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

Morning, folks.  What’s that?  Why, yes. Yes, I would like to watch this video about Nathan Hale’s newest GN The Underground Abductor. Thank you! Seems to me the man has lucked out in terms of timing too. With people rallying to put Ms. Tubman on the $20 bill, it is now vastly important to learn more about her. Plus, you cannot read this book and not become an instantaneous Tubman fan.

So here in NYC we’ve a little something called the NYC Neighborhood Library Awards. Patrons nominate their local branches and the finalists have these cool videos. The first branch I ever worked in was my beloved Jefferson Market. Look at this and tell me it’s not the most gorgeous place you’ve ever seen.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 8.40.05 PM

Jefferson Market Library from Well Exposed on Vimeo.

My castle.

Now lots of successful children’s authors use their money for good causes.  But really, opening an independent bookstore is just a great idea all around.  Jeff Kinney talks about his newly opened store here.  I love his reasoning behind not making it just a children’s store (though, frankly, that would have been a-okay with me too).

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 5.30.10 PM

For you Betsy Bird completists out there (hi, mom), here’s a chance to see me talk twice about digital stuff. Once around 6:36 and once around 24:20. This livestream video was done in celebration of a Kickstarter Campaign called Time Traveler Tours & Tales which seeks to meld interactive history with honest-to-goodness books. I was asked to speak about story and electronic media and libraries, so I did just that:

Doggone it. The Scholastic preview just went up and the books look fantastic.  And me not going to ALA either.  Oh, Book Expo . . . .

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 8.44.40 PM

And for our off-topic video today, this is sorta kinda on topic. If you want to stretch your definition of “children’s literature”.  Recently there’s been a lot of talk about what the 10 best pre-recorded sketches of Saturday Night Live this season were. My heart lies with The Middle Earth Office.  For fans of the British office, this is just gravy. Pure gravy.

 

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2. Press Release Fun: The 2015 Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Awards

The Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Awards Committee is pleased to announce the recipients of the 12th biennial Awards.  The awards will be presented in a ceremony on Tuesday, June 16, 2015, at the White Plains (New York) Public Library. The program is open to the public.

The Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award was established in 1990 by librarians, storytellers and educators in Westchester County, New York, to honor Anne Izard, an extraordinary librarian, storyteller, and Children’s Services Consultant in the Westchester County Library System. The Award seeks to bring the riches of storytelling to greater public awareness by highlighting and promoting distinguished books on storytelling published for children and adults. Folklore, fiction, biography and historical stories must be entirely successful without consideration of graphic elements. Books which enrich a storyteller’s understanding of story, folk traditions, aesthetics, and methods of storytelling are also eligible. Books considered for the Twelfth Award were original material, reprints, or new English translations published in the United States between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014.

Recipients of the 12th Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Awards are:

Beyond the Briar Patch : Affrilachian Folktales, Food and Folklore by Lyn Ford [Parkhurst Brothers 2014]

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman [Roaring Brook Press 2013]

Every Day a Holiday: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Elizabeth Ellis [Parkhurst Brothers 2014]

The Golden Age of Folk & Fairy Tales: From the Brothers Grimm to Andrew Lang by Jack Zipes [Hackett Publishing 2013]

The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff  [Peachtree Publishers 2014]

The King of Little Things by Bil Lepp [Peachtree Publishers  2013]

Mysterious Traveler by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham [Candlewick Press 2013]

Ol’ Clip Clop: A Ghost Story by Patricia C. McKissack [Holiday House 2013]

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner [Oxford University Press 2014]

Story by Story: Creating a Student Storytelling Troupe… by Karen Chace [Parkhurst Brothers 2014]

Teaching with Story by Margaret Read MacDonald, Jennifer MacDonald Whitman and Nathaniel Forest Whitman [August House 2014]

Whiskers, Tails & Wings: Animal Folktales from Mexico by Judy Goldman [Charlesbridge 2013]

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! by Jonah Winter [Schwartz & Wade Books 2013]

For more information, please contact Tata Canuelas, Chair, at tcanuelas@whiteplainsny.gov,  or  Ellen Tannenbaum, Co-Chair, at storyteller29@gmail.com .

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3. Fuse 8 TV: Geoff Rodkey and Reading (Too Much) Into Karen Katz

And a happy Thursday to you all.  It’s May 21st and that means another episode of Fuse #8 TV is up and running.  As per usual I kick the whole kerschmozzle off with a new edition of “Reading (Too Much) Into Picture Books”.  Though I had a recent request to tackle The Giving Tree, I couldn’t find an adequate hook.  Until I do, I find that the board book Subway by Anastasia Suen (illustrated by Karen Katz) has a spy thriller vibe going on just below its seemingly innocuous surface.  Doubt me?  Check it out.

As for our special guest, I was pleased as punch to speak to Geoff Rodkey.  For years I’ve been a fan of his Chronicles of Egg series.  Now he has a whole new bunch of books out, this time with Little, Brown.  Beginning with The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other), Geoff speaks frankly and honestly about his screenwriting life, publishers he’s dealt with, and the true nature of his work on the Carmen Sandiego video games.

 

All other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.

Once more, thanks to Little, Brown for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.

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4. Fusenews: “Someday I’ll go to Winnipeg to win a peg-leg pig”

  • When two people sent me this link I assumed that everyone must have already seen it. But when it didn’t show up on PW Children’s Bookshelf I decided that perhaps I might have a scoop. At the very least, it appears that when people think Nick Cave meets Dr. Seuss, I’m the logical person to send that link to. And they’re right. I’ve been hoping for years that some karaoke bar I wander into might have “Red Right Hand” on the roster. So far it hasn’t worked out but I live in hope. Thanks to Stephanie Whelan and Marci for the link.
  • There was a nice obituary in SLJ about Marcia Brown, the woman who currently holds the title of Most Caldecotts Ever Won By a Single Person (though David Wiesner looks to be catching up). She’s a former co-worker of mine, if by “co-worker” you give or take 50 years (we both worked in the Central Children’s Room, now called The Children’s Center at 42nd Street). Jeanne Lamb of NYPL gave some great background in this piece. I did speak to someone recently who was surprised that the Shadow controversy hasn’t come up in any obituaries discussing Ms. Brown’s life. I suspect that has more to do with our shortened memories than anything else, but it may be an indication of folks wishing to remember her in the best light.
  • You know, just when you think Travis Jonker has come up with all the brilliant posts he’s going to, something like this comes along and blows it all out of the water. You, sir, are a certified genius. You, and your little Aaron Zenz too.
  • Work on Funny Girl, my anthology, continues unabated. In that light, Shannon Hale’s magnificent post Stop Shushing the Funny Girls is particularly pertinent. Consider it your required reading of the day.
  • “Social fluency will be the new currency of success.” The Shelftalker blog said that Jewell Parker Rhodes’s closing keynote, “Diversity and Character-Driven Stories,” at this year’s ABC Children’s Institute was worth reading and seems they’re absolutely right. Downright inspiring too.  Maybe this should be your required reading.
  • Nope. I was wrong.  Those two posts are your required reading, on top of this one from Art Director Chad Beckerman.  His Evolution of a Cover post on Me and Earl and the Dying Girl makes you wish he wrote such things daily.  It also clarifies for many of us the sheer amount of work a single book jacket takes.
  • This is coming to America next year. As such, I must respectfully ask the universe to please make next year come tomorrow. I am willing to wait 24 hours. See how patient I am?  I think I deserve a treat.
  • Let’s say you work in a library system where, for whatever reason, you need to justify a massive summer reading program. And let us say that what you need, what you really and truly want, are some cold, hard facts to back up the claim that there is such a thing as a “summer slide” (summer slide = the phenomenon of children sliding back a grade or two over the summer if they don’t read during that time) and that summer reading prevents it. Well, thanks to the efforts of RIF, we now have research to back us up. So for those of you fond of cold, hard facts, tip your hat to RIF.

There’s just something about that Alligator Pie. When twenty-five graphic novelists were asked to name their favorite children’s books, not one but TWO of them mentioned Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Frank Newfeld. Canadian to its core, it’s one of those classics that most Americans, heck most U.S. children’s librarians, just don’t know. Next time I’m in Stratford, Ontario I’m picking up a copy. After all, any book that influenced both Mariko Tamaki and John Martz has got to be doing something right.

Did you hear about the diversity survey Lee & Low has spearheaded? Did you read the comments on the article? And do you know whether or not any of the big five have agreed to participate yet? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Sure, this news already ran in PW Children’s Bookshelf, but hearing it more than once never hurt anybody. We all have our pet favorites. Mine just happen to be German sometimes:
NorthSouth Books’ Associate Publisher, Andrew Rushton, has acquired a second book by German author/illustrator Sebastian Meschenmoser. Gordon & Tapir, which tells the comical story of odd-couple housemates (a particular penguin and an untidy tapir), received a Special Mention at the Bologna Ragazzi awards (category Fiction) and is short-listed for the German Children’s Book of the Year Award. The author will be on tour in the US this June ending at ALA in San Francisco.
  • I miss Peter Sieruta. I miss him a lot. Nobody else had his wit and timing and sheer, crazy historical knowledge in strange obscure areas. So it was with great interest that I recently discovered Second Look Books. Librarian Carol Matic highlights older gems each week, giving a bit of context and history along the way. Good for those still going through Collecting Children’s Books withdrawal.
  • Daily Image:

Need I say more?

Jules, I thought of you. Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the image.

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5. Review of the Day: Billy’s Booger by William Joyce

Billy’s Booger: A Memoir (Sorta)
By William Joyce
Moonbot Books / Atheneum Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-1442473515
Ages 4-7
On shelves June 2nd

The fictionalized picture book memoir is a fairly new creation, when you get right down to it. It’s not as if Sendak was telling tales about a little boy in Brooklyn or Margaret Wise Brown was penning nostalgic stories of a girl in a Swiss boarding school. But somewhere during the latter part of the 20th century, the form sort of took off. Tomie dePaola typified it with books like Oliver Button Is a Sissy. Michael Rosen took an adult perspective in The Sad Book. And Patricia Polacco has practically made a cottage industry out of it with stories like Thank You, Mr. Falker and Mr. Lincoln’s Way amongst others. They’re still relatively rare, though, so when you encounter a book like Billy’s Booger: A Memoir (Sorta) your first thought isn’t that this is going to have any bearing whatsoever on author William Joyce’s real life. Instead, you zero on in that word. “Booger”. Kinda hard to get away from. And you want to write the book off as gross based on that alone, but the image on the cover stops you. Not the small waving green guy, though he’s pretty cute (until you realize what exactly he is) but rather the bespectacled wide-eyed boy with the book. Get into the story and you encounter a tale that I can honestly say is unlike any other Joyce creation I’ve read before. Funny and relatable with more Bill Joyce in-jokes that you could shake a stick at, this is a picture book memoir that feels deeply personal. And all it took was a bit of fictional phlegm.

Let it be understood that even before the incidents involving the book, upon which I shall elucidate further in a moment, it was an undeniable fact that Billy was both a usual and unusual kiddo. Usual since he loved “monster movies and cartoons and comic books”. Unusual because he was the kind of child that liked to spice up things he regarded as too regular. This attitude was applied towards everything from homework to sports to the best possible way to eat your peas at dinner (for what it’s worth, the trigonal form is to be recommended). Then, one day, the librarian Mrs. Pagely let Billy know about an upcoming book contest where kids would write and illustrate their very own creations. Billy was seriously psyched and pored his heart and soul into his magnum opus, Billy’s Booker: The memoirs of a little green nose buddy. Suffice to say, Billy did not receive any awards. Distraught and disheartened, he no longer had his former pep and verve. And then, one day, he saw something in the library that pretty much changed his entire life.

You know when you walk into a fictionalized picture memoir that what you are getting can’t possibly be all the facts surrounding a pivotal point in the author’s life. But truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a straight nonfiction picture book memoir in all my livelong days. So your job becomes figuring out what parts of a given storyline are true and which parts are exaggerations. With Joyce, the text is pretty straightforward. There’s nothing too wild, wacky, and out there involved. It’s the art where the man’s imagination soars. There are the natural exaggerations, like the fact that you never see Billy’s sister without her ear firmly attached to a phone receiver, or the way Billy’s book lights up as he writes in it. Then there are the set pieces. Joyce has always cultivated a true love of 1950s/60s nostalgia. Beehives, cat-eye glasses, buttoned up collars, and skirts replete with crinoline. In Billy’s Booger, Joyce creates for himself an idealized childhood. And in no better place is this visible than when Billy settles down to read the Sunday color comics.

Sharp-eyed spotters with a yen for classic newspaper comics will spend ungodly amounts of time poring over the panels that Joyce has painstakingly created here, trying to figure out what he’s referencing in one comic or another. For my part I was able to identify a Peanuts tribute (that one was pretty easy), a comic about the Shmoos of L’il Abner (only here they’re called “Smooks” and rather than “Al Capp” they’re written by “Al Hat”), a clear cut Little Nemo tribute, what appears to be a Terry and the Pirates homage, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracey (I love that the version here is called “Gunn”), The Gumps (maybe), what appears to be Dickie Dare, Bringing Up Father (no homage, that seems pretty straightforward), Yellow Kid, and Beadle’s Half-Dime Library (seriously, Bill?). These never actually existed all at the same time, of course. But Joyce’s original renderings, done with occasional shocking accuracy, are lovingly compiled. He knows perfectly well that kids reading this book aren’t going to get any of these references. Young parents will probably miss a good chunk of them as well. No, this is something Joyce is doing for himself and for the occasional comic enthusiasts out there who get their kicks out of shining iPhone flashlights on the pages trying like mad to make out the words on these teeny tiny panels.

Similarly, Joyce fills his pages to brimming with miniscule details that can only be considered true shout-outs to his fans. Elements of his future books pepper these pages. When Billy first starts writing his book, a little Dinosaur Bob sits on his desk, holding down papers that contain various Mischievians renderings. At the end of the book you can see his future characters flying through the air. Look closely and you’ll see George from George Shrinks. That floating head? It’s probably Ollie. More Mischievians, a possible robot from his movie Robots (remember that one?), and another Dinosaur Bob. And finally, just to go back to the comics for a second, it appears that Joyce has worked in a reference to Michael Chabon’s picture book The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man. At least that’s how I interpreted his “Jonny Trek” comic written in part by “Mikey Chaboing”. This makes a fair amount of sense, since Joyce once illustrated the cover of Chabon’s book Summerland while Chabon has blurbed various Joyce books over the years.

In the midst of all this fun it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that Joyce’s sense of design and layout are going wild. From the endpapers of kooky ideas to the title page drawn to resemble art from those insipid easy reader books of the 50s (think knock off Dick and Jane). The most ambitious element, however, is the small insert in the center of this book of the titular Billy’s Booger. Now on the bookflap of this title we learn that “William Joyce began writing books in the fourth grade. He’s done a bunch of books since, but this it the true story of his making that very first book. And that book is included in this book.” I understand that, but there is no guarantee that this is the original book itself rather than a modernized version of it. I did wonder, and then pored through it in search of any evidence one way or the other. In the end, I’ve no idea. Does it matter? Probably not. But it does make a reader wonder anyway. Kids, naturally, will take it for granted that it’s the original.

There are reviews I write that are so glowing that I feel compelled to come up with some kind of concern, just so I don’t appear to have fallen for its charms too completely. I’m a reviewer, not a cheerleader, after all. In this case, the best I can do is the fact that sometimes Billy’s sister is drawn in an inconsistent fashion, and his book Billy’s Booger uses that term “gypped” which some folks find offensive. For my part, I found it interesting that if this story is indeed true and Joyce did once submit a book called Billy’s Booger in a book contest then it is fascinating to think that the sole time I’ve seen him return to this kind of gross out humor in a literary form was when he created the aforementioned Mischievians. At the time it felt like an odd aberration in the Joyceian oeuvre. Now, not so much.

We might wonder, why now? Why at this point in his career has Bill Joyce chosen to return to this pivotal moment of his youth? As of 2015 the man is remarkably successful. A former New Yorker cover artist, animator, Academy Award winning filmmaker, app creator, you name it. Heck, the guy even has a statue he designed out there somewhere. In the midst of all this, it’s oddly refreshing to see a book of his that’s just a book. There’s no app tie-in or short film waiting in the wings. It’s a book for its own sake, telling a personal story, filled to brimming with fun and humor and teeny tiny details tailor made for picture book/funny page obsessives like myself. And kids? Let’s not forget the actual intended audience here. They should eat it up with a spoon. It’s just a really nice way of explaining that sometimes critics like myself are not the true arbitrators of whether or not a picture book is any good. Sometimes it really comes down to the kids themselves. They’re the ones who’ll read the title and grab this book so fast it makes your head spin. They say only the rarest kind of best is good enough for our kids. Well this puppy is as rare as it gets and, yes. It’s one of the best. Superhero booger men and all.

On shelves June 2nd.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

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6. In Search of the Elusive Lesbian Mom

On a typical day at work I might be called upon to come up with a list of children’s books pertaining to one topic or another.  Recently I decided to cull together a GLBTQ list for grades K-3 and one for grades 4-8.  Easy peasy.  I know a lot of the books, both old and new, and putting them together is a breeze.

The picture book list wasn’t all that hard.  Books with two dads are pretty easy to locate (the 10th anniversary of And Tango Makes Three, the upcoming Stella Brings the Family, and so on and such).  Thinking up moms . . . that was a little harder, but eventually I was able to locate Antonio’s Card, Heather Has Two Mommies (the newly illustrated edition, of course), and In Our Mother’s House.  Not a plethora, but serviceable.  Forget about finding any books about girls defying gender roles, though.  Plenty of boy in dress books and even a couple transgender titles, but gender fluid girl titles?  Not much on offer.

As I moved onto the middle grade list things got tricky.  Middle grade novels with two dads or gay guys in general?  Again, easy peasy.  Popularity Papers, The Manny Files, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Accidental Adventures of India McCallister, etc.  Middle grade novels with two moms . . . huh.

It took a lot more effort to find such books.  They had to be currently in print, for one thing.  And I really wanted moms.  Just normal old moms.  Not an aunt’s roommate or anything.  Finally I had to tap my social media friends and together this is what we came up with:

Middle Grade Titles With Two Moms

  • Best Friend Next Door, by Carolyn Mackler
  • Case of the Stolen Scarab & Case of the Vanishing Valuables by Nancy Garden.
  • A Clear Spring by Barbara Wilson (it’s aunts in this case, but we take what we can get)
  • The Friendship Riddle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
  • I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson
  • My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
  • Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder
  • I wasn’t able to confirm this but apparently all three Maggie Brooklyns by Leslie Margolis including Girl’s Best Friend, Vanishing Acts, and Secrets at the Chocolate Mansion
  • The Flower Power book series by Lauren Myracle
  • From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson (though we bought the reprinted edition for our YA collections, in part because of the cover).

That’s all she wrote, folks.  But if you’ve more you can name of either this (or picture books with gender fluid gals) I’d love to hear ‘em.  No YA, though.  It’s easy to get YA and middle grade mixed up, but I work strictly in the children’s book realm.

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7. What Are the Great Children’s Literature Writing Retreats?

This one’s for the writers, but could be of just as much use to those folks who want to be published authors and just haven’t gotten there yet.  In my time as a roving children’s librarian I’ve spoken at two different but enchanting writing retreats.  I should probably define my terms, though, so when I say “writing retreats” I mean places where authors, incipient and otherwise, pay a fixed amount to be inspired, edited, or taught by a knowledgeable staff.  Bonus points if there’s pretty scenery. Extra added bonus points if you get good food.

Recently I was speaking at one such retreat (to be named below) and it got me to thinking.  If you wanted to make a compiled list of all the children’s literary retreats in the States, where would you go?  Well, you’d go here since I’m going to start trying to compile such a list right now.

If you can think of any that should be added (and specifically target writing for kids and/or teens) mention them in the comments and I’ll include them.

Literary Retreats for Folks Who Write for Kids and Teens

Better Books Marin

Name: Better Books Marin
Location: Marin County, California? The website is a bit spotty on that point.
Who’s It For? The motto is, “A Craft-Based Workshop for Middle-Grade & YA Writers”.
What’s it like? This is a retreat for folks who want a good hands on learning and critique experience.  As you can see from this schedule, the days are rigorously planned out.  This is the kind of retreat where you get bang for the proverbial buck.

 

SCBWI Falling Leaves / Spring Leaves

Name: SCBWI Falling Leaves / Spring Leaves Retreat
Location: Silver Bay, NY
Who’s It For? The two retreats (Spring Leaves for the spring and Falling Leaves for . . . well, you get it) rotate genres.  So there’s a little something for everyone.
What’s It Like? Both SCBWI members and non-members are able to apply for this retreat.  Compared to some other retreats this is an affordable option.  Registration does not appear to be currently open for the next fall conference, but one suspects it’s just a matter of time before it opens up.

The Highlights Foundation

Name: The Highlights Foundation
Location: Honesdale, PA
Who’s It For? Boy howdy, you name it! Of all the workshops listed here, the Highlights Foundation’s is the one with the most workshops per year.  Everything from science writing and nonfiction picture books to early readers and first chapter books are covered.
What’s It Like? I’ve spoken twice at Highlights with a third engagement is coming up in two months. Basically it’s just lovely. Adorable tiny cabins. Amazing food. Great speakers. It feels more low-key than some of the other retreats, but honestly you can find the workshop that fits your style.

Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop (OCCBWW)

Name: Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop (OCCBWW)
Location: Oceanside, Oregon
Who’s It For? Everyone, insofar as I can tell. Anyone writing children’s books, anyway.
What’s It Like? This is the rare retreat where you can get actual graduate level course credits for taking the workshops and intensives on offer. Unlike other retreats this one makes no bones about what they hope to accomplish: “Getting attendees published is the end goal.” They do a lot of one-on-one coaching as well.

Picture Book Boot Camp

Name: Picture Book Boot Camp
Location: Phoenix Farm, Western Massachusetts (in the Northampton area, I believe)
Who’s It For? It’s described as a Master Class for working picture book authors.
What’s It Like? Well, this one’s much smaller and more personal than a lot of the other retreats mentioned here.  Authors Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple started a boot camp at Jane’s 1896 Victorian farmhouse home in Massachusetts.  There appears to be a lot of close attention paid to the attendees (which cap off at 12).

The Speakeasy Literary Retreat

Name: The Speakeasy Literary Retreat
Location: Various. It moves around. Past retreats have been in San Francisco (2012), Fallen Leaf Lake (2013), and Portland (2014). The next one is slated for the Rivendell Writer’s Colony in Sewanee, TN
Who’s It For? That’s a bit unclear. To be a member of the Speakeasy Literary Society you must submit your application and be accepted. One assumes that folks who attend the retreats are also members.
What’s It Like? Informal and without an official schedule. As they (the Speakeasy Literary Society) say, “We have one mission: to encourage children’s publishing professionals to relax and commune in a variety of inspirational settings. Preferably with drinks.” Of the retreats listed in this post, this one’s probably the most laid back.

Whispering Pines

Name: Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat
Location: West Greenwich, RI
Who’s It For? Hard to say. This is the rare retreat without a website. At the same time, with its connection to NESCBWI, it’s one of the most successful.
What’s It Like? Now in its 20th year, co-directors Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Mary Pierce are stepping down this year and will be replaced with Julie Kingsley and Cameron Kelly Rosenblum. Described as the kind of place where you “design your own retreat” but with plenty of speakers, games, and fun.  Liz Goulet Dubois has recapped several years’ worth of retreats, so you should be able to glean how they go.

Name: The Writing Barn
Location: Austin, TX
Who’s It For? Everyone. Juv and YA alike.  Picture books, novels, chapter books, you name it.
What’s It Like?  The brainchild of author Bethany Hegedus, it’s just the loveliest space.  Wild deer and foxes frolic about the cactus plants while inside the barn you’ve amazing and brainy folks talking about books left and right.  I’ve only spoken there once, but it was just the nicest time.  Busy?  Heck, yeah!  And fun.

I’ve heard a rumor that the Spruceton Inn, a bed and bar in the Catskills (run by Jon Scieszka’s daughter, the writer Casey Scieszka, and her author/illustrator husband Steven Weinberg) has the occasional writing and/or illustration retreat.  So far there’s nothing to confirm this online, but I know they’re game so if you writerly types want to do an official retreat, think about contacting them.

Sidenote: Laurel Snyder mentioned that, “The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts & Sciences isn’t just for kidlit enthusiasts but they WILL fund YA and kidlit projects, which not everyone does.”

Actually, author Laurel Snyder also pointed out to me that most retreats are of an unofficial nature.  As she put it, “I’m doing my third retreat this year, and all three have been DIY– a group of writers getting together in a house in the woods, just because they can!”  So in lieu of going to any of these magnificent places, consider renting a cottage for a week and inviting some pals!

 

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8. When Illustrators Surprise You

Brinton Turkle: Purveyor of Terror.

For that statement to strike you funny you have to first be familiar with the collected works of a man that, I would argue, was the most successful Quaker author/illustrator in the business.

Today I want to tackle the phenomenon of what happens when you discover a new book from your favorite illustrator, only to discover that it’s surprising in some way.  This can happen with someone publishing today who, it turns out, has a long and storied backlist.  It can also happen with one of your favorite illustrators from the days of yore.  In fact, that’s what happened to author/illustrator Elizabeth Rose Stanton (of the delightful and weird Henny) when she reread one of her kids’ books.  And it was by Brinton Turkle.

A quick bit of background first.  For those of you unfamiliar with Turkle, you can find a nice biography of him here.  His most famous books are debatable.  Here in New York I often notice that The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring by Lucille Clifton shows up on a lot of teachers’ reading lists.

Still, I think his Obadiah series (Caldecott Honor book Thy Friend, Obadiah is the only one still in print) remains best known around the country.  It was a historical series following a Quaker boy in Nantucket.

Lovely illustrations.  Sweet storylines.  You’d hardly think the man capable of Do Not Open.

Published in 1981, the innocuous description reads “Following a storm Miss Moody and her cat find an intriguing bottle washed up on the beach. Should they ignore its ‘Do not open’ warning?”

Not to spoil the surprise for you but, no.  No they should not ignore the warning.  Because the contents are, quite frankly, deliciously horrifying.

What interests me about this book isn’t so much the fact that it’s unafraid to get scary, though it is curious that no one minds.  In an age where Pinkerton covers get re-illustrated to remove firearms and Let’s Get a Dog, Said Kate is lambasted for an imagined cigarette, both the Amazon and the Goodreads reviews of this title are remarkably innocuous.  Still, more interesting to me is the phenomenon of trusting an artist to keep producing the same old, same old, only to have them launch in an entirely different direction.  This is particularly interesting when they have a commercially successful product on the one hand, and yet they yearn to get artistic and creative on the other.  Some, like Sendak, could afford to be both but I think we can agree that he’s the exception, not the rule.

Other examples of books that you might be surprised to stumble across, though these are just cases of artists getting silly more than anything else, are:

The Seven Lady Godivas by Dr. Seuss

I had a copy of this at a branch once, and though it was cataloged as adult the pages kept shelving it in the children’s room.  I could hardly blame them, though I did wonder if they ever glanced at the cover.

Uncle Shelby’s ABZs by Shel Silverstein

I like to think most folks already know this one, but there’s a possibility that they don’t.  My favorite section is still, “G is for Gigolo”.  Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves summarizes the book nicely here.

There are others out there, of course.  These were just the first that came to my mind.

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9. Review of the Day: Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
By Lindsay Mattick
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
$18.00
ISBN: 978-0-316-32490-8
Ages 4-7
On shelves October 20th

What is it with bears and WWI?  Aw, heck.  Let’s expand that question a tad.  What is it with adorable animals and WWI?  Seems these days no matter where you turn you find a new book commemorating a noble creature’s splendor and sacrifice on the battlefields of Europe.  If it’s not Midnight, A True Story of Loyalty in World War I by Mark Greenwood or  Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of WWI’s Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum, it’s Voytek, the Polish munitions bear in Soldier Bear or,  best known of them all, the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.   With the anniversary of WWI here, the children’s literary sphere has witnessed not one but two picture book biographies of Winnie, the real bear that inspired Christopher Robin Milne and, in turn, his father A.A. Milne.  The first of these books was Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker.  A good strong book, no bones about it.  But Finding Winnie has an advantage over the Walker bio that cannot be denied.  One book was researched and thought through carefully.  The other?  Written by one of the descendants of the veterinarian that started it all.  Add in the luminous artwork of Sophie Blackall and you’ve got yourself a historical winner on your hands.

Now put yourself in Harry’s shoes.  You’re suited up. You’re on a train. You’re headed to training for the Western Front where you’ll be a service vet, aiding the horses there.  The last thing you should do is buy a baby bear cub at a train station, right?   I suppose that was the crazy thing about Harry, though.  As a vet he had the skills and the knowledge to make his plan work.  And as for the bear, she was named Winnipeg (or just Winnie for short), and she instantly charmed Harry’s commanding officer and all his fellow soldiers.  During training she was great for morale, and before you knew it she was off with the troop overseas.  But with the threat of real combat looming, Harry had a difficult decision to make.  This little bear wasn’t suited for the true horrors of war.  Instead, he dropped her off at The London Zoo where she proceeded to charm adults and children alike.  That was where she made the acquaintance of Christopher Robin Milne and inspired the name of the world’s most famous stuffed animal.  Framed within the context of author Lindsay Mattick telling this story to her son Cole, Ms. Mattick deftly weaves a family story in with a tale some might know but few quite like this.

Right from the start I was intrigued by the book’s framing sequence.  Here we have a bit of nonfiction for kids, and yet all throughout the book we’re hearing Cole interjecting his comments as his mother tells him this story.  It’s a unique way of presenting what is already an interesting narrative in a particularly child-friendly manner.  But why do it at all?  What I kept coming back to as I read the book was how much it made the story feel like A.A. Milne’s.  Anyone who has attempted to read the first Winnie-the-Pooh book to their small children will perhaps be a bit surprised by the extent to which Christopher Robin’s voice keeps popping up, adding his own color commentary to the proceedings.  Cole’s voice does much the same thing, and once I realized that Mattick was playing off of Milne’s classic, other Winnie-the-Pooh callbacks caught my eye.  There’s the Colonel’s surprised “Hallo” when he first meets Winnie, which struck me as a particularly Pooh-like thing to say.  There are the comments between Harry’s heart and head which reminded me, anyway, of Pooh’s conversations with his stomach.  They are not what I would call overt callbacks but rather like subtle little points of reference for folks who are already fans.

I was struck my Mattick’s attention to accuracy and detail too.  The temptation in these sorts of books is to fill them up with fake dialogue.  One might well imagine that the conversation with Cole is based on actual conversations, possibly culled together from a variety of different accounts.  Since Mattick isn’t saying this-happened-like-this-on-precisely-this-date we can enjoy it for what it is.  As for Harry’s tale, you only occasionally get a peek into his brain and when you do it’s in his own words, clearly taken from written accounts.  Mattick does not divulge these accounts, sadly, so there’s nothing in the back of the book so useful as a Bibliography.  However, that aside, the book rings true.  So much so that it almost makes me doubt other accounts I’ve read.

As for the text itself, I was mildly surprised by how good the writing was.  Mattick makes some choices that protect the young readers while keeping the text accurate.  For example, when little Cole asks what trappers, like the one who killed Winnie’s mother, do, Lindsay’s answer is to say, “It’s what trappers don’t do. They don’t raise bears.”  Hence, Harry had to buy it.  She also has a nice little technique, which I alluded to earlier, where Harry’s heart and mind are at odds.  The heart allows him to buy Winnie and take her overseas.  The mind wins in terms of taking her to The London Zoo in the end.

I like to put myself in the place of the editor of this book.  The manuscript has come in.  I like it.  I want to publish it.  I get the thumbs up from my publisher to go ahead and then comes the part where I find an illustrator for it.  I want somebody who can emote.  Someone just as adept at furry baby bear cubs as they are soldiers in khaki with teeny tiny glasses.  But maybe I want something more.  Maybe I want an illustrator who puts in the rudimentary details, then adds their own distinctive style to the mix.  I’m willing to get an artist who could potentially overshadow the narrative with visual beauty.  In short, I want a Sophie Blackall.

Now I’ve heard Ms. Blackall speak on a couple occasions about the meticulous research she conducted for this book.  The Canadian flag she initially mistakenly placed on a ship of war has been amended from an earlier draft (the Canadian flag wasn’t officially adopted until 1965).  She researched The London Zoo for an aerial shot that includes everything from the squirrel enclosure to Winnie’s small block of concrete or stone.  Blackall also includes little visual details that reward multiple readings.  A scene where Harry departs on the train, surrounded by people saying goodbye, is contrasted by a later scene where he returns and far fewer people are saying hello to their loved ones.  One soldier has lost a leg.  Another greets his much larger son and perpetually handkerchief clutching wife.  Another doesn’t appear at all.  And finally, Blackall throws in beautiful two-page spreads for the sake of beauty alone.  The initial endpapers show an idyllic woodland scene, presumably in Canada.  Later we’ve this red sky scene of the ship proceeding across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.  For a book about WWI, that red is the closest we come (aside from the aforementioned missing leg) to an allusion to the bloody conflict happening elsewhere.  It’s beautiful and frightening all at once.

In the world of children’s literature you never get a single book on the subject and then say, “There! Done! We don’t need any more!”  It doesn’t matter how great a book is, there’s always room for another.  And it seems to me that on the topic of Winnie the bear, friend of Christopher Robin, inspiration to a platoon, there is plenty of wiggle room.  Hers is a near obscure tale that is rapidly becoming better and better known each day.  I think that this pairs magnificently with Walker’s Winnie.  For bear enthusiasts, Winnie enthusiasts, history lovers, and just plain old folks who like a good story.  In short, for silly old bears.

On shelves October 20th.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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10. The Children’s Choice Book Awards Gala or I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. Scieszka

Photo credit: Sophie Blackall

Subtlety was never my strong suit.

And speaking of suits, how crazy is that one?  Yes, if you happened to be at this Monday’s 8th annual Children’s Choice Book Awards gala then you may have cast thine peepers on this understated little ensemble.  Twitter at the moment is vacillating between whether or not it belongs in the Willy Wonka camp or is the legal property of The Joker.  I remain neutral on the matter, though the spats clearly tip the balance in favor of The King of Clowns.

So why, precisely, was I wearing this to the gala?  Am I so bereft of dresses that I must resort to tuxedos of luminous hue?  Well, it just so happened that I was the co-host this year.  You see originally Jon Scieszka was slated to host alongside Oliver Jeffers.  However, the situation changed and Jon ended up asking me if I wanted to host alongside him.  The catch (or the lure, depending on how you look at it): I would be obligated to wear Oliver’s purple tuxedo alongside Jon’s.  Because life, my friends, is too short to not wear a purple tuxedo once in a while.

This being a lifelong dream of mine (lifelong = ever since I saw Jarrett Krosoczka do it) I immediately said yes yes yes yes yes!!  However, while my body is many things it is not adequately equipped to fill out a tux.  So I was aided in very large part by the generosity of one Marci Morimoto of the Met Museum who turned this:

Into this:

The shoes, for the record, are spectator shoes which have been in search of the perfect outfit for years.  So Monday really was the fulfillment of a rather long dream.

If you’ve not attended the gala before, it’s quite the to do.  Exceedingly good food. Delightful company. And a new trendy space that looked something like this:

Purple, yes.  We had a theme to maintain.  This may or may not have had some bearing on this year’s purple Children’s Book Week poster.

Just to remind you, the CCBA is sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, and all donations and profits from the event go to Every Child a Reader, an organization that focuses on encouraging the love of literature from a young age.

Usually at the gala there’s some kind of wackiness on hand, thanks in part to whoever is hosting at a given moment.  In the past we’ve had Jarrett Krosoczka, Lisa Yee, and I believe Robin Preiss Glaser.  And boy howdy do the stars come out!  Here’s just a brief smattering of the folks at hand:

Cece Bell in the world’s greatest dress. Nuff said.

Andrea Davis Pinkney (putting us ALL to shame)

Brian Selznick, Jacqueline Woodson, and David Levithan

Brian Floca and Katherine Roy (who is due to give birth in August)

E. Lockhart and Jason Reynolds

And initially I looked like this:

Just to prove I can prettify if called upon to do so.

But all good things must come to an end and behind the scenes things began to change.  By the time the show began you would have seen something akin to these two yuksters taking the stage:

It only picks up from there.

In the course of the evening there were a couple additional surprises.  For example, at one point Jon mentioned that our next presenter was the infinitely “shy” and “understated” Matt de la Pena.  A man who was unafraid to come out looking like so:

And from the camera’s p.o.v.:

Jon said the same thing about Jackie Woodson, setting up expectations.  So it was all the funnier when she came out looking not wacky in the least but cool, calm and collected:

It’s all about set-up and payoff.  When Brian Selznick was announced Jon made it clear that he was a shy guy, and he would never ever wear anything flashy or attention grabbing.  Which set everyone up nicely for what I will dub the suit of the century:

I caught a pic of these two fellas prior to this, of course:

For the complete roster of winners you can check out CNN’s coverage of the votes.  For a good round-up of the gala itself, Bookish has you covered.  And if you’d like to see more of the photos taken that night, they’re accessible here.  Please note that most of my photos here are from the Children’s Book Council unless otherwise noted.

Finally, it really is Children’s Book Week right now (May 4-10).  Be sure to celebrate reading and books for young people with the event nearest to you! http://bit.ly/1PSuugd #CBW15

A million thanks to Jon and the good folks at the CBC for making my strange, twisted, delighted little dreams come true.  More fun than I deserve, and that’s the truth.

 

 

 

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11. Ben Hatke and the One and Only Miracle Molly

I’ve always been a particular fan of author/illustrator/cartoonist Ben Hatke.  From the moment I first laid eyes on a little graphic novel by the name of Zita the Spacegirl, I was well and truly hooked.  Now Ben’s working on a couple different projects and he’s been making the internet rounds talking about them.  Today, here at A Fuse #8 Production, he discusses the book Miracle Molly.  Here, in his own words, is what Matt has to say about the title, as well as a little sketch art to give you a taste of what’s to come:

The Story Behind Miracle Molly

(With Art!)

Different stories call for different formats—this is something I’ve become increasingly aware of as a storyteller. Zita the Spacegirl was always going to be a comics story, and while Julia’s House for Lost Creatures started as a graphic novel, I quickly discovered that it couldn’t have been anything other than a picture book.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell what format suites a story best. I’ve written and drawn four graphic novels now, and two picture books. When I set out to tell a new story about a little fox-tailed girl named Molly, I was surprised to find myself working on my very first prose novel. I’m excited! And, I admit, a little nervous.

Miracle Molly is a heist story set in a middle school, featuring a benevolent trickster who is not all she seems to be (the fox tail maybe tips you off). It’s a sort of Ocean’s Eleven-meets-Matilda romp, with plenty of twists and turns and surprises along the way.

And maybe a bit of magic to boot.

Ben Hatke is the #1 New York Times Best-Selling author of the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, as well as the picture book Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. His next book, Little Robot, will be in stores September 2016.

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12. Fusenews: Gravel in the bed

“If kids like a picture book, they’re going to read it at least 50 times, and their parents are going to have to read it with them. Read anything that often, and even minor imperfections start to feel like gravel in the bed.” – Mark Haddon

I’ve just returned from speaking at a magnificent writing retreat weekend at Bethany Hegedus’s Writing Barn in Austin, Texas.  That quote was one that Bethany read before Alexandra Penfold’s presentation and I like it quite a lot.  Someone should start a picture book blog called “Gravel In the Bed”.  If you need a good treat, I do recommend The Writing Barn wholeheartedly.  The deer alone are worth the price of admission.  And if you’ve other children’s book writing retreats you like, let me know what they are.  I’m trying to pull together a list.

  • I just want to give a shout out to my girl Kate Milford. I don’t always agree with the ultimate winners of The Edgar Award (given for the best mysteries) in the young person’s category but this year they knocked it out of the park. Greenglass House for the win!
  • As you know, I’m working on the funny girl anthology FUNNY GIRL and one of my contributors is the illustrious Shannon Hale.  She’s my personal hero most of the time and the recent post Boos for girls just nails down why that is.  Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

Not too long ago I was part of a rather large gathering based on one of my blog posts.  The artist Etienne Delessert saw a piece I’d written on international picture books and how they’re perceived here in the States.  So what did he do?  He grabbed local consulates, flew in scholars, invited friends (like David Macaulay) and created an amazing free day that was hugely edifying and wonderful.  You can read the SLJ report We need more international picture books, kid lit experts say or the PW piece Where the Wild Books Are: A Day of Celebrating Foreign Picture Books or the Monica Edinger recap International Children’s Books Considered.  Very interesting look at these three different perspectives.  And, naturally, I must thank Etienne for taking my little post so very far.  This is, in a very real way, every literary blogger’s dream come true.  Merci, Etienne!

  • There’s a lot of joy that can come when when a British expert discusses their nation’s “forgotten children’s classics“.  The delightful Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature is out and its editor Daniel Hahn has recapped the books that he feels don’t get sufficient attention in Britain.  Very funny to see one of our American classics on this list (I won’t ruin which one for you).
  • How do we instill a sense of empathy in our kids?  Have ‘em read Harry Potter.  Apparently there’s now research to back that statement up.  NPR has the story.
  • Ooo. Wish I lived in L.A. for this upcoming talk.  At UCLA there’s going to be a discussion of Oscar Wilde and the Culture of Childhood that looks at his fairytales.  It ain’t a lot of money.  See what they have to say.
  • Because of I have ample time on my hands (hee hee hee hee . . . whooo) I also wrote an article for Horn Book Magazine recently.  If you’ve ever wondered why we’re seeing so many refugees from the animation industry creating picture books, this may provide some of the answers.
  • Over at the blog Views From the Tesseract, Stephanie Whelan has located a picture book so magnificent that it should be reprinted now now now.  Imagine, if you will, a science fiction picture book starring an African-American girl . . . illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.  Do you remember Blast Off?

Of course you don’t.  No one does.  Stephanie has the interiors on her site.  And since the number of books that show African-American girls as astronauts are . . . um . . . okay, I’ve never seen one.  Plus it’s gorgeous and fun.  REPRINT REPRINT REPRINT!

  • Speaking of girls in space, I’ve never so regretted that a section was cut from a classic book.  But this missing section from A Wrinkle in Time practically makes me weep for its lack.  I WISH it had been included.  It’s so very horribly horribly timely.
  • As you’ll recall, the new math award for children’s books was established.  So how do you submit your own?  Well, new submissions for 2015 (and looking back an additional five years) will begin to be received starting June 1st. So FYI, kiddos.
  • Daily Image:

Know a librarian getting married?  Or an editor?  Or an author?  Gently suggest to them these for their registry.


Thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link.

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13. Cover Reveal: Sweatherweather by Sara Varon

Cover Reveal Day is here once more!  This time it’s a true doozy.  A Sara Varon (and you know how the kids clamor for her).  Here’s a bit of a description and the book itself.  And I know my mom would approve of how they’re holding their knitting needles:

Back before Odd Duck, before Robot Dreams, Sara Varon created Sweaterweather. This endearing, quirky volume is a captivating look into Varon’s creative process. It combines short comics stories, essays, and journal entries, and invites the reader into the world of Sara Varon: where adorable, awkward anthropomorphic animals walk the streets of Brooklyn and a surprising, sideways revelation is waiting around every corner.

First Second is proud to introduce Sweaterweather to a new generation of readers in this gorgeous jacketed hardcover, with a new cover and plenty of new content.

Many thanks to the good folks at First Second for this sneaky peek!

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14. “Smart girls are funny girls”. Announcing FUNNY GIRL at long last

Call it fate. Call it kismet. Call it the stars aligning, the moon in ascendance, the converging of the planets, whatever you like. When I saw last week that there was a topic trending on Twitter called #WomenWriteFunny, started by Angie Manfredi, it was clear that the hour had come.  For a long time a project has been ruminating. I’ve kept it under wraps as long as possible but if you saw the following in your PW Children’s Bookshelf yesterday evening then it’s safe to say that the jig is officially up. To wit:

Yes.  I have joined forces with Sharyn November, the illustrious Viking editor, who has taken my idea and sprinted, not just run, with it.  And it all began with a problem.

You see, friends, I’m a fan of the funny.  I understand the necessity for serious fare, of course.  Serious has its place in this world, absolutely.  But so does humor, and over time it took me a while to realize that there was something missing in the marketplace.  At first I thought I just hadn’t been looking hard enough but eventually it became clear as crystal: There isn’t a single, solitary collection of funny stuff for kids written by women, out there.  Not one.  Zippo.  Zero.  Zilch.

So I did what any enterprising librarian might.  I polled folks on Facebook.  I asked the ones with kids, both boys and girls, to simply name “the funniest women they could think of”.  A simple request, no?  The results were just as fascinating as I thought they’d be.  Some kids mentioned contemporary comics (Zooey Deschanel, Amy Poehler, and Tiny Fey being the most frequently mentioned).  Some were unable to think of any women at all.  And none of them mentioned writers or comic artists.

Hence, FUNNY GIRL (and yes, I know Nick Hornsby recently published a book of the same name but Streisand starred in a film of the same name in 1968 so it’s not like it hasn’t been used several times over).  It’s the book I wish I could have read when I was a kid.  I think the closest thing I had was a collection of female cartoonists that was so-so on the humor scale.

One might ask why such a book is necessary.  After all, there are plenty of funny women out there, writing for kids.  There are indeed, and many of them are brilliant, but imagine if you could see them all at one time.  What could be the impact?  I asked two of my contributors, Shannon Hale and Rita Williams-Garcia, to talk a bit on the subject.  Shannon, a writer I’ve found very funny thanks to her RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE and PRINCESS IN BLACK, waxed eloquent:

“So why does it matter? Why do kids need to see/hear/read women being funny? And hear adults acknowledging that they are funny? Because stereotypes shut down possibilities. The ‘class clown’ is always a boy. The actually truly funny girls in class are just ‘obnoxious’ or ‘attention-seekers.’ Boys who are funny are encouraged, laughed, cheered. Girls who are funny are told to behave, shush, sit down. Comedy is a gift to humanity. How sad and pointless life would be without good laughs. We need to see girls being funny, encourage them to develop their sense of humor, reward them for the cleverness and intelligence it takes to make jokes. They’ll be happier, more fulfilled human beings. And so will we. The more comedy the better!”

Fair enough, but why would authors join this collection?  Take one example of why from Rita Williams-Garcia:

“I’d sworn off anthologies for scheduling reasons, but when I learned of this collection, I immediately called my editor daughter. ‘We have to do this!’ At 4, Michelle had her own talk show, opened it with a minute of ‘schtick’, and had little sister, Stephanie as her second banana. She and Stephanie’s routine said it all: Smart girls are funny girls.”

Sharyn and I have already culled together our list of potential candidates for inclusion.  Some have already been contacted and some will be contacted soon.  In the end, we will produce something girls would actually want to read, whether they’re on the beach, at camp, or in the privacy of their own room.  We’re filling it with visual artists galore as well as authors well established and new.  And here’s the kicker: It’s actually going to be funny. And fantastic.  And amazing.

No joke.

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15. Review of the Day: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies
By Tracey Baptiste
Algonquin Young Readers
$15.95
ISBN: 9781616204143
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” So sayeth Leo Tolstoy (at least in theory). Regardless of whether or not it’s actually true, it is fun to slot books into the different categories. And if I were to take Tracey Baptiste’s middle grade novel The Jumbies with the intention of designating it one type of story or another, I think I’d have to go with the latter definition. A stranger comes to town. Not quite true though, is it? For you see, in this particular book the stranger isn’t coming to town so much as infesting it. And does she still count as a stranger when she, technically was there first? It sounds a bit weird to say, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a creature comes to a village where it is the people who are the strangers” but you could make a case for that being the tale The Jumbies brings to light. Far more than just your average spooky supernatural story, Baptiste uses the underpinnings of a classic folktale to take a closer look at colonization, rebellion, and what it truly takes to share the burden of tolerating the “other”. Plus there are monsters. Gotta love the monsters.

Corinne La Mer isn’t what you might call a superstitious sort. Even when she chases an agouti into a forbidden forest she’s able to justify to herself why it looked as though a pair of yellow eyes followed her out. If she told other people about those eyes they’d say she ran across a jumbie, one of the original spooky denizens of her Caribbean island. Corinne’s a realist, though, so surely there’s another answer. And she probably would have put the whole incident out of her mind anyway, had Severine not appeared in her hut one day. Severine is beautiful and cunning. She’s been alone for a long long time and she’s in the market for a loving family. Trouble is, what Severine wants she usually gets, and Corinne may find that she and her father are getting ensnared in a dangerous creature’s loving control – whether they want to be or not. A tale based loosely on the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree.”

A bit of LOST, a bit of Beloved, and a bit of The Tempest. That’s the unusual recipe I’d concoct if I were trying to describe this book to adults. If I were trying to describe it to kids, however, I’d have some difficulty. Our nation’s library and bookstore shelves aren’t exactly overflowing with children’s novels set in the Caribbean. Actually, year or so ago I was asked to help co-create a booklist of Caribbean children’s literature with my librarian colleagues. We did pretty well in the picture book department. It was the novels that suffered in comparison. Generally speaking, if you want Caribbean middle grade novels you’d better be a fan of suffering. Whether it’s earthquakes (Serafina’s Promise), escape (Tonight By Sea), or the slave trade (My Name Is Not Angelica) Caribbean children’s literature is rarely a happy affair. And fantasy? I’m not going to say there aren’t any middle grade novels out there that make full and proper use of folklore, but none come immediately to mind. Now Ms. Baptiste debuted a decade ago with Angel’s Grace (called by Horn Book, “a promising first novel” with “An evocative setting and a focused narrative”). In the intervening ten years we hadn’t heard much from her. Fortunately The Jumbies proves she’s most certainly back in the game and with a book that has few comparable peers.

My knowledge of the Caribbean would fit in a teacup best enjoyed by a flea. What I know pretty much comes from the children’s books I read. So I am not qualified to judge The Jumbies on its accuracy to its setting or folkloric roots. When Ms. Baptiste includes what appears to be a family with roots in India in the narrative, I go along with it. Then, when the book isn’t looking, I sneak off to Wikipedia (yes, even librarians use Wikipedia from time to time) and read that “Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian are nationals of Trinidad and Tobago of India ancestry.” We Americans often walk around with this perception that ours is the only ethnically diverse nation. We have the gall to be surprised when we discover that other nations have multicultural (for lack of a better word) histories of their own. So it is that Corinne befriends Dru, an Indio-Trinidadian with a too large family.

The writing itself makes for a fun read. I wouldn’t label it overly descriptive or lyrical, necessarily, but it gets the job done. Besides, there are little moments in the text that I thought were rather nice. Lines like “Corinne remembered when they had buried her mama in the ground like a seed.” Or, on a creepier note, “A muddy tear spilled onto her cheek, then sprouted legs and crawled down her body.” What I really took to, more than anything else, was the central theme of “us” and “them”. Which is to say, there is no “us” and “them”, really. It’s a relationship. As a local witch says later in the story, “Our kind? What do you know about our kind and their kind, little one? You can’t even tell the difference.” Later she says it once again. “Their kind, your kind, is there a difference?” This is an island where the humans arrives and pushed out the otherworldly natives. When the natives fight back the humans are appalled. And as we read the story, we see that we are the oppressors here, to a very real extent. These jumbies might fight and hit and hurt and steal children, but they have their reasons. Even if we’ve chosen to forget what those might be.

I have a problem. I can’t read books for kids like I used to. Time was, when I first started in this business, that I could read a book like The Jumbies precisely as the author intended. I approached the material with all the wide-eyed wonder of a 10-year-old girl. Then I had to go and give birth and what happens? Suddenly I find that everything’s different and that I’m now reading the books as a parent. Scenes in The Jumbies that wouldn’t have so much as pierced my armor when I was younger now stab me directly through the heart. For example, there is a moment in this book when Dru recounts seeing her friend Allan stolen by the douens. As his mother called his name he turned to her, but his feet faced the other way, walking him into the forest. That just killed me. Kids? They’ll find it nicely creepy, but I don’t know that they’ll not entirely understand the true horror the parents encounter so that later in the book when a peace is to be reached, they have a real and active reason for continuing to pursue war. In this way the book’s final resolution almost feel too easy. You understand that the humans will agree on a peace if only because the jumbies have them outnumbered and outmanned. However, the hate and fear is going to be lingering for a long long time to come. This would be an excellent text to use to teach conflict resolution, come to think of it.

In her Author’s Note at the back of the book, Tracey Baptiste writes, “I grew up reading European fairy tales that were nothing like the Caribbean jumbie stories I listened to on my island of Trinidad. There were no jumbie fairy-tale books, though I wished there were. This story is my attempt at filling that gap in fairy-tale lore.” And fill it she does. Entrancing and engaging, frightening but never slacking, Baptiste enters an all-new folktale adaptation into our regular fantasy lore. Best suited for the kids seeking lore where creatures hide in the shadows of trees, but where they’re unlike any creatures the kids have seen before. Original. Haunting.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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Misc: Read several excerpts here.

Video:

And here’s the book trailer for you:

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16. Christian Children’s Literature in the Library: A Quick Accounting

So I’m sitting at my desk the other day, paging through some children’s books I was sent from who knows where (my records are spotty at best and comparable to what happens when a raccoon is set free in a paper factory at worst) when I stumble across this book Stories of the Saints by Margaret McAllister, illustrated by Alida Massari.  I don’t need to tell you that here in New York there is a HUGE need for books on saints for kids.  The local Catholic schools regularly assign such a project to their students and I well remember sitting at the reference desk, stumped, as the kiddos asked for books on one obscure saint or another.  So I pick up the book and start reading and lo and behold it isn’t just beautifully illustrated (which it is) but written with a funny, not snarky, style.

Why am I so surprised?  Because great Christian literature for kids, that has been reviewed in professional journals, is very hard to come by. The need is there but the reviews are far and few between.  In New York we try to serve patrons of every religion, but it can be tricky when we’re talking about Christian publishers. Certainly I’ve been rather impressed by Lion Children’s Books as of late, and I’ve always admired the work of Eerdmans Children’s Books.  Add in Zonderkidz and you officially exhaust my knownledge of Christian children’s book publishers.

With this in mind I tapped my friend and author/illustrator Aaron Zenz and began to discuss with him those children’s authors and illustrators that work in the Christan book market.

The first thing Aaron informed me was that there are WAY more of them working in both the Christian and the secular publishing market than you might initially assume.  Here’s a quickie roster of some mainstream author/illustrators that straddle both fields:

N.D. Wilson – One of my first encounters with Nate came when I reviewed his book Leepike Ridge and his father linked to my review.  My blog stats skyrocketed.  Turns out his dad is Calvinist minister Douglas Wilson, who is a big time deal.  Nate writes Christian books for adults like Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and has a series of interviews and lectures online as well as children’s book titles.  Aaron turned me onto a Lewis / Narnia one shown here:

John Hendrix – According to Aaron, John’s next book with Abrams is about the miracles of Jesus and is due out in 2016.  As it happens, John illustrates his church’s sermon notes and shares his sketchbooks online.  Naturally I hope they’ll be a book in and of themselves someday.

Doug TenNapel – This one I knew.  Turns out that the guy behind books like Bad Island and Cardboard is responsible for a whole lotta VeggieTales and has even been nominated for an Emmy.

Steve Bjorkman – I know him from a variety of picture books he’s illustrated though he may be best known for illustrating Jeff Foxworthy’s books.  Turns out he’s illustrated a bunch of Christian books as well.

Molly Idle – Surprise!  It’s true!  The Caldecott Honor winner actually was better known to Aaron as a Christian book illustrator long before Flora.  Did you know that?  I sure as heck didn’t.

Ben HatkeZita the Spacegirl rocks, but she was hardly Ben’s first work.  Turns out he worked on a couple other things first.

But that is not all, oh no. That is not all.  Aaron was kind enough to give me a rundown of some recommended Christian titles for kids that he can vouch for. And since I found it useful I thought you might like to see it as well.  Here are sixteen of his recommendations with his comments:

1. Tip of the Top, the absolute best of all time are the “Adam Raccoon” books by Glen Keane.  Yes, Glen Keane the animator behind Ratigan, Ariel, Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Silver, Rapunzel.  There are 10 Adam Raccoon books, but I don’t know their print status, I have no idea if you can still get them.  If they are unavailable, it’s a huge shame.

2. “You are Special” by Max Lucado.  All of Max Lucado’s children’s books tend to be pretty good.  But his six(?) “Wemmicks” books are the best, and the first in the series “You are Special” is far and above.

3. “Tales of the Kingdom” by David and Karen Mains.  There are two other books that follow this one that I haven’t read but have heard aren’t quite as good.  But I’ve read Tales of the Kingdom to hundreds of kids countless times in multiple settings over the years.

4. “Hymns for a Kids Heart” by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada.  Four volumes – 2 regular, a Christmas one, and an Easter one.  Great stories behind classic hymns with wonderful illustrations.

5. “Noah’s Ark” by Peter Spier.  Classic, and a Caldecott winner, and one of the few shining stars.

6.Parable” — this is a collection of 17 graphic novel stories, just like the Flight series.  It includes work by Ben Hatke (Zita) and Stephen McCranie (Mal&Chad)

7. There are 3 books by Karma Wilson and Amy June Bates that are amazing: “I Will Rejoice,” “Make a Joyful Noise,” and “Give Thanks to the Lord.”

8. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” by Kadir Nelson.

9: Two gorgeous books illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson: “Psalm 23″ and “The Lord’s Prayer”

10: Some favorite Biblical Chrstmas ones: “Through the Animal’s Eyes” by Christopher Wormell, “This is the Stable” by Cynthia Cotten and Delana Bettoli, “The Little Drummer Boy” by Ezra Jak Keats

11. There are some beginning readers just now coming out from Zonderkids illustrated by David Miles that are fantastic.

12. There are also some beginning readers from Zonderkids about a bear named Barnabas that I like.

13. “The Nicene Creed” by Pauline Baynes (yep, Narnia’s Pauline Baynes)

14. “Psalm 23″ by Barry Moser

15. “Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise” by Tomie dePaola

16. “Sidney and Norman” by VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer

Aaron’s Bookie Woogie blog has always been one of my favorites out there, partially because it’s one of the only successful review blogs I’ve seen to incorporate children’s comments about books.  I hadn’t noticed all his Christian children’s book reviews out there.  So just in case you need an opinion on some of the titles he recommended, try the following out:

Many many thanks to Aaron Zenz without whom this post would not be possible. As librarians we seek to serve all our patrons, even when the means are difficult.  Information like this can prove invaluable.  Cheers to that.

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17. Review of the Day: On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant: An Inuit Folktale
By Neil Christopher
Illustrated by Jim Nelson
Inhabit Media
$16.95
ISBN: 978-1-77227-002-0
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

My daughter is afraid of giants. She’s three so this isn’t exactly out of the norm. However, it does cut out a portion of her potential reading material. Not all giants fall under this stricture, mind you. She doesn’t seem to have any problem with the guys in Giant Dance Party and “nice” giants in general get a pass. Still, we’ve had to put the kibosh on stories like Jack and the Beanstalk and anything else where getting devoured is a serious threat. Finding books about good giants is therefore an imperative and it walks hand in hand with my perpetual search for amazing folktales. Every year I scour the publishers for anything resembling a folktale. In the old days they were plentiful and you could have your pick of the offerings. These days, the big publishers hardly want to touch the stuff, so it’s up to the smaller guys to fill in the gaps. And no one stands as a better folktale gap filler than the Inuit owned company Inhabit Media. Producing consistently high quality books for kids, one of their latest titles is the drop dead gorgeous On the Shoulder of a Giant. Funny, attractive, and a straight up accurate folktale, this is children’s book publishing at its best. And as for the giant himself, my daughter has never run into a guy like him before.

“…if there is only one Arctic giant story you take the time to learn about, this is the one to remember.” Which giant? Why Inukpak, of course! Large (even for a giant) our story recounts Inukpak’s various deeds. He could stride across wide rivers, and fish full whales out of the sea. In his travels, there was one day when Inukpak ran across a little human hunter. Misunderstanding the man to be a small child, the giant promptly adopted him. And since the man was no fool he understood that when a giant claims you, you have little recourse but to accept. He went along with it. The giant fished their dinner and when a polar bear threatened the hunter Inukpak flicked it away like it was no more than a baby fox or lemming. In time the two became good friends and had many adventures together. Backmatter called “More About Arctic Giants” explains at length about their size, their fights, their relationship to the giant polar bears, and how they may still be around – maybe right under your feet!

I’ve read a lot of giant fare in my day and I have never encountered a tale quite like this. Not that the story really goes much of anywhere. The only true question you find yourself asking as you read the tale is whether or not the hunter will ever confess to the giant that he isn’t actually a child. But as I read and reread the tale, I came to love the humor of the tale. Combined with the art, it’s a lighthearted story. In fact, one of the problems is also a point in its favor. When you get to the end of the tale and are told that Inukpak and the hunter had many adventures, you want to read those immediately. One can only hope that Mr. Christopher and Mr. Nelson will join forces yet again someday to bring us more of this unique and delightful duo.

I’m no expert on Inuit culture so it doesn’t hurt that in the creation of “On the Shoulder of a Giant” author Neil Christopher has the distinction of having spent the last sixteen years of his life recording and preserving traditional Inuit stories. Having seen a fair number of books of Native American folktales where the selection of the tales is offhanded at best, the care with which Christopher chooses to imbue his book with life and vitality is notable. The book reads aloud beautifully, and would serve a librarian well if they were told to read aloud a folktale to a group. Likewise, the pictures are visible from long distances. This story begs for a big audience.

I’ve seen a lot of small presses in my day. Quality can vary considerably from place to place. Often I’ll see a small publisher bring to life a folktale but then skimp on the artist chosen to bring the story to life. It’s a sad but common occurrence. So common, in fact, that when it doesn’t happen I’m shocked out of my gourd. Inhabit Media is one of those rare few that take illustration very seriously. Each of their books looks good. Looks not just professional but like something you’d want to take home for yourself. On the Shoulder of a Giant is no exception. This time the artist tapped was freelance illustrator Jim Nelson. He’s based out of Chicago and his art has included stuff like Magic the Gathering cards and the like. He is not, at first glance, the kind of artist you’d tap for a book of this sort. After all, he works with a digital palette creating images that would seemingly be more at home in a comic book than a classic Inuit folktale. Yet what are folktales but proto-superhero stories? What are superhero comics but just modern myths? Inukpak is larger than life and, as such, he demands an artist who can bring his physicality to bear upon the narrative. When he’s fishing for whales I wanna see that sucker fighting back. When he strides across great plains I wanna be there beside him. Nelson feeds that need.

Since Nelson isn’t Inuit himself, the question of how authentic his art may be arises. I am willing to believe, however, that any book published by a company operating with the sole intent to “preserve and promote the stories, knowledge and talent of Inuit and northern Canada” is going to have put the book through a strict vetting process. It would not be ridiculous to think that Nelson’s editor informed him of where to research classic Inuit clothing and landscapes. I loved every inch of Nelson’s art on this story but it was the backmatter that really did it for me. There’s a section that is able to show the difference in size between a inukpasugjuit (“great giant”), a inugaruligasugjuk (“lesser giant”), and a regular human that does a brilliant job of showing scale. That goes for the nanurluit (giant polar bear) in one of the pictures, relentlessly tracking two tiny hunters in their boats. But it is the final shot of a sleeping giant under the mountains as people walk on to of him, oblivious that will really pique young imaginations.

I’m not saying that On the Shoulder of a Giant has the ability to single-handedly rid my daughter of her fear of giants as a whole. It does, however, stand out as a singularly fun and interesting take on the whole giant genre. There’s nothing on my library shelves that sounds or feels or looks quite like this book. It could well be the poster child for the ways in which small publishers should examine and publish classic folktales. Beautiful and strange with a flavor all its own, this is one little book that yields big rewards. Fantastico.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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18. Displays Every Day! An April 23rd Sampler

Yesterday was Earth Day, and I suspect a fair number of you librarians out there did some killer Earth Day displays of books for the kiddos, teachers, and parents out there.  I love thematic book displays.  But who says you need an official holiday to create one?  Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you wanted to do a really eclectic display on (just to pick a random date) April 23rd.  Honestly you could make a truly crazy but interesting series of books if you wanted to.  After all, April 23rd is . . .

Shakespeare’s Birthday – Apparently last year was his 450th so 451 just doesn’t quite have the same panache.  I’m looking forward to 2064 when it’s his 500th.  We are gonna party hearty then, m’dears!  Until then, there are lots of different ways to do a Shakespeare display in a children’s room.  Consider the following:

Just for starters (and I’m completely cheating with that last image since that book isn’t out until September).

World Book Day -  I’m sort of amused that even though World Book Day was originally a British creation, somehow or other James Patterson still managed to become this year’s spokesperson.  Americans, truth be told, don’t pay a lot of attention to World Book Day (see the recent SLJ article We Need More International Books, Kid Lit Experts Say for some thoughts on the U.S. and our relationship to world literature for children), but it practically makes its own display.  Find books originally published in other countries and then translated here.  You’ll have to search a bit more for African and South American stories, but they’re out there.

President James Buchanan’s Birthday – Well why not?  We actually have some books on him in the library, after all.

Okay, fine, he’s boring.  Dull as dishwater.  But they haven’t made a Shirley Temple bio for kids yet (and wouldn’t THAT be a complex challenge?) nor one about Nobokov (yet) so we take what we can get 4/23 birthday-wise.

Comics Out Loud Day – Ostensibly a day to celebrate reading comics out loud in the classroom, the timing couldn’t be better.  After all, they just announced the Eisner Award nominees yesterday and the inclusions are marvelous.  Gownley! Bell! Hale!  The list goes on and on.  Pluck a couple from your shelves and put ‘em up for display.

The day Cervantes was buried – Okay, it’s a stretch but I like the randomness of it. Plus there are some interesting children’s books out there that use Quixote as a starting point.

By the way, I’m closing with this DVD.  Because when I searched my catalog for Don Quixote this came up.

Here’s the description, in case you doubt.

Ride to the rescue and share a love of reading books along the way with Lady Knight Dora, in these two knightly adventures, featuring the legendary Don Quixote!

A couple things about this image. First off, as a knight this is a uniquely bad costume. Sure her upper half is adequately covered by armor but ballet flats?  Come on, Dora!  Extra points for the steel tiara, though.  A nice touch.  Note too the windmills in the background.

Happy 4/23!

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19. Searching for the Real: Children’s Literature When Fiction and Reality Intersect

Eventually it will become clear that the bulk of my posts these days are inspired by Radiolab discussion topics of one sort or another.  In today’s case, there was a recent show that made a close examination of those moments when fiction and reality intersect in interesting ways.  The show began with a look at professional wrestling and the moment it became the entertainment it is today.  Then it transitioned into Don Quixote (naturally) and the fact that it had a lot of fun going meta when its sequel was released.

What I took away from the show was the fact that people love discovering the little hints of reality hidden in their media.  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about reality shows or great works of literature or one man/woman shows on the stage.  When you get a hint of the story behind the story you feel a little thrill.

How then to apply it to children’s literature?

I’m not going to be particularly systematic about this.  What follows here is just a random mishmash of books and topics where reality and fiction intermingle.  Here’s what I came up with off the top of my head:

Real World Fairy Tales: The Pied Piper of Hamelin – We all know that the Grimm Brothers collected some fairly wacky tales.  We know too that they tended to add their own very particular spin to the stories, watering some down and building others up.  But in some ways I find their recounting of The Pied Piper of Hamelin the eeriest of tales.  If you encountered the beautiful version illustrated by Elizabeth Zwerger last year then you may have noticed the odd little note in the back.  The Grimms take care to say that this tale is based on a true legend and that these children really did disappear.  1284 is the usual date given, and there are multiple theories about what the Piper myth represents.  For some fun reading I recommend the Wikipedia entry on the same.  There’s lots of fun to be had there.

Namesakes: Alice/ Peter Pan / Wind in the Willows, Christopher Robin, etc. – What do these classic books and characters all have in common?  Each and every one was based on real children.  Sometimes that worked out fine but more often than not the kids grew up to be displeased with their tributes. The most extreme example would be Christopher Robin, who outright disliked the appropriation of his name (though a sad case could be made for the Peter Pan kids, done away with one by one).  Far better to just vaguely base your characters off of real people, yes?  Hat tip then to . . .

The real people in Harry Potter – Periodically throughout the years Rowling would mention one person or another in her life who contributed to specific Harry Potter characters.  There was the teacher who may or may not have been Severus Snape.  The childhood friend who, along with a couple others, created the composite Ron Weasley.  Other authors have done similar things with their books.  It’s fan service, to a certain extent.  Suggest that there’s a real world version of one character or another and watch as your adoring hoards track those poor people down.

Masquerade / The Clock Without a Face - These are just two examples, but there are quite a lot more in the world (39 Clues comes to mind).  What we have here are children’s books where clues are hidden in the art and it’s up to the readers to track down the real world treasures.  Inevitably the puzzles are too complex for kids, but that hardly matters.  In the case of Masquerade there was a bit of a scandal regarding the solution.  In the case of Mac Barnett & Co.’s The Clock Without a Face, I’m not sure what the final score was or how many treasures were found.  However, there does appear to be a little wiki of the solutions here.  A pity the blog that contained the stories behind the treasure’s winners is defunct.

Real locations – Not the same thing as the puzzle books, but related.  I think there’s a great deal of hometown pride that comes out when a book is set in a real place.  Even in NYC, denizens take a great deal of love in children’s books that sport recognizable locales.  It makes for fun reading and there’s a true advantage to including a town that’s likely to buy many a copy of your book.  To say nothing of the tourism as well.

Other examples are, of course, welcome.

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20. Review of the Day: Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon

Beastly Verse
By Joohee Yoon
Enchanted Lion Books
$18.95
ISBN: 978-1-59270-166-7
Ages 3 and up
On shelves now

Poetry. What’s the point? I say this as a woman who simultaneously gets poetry and doesn’t get it. I get that it’s important, of course. I only need to watch my three-year-old daughter come up with an ever increasing and creative series of bouncy rhymes to understand their use. But what I don’t get is Poetry with a capital “P”. I have come to accept this as a failing on my own part. And to be fair, there are works of poetry that I like. They just all seem to be for the milk teeth set. With that in mind I was particularly pleased to see Beastly Verse, illustrated by Joohee Yoon. Full of fabulous classic poems and art that manages to combined a distinctive color palette with eye-popping art, Yoon’s creates a world that takes the madcap energy of Dr. Seuss and combines it with the classic printmaking techniques of a fine artist. The end result keeps child readers on the edge of their seats with adults peering over their shoulders, hungry for more.

As I mentioned, the resident three-year-old is much enamored of poetry. This is good because it makes her an apt test subject for my own curiosity. I should mention that my goal in life is to NOT become the blogger who uses her children to determine the value of one book or another. That said, the temptation to plumb their little minds can sometimes prove irresistible. Now Beastly Verse is not specifically aimed at the preschooler set. With poems like William Blake’s “The Tiger” and “Humming-Bird” by D.H. Lawrence, the verse can at times exceed a young child’s grasp. That said, none of the poems collected here are very long, and the art is so entrancing that the normal fidgets just tend to fade away as you turn the pages. My daughter did find that some of the more frightening images, say of the carnivorous hummingbird or the spangled pandemonium, were enough to put her off. Fortunately, each scary image is hidden beneath a clever gatefold. If the reader does not want to see the face of a tiger tiger burning bright, they needn’t open the fold at all. Not only is it a beautiful technique, it makes the book appropriate for all ages. Clever.

One might not associate Yoon’s particular brand of yellows reds, oranges, greens, and blues with evocative prints. Yet time and again I was struck by the entrancing beauty of the pages. Yoon’s traditional printmaking techniques can bring to life the hot steam that rises even in the coolest shade of a tiger’s jungle. Another page and Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” lingers below the surface of the water, his innards heaving with “little fishes”. Yoon saves the best for last, though, with a poem I’d not come across before. “Dream Song” by Walter de la Mare is set in the gleam of “Sunlight, moonlight / Twilight, starlight” when the sun is just a sliver of a white hot crescent on the horizon. All the forest is lit by the orange and red rays, and out of a tree pokes the head of a single owl. The hypnotic verses speaking of “wild waste places far away” mix with the image, conjuring up the moment moviemakers call “magic hour”.

Mind you, there is always a nightmarish mirror image to each seemingly sweet picture. The eyeless caterpillar all maw and teeth is turned, on the next page, into a beautiful but equally unnerving butterfly. Only Yoon, as far as I’m concerned, could have brought us the horrific implications of “The Humming-Bird” and its existence “Before anything had a soul.” Even the last seemingly innocuous image of Captain Jonathan cooking himself an egg takes on a dire cast when you realize it’s that of a pelican (of the poem “The Pelican” by Robert Desnos) he’s about to devour.

This is by no means the first collection of animal poetry to grace our shelves. It was only two or three years ago that J. Patrick Lewis helped to collect the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. Many of the poems found in this book can be found in that one as well. However, while that book seemed to be going for sheer girth, Yoon’s selections here are carefully positioned. I was interested in the layout in particular. You begin with the aforementioned Carroll poem (which seems appropriate since a manic smiling cat graces the title page) and then transition into a nursery rhyme, a bit of typical Ogden Nash flippery (only three lines long), and then Blake’s best-known poem. Variety of length keeps the poems eclectic and interesting to read. They keep you guessing as well. You never quite know what kind of poem will come next.

Having read the deliciously multicultural Over the Hills and Far Away, collected by Elizabeth Hammill, it is difficult to pick up a collected work of poetry without hankering for a similar experience. Aside from artist Joohee Yoon’s own name and the fact that Robert Desnos was Jewish, there is very little in this collection that isn’t white and American/European. The reasons for this may have something to do with permissions. Every poem in this book, with the exception of a few, is in the public domain. None were commissioned for the book specifically. Mind you, it would have been possible for the book to follow Hammill’s lead and locate international public domain animal poems of one sort or another written specifically for children. It is therefore up to the reading public to ascertain if the book stands stronger as a collection of similar types of poetry or if it would have benefited from a bit of variety here and there.

In the end, it’s a beautiful piece. Children’s rooms are no strangers to beautiful art in their poetry collections, but Yoon’s distinctive style is hard to compare to anyone. The only poet/illustrator with the same energy that comes to mind (and that writes for kids) would have to be Calef Brown. And as debuts go, this is a stunner. A truly inventive and original collection that deepens with every additional read. Kids like it. Adults like it. It could have benefited from some diversity, absolutely. Overall, however, there are few things like it on our shelves. An inspiration.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: A Year of Reading

Professional Reviews:

Misc: Years ago, it was Jules at Seven Impossible Things who alerted the children’s book world to Ms. Yoon’s presence.  Here is the post.

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21. Fuse #8 TV: Aaron Starmer and Reading (Too Much) Into Easy Books

YES!  It is time for yet another episode of Fuse #8 TV and today we have a doozy.  A fair frolicsome, lithe and lovely episode wherein I take Are You My Mother? and destroy your ability to ever read it again.  And if I fail to do even that, just read this version over at The Toast and voila.  Instant nightmares.

But enough about other sites.  Today our special guest is the marvelous Aaron Starmer.  If you read his 2014 book The Riverman then you might want to know a bit about the brains behind the book.  This year the sequel, The Whisper, is coming out and so we chat about the cover, the inspiration, and what’s next in Starmer’s future.  Enjoy!

All other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.

And a big thank as well to the good people at Macmillan for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.

Ta!

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22. Press Release Fun: The 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference (Professional Development Credit!)

Howdy, folks.  You may recall that in the past I’ve mentioned that there’s a lovely 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference coming to NYC this June.  Well, for those of you with professional development credits to accrue, guess what?  You can get one by attending.  See below for more details:

EDUCATOR LITERACY PROGRAM

presented by

21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference™

Teaching Literacy Through Nonfiction

Sunday, June 14, 2015 • Manhattan College, NYC • Smith Hall

8:30 AM – 2:30 PM

1 CEU Professional Development Credit from Shippensburg University

 

The program includes these presentations:

-          Dr. Juliana Texley,  President of National Science Teachers Association, on …

The NSTA’s Online,Searchable Database of 10,000 Teacher-reviewed Books and the NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book List

-          Dr. Myra Zarnowski and Dr. Susan Turkel, Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Queens College, on …

Creating a Science Curriculum that Incorporates Nonfiction Literature and Standards

-          Dr. Christine Royce, Teacher Education Department, Shippensburg University, on …

Teaching Science Through Nonfiction Trade Books

-          The United Federation of Teachers Teacher Center /Library of Congress on …

Teaching with Primary Sources: Connecting the Library of Congress Resources to the Common Core and Other Standards

PLUS … Continental breakfast, lunch, author signings, publisher exhibits, and Continuing Education Credit

 

Registration and details are at:  http://teachers.21cnfc.com/

 

Sally Isaacs

Co-chair, 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference

www.21CNFC.com

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23. Video Sunday: “You fill me with inertia.”

Hallo, folks!

So today is the last day of National Library Week.  In celebration, enjoy this delightful video from Common Craft for your average non-library literate layman.  If you are a librarian, show this video to those members of your family who heard you had to get a Master’s degree and asked you, “What? So they teach you how to put your hair in a bun and go ‘Shh’ all day?”

More info here.

There is a saying in my family: A music video isn’t viral until soldiers perform a version of it.  Admittedly it’s a relatively new saying.  The same might also be said for librarian parody videos, though.  When they’re doing a song you haven’t heard of, you best be looking that puppy up.  Case in point . . .

The moment he’s reading Beloved sort of stands out.  Otherwise, perfectly fine.  The ending is pitch perfect.  Thanks to Melanie for the link.

One more.  This time with a Taylor Swift-centric vibe.  Author Patricia Hubbell ought to be well pleased:

In other news I was so pleased to see James Kennedy and his 90-Second Newbery shenanigans appear on this recent episode of Kidlit TV.  You should watch it if, for no other reason, the fact that you get to see Ame Dyckman briefly prance.  And prance she does!!

Next up, the Mazza Museum!  I love that place, but the smiling blonde is way way way perky.

Speaking of perky, Scholastic ups the ante with a professional announcer talking up their summer reading challenge.  Not a bad idea.  Offer kids the chance to be in a world record and watch your participation numbers skyrocket.

And for our off-topic video, this week this post alerted me to the existence of this movie scene from the film Bedazzled.  This constitutes my new favorite thing.

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24. Fusenews: “It’s like a shoe of flesh”

  • Mmm. Vanity straight up. So I never quite know how to post “me stuff” news when it’s particularly nice. On the one hand I could post the link with the typical “I’m not worthy” statement attached, but that always sounds as if I doth protest too much.  Or, I could go the other route, and just celebrate the link with a whole lotta hooplah and devil take the consequences. I think, in the end, I’d prefer to just preface the link with a long, drawn out, ultimately boring explanation of why these links are problematic in the vague hope that your eyes glazed over and you skipped to the next bullet point.  That accomplished, here is a very nice thing I was featured in recently at Bustle.  I think Anne Carroll Moore probably should have taken my slot, but insofar as I can tell, she is not around to object.
  • There comes a time in every girl’s life when she realizes that all the funny stuff on the internet was written by a single person.  That person’s name, it turns out, is Mallory Ortberg.  And if you doubt my words, read her recent Toast piece The Willy Wonka Sequel That Charlie’s Mother Deserves.  It’s applicable to the book as well, though in that case it would be “The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Sequel That Charlie’s Mother and Father Deserve”.
  • It was Jarrett Krosoczka who alerted me to the fact that Jeanne Birdsall has a blog.  Jeanne, you sly devil!  Why didn’t you tell us?
  • Are discussions of children’s book illustrations given adequate attention when people interview authors about the books that influenced them when they were young?  Mark Dery at The Ecstasist doesn’t think so.  In a recent interview with Jonathan Lethem, the two discuss, amongst other things, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a psychedelic children’s book by popular shrink, Dr. Eric Berne (who wrote Games People Play) called The Happy Valley, The Goops, Rabbit Hill, and the odd thickness (and hidden erotic meanings) behind Ferdinand the Bull’s neck.
  • I don’t usually advertise journal’s calls for contributions, but this seemed special.  Bookbird (a journal close to my heart for obvious reasons) is calling for contributions for a special issue exploring Indigenous Children’s Literature from around the world.   So if you’ve a yen . . .

Recently I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon on Jewish children’s literature, its past, present, and future.  It was a really great talk and has inspired, I am happy to note, a blog post from one of the panelists.  Marjorie Ingall of Tablet Magazine recently wrote the piece Enough With the Holocaust Books for Children!: Yes, we need to teach kids about our history. But our history constitutes a lot more than one tragic event.  It quotes me anonymously at one point as well.  See if you can find me!  Hint: I’m the one who’s not Jewish.

  • And to switch gears, the cutest children’s librarian craft idea of all time.  A teeny tiny traffic jam.  Alternate Title: Dana Sheridan is a friggin’ genius.
  • Not too long ago I helped usher into completeness a brand new children’s book award.  Behold, one that’s all about the math!!  Yes, like you I was an English major who thought she feared the realm of numbers.  Now I see the true problem: there were no good math books for me as a kid (and subsisting entirely on a diet of The Phantom Tollbooth doesn’t really work, folks). Now worry not, interested parties!  The Mathical Award is here and the selections, not to put too fine a point on it, are delightful.
  • Out: Dark Matter.  Five Minutes Ago: Gray Matter.  In: White Matter.  At least when it comes to how children learn to read.  The New Yorker explains.  Extra points to author Maria Konnikova for the Horton Hatches the Egg reference buried in the text.
  • Full credit to Aaron Zenz for turning me onto the site Sketch Dailies.  Cited as a place “that gives a pop culture topic each week day for artists to interpret” there are plenty of children’s literature references to be found.  Draco Malfoy. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Hedwig (more owl than Angry Inch).  Warning: You will get sucked in, possibly for a very very long time.  Three of the Very Hungry Caterpillar winners recently were here, here, and here.
  • Oop!  The end of the voting on the Children’s Choice Book Awards is nigh. Your last chance to “voice your choice” is looming. Voting for @CBCBook’s Children’s Choice Book Awards closes at ccbookawards.com on May 3rd.  And, if I might be so bold, you may notice something a little . . . um . . . interesting about this year’s hosts of the CBC Gala.  *whistles*
  • Daily Image:

This one’s going out to all my Miyazaki fans.  In the event that you ever needed a new poster for your walls.  The title is “And Made Her Princess of All Wild Things:

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25. A Call for Art! Judy Blume Art! Celebrate the ABFE

So you think you love Judy Blume?  Prove it.  As you know, each and every year The American Booksellers for Free Expression has a book art auction.  It’s where people go to get really really good stuff.  And this year, since the ABFE is celebrating Judy Blume, they’re not only looking for artists willing to do something in her honor but also people willing to buy those selfsame pieces.

Think about it.  You probably know a die-hard Judy Blume fan already.  Now imagine you give that person some awesome art that celebrates her.  I honestly can’t think of a present that would be cooler than that.

Here is the official press release thingy.  And artists, don’t be shy.  If you have something in mind you just get on that thing.  Details below:

If you’re going to BEA in NYC this year, please join The American Booksellers for Free Expression(ABFE) on May 26th from 5:30 to 7:30 at The Grand Hyatt Hotel to celebrate children’s book art with Judy Blume and leading artists! More than 100 pieces of original art by luminaries such as Rosemary Wells, Jon Agee, LeUyen Pham and Chris Raschka will be auctioned to support the free speech rights of kids. This year ABFE is honoring Judy Blume for her anti-censorship work and is asking artists to create a piece inspired by one of her books. Artists interested in donating art should email inessa@bookweb.org for more information.

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