all get behind.




Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link!




1 Comments on Fusenews: “He’s a person and people don’t eat people”, last added: 11/18/2015
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6. Something Old, Something New: Reprinting Beyond the “Canon”

ShakespeareIt’s that time of year again when Best Of lists start cropping up left and right, front and center.  First Publishers Weekly begins the process and then everyone else follows suit.  It’s a time of year I enjoy, particularly since I’m desperately trying to figure out what I should be reading before the New Year hits us full force.

There is, of course, a downside to these lists.  Often one will find that when you compare them the same names come up over and over and over.  The cream rises to the top, to a certain extent, but there is also a tendency in the publishing world to lean on the old reliables.  The thinking is that if I know that a certain author or illustrator (or, heck, publishing house) creates consistently good fare, I’m going to be more inclined to read their book during the year, rather than books that fall into that great swath of unknown or debut authors.  The end result is that there’s a lot of repetition.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but I do notice that some types of books take the hit.  Books by diverse authors.  Books in translation, in particular too.  And then there are the reprints.  The books that have no natural place in the world.

Each year the Phoenix Award is granted to books for kids that really weren’t honored properly for their literary merit back when they were first published.  It is one of the few awards out there for books not published in the current year.  That said, it’s not exactly the best known award out there and it doesn’t really affect book sales.

The fact of the matter is that unless your book is a bestseller, appears on a summer reading list, or is assigned regularly by teachers, more often than not it will forgotten within a couple years of its publication.  Then there are those “hidden gems”.  The books capable of winning Phoenix Awards, but that languish in their out-of-print status for years.  Mostly they remain forgotten but once in a great while they get republished.

ArthurThe New York Review is one of the few publishing houses out there specializing in reprinting books for children published long ago.  This year we’re seeing gorgeous reproductions of books like Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories, illustrated by Michael Foreman (originally published in two parts in 1985 and 1994), The Little Witch by Otfried Preussler (originally published in Germany in 1957, so it is not only a reprint but a foreign language translation – rarest of the rare), and the remarkable New York City-inspired Arthur by Rhoda Levine, illustrated by Everett Aison.  The New York Review of Books has been reprinting children’s literature for somewhere around a decade now, and what sets their books apart is that they don’t do the same old “canon”.  No Secret Gardens or Alice in Wonderlands are to be found here (though there was, admittedly, a Pinocchio).  Instead they dig up all sorts of strange and fancy fare.  It’s a difficult line of work since there isn’t a built-in audience for reprints.  Boutique bookstores and museum gift shops love them when the packaging is lovely, but aside from that they have difficulty promoting themselves.  They can’t really win any awards, and New York Times reviews are few and far between.  Yet the world would be a lesser place without them.  They find beautiful books and make them live again, if only for a while.  There’s great merit to that.

TomSawyerEven books that are considered to be classics can be forgotten too.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a tricky title from the start.  Often lumped in with Huckleberry Finn, it has many of the same problems, but is more often found in the children’s sections of libraries and bookstores.  Like a lot of books from the past with out-and-out racist sections, it requires an adult reader to give it historical context.  A new edition recently was released by Creative Editions with copious art by C.F. Payne.  Indeed, if you were going to have a copy of this book in a children’s room, you would have this edition.  The art is lush and the book doesn’t skimp on images.  Unlike books like Dr. Doolittle, the edition contains no preface from a contemporary author or reader.  But also unlike Doolittle, none of the text has been changed either.  It’s an interesting study in historical works for children and what we consider appropriate or inappropriate for young readers.  Perhaps we’ve reached an age when most Tom Sawyers are being purchased for YA or adult collections.  It’s another conversation entirely to talk about where we place books of Tom’s type.  Where are they best suited?  We’ve seen a lot of discussions lately about objections to contemporary publications with historical elements.  Where do the books that are actually from the past go then?  A talk for another post.


2 Comments on Something Old, Something New: Reprinting Beyond the “Canon”, last added: 11/16/2015
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7. Interview in Cardboard: A Talk with Dana Sheridan


Good morning, everyone, and thank you for attending yet another edition of the A Fuse #8 Production interview series.  I am, as ever, your host Betsy Bird and before we go much further you might have noticed something a little different about me.  Is it my hair?  The fact I have my contacts in?  Or could it possibly be the fact that I am a toilet paper tube wearing a cute red dress* with matching shoes?  Sharp eye spotters will realize it is the last option.  It’s like Michel Gondry, but even smaller!

Yes, as you see here I am appearing before you today in my toilet paper tube form, due entirely to our guest Dana Sheridan.  Dana is one of those people with a life and job so amazing, that you may find you resent me slightly for introducing her to you in the first place.  The quickie bio is as follows:

dr dana“Dana Sheridan received her Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia. While her academic work focused on how children learn in free-choice environments, her professional passion has always been the design of dynamic hands-on programs and presentations for children. She has worked in a variety of settings, including a children’s hospital, special collections libraries, a children’s museum, a science center, and a major city zoo.

Additionally, she has been a guest lecturer at literary society meetings, children’s literature classes, and education courses. She currently works at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University, and blogs about her creative literacy work at Pop Goes the Page: blogs.princeton.edu/popgoesthepage

At which point you might say, “There’s someone at Princeton who gets to work with children’s books all the time?”  Yep.  And what’s more, her projects?  They’re drop dead amazing.  But enough lead up!  Let’s talk to the woman one-on-one.

Betsy Bird: First off, your job is so incredibly interesting, but it’s not the kind that you learn about in library school.  Can you tell me a bit about how you came to it?

Dana Sheridan: The short answer is a friend spotted it for me! The long answer is that my friend, Mary Maher, is childhood friends with Lila Fredenburg, the former head of HR at the Princeton University Library. The Cotsen Children’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library was looking for a new Education & Outreach Coordinator, and the job was drastically different from the other University library postings. So Lila sent the job description to Mary, who is a denizen of the children’s museum world. And Mary sent it to me. And I yelled and screamed and jumped around and had my application in a week later. I had just finished my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. While in grad school, to counter all the dry academic reading I was doing, I started revisiting my favorite children’s chapter books. The next thing I knew, I was devouring stacks of 15-20 books a week. I was thoroughly enjoying reading for the sake of reading, not realizing I was setting myself up for the perfect job at Princeton University. When I received the offer from Princeton – and I am not kidding about this – I was so excited, my nose started bleeding.

BB: What does a typical day look like for you?

DS: I arrive at work at 8:30am, and depart around 6:30pm. What falls in between those hours varies wildly. My library offers two weekly story times that meet year-round (with the exception of August). During the academic year, we have a bi-weekly children’s literary society, a bi-weekly collections education program for local schools, Saturday events, 3 author webcast premieres, a writing program for teens, and an annual writing contest for kids ages 9-14. My creative blog, Pop Goes the Page, posts twice weekly, year-round. I also do workshops and site visits to other places…and…I am the only full-time person on staff! I have an assistant who works 20 hours a week, and I hire Princeton University students for targeted projects as well. So on any given day, I could be photographing a blog project, researching a historical program, prepping for a preschool story time, working with my assistant to develop a new program, doing the post-production on an author interview, or all five at once!

BB: Part of what I love about what you do is how you’re able to really tap into your creative side.  I’m thinking not just of the projects you do with the kids but of your blog work as well.  What project would you say has remained your favorite to do?

DS: Oooo not fair! That’s like asking me what my favorite children’s book is! I do so many different things, and they all have their special moments. Seeing a 3 year-old create a project they’re proud of, interviewing an author I admire, talking books with tweens, helping a University student develop a workshop (we have a whopper Harry Potter Latin one coming up), or sharing a laugh with my assistant when I’m doing something ridiculous for the blog. It’s all good.

minotaur ridesBut it you were really going to pin me down, I would probably say my favorite was a Lightning Thief event in 2011. We had 34 different tables that each featured an element of the series as hands-on project, demo, performance, activity, or something cool to take home. We had science, history, art, giant snakes in “Medusa’s lair,” Greek hoplites in full armor, a 1,200 ton ice sculpture of a Greek temple (Poseidon, of course), a Socratic method philosophy table, dyslexia and ADHD awareness tables, harp music, architecture, Mythomagic, mechanical bull “Minotaur Rides,” delicious blue chocolate chip cookies – the works! The audience was thrilled (there were about 5,000 people in attendance), everything went without a hitch, I got to spend the day draped in a comfy chiton, and it was just completely…magical. But the reason it’s my absolute, ABSOLUTE favorite event is that 6 days later, my precious baby daughter was born. She managed to wait until I had penned the last thank you note, and then off to the hospital I went the very next morning! The fact that I managed to attend the event, see all the hard work pay off, observe how delighted the attendees were, AND get to cuddle a newborn 6 days later makes it my number one.

BB: A lot of your work has examined the necessity of making reference collections and rare books accessible, in some way, to kids.  How do you go about doing that sort of thing?  I have kids.  Their hands are remarkably sticky.

DS: Yes indeed! The Cotsen Children’s Library is actually a wing of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University. We have over 600 centuries of rare books, objects, original art, manuscripts, and games all related to children’s literature. One of my programs, Cotsen in the Classroom, takes collections education to local schools and homeschools. Each grade level has its own designated area of the collections, from Beatrix Potter to 18th century geographic games. I used reproductions of historic objects and high res photographs of collections items on display boards. There are plenty of hands-on activities built into each 45 minute presentation. If you’re interested, You can see an article I wrote about the program here: https://popgoesthepage.princeton.edu/teaching-the-untouchable/

BB: What do you have coming up in the future?

DS: Currently, my assistant and I are testing out Viking activities for a How To Train Your Dragon program and doing historic research for a Victorian tea program. Additionally, I’m crafting questions for a terrific Alice in Wonderland panel I’m moderating for the NYPL in December, and gearing up for three library workshops in Long Island in January. I just finished interviewing Tracey Baptiste (author of The Jumbies) so that’s in post-production for February. But the BIG FUN comes in April. I’ll be interviewing Norton Juster in front of a live audience (the interview will be available as a webcast too!) AND we’ll be hosting a big math literacy program called “A Day in Digitopolis” that same month. I’m also in the middle of reading Charmed Life at our story time for 6-8 year-olds (They love it! I knew they would!) and merrily planning story time projects, blogging, and having miscellaneous good times.

BB: Thanks, Dana!  I appreciate your answering my questions and for giving us a sneak peek into your life.  And because I figure we should give you your proper due, here’s a quick series of photos from a variety of Dana’s different programs.  The first two might be my favorite.  Dana conducted a tie-in craft for the book Pirate, Viking, Scientist by Jared Chapman.  It was so successful that folks from Little, Brown followed her steps for the annual Halloween costume contest.  See if you can figure out which ones are the publishers.



The kids were told to look fierce, by the way.

Here are more images from the Lightning Thief party she mentioned:

elizabeth_dana_plus one

the greek warriors

This is ice.


For far more of this kind of thing, Dana’s amazing Pinterest page can be found here.

Thank you, Dana, for joining me today!

[*  I thank her too for putting me in a red dress.  Long time readers will recall the Red Dress Incident of 2006, when I attempted to locate a red dress to wear to the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet the year Higher Power of Lucky won (you’d need to read the book to know why).  My attempts met with abject failure, so this comes as a nine-years-in-the-making consolation prize.  Ta.]


3 Comments on Interview in Cardboard: A Talk with Dana Sheridan, last added: 11/13/2015
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8. Book Trailer Premiere: The Tiara on the Terrace by Kristen Kittscher

So. Book trailers. I’ve seen my share. They are good. They are bad. Do they sell books? Probably some of them do, and considering how relatively cheap they are to produce it’s no wonder folks are encouraged to make them. But when you face facts, not all of them are winners. Very few, in fact, are worth watching.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . today’s video is worth watching.

Now I could just be saying that because I’m offering the premiere. But consider the evidence. The trailer is for a book by Kristen Kittscher, author of the critically-acclaimed middle grade mystery The Wig in the Window.  Did you read The Wig in the Window, by any chance?  If not, you’re in for a treat.  Good mysteries for kids are enormously tricky to write, but that book was not only smartly conceived, but a hoot to boot.  Now the sequel is on the horizon and things are looking good.  Unless you’re this group of executives, that is.  Then things are looking a bit more complicated:

My favorite line?  “Guys! Cake!”

Further info:

About Kristen: It’s no mystery why her middle grade debut, The Wig in the Window, was an Indie Bestseller, celebrated by School Library Journal (starred review), Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, and was named to ten Best of Year lists, including “Best Books of the Year” by A Mighty Girl. Kristen is a graduate of Brown University, self-proclaimed “childhood spy,” and former 7th grade English teacher who wrote the book with her former students in mind. Kristen lives in Pasadena.

The Tiara on the Terrace: Inspired by the Tournament of Roses, get ready for parades, pageantry, suspense, and a hefty dose of hilarity as 7th grade spies Sophie Young and Grace Yang trade their high tops for high heels to investigate a deadly crime in this clever Miss Congeniality set in middle school! When the director of the Winter Sun Festival meets an untimely end, it’s up to our favorite savvy, wise-cracking sleuths to solve the case–before they become its next victims. Back by popular demand, this funny, fast-paced follow up to Kittscher’s acclaimed debut will thrill fans of the funny, clever humor and suspense in Pseudonymous Bosch and Gordon Korman’s books.

On shelves, January 5th.


7 Comments on Book Trailer Premiere: The Tiara on the Terrace by Kristen Kittscher, last added: 11/15/2015
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9. Press Release Fun: A New Scholarship, Packed Full of Literary Goodness




November 1, 2015—New York, NY—The Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College and publisher LEE & LOW BOOKS have established a scholarship to increase diversity in the world of children’s literature. The new Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship will provide opportunities for students of color to enroll in the most prestigious children’s literature graduate program in the United States.


The scholarship initiative is a partnership between two organizations committed to diversity in children’s literature. LEE & LOW BOOKS is the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the country and a leader in the movement for more diversity in the publishing industry. The graduate programs in children’s literature at Simmons College are dedicated to bringing a wide range of voices into books for children and young adults, and to providing students access to careers that diversify the field of children’s literature.


“Lee & Low is excited to be partnering with Simmons College to provide a meaningful way to address one of the most challenging obstacles in bringing more equity to publishing: the pipeline problem,” says Jason Low, publisher of LEE & LOW BOOKS.


Unpaid internships and costly graduate programs, combined with low entry-level salaries, are significant barriers for many hoping to work in publishing. The Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship will support students for whom the traditional entrances to publishing remain closed, and thus create a pathway for diverse graduate students to positions in which they can influence what and how children’s literature is created.

The $100,000 scholarship fund was created through donations from LEE & LOW BOOKS and Simmons College alumni. The first recipients will be chosen for fall 2016. “Children’s Literature at Simmons welcomes this collaboration with Lee & Low as we team up to create venues of access that lead to lasting change,” says Cathryn M. Mercier, Director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons. For more information, contact childrensliterature@simmons.edu.

ABOUT THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE AT SIMMONS COLLEGE: Established in 1977, the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature supports the advancement of the study of children’s and young adult literature through nationally recognized partnerships and graduate programs, including the nation’s
first Master of Arts in Children’s Literature and Master of Fine Arts: Writing for Children, as well as several innovative dual degree options. To learn more, visit simmons.edu/academics/graduate-programs/childrens-literature-ma.


ABOUT LEE & LOW BOOKS: Established in 1991, LEE & LOW BOOKS is the largest children’s book publisher in the United States specializing in diversity. Under several imprints, the company provides a comprehensive range of notable diverse books for beginning readers through young adults. Visit leeandlow.com to learn more.


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10. A Beloved Classic: 95% Less Offensive!

LadyBugGirlOccasionally I’m sent new editions of various picture books because those titles have managed to maintain their popularity over the decades.  Often when they reach their 10 year anniversaries I feel old.  I mean, seriously.  Fancy Nancy?  A decade?  Really?  Other times it makes sense.  This year, two picture books were released with new editions and one very significant difference.

The first of these arrived in the mail the other day.  Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis was originally published in 2008, so it’s not exactly having a significant anniversary at the moment (Happy 7th Birthday!!).  Still, that didn’t stop Penguin from releasing a new “Super Fun Edition” with cool stickers and paper dolls in the back.  My daughter’s a big time fan of Ladybug Girl, and I’m a sucker for Soman’s watercolors, plus stickers of any sort are a nice plus.  When my girl asked me to read it to her, I complied.  We’d checked out an edition from the library in the past and I remembered it pretty well, but hadn’t seen it since.  So I flipped to the front endpapers and was struck by something that wasn’t there.

Go to the Pengin Random House website for the new Ladybug Girl and it will tell you all about the extras.  What they may fail to mention is that the Indian costume on the endpapers is gone gone gone!  Debbie Reese commented on this image back in 2012 saying, “Get rid of it.”  And though I cannot find anyone online who has mentioned its disappearance, poof!  It is gone.

GraceHiawathaThe other disappearance of a similar nature comes out with the 25th anniversary edition of Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman.  In this case I didn’t know about the book until I saw that Debbie had reported on the fact that the Hiawatha picture has also been removed . . . but only in the U.S. edition.  Apparently the British rerelease retains the original.

What’s interesting to me is the silent nature in which these changes have taken place.  Given the current cultural climate you would think a publisher would be announcing these changes left, right, and center.  A beloved classic: Now 95% less offensive!  Instead, they’re sneaky about it.  I don’t think there’s anyone who would actually object to these changes (not seriously), so why not let the folks who weren’t buying these books due to the images know that they’ve been changed?  Funny times.


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11. The Life and Death of the African Folktale in American Publishing

WhyMosquitoesBuzzWalk into many a children’s room in a public library and then take a trip to Dewey Decimal number 398.2.  If the room is relatively old and has withstood regular weeding schedules then you may find yourself in a remarkably large folktale and fairytale section.  The titles, however, will probably be a bit on the dusty side.  Long ago, when libraries held the primary purchasing power when it came to children’s literature, they had some sway over publishing.  Thanks in large part to their dual appreciation of storytelling and multiculturalism,  librarians exhibited a keen love for folktales.  These folktales were an attempt to inject into their collections a bit of diversity.  The likelihood that they would be able to locate picture books set in contemporary countries was even more unlikely then than it is now, so at the very least they could rely on the large swath of folktales published every year to speak a little to that gap.

The rise of the big box bookstores like B. Dalton signaled the beginning of the end of librarians’ sway in this regard.  With the public having access to children’s books above and beyond children’s bookstores (if their town was lucky enough to have one) and children’s librarians (ditto), the publishing model changed.  Librarians didn’t have the influence they used to, and the call for folktales may also have been hampered by library schools not placing the same emphasis they used to on old-fashioned storytelling.  When I joined with New York Public Library in 2004 they were still teaching new hires the finer points of storytelling.  By 2008, that training was a thing of the past.

The folktale, however, is by no means dead.  While a significant slump occurred over the years as the big publishers moved away from the form, small independent publishers picked up the slack.  This year alone I’ve seen folktales coming from folks like Inhabit Media, Wisdom Tales Press, Tuttle Publishing, Sleeping Bear Press, Red Chair Press, Albert Whitman & Co., Fontanka Publishers, and Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.  These tales are Russian, Cherokee, Inuit, Vietnamese, Abenaki, and Navajo, amongst others.

Last night I sat down with my daughter and read her Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by by Verna Aardema, illustrated by the Dillons.  The book dates back to a time when African folktales (much like folktales by Native Americans) were rarely credited to a country, let alone a tribe.  In the case of African folktales the phrase, “An African folktale” was sort of roundly stamped on a book and that was that.  Why Moquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears is considered West African, and from what I can tell has been free of the controversy that would today surround a book like Gail E. Haley’s Caldecott winning A Story, A Story, which was merely said to be retelling an “African tale”.

As I read the Aardema book, I got to thinking about African folktales and how few are published these days.  Certainly very few folktales are published in general, but of these hardly any hail from specific African nations or tribes anymore.  Because New York Public Library always makes a point of including fairytales and folktales on the 100 Books for Reading and Sharing list each year, I flipped through the last ten years’ worth to see how many of the books included were African in origin.  What I’m including in this post is by NO means a systematic list.  After all, I haven’t been keeping meticulous track over the past decade.  Therefore, I would like to encourage you to let me know if you are aware of any particularly good African folktale retellings published between 2004-2015.  Tell me and I will include them here.


For this year, I was able to locate two books, which was more than I initially expected.  They were:

Party Croc! A Folktale from Zimbabwe by Margaret Read MacDonald. Illustrated by Derek Sullivan


Who Is King?: Ten Magical Stories from Africa by Beverley Naidoo. Illustrated by Piet Grobler



I couldn’t really find anything.  I wanted to make an exception with Ashley Bryan’s Can’t Scare Me, but for all that the book makes for an amazing original folktale, insofar as I can tell it is not based on anything but Mr. Bryan’s wonderful imaginings.


I really thought I had a chance including the Botswana story Ostrich and the Lark by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by six contemporary San artists.  However, while it is truly beautiful and feels like a folktale, technically it’s an original story.


In 2011 Nigerian Chinua Achebe’s story How the Leopard Got His Claws was republished from its original 1972 story (originally from Kenya).  It was illustrated by Mary GrandPre and was a lush and surprisingly long retelling. That said, it looks like it’s not a traditional folktale but an original story.  Worth knowing just the same.



One book I completely missed and am glad to discover now is Wiil Wall: A Somali Folktale by Kathleen Moriarty, illustrated by Amin Amir.  It won an Honor from the Children’s Africana Book Award (more on that at the end of this post).  Best of all, it’s bilingual in Somali-English.


When John and Caitlin Matthews published Trick of the Tale: A Collection of Trickster Tales, that was really the last time I saw Anansi (in their story “How Ananse Stole All the Stories”), unless you count Eric A. Kimmel’s Anansi’s Party Time, which wasn’t really a folktale.

And that’s all I found.

LionMouse1Mind you, if we could include Aesop’s tales as African folktales then we get a slightly larger pool from which to draw.  The most notable of these would be Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse in 2009, which set the Aesop classic against the Serengeti.  In 2014 we saw the stunning The Fox and the Crow by Manasi Subramaniam, illustrated by Culpeo S. Fox, and in 2013 there was Aesop in California by Doug Hansen.

And of course there’s Egypt.  In 2011 Marcia Williams published Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs and in 2013 National Geographic published The Treasury of Egyptian Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Christina Balit.  Not really what I’m talking about either, though.

By the way, if you are not aware of them, I encourage you to learn more about an award that would speak to these books.  The Children’s Africana Book Awards are of note.  As their website reads,  “In 1991, the Outreach Council of the African Studies Association accepted a proposal from Africa Access to establish awards honoring outstanding books on Africa published or republished in the United States. The first Children’s Africana Book Awards were presented in 1992. Annually since that time awards are presented to authors and illustrators in two categories, Young Children and Older Readers. Click here for Past Winners for Older Readers.”


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12. Even More Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature in Very Adult Places

And now it’s time for yet another edition of Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature in Very Adult Places.  This is where my job as a Collection Manager comes in handy.  I go through all the new adult titles coming out, and locate the books with a children’s book focus or mention.  And today, I’m starting out with a bang!

The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read

by Michael F. Bérubé


I think I’m going to have to lean a bit on the Kirkus review to explain precisely what this book is about.  Say they:

“How does the study of disability help us to understand stories? In this important contribution to disability studies, literary scholar and critic Bérubé (Literature, Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities/Pennsylvania State Univ.; The Left at War, 2009, etc.) examines how characters with intellectual disabilities shape “the specific narrative they inhabit.” What can these characters know about this narrative? How can they serve as “a device for exploring the phenomenon of human sociality?” How can they inform our assumptions about “the ‘real’ and the ‘normal?’ ” Central to this inquiry is the overarching question of how to define intellectual disability. The author resists diagnosing characters and perpetuating stereotypes of such conditions as autism and Down syndrome, rather arguing that each character is distinct.”

The book covers the Harry Potter series, The Woman Warrior, The Sound and the Fury, A Wrinkle in Time, Life and Times of Michael K, Don Quixote, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

A Wild Swan and Other Tales

by Michael Cunningham


When I first started this series, I included a Michael Cunningham story that had appeared in The New Yorker.  Innocent that I was, it did not occur to me that the Rumplestiltskin tale “Little Man” was just a selection from an upcoming book.  Now the book hits shelves within the week.  Kirkus called it, “A likable and occasionally provocative set of variations on kid-lit themes.”  The fairy tales are familiar.  The take is not.  I already have a hold on a copy.

The Big Green Egg Book

by Dirk Koppens, Vanja Van Der Leeden, and Remko Kraaijeveld


Bit of a cheat, this one, as the only connection to children’s literature is the fact that I can’t see this cover without thinking of Green Eggs and Ham.  Apparently a kamodo style cooker is referred to as a “big green egg”.  Who knew?  You learn something new every day.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll’s Novel With Its Many Hidden Meanings Revealed

by David Day


Alice’s 150th anniversary is leading to all kinds of publications.  Day is a J.R.R. Tolkien scholar that, according to Library Journal, “proposes that Alice is about Victorians of the time, especially those at Oxford University. A staunch conservative Oxford don, Charles Dodgson, writing as Lewis Carroll, strongly opposed the liberal ideas and reforms that were beginning to permeate Oxford, especially those of Dean Liddell, the father of the real life Alice.”  I’ve never heard THAT one before!

And finally, I was looking at an author photo of Ann Patchett the other day, and I couldn’t help but notice some familiar friends in the foreground:


Mo Mo and a Doe Doe Doe.


1 Comments on Even More Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature in Very Adult Places, last added: 11/7/2015
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13. Asking for a Friend: Hit Me With the Right Non-Profit

Okay, Collective Brain.  You’re smarter than I.  Someone asked me the following question the other day and I found myself positively stumped.  It was this:

Can you name a non-profit organization that focuses on “keeping neighborhood libraries open, especially in rural areas but not limited to that…low-income areas too.”

The closest thing she had found so far is ALA’s ARSL or Association for Rural and Small Libraries.  Their mission statement reads, “The mission of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) is to provide a network of people and materials to support rural and small library staff, volunteers, and trustees to integrate the library thoroughly with the life and work of the community it serves.”

Can you name any others that might work as well?


4 Comments on Asking for a Friend: Hit Me With the Right Non-Profit, last added: 11/5/2015
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14. Review of the Day: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

GoneCrazyGone Crazy in Alabama
By Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad (an imprint of Harper Collins)
ISBN: 978-0062215871
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

I’m a conceited enough children’s librarian that I like it when a book wins me over. I don’t want them to make it easy for me. When I sit down to read something I want to know that the author on the other side of the manuscript is scrabbling to get the reader’s attention. Granted that reader is supposed to be a 10-year-old kid and not a 37-year-old woman, but to a certain extent audience is audience. Now I’ll say right off the bat that under normal circumstances I don’t tend to read sequels and I CERTAINLY don’t review them. There are too many books published in a current year to keep circling back to the same authors over and over again. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule. And who amongst us can say that Rita Williams-Garcia is anything but exceptional? The Gaither Sisters chronicles (you could also call them the One Crazy Summer Books and I think you’d be in the clear) have fast become modern day literary classics for kids. Funny, painful, chock full of a veritable cornucopia of historical incidents, and best of all they stick in your brain like honey to biscuits. Read one of these books and you can recall them for years at a time. Now the bitter sweetness of “Gone Crazy in Alabama” gives us more of what we want (Vonetta! Uncle Darnell! Big Ma!) in a final, epic, bow.

Going to visit relatives can be a chore. Going to visit warring relatives? Now THAT is fun! Sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern have been to Oakland and Brooklyn but now they’ve turned South to Alabama to visit their grandmother Big Ma, their great-grandmother Ma Charles, and Ma Charles’s half sister Miss Trotter. Delphine, as usual, places herself in charge of her younger, rebellious, sisters, not that they ever appreciate it. As she learns more about her family’s history (and the reason the two half sisters loathe one another) she ignores her own immediate family’s needs until the moment when it almost becomes too late.

I’m an oldest sister. I have two younger siblings. Unlike Delphine I didn’t have the responsibility of watching over my siblings for any extended amount of time. As a result, I didn’t pay all that much attention to them growing up. But like Delphine, I would occasionally find myself trying, to my mind anyway, to keep them in line. Where Rita Williams-Garcia excels above all her peers, and I do mean all of them, is in the exchanges between these three girls. If I had an infinite revenue stream I would solicit someone to adapt their conversations into a very short play for kids to perform somewhere (actually, I’d just like to see ALL these books as plays for children, but that’s neither here nor there). The dialogue sucks you in and you find yourself getting emotionally involved. Because Delphine is our narrator you’re getting everything from her perspective and in this the author really makes you feel like she’s on the right side of every argument. It would be an excellent writing exercise to charge a class of sixth graders with the task of rewriting one of these sections from Vonetta or Fern’s point of view instead.

As I might have mentioned before, I wasn’t actually sold initially on this book. Truth be told, I liked the sequel to One Crazy Summer (called P.S. Be Eleven) but found the ending rushed and a tad unsatisfying. That’s just me, and my hopes with Gone Crazy were not initially helped by this book’s beginning. I liked the set-up of going South and all that, but once they arrived in Alabama I was almost immediately confused. We met Ma Charles and then very soon thereafter we met another woman very much like her who lived on the other side of a creek. No explanation was forthcoming about these two, save some cryptic descriptions of wedding photos, and I felt very much out to sea. My instinct is to say that a child reader would feel the same way, but kids have a way of taking confusing material at face value, so I suspect the confusion was of the adult variety more than anything else. Clearly Ms. Williams-Garcia was setting all this up for the big reveal of the half-sister’s relationship, and I appreciated that, but at the same time I thought it could have been introduced in a different way. Things were tepid for me for a while, but then the story really started picking up. By the time we got to the storm, I was sold.

And it was at this point in the book that I realized that I’d been coming at the book all wrong. Williams-Garcia was feeding me red herrings and I’m gulping them down like there’s no tomorrow. This book isn’t laser focusing its attention on great big epic themes of historical consequence. All this book is, all it ever has been, all the entire SERIES is about in its heart of hearts, is family. And that’s it. The central tension can be boiled down to something as simple and effective as whether or not Delphine and Vonetta can be friends. Folks are always talking about bullying and bully books. They tend to involve schoolmates, not siblings, but as Gone Crazy in Alabama shows, sometimes bullying is a lot closer to home than anyone (including the bully) is willing to acknowledge.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about needing more diverse books for kids, and it’s absolutely a valid concern. I have always been of the opinion, however, that we also need a lot more funny diverse books. When most reading lists’ sole hat tip to the African-American experience is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (no offense to Mildred D. Taylor, but you see what I’m getting at here) while the white kids star in books like Harriet the Spy and Frindle, something’s gotta change. We Need Diverse Books? We Need FUNNY Diverse Books too. Something someone’s going to enjoy reading and want to pick up again. That’s why Christopher Paul Curtis has been such a genius the last few years (because, seriously, who else would explore the ramifications of vomiting on Frederick Douglass?) and why the name Rita Williams-Garcia will be remembered long after you and I are tasty toasty worm food. Because this book IS funny while also balancing out pain and hurt and hope.

An interviewer once asked Ms. Williams-Garcia if she ever had younger sisters like the ones in this book or if she’d ever spent a lot of time in rural Alabama, like they do here. She replied good-naturedly that nope. It reminded me of that story they tell about Dustin Hoffman playing Richard III. He put stones in his shoes to get the limp right. Laurence Olivier caught wind of this and his response was along the lines of, “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting?” That’s Ms. Williams-Garcia for you. She does honest-to-goodness writing. Writing that can conjure up estranged siblings and acts of nature. Writing that will make you laugh and think and think again after that. Beautifully done, every last page. A trilogy winds down on just the right note.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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5 Comments on Review of the Day: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia, last added: 11/3/2015
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15. Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of the Pixels?

The other day I asked my husband, “Am I a Millennial?”  “No,” he said.  “You’re right between the Millennials and the Generation Xers.  You don’t really belong to either.”  That’s about right.  Millennials always feel too young to me (I can’t discuss Boy Meets World with them at all) and Generation Xers are great but tend to enjoy The West Wing more than I ever could (how’s THAT for generalizing?).  So if I identify as anything it’s that sterling, if slightly off-putting, moniker “Child of the 80s”.  I can talk Punky Brewster, Thundercats, Popples, you name it.  That’s my generation.  And now, with my generation have kids, I’m seeing it catered to in children’s literature.  And it’s weird.

9780147519184My first indication that things were getting a little out of the ordinary was with the publication of the Puffin Pixels series.  If you haven’t seen them yet, these are children’s book classics in the public domain that contain covers and some interior art (though mostly just a map in the front) akin to video games like Legend of Zelda and the like.  For those of us who still dream Lode Runner dreams at night (to say nothing of Pitfall) these books feel oddly familiar and strange all at the same time.  My favorite so far is Swiss Family Robinson, if only because it looks like a version of Below the Root (based on the children’s book by Zilpha Keatley Snyder!).

81Ot6OHpBYLBut pixels aren’t relegating themselves solely to Puffin.  Robot SMASH! by Stephen W. Martin, illustrated by Juan Carlos Solon is actually a Canadian creation (coming, as it is, from Owl Kids) and there’s something comforting in its blocky look.  Comforting and, yet, odd.  It’s clearly a love story like no other.

Insofar as I can tell, the justification for all these pixels may lie in the popularity of Minecraft.  Since Minecraft is pixeled without shame, publishers are able to simultaneously tap into children’s love of the game and their parents’ nostalgia.  I’ll be interested in watching to see if pixels proliferate in the future as well.


19 Comments on Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of the Pixels?, last added: 11/3/2015
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16. Review of the Day: One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

OneDayTheEnd2One Day, The End
By Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Fred Koehler
Boyds Mills Press (an imprint of Highlights)
ISBN: 978-1-62091-451-9
Ages 4-7
On shelves now.

Last evening I was reading Quest by Aaron Becker to my daughter for bedtime. It’s a good book. I’ve read it approximately 20 times by now, so I should know. Anyway, we’re reading the book, which is wordless and requires that the reader really pay attention to the story, and as we start I point out to my daughter some feature at the beginning involving statues. Immediately she countered with a different statue detail at the back of the book that I, though having read this story over and over again, had completely and totally missed. That’s the cool thing about child readers. Not only do they find the details the adults are completely oblivious to, but on top of that they’re coming up with cool narratives and storylines of their own, on spinning off of the ones conceived of by the author/illustrators. So when I see a book like One Day, The End I just wanna put my hands together and applaud. Rebecca Kai Dotlich is a genius (and Fred Koehler ain’t sleeping on the job either). She figured out that for kids a story is just as much a product of the relationship between a child and a book’s pictures as it is between a child and a book’s words. Sometimes more. Sometimes much more. And sometimes they’ll be handed a book like this one that lets them examine and indulge to their heart’s delight.

Do you know how to tell a story? It’s easy! Listen to a couple of these.
“One day… I felt like stomping. Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp.”
“One day… I lost my dog. I found him.”
“One day… I ran away. I cam home.”
A small girl tells her tales with a minimum of words. Yet hidden in these words, sometimes literally, are epic narratives. The most ordinary of actions can turn into huge adventures. By the end, the girl is writing whole books out of what could normally be seen as mundane everyday actions. Yet two sentences can yield a whole lot of action.

These days the buzzword of the hour appears to be “visual storytelling” or “visual learning”. And why not? We live in a world of constant, perpetual, enticing screens (or “shiny rectangles” as my brother-in-law likes to call them). Graphic novels have achieved a level of respect and quality hitherto unknown in the history of publishing and I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that there are more picture books being published today than ever before. Into this brave new world come the kids, their minds making connections and storylines. They mix reality and fantasy together with aplomb. They give their toys lives and thoughts and feelings. So to see a book that sets them free to give these imaginings a little form and structure? That’s great.

OneDayTheEnd1On the most basic level, the book is perfect for class writing prompts. The teacher tells the kids to pick a two-sentence story in the book and expand upon it. It works to a certain extent, but I wonder if in some ways it sort of skips the point of the book itself. One of the many points of One Day, The End is that when it comes to picture books, storytelling can be more than simply whatever it is that the words say. Another point is that you don’t have to be loquacious to tell a story. Two sentences will do. It would be fun to do an exercise with kids where they tell two-sentence stories. Two sentences takes off a lot of pressure. There’s no need to include a rise and fall to the action. Anyone can tell a story (a valuable lesson). This book shows you how.

All that aside, the ending of the book was particularly interesting to me. Picture book authors that can stick the landing (as it were) when they finish their stories are rare birds. Such books don’t necessarily come along every day. That said, the ending of One Day, The End is rather magnificent. The whole book until this point has been showing the reader that in the shortest of stories there can be whole epic narratives. So when our young heroine begins by saying “One Day… I wanted to Write a Book” the accompanying picture shows her at a typewriter (a retro move) imagining a whole host of new situations. Turn the page and the following “So I did” shows a line of thick books, each one with a title that relates to the tiny two sentence stories we witnessed before. The implication at work here for kids is that even in the briefest of moments of our lives, which adults might hurry through or remember in abbreviated ways, there are untold tales just waiting to be told. This book is for the five-year-old burgeoning writer. This character wanted to write a book and did. Who’s to say you couldn’t do the same?

OneDayTheEnd3I didn’t recognize Fred Koehler’s style the first time I read through this book. Maybe this is a little more understandable when I mention that he only just debuted this year with his own picture book, How to Cheer Up Dad. That book starred affectionate pachyderms. This one, all too human humans. In order to bring Dotlich’s story to life, Koehler sets the action in a kind of timeless past. Cell phones computers, and even televisions are not in evidence. There’s one sequence when our heroine is playing hide-and-go-seek with her brother and we see a large swath of their home together. It’s rather technologically barren, a fact drilled home later when the typewriter makes its somewhat inexplicable appearance. Fortunately, Koehler has a lot going for him, beyond this attempt at timelessness. The font of the story is practically a tale in and of itself, always shifting and changing to suit the described action. And the layouts! I don’t mind saying that part of the reason this book feels so fresh and interesting and fun has a lot to do with Koehler’s layouts. The words that make up the stories appear as part of the illustrated scenes, sometimes dominating the action and sometimes playing a role in it. For example, the story that begins with “One day… I wanted to be a spy” actually shows the girl peering between the letters of “spy”

I also loved that Koehler wasn’t afraid to reward rereadings. Attentive readers will be able to witness the smaller sub-adventures of a cat, a squirrel, a bird, and a little white dog that appear in the periphery of all the action. Then there are even smaller details that you wouldn’t notice on a first glance. The story, “I went to school. I came home” shows our plucky young gal dilly-dallying on her way to class (following a cat that will come up again in a later tale) only to accidentally leave her books somewhere en route. She runs to her classroom, but sharp-eyed spotters will note her missing backpack. Next thing you know the class is following instructions on doing science experiments and she peers at her neighbor (every kid doing the experiments is looking at their book, save her), and accidentally pours her solution into the wrong beaker. And there are other details about the characters themselves that are worth discovering, like that our storyteller always wears mismatched socks. As for the callbacks, if you pay attention you’ll see that an element that appears in one story (like a rubber boot placed over a flower in the rain) may later crop up again later (that same flower grows out of the boot a little later).

To sum up, why not take a page out of this book?
One day… I read a picture book. It was great.
The End.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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Professional Reviews: Kirkus,


4 Comments on Review of the Day: One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, last added: 11/2/2015
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17. Fusenews: The Anti-Effacing Differencer

sleepingpuppy4Morning, folks.  Let’s see, let’s see.  After yesterday maybe it would be a good idea to do a post on rainbows and unicorns and cute little puppy dogs cavorting in the sun.  I’m a little exhausted after yesterday’s post so let’s just do a quickie Fusenews of wonderfullness instead.

  • Do you read Real Simple?  A familiar name might have snuck her way onto one of the pages.
  • Calling Caldecott addresses an issue that has always fascinated me. Why do some illustrators who have amazing illustrating chops never ever get Caldecotts?
  • Maybe 100 Scope Notes has the answer. In terms of publication dates, what month births the most Caldecotts? Travis Jonker finds the figures.  Be sure to read the statistics in the comments.  Truly we are living in the Age of Aquarius.

alma_logo_engIn case you missed it, 215 candidates from 59 countries are currently nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2016.  The Yanks are of particular interest.  There are the usual standbys and then there are folks like oral storyteller Anne Pellowski.  Wow!  Well done there.  I’m also going to check out Children’s Literature New England (CLNE) & The Examined Life (EXL), Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL), and Room to Read. I’m feeling a bit embarrassed that it took this nomination to learn about their work.

  • By the way, a show of hands.  How many of you knew about The Arnold Adoff Poetry Awards, which “seek to recognize excellence in multicultural poetry for youth, for readers at the primary level, middle level, and teens”?  Be honest.  It’s new to me too.  But it’s out there and they could do with some proactive publishing houses, large and small, sending in their nominees.  If you fit the bill, tell your publisher today.  You have until December 1st.
  • An interesting Pew Survey finding that teens are reading more than adults these days.  They do not ascribe any particular reason for the YA surge.  We know it cannot exist in a void, however, so I’m just going to congratulate the YA librarians out there.  You guys are doing a stellar job.  Keep up the good work.
  • “Please Don’t Agree with Me: the Need for Disagreement in Debates About Literature for Young People.”  That talk?  Given by Christopher Myers recently and recapped by Phil Nel.  I’m particularly interested in the part where Chris says that agreement can efface difference, whereas “Disagreement recognizes an actual difference.”  I think we can safely say that no differences were effaced in the last two weeks at this site.
  • Daily Image:

And Shannon Hale goes for the fancy fingernail book release win!



0 Comments on Fusenews: The Anti-Effacing Differencer as of 10/28/2015 12:09:00 AM
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18. You Have to Read the Book

I think if you’ve read any of my opinion pieces in the past then you’ll notice that I’ve cultivated over the years a somewhat namby pamby style.  This consists of the following:

Step One: Ask a bunch of questions.

Step Two: Answer one.

Step Three: Ask a bunch of other questions based on that statement.

Step Four: Answer one.

Step Five: Ask a whole SLEW of questions (possibly contradicting the previous questions).

Step Six: Answer one.  Finis!

Well, a person’s got to take a stand on SOMETHING around here.  I’ve been weighing in on controversies left and right recently (which is so not like me that I’m going to blame the water here in Evanston).  In any case, here goes nothing.  Step back, people.  I’m gonna actually make a can’t-back-off statement about the state of literary criticism today:

You have to read a book to critique it.

Some of you are going to read this sentence and think I’m a blooming idiot for stating the obvious.  Others of you are going to be a bit peeved.  After all, we’ve just seen a variety of different written pieces discussing Laura Amy Schlitz’s THE HIRED GIRL, and not all aspects of that debate actually required that the participants read her book.  So let me clarify a little bit here.

First and foremost, I’m not singling out the HIRED GIRL discussions with this idea.  For as long as there has been book criticism there has been the question of whether or not a person declaring that a book is worthy or unworthy actually has to read it.  We’ve not all of us read MEIN KAMPF, but we’re pretty sure it’s a bad book.  After all, we’ve read reviews by trusted individuals saying it’s bad, quoting specific passages.  So when you read a lot of reviews and criticisms of a book online or in print, any book, you begin to feel like you’ve really read that puppy.  Moreover, if you have something to add to the conversation, you’d like to do so without taking time out to read something that will take you, at a minimum, a couple of days.  Internet debates only last so long.  Miss your window and the discussion has moved onto other things.

So when I say you have to read a book to critique it, what I’m not saying is that you can’t discuss an aspect of the book or a point that someone has raised about it.  What I am saying is that you cannot make a blanket critique that it is good or bad, worth reading or not worth reading, without actually reading THE WHOLE THING (not just the beginning and not just bits and pieces) yourself.  Nor can you write a review, or discuss it within the larger context of literature as a whole.  You have to read the book.

Some folks are arguing that this shouldn’t be necessary.  If a book is consistently upsetting or insulting or filled with aspects that are objectionable to you (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) then why should you torture yourself by reading the whole thing?  I mean, what’s the likelihood that it’s all going to turn around for you by the end?  This argument is baffling to me, because if you’re going to critique a written work, don’t you WANT to find that potentially offensive or insulting material?  Take ERAGON.  Here’s a book I read back in 2004.  I did not care for it, but I read every last stinking page.  And because I did I was able to write the following in my review:

“It got to the point where I started keeping track of the times that Eragon went to sleep. As it stands, the book is a hefty 497 pages of text. Perhaps this could have been halved if Paolini hadn’t decided to spell out every single time Eragon beds down. Of direct references alone (not moments alluded to, though there were plenty of those as well) I counted 19. If you want to have some fun, read the first sentence of the 4th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 23rd, 27th, 29th, 31st, 34th, 35th, 36th, 38th, 39th, 41st, 45th, 48th, 52nd, 54th, 56th and 57th chapters. I’ve never witnessed a character that did so much waking up. Even more fun was counting the number of times Eragon is knocked unconscious. A book reviewer once commented that you can sometimes tell how good a book is by how many times its hero is knocked out. “Eragon” contains at least six such moments.”

I never would have known about any of this if I’d just stopped reading halfway through.  I might have been a happier individual, but I couldn’t have reviewed the book.

In many ways, critiquing a book on a single sentence or comments others have made about it is very familiar territory.  It’s what we face all the time when someone attempts to restrict a book in a library.  I’m going to ask the librarians amongst us to now think back to their MLIS training.  I don’t know about all of you, but when I was in library school I was taught that when facing a book challenge there are certain steps you have to take.  First and foremost, you never ever get defensive.  The person challenging the children’s or YA book has the interests of kids at heart.  They honestly and truly believe that it would be hurtful to the child in some crucial and critical way if they read this book.  So what do you do?  The very first thing you do is ask them a simple question: Have you read the book?  If they have not, you ask them to do so.  Then, if they would like to proceed with the challenge, you go to the next step.  Because if they want to remove a book from a library simply because they heard it was bad, or because they read a single sentence or saw some art out of context, then you know they’re not getting the full picture.

Context is key.  Sometimes reading a sentence without reading the rest of the book puts it in a terrible light.  Other times, it’s completely on track with the rest of the book.  You don’t really know which of the two it’s going to be until you pick that book up and take in every last sentence.  I think back now to the only Newbery Award winning book that is currently out-of-print.  Can you name it?  Maybe others have joined its ranks in the last few years, but I think I’m correct in saying that DANIEL BOONE by James Daugherty is the single most offensive children’s book I’ve ever read.  I reviewed it on Amazon in 2004 (2004 was a good year for my angriest of reviews, back when I was in my 20s and full of spitfire and vinegar) and in my review I quoted this passage, which in turn is quoting THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DAVID CROCKETT:

“…I saw some warriors run into a house, until I counted forty-six of them. We pursued them until we got near the house, when we saw a squaw sitting in the door, and she placed her feet against the bow she had in her hand, and then took an arrow, and raising her feet she drew with all her might and let fly at us and she killed a man, whose name I believe was Moore. He was a lieutenant and his death so enraged us all that she was fired on, and had at least twenty balls blown through her…We now shot them like dogs; and then set the house on fire, and it burned it up with the forty-six warriors in it. I recollect seeing a boy who was shot down near the house. His arm and thigh were broken, and he was so near the burning house that the grease was stewing out of him. In this situation he was still trying to crawl along; but not a murmur escaped him though he was only about twelve years old. So sullen is the Indian when his dander is up that he had sooner die than make a noise, or ask for quarters”.

Now you might read that passage and think you shouldn’t read DANIEL BOONE at all.  And you’d be right!  It’s a terrible terrible book, and this section is indicative of the whole.  But the only reason I know this is because I sat down and read the whole thing.  Now I can bring it up every time we talk about offensive award winners, or books in the past with content inappropriate for child readers today.  But I could NOT do that if I just read that passage alone.  I had to read the book.  The horrible horrible book.

For some folks, it’s a point of pride when they haven’t finished a book.  They mention that they thought it was offensive and “not my kind of thing” and the indication being that if you did finish the book then you must like offensive books.  Another person I was in a debate with mentioned late in the conversation that they weren’t even sure if the book we were discussing was in print yet (it was).

I’m non-confrontational by nature but I’ll engage in a healthy swapping of ideas if the internet allows.  I can’t do that very well when I have all the information and the person I’m debating doesn’t.  Our different opinions and debates and conversations only really work when we all are working from the same basic starting point.

So that’s my controversial suggestion.  Reading books: It’s a good thing.  Give it a try whenever you are able.


20 Comments on You Have to Read the Book, last added: 10/27/2015
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19. Fuse #8 TV: Laura Ruby (Now a National Book Award longlist finalist!)

As I’m sure you all noticed, yesterday the National Book Award announced its shortlist for the Young People’s category.  A couple surprises there.  M.T. Anderson’s removal will come as a nasty shock to anyone who has read his book and the elimination of Shabazz/Magoon effectively turns the remaining writers into a pretty white fivesome.

BoneGapThe five titles make for an interesting cross-section of YA literature, of course.  With the exception of The Thing About Jellyfish they are all for the 12-18 year old set.  There’s nonfiction, realistic fiction, graphic novel fantasy, and  . . . The Bone Gap by Laura Ruby.  Neither fish nor fowl, the book doesn’t slot well into any one single category.  What to make of it?  Why not hear from the author herself?

It was with great pleasure that I sat down with Laura Ruby to talk about her book.  Unlike many of my other Fuse #8 TV interviews, Ms. Ruby delves deep into the writer’s process.  She discusses not just the book’s roots but how the human brain can organize a novel without you being aware of what it’s doing.  By the end of this talk you won’t just be curious about her National Book Award nominee.  You’ll be moving heaven and earth to get yourself a copy.

Oh. And I get to do a crazy interpretation of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.  That’s fun!

Some of the other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.

Finally, thanks to Harper Collins for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.


1 Comments on Fuse #8 TV: Laura Ruby (Now a National Book Award longlist finalist!), last added: 10/15/2015
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20. Burglars, Thieves, and a Classic Picture Book Trope

When reading a book like Mac Barnett & Christian Robinson’s Leo: A Ghost Story, one is immediately struck by the old-fashioned sensibility of the endeavor.  PW said that there was a “retro look of the art” and Kirkus went further saying, “Robinson creates a vintage 1950s-’60s feel.”  The feel extends beyond the art, however.  In many ways Barnett has conjured up a tale that relies heavily on a favorite trope of picture books.  Mainly, the ousted outsider attaining glory and love by catching a nasty thief in a home.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.23.57 PM

I first noticed this trend when I read Leo and had an eerie sense of deja vu.  If you haven’t read the book yourself, allow me to summarize.  Leo is a ghost.  Ghosts are frightening to people.  He is lonely.  His only friend thinks he’s imaginary.  Then one night a burglar breaks into her home and he scares the miscreant with a sheet and traps him in a cupboard.  Sound familiar?  Allow me to introduce you to my friend Crictor.


Crictor by Tomi Ungerer (1958) is actually a rather different case.  Unlike Leo he incurs only one moment of true fear at the beginning of his tale and proceeds to be petted and beloved for the rest of the book.  His capture of the thief is merely a plot point that allows him to be fawned upon by the larger populace at the end.  Note too how we say that Robinson has a classic feel, but Ungerer (who is now considered classic) was never afraid to include something like a sharp knife in the mix.  These days we don’t let our thieves carry weapons.

If Leo bears any similarities to a fellow sad sack protagonist then it’s Pinkerton.  Few would say that Steven Kellogg presented images more dangerous than Tomi Ungerer’s, but where Ungerer opted for a mere knife, Kellogg originally went for the firearms.  If you’ve ever seen Pinkerton, Behave (1979) on a banned books list, this old cover is the reason why:


Note the comment on the second image below:


In response to readers’ concerns and his own evolving feelings around gun violence, children’s author and illustrator Steven Kellogg and publishers will release an updated 35th anniversary edition of Pinkerton, Behave! in which the burglar depicted in this original book will not wield a gun.

In response to readers’ concerns and his own evolving feelings around gun violence, children’s author and illustrator Steven Kellogg and publishers will release an updated 35th anniversary edition of Pinkerton, Behave! in which the burglar depicted in this original book will not wield a gun.


There’s actually a rather lovely PW piece called Steven Kellogg on Why He Reworked a ‘Pinkerton’ Scene in Response to Sandy Hook.  You can see the before and after here:


Then there was Max the Flying Sausage Dog (2014) by Arthur Robins, a British title that I’ll confess I’m not as familiar with, though the trope shows up again:


And I’m going to throw in Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great (2014) by Bob Shea not because it really fits this theme (burglars in homes being stopped by the protagonist) but because I just like the sequence:


Far more along the Barnett’s storyline was The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (1990) by Jon Agee .  If memory serves (and it’s been a while) Felix’s paintings come to life and eventually people dislike them.  Then one saves the day and sounds the alarm when a thief tries to steal the king’s crown.  Does that sound correct?  Help me out here, librarians.


That’s just a start.  I’m sure that there are more out there.

It’s very interesting to compare the look of the burglars over time.  Kellogg’s was originally and undoubtedly the most menacing, both in terms of personal appearance and actions.  Christian Robinson’s is far more of the gentleman thief, no weapon in evidence.  And yes, all burglars are depicted as white.  This is not something I think will change anytime soon.  Nor does it need to.  We can look for diversity in a lot of areas but it’s going to be quite a while before we seek it in depictions of crime for children.  QUITE a while.

So what can you do with this information?  Hello, instant storytime!  Back in the day Curious George Books and Toys actually did a burglar-centric storytime once, complete with mug shots and black domino masks.  Obviously you’d have to know your community to pull that one off (some folks might find burglars less than entirely appealing on a preschool level).  But you won’t lack for content, I’ll guarantee you that.


14 Comments on Burglars, Thieves, and a Classic Picture Book Trope, last added: 10/18/2015
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21. Are Historical Heroes Allowed to Have Prejudices in Children’s Literature?

hiredgirlI don’t usually post anything aside from videos on Sunday but after attending the IBBY Conference in NYC this past weekend this topic came up and seemed well worth pursuing.

Not long ago I reviewed The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. It’s a fine, unique historical novel about a 14-year-old girl who escapes a grim farm existence by running away to Baltimore to work as a hired girl. She’s the product of a cruel father who denies her any schooling leaving her little comfort except that which comes to her from books.

Recently this particular title has been the focus of a great deal of discussion over at Heavy Medals due to its mention of American Indians. Much to my surprise, people are commenting on the book’s merits due to a passage in which Joan thinks the following:

“It seemed to me–I mean, it doesn’t now, but it did then–as though Jewish people were like Indians: people from long ago; people in books. I know there are Indians out West, but they’re civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes. In the same way, I guess I knew there were still Jews, but I never expected to meet any.”

Folks appear to be mighty perturbed over this section of the story. It made me think a lot about what we demand of our historical protagonists in our contemporary children’s novels. Take Joan. Her education is that of a white working class girl in early 20th century America. She has a very limited world view and knows about Jewish people solely though the context of Ivanhoe.  Now we look at that statement she thought. Considering white attitudes of the time, is it believable that Joan would think this of American Indians? Quite frankly, considering her schooling I found it, if anything, a little difficult to believe that her attitude wasn’t worse.

But let us not talk about being accurate to the attitudes of someone in Joan’s time and place and consider instead whether or not Ms. Schlitz should have included the passage at all. Is it harmful to her young readership to encounter a sympathetic protagonist with these opinions? Might they think them legitimate feelings? Might they not pick something up from such statements?

RedMoonFirst, I’d like to address the question of whether or not children, or in this case middle school students, are capable of decoding an ignorant character’s prejudices if that prejudice is not specifically called out. Joan is wrong about a lot of things. You see this and you know this pretty early on. And while it is entirely possible that there will be young readers out there who have never encountered positive images and portrayals of American Indians in their children’s literature, the notion of white people “civilizing” other races and nations is not unique here. Do kids walk into historical novels with the understanding that people in the past thought things we cannot or should not think today? Is it the responsibility of the author instead to cut their all their sympathetic historical figures from a contemporary cloth and imbue them with our own attitudes towards race, gender, sexuality, etc.?  I am reminded of a moment in Red Moon at Sharpsburg when author Rosemary Wells had her Southern Civil War era protagonist say of her corset that, “It constricts the mind.”  A statement made by a young woman without outside influence or context, I might add.  It felt wrong because it was wrong.  A broad attempt to shoehorn contemporary attitudes into a historical tale.

But going back a bit, let’s again try to answer the question of why it was necessary for Ms. Schlitz to include this passage at all. It would have been easy to keep out. And Schlitz is not a writer who dashes off her prose without thought or consideration. So what is the value of its inclusion?

Does it come right out? It does! In fact, when you have a protagonist capable of awkward beliefs that are of their time, it would make so much sense to just not mention any of them, right? To do otherwise would be to offer a layer of complexity to an otherwise good character. Are books for young people capable of that complexity?

Let’s say the passage removed. Let’s say all passages of American Indians were removed (there’s more than one, you know). Let’s say mentions of American Indians were removed from all books for children written about this time period but only when those mentions were prejudiced. Let’s say all American Indians themselves were removed as well. See? Isn’t it so much easier to write historical fiction when you don’t have controversial topics to trip you up?

thirteenthchildI am reminded of the lesson of Patricia C. Wrede’s Thirteenth Child. Do you remember this controversy from 2009? It came up in the pre-Twitter era (it was around but not what it constitutes today) when outrage had a less constructive echo chamber in place, so you’d be forgiven for having forgotten it. The novel takes place in a historical America where magic is common and the Land Bridge never occurred. This America has woolly mammoths and slaves but no American Indians. In a conversation online in 2006, long before the book’s publication, the author said this about her title:

The current plan is to have the primary difference before 1492 be that the various pre-historic attempts to colonize the Americas were unsuccessful; thus, no Mayans, Incas, Aztecs, Mississippi Valley civilization, or Native Americans of any sort…. The absence of an indiginous population in the Americas is obviously going to have a significant impact on the way things develop during the exploration and colonization period, and I’m still feeling my way through how I’m going to finagle that to get to where I want.

Which is, basically: A North America in which the threat of Indians was replaced by the threat of un-extinct megafauna…

Dubbed “MammothFail”, people were incensed that an entire ethnic group could be done away with because they were (their words) inconvenient to the plot.  It was the first time I saw an angry internet pile-on (the like of which we’re almost accustomed to these days) and it shocked me.  At the same time, the anger was understandable.

So what did we learn? Excluding someone doesn’t mean you’re doing them some kind of a service.

If Joan’s thoughts about Indians are prejudiced or nasty is she no longer worth rooting for because we’ve seen another side to her? Or will the child reader recognize ignorance when they see it? Joan is ignorant about so many things in the world. This is just one of them.

I think a lot of this comes down to the degree to which we trust child readers. I don’t think for one second that Ms. Schlitz shares Joan’s opinions of American Indians and what it means to be “civilized”. What I do think is that she works as a school librarian and sees children every day. I think that over the years she has learned from them and seen the degree to which they are capable of catching on to the subtlety of a book. I think she knows that this passage reflects more about Joan than it does about American Indians of the time and she believes kids will recognize that too.  The question I’m interested in is whether or not we believe that characters with personal prejudices should be presented to our young readers AT ALL because kids and teens can’t handle that kind of complexity.

In the end, can prejudiced/racist characters be heroes when they appear in books for youth?  Or are there subtleties at work here that make this more than just a black and white issue?  I like to think we’re capable of trusting our readers, regardless of age.  The Hired Girl believes them capable for rejecting Joan’s dated opinions. We should extend to them that same respect.


21 Comments on Are Historical Heroes Allowed to Have Prejudices in Children’s Literature?, last added: 10/20/2015
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22. Hands Off, Hussy! Hot Men of Children’s Literature Under (Too Little?) Fire

HMOCL1As I see it, the relative success of the blog A Fuse #8 Production hinged almost exclusively on being in the right place at the right time. I started the site at the cusp of the blogger movement, a time when they were just beginning to be viewed as hip and new. I specialized in a simultaneously popular and somewhat obscure topic. I was a children’s librarian in Manhattan, the heart of the publishing industry. Right place. Right time. Right content. It’s easy almost a decade on to forget that it wasn’t entirely luck based. I did the reviews and round-ups but there was one feature of my site that I started partly because I found the topic funny and partly because like any good blogger I was looking for hits. For a topic that could simultaneously shock and amuse. Thus was born the series Hot Men of Children’s Literature.

During the series’ heyday I received surprisingly little criticism. It wasn’t that people necessarily approved of a children’s librarian calling different guys in the industry “hot”, but they at least got the joke. Rather than judge male authors and illustrators on the quality of their work I’d discuss the slant of their eyebrows. There’s no real reason to do that kind of a thing unless you’re just having fun.  At its peak the series would get shoutouts at librarian previews, which stroked the ego. It was mentioned when Jarrett Krosczka was handed the key to the city of Worcester  And, like most things, folks tried to use it for marketing purposes. I’d have publishers suggest to me new up-and-coming debut fellas as possible subject matter. Men would suggest themselves or, far worse, their wives and girlfriends would nominate them. And while it is difficult to tell a man he isn’t hot, it is infinitely worse to tell his mate.

In the end it had done its job (getting me attention) and I could retire it. HMOCL, as we affectionately dubbed it, had been an innocent lark. An innocuous poke at an industry.

Or was it?

What if HMOCL was more than that? What if it paved the way for a new kind of marketing attitude? Think about it. Our industry is dominated by women and quite a few gay men. Heterosexual fellas exist but do not make up the majority of children’s booksellers and librarians. Did publishers discover that raw sex appeal was a legitimate way to sell to a willing juv lit public?

HMOCL2These questions arose recently with the publication of the New York Magazine article The Children’s-Book Guy: An Ideal Crush Object.  I came to the piece as I come to many hot topics these days. Which is to say, by reading infuriated comments on Twitter and then working my way backwards in time to the original article.

Children’s literature hate bait happens, so I set out to read the piece proclaimed by so many to be anti-women / hateful / damaging / etc.  I read it.  I read it again. And one thing was very very clear. This was definitely Hot Men of Children’s Literature 2.0.

To sum up, the article is a chirrupy little celebration of the fact that there are a lot of cute “children’s book guys”. It names names. It fantasizes about what it would be like to be with such a fellow. And it identifies female fans of children’s literature as a distinct type:

“I’ve been to my fair share of kids’-book events and long admired the women who have made careers out of stepping into the brain of a little kid and shepherding them through imagined worlds of joy and wonder. These women are generally in their mid-50s, with great glasses, admirably draped Eileen Fisher duds, and expensive sandals.”

In doing so, it made these actual women, and their bookseller/librarian/academic counterparts just a touch grumpy (my favorite comment coming from Anne Ursu on Roger’s blog saying, “I’m amused that she thinks women who write children’s books can afford Eileen Fisher”).  As it happens, the author provided an apology for the piece afterwards, which is worth reading.

My job at this point was to find out if folks were inclined to lump me in with this piece. And occasionally someone would, but never angrily. Roger Sutton mentioned it jovially on his blog.  One person speculated that my series was different because I was an insider and this woman was clearly an outsider. Hands off, hussy! Judging male children’s book industry insiders in a sexist manner is Betsy’s job!

Initially I tried to distance myself. My series was satirical, I said. I included more than just adorable 20 and 30 year olds. I did dead guys even! But at the end of the day how different was I really? I may not have written in her Carrie Bradshaw-esque style, but the content was the same.

HMOCL3Back in the day I was asked why I didn’t do a Hot Women of Children’s Literature companion series. The answer was that I couldn’t figure out how it would work.  Women in the industry don’t incline towards female creators based on their relative physical “hotness”.  But to suggest that they don’t incline towards women for similar reasons isn’t entirely true either.  It took me years before I realized that in the children’s literature world there IS an equivalent to hotness in men: Relatability in women. Cute can be cool. Adorkable can be desirable. But if that female author or illustrator comes off like a best friend? Fantastic! Now look at some of the female authors and illustrators lauded by, say, The Nerdy Book Club. Katherine Applegate? Wouldn’t you want to spend time having brunch with her? Ame Dyckman? Maybe the sweetest human being I’ve met in years. Lauren Castillo? So friendly and fun. Rita Williams-Garcia?  Quite possibly the world’s most enjoyable human being.  Kate DiCamillo? Hee-larious!  None of these women are stand-offish or curt with kids. And they strike their fans as someone you’d want to spend more time with, personally.

This is NOT to say that they aren’t talented. Of course they are! But being prejudiced towards a children’s book creator isn’t always gender specific. We are influenced by looks and attitudes.  Remember my post on whether or not you have to be a performing extrovert? It applies here.

Fortunately we are also attracted to sheer raw talent. Or, more precisely, our kids are. Because kids love what they love. They don’t adore Judy Blume because she’s friendly but because her books still speak to them. They don’t check out Mo Willems because he is hot (a matter of opinion, of course) but because his books are funny as all get out.  And while marketing to the “emotions” (shall we say) of the gatekeepers may work initially, we can all adore a title regardless of whether or not we’ve ever seen so much as a photograph of its creator(s).  I trust the kids in these matters.  Blood will out.  Good books will out.  And Hot Men / Relatable Women?  I suspect they’re not going anywhere.

[Full credit for the images in this piece to BookRiot and their article (by the fabulous Minh Le) 5 of Hollywood’s Sexiest Men Want to Read You Children’s Books]


20 Comments on Hands Off, Hussy! Hot Men of Children’s Literature Under (Too Little?) Fire, last added: 10/22/2015
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23. Review of the Day: Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

HumanBodyTheaterHuman Body Theater
By Maris Wicks
First Second (a imprint of Roaring Brook and division of Macmillan)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-929-0
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

I gotta come clean with you. Skeletons? I’ve got a thing for them. Not a “thing” as in I find them attractive, but rather a “thing” as in I find them fascinating. I always have. Back in the 80s there was a science-related Canadian television show called “Owl TV” (a Canuck alternative to “3-2-1 Contact”) and one of the regular features was a skeleton by the name of Bonaparte who taught kids about various scientific matters. But aside from the odd viewing of “Jason and the Argonauts”, walking, talking (or, at the very least, stalking) skeletons don’t crop up all that often when you become grown. So maybe my attachment to Human Body Theater with its knobby narrator has its roots deep in my own personal history. Or maybe it has something more to do with the witty writing, untold gobs of nonfiction information, eye-catching art, and general sense of intelligence and care. Whatever the case, it turns out the human body puts on one heckuva good show!

When a human skeleton comes out and offers to right there, before your very eyes, become a fully formed human being with guts, skin, etc. who are you to refuse? Tonight the human body itself is putting on a show and everyone from the stagehands (the cells) to the players (whether they’re body parts or viruses) is fully engaged and involved. With our narrator’s help we dive deep beneath the skin and learn top to bottom about every possible system our bods have to offer. When all is said and done the readers aren’t just intrigued. They’re picking the book up to read it again and again. Backmatter includes a Glossary of terms and a Bibliography for further reading.

HumanBody2I’ve been a big time Maris Wicks fan for years. It started long ago when I was tooling around a MOCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) event and ran across just the cutest little paperback picture book. It couldn’t have been much bigger than a coaster and all it was was a story about a family taking a daytrip to the woods. Called Yes, Let’s it was written by Galen Goodwin and illustrated by a Maris Wicks. I didn’t know either of these people. I just knew the book was good, and when it was published officially a couple years later by Tanglewood Publishing I felt quite justified. But for all that I’d been a fan, I didn’t recognize Ms. Wicks’ work or name, at first, when she illustrated Jim Ottaviani’s Primates. When the connection was made I felt like I’d won a small lottery. Now she’s gone solo with Human Body Theater and the only question left in anybody’s mind is . . . why didn’t she do it sooner? She’s a natural!

Now for whatever reason my four-year-old is currently entranced by this book. She’s naturally inclined to love graphic novels anyway (thank you, Cece Bell) and something in Human Body Theater struck a real chord with her. It’s not hard to figure out why. Visually it’s consistently arresting. Potentially dry material, like the method by which oxygen travels from the lungs to the blood, is presented in the most eclectic way possible (in this case, like a dance). Wicks keeps her panels vibrant and consistently interesting. One minute we might be peering into the inner workings of the capillaries and the next we’re zooming with the blood through the body delivering nutrients and oxygen. The colorful, clear lined style certainly bears a passing similarity to the work of author/artists like Raina Telgemeier, while the ability imbue everything, right down to the smallest atom, with personality is more along the lines of Dan Green’s “Basher Books” series.

For my part, I was impressed with the degree to which Wicks is capable of breaking complex ideas down into simple presentations. The chapters divide neatly into The Skeletal System, The Muscular System, The Respiratory System, The Cardiovascular System, The Digestive System, The Excretory System, The Endocrine System, The Reproductive System, The Immune System, The Nervous System, and the senses (not to mention an early section on cells, elements, and molecules). As impressive as her art is, it’s Wicks’ writing that I feel like we should really credit here. Consider the amount of judicious editing she had to do, to figure out what to keep and what to cut. How do you, as an author, transition neatly from talking about reproduction to the immune system? How do you even tackle a subject as vast as the senses? And most importantly, how gross do you get? Because the funny bones of 10-year-olds demand a certain level of gross out humor, while the stomachs of the gatekeepers buying the book demand that it not go too far. I am happy to report that Ms. Wicks walks that tightrope with infinite skill.

HumanBody1One of the parts of the book I was particularly curious about was the sex and reproduction section. I’ve seen what Robie H. Harris has gone through with her It’s Perfectly Normal series on changing adolescent bodies, and I wondered to what extent Wicks would tread similar ground. The answer? She doesn’t really. Sex is addressed but images of breasts and penises are kept simple to the point of near abstraction. As such, don’t be relying on this for your kid’s sex-ed. There are clear reasons for this limitation, of course. Books that show these body parts, particularly graphic novels, are restricted by some parents or school districts. Wicks even plays with this fact, displaying a sheet covering what looks like a possible penis, only to reveal a very tall sperm instead. And Wicks doesn’t skimp on the info. The chapter on The Reproductive Cycle, for example, contains the delightful phrase, “ATTENTION: Would some blood please report to the penis for a routine erection.” So I’ve no doubt that there will be a parent somewhere who is offended in some way. However, it’s done so succinctly that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it causes almost no offense during its publication lifespan (but don’t quote me on that one).

If there is a problem with the book it may come right at the very beginning. Our skeleton hero introduces herself and from there you would expect her to jump right in to Human Body Theater with the bones. Instead, the storyline comes to a near screeching halt from the get go with a laborious explanation of cells, elements, and molecules. It’s not that these things aren’t important or interesting. Indeed, you can more than understand why they come at the beginning the way that they do. But as the book currently stands, this section feels like it was added in at the last minute. If it was going to preface the actual “show” then couldn’t it have been truly separate from the main event and act as a kind of pre-show entertainment?

What parent wouldn’t admit a bit of a thrill when their kid points to their own femur and declares proudly that it’s the longest bone in the human body? Or off-the-cuff speculates on the effects of the appendix on other body functions? We talk a lot about children’s books that (forgive the phrase) “make learning fun”, but how many actually do? When I wrack my brain for fun human body books, I come up surprisingly short. Here then is a title that can push against a certain kind of reader’s reluctance to engage with science on any level. It’s for the science lovers and graphic novel lovers alike (and lord knows the two don’t always overlap). More fun than it has any right to be. No bones about it.

On shelves now.

Like This? Then Try:

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Interviews: A great one conducted with Mara and The A.V. Club.


0 Comments on Review of the Day: Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks as of 10/20/2015 3:43:00 AM
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24. Return of the Attack of the Getty Images (Part Deux!)

Just when you thought it was safe to pick up your middle grade galleys for 2016 . . . .

Remember when I posted recently about originally seeing a Barbara O’Connor book?


And then later I saw this rather similar adult title?


Well now I’ve found a third book with the doggie in question!  Hold onto your hats, folks, because Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2016 is going to feature . . . .


Collect them all!


0 Comments on Return of the Attack of the Getty Images (Part Deux!) as of 10/22/2015 1:13:00 AM
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25. Video Sunday: Spiritual Otters and Evangelical Raccoons

Woot!  I’ve scraped and saved and slavered and after a couple weeks have culled together enough videos to constitute a truly lovely Video Sunday.  And since Halloween is near upon us (a holiday I will, strangely enough, be spending at an outside wedding in Maine) why not begin with the king of frightening children’s literature himself, Stephen Gammell.  Mental Floss recently released a post called 14 Terrifying Facts About Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  Fine and good but the link to the documentary caught my particular eye . . .

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 10.21.58 PM

Scary Stories (Official Trailer) from Cody Meirick on Vimeo.

As did the video they linked to showing how illustrator Stephen Gammell does his art.  Pretty amazing to see in process.

This next one’s a hoot. Author Steve Sheinkin, when he isn’t creating a comic styled interview series or writing National Book Award short list nominees is, apparently, doing some killer LEGO book trailers as well. Check this out. And since it features Nixon, yes indeed there is some slightly salty language.

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 10.26.33 PM

Another book trailer, and this time for a book that I certainly hope will be getting some awards soon. The Martin Scorsese blurb is a nice touch.

That tune just slays me.

This next one is timed nicely with the Alice in Wonderland 150th anniversary.  It discusses Alice Hargreaves (the real Alice)’s trip to Columbia University in the 30s and has some very nice interviews with some of today’s Alice experts. It mentions things like a picture of Alice that was published in Punch before the book was officially published.  Be sure to get to the part where you can hear the real Alice’s voice.

For more information, just go here.

Writing parodies come.  Writing parodies go.  But writing parodies where the singer is thoroughly easy on the ears and parodies one of my favorite songs?  That’s just gravy.  As such . . .

Thanks to Watch. Connect. Read. for the link.

And our off-topic video today features the son of a friend of mine (some of you may recognize his voice).  His kiddo, I should say his very small kiddo, has memorized all the literary ladies on his mommy’s mug.  The way he pronounces Sylvia Plath?  Priceless.


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