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The Horn Book editor's rants and raves. Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996
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1. Frog Fridays booklist

Leapin’ lizards! (oh, wait) Here are some nonfiction books and picture books about our “phavorite” amphibians.

Nonfiction

arnosky allaboutfrogs Frog Fridays booklist Arnosky, Jim All About Frogs
32 pp. Scholastic 2002. ISBN 0-590-48164-9
(Gr. K-3) This book informs with a definition of amphibians, the differences between frogs and toads, identifying markings on various species, anatomical features, habits, and how frog spawn develop into frogs. The well-organized expository prose lends itself to reading aloud, with each double-page spread covering a topic. The detailed captions may be lost on groups, but the diagrammatic illustrations offer much to contemplate.

bishop Frogs Frog Fridays booklistBishop, Nic Frogs
48 pp. Scholastic 2008. ISBN 978-0-439-87755-8
(Gr. K-3) This informative book covers anatomical, behavioral, and reproductive facts. On each spread, one of the sentences is in larger type, serving as a highlight of main ideas and a pointer to the accompanying captioned photograph–the real star of the show. The pictures are stunningly crisp and beautifully reproduced. At book’s end, Bishop explains the extensive work involved in his nature photography. Glos., ind.

cowley red eyedtreefrog Frog Fridays booklistCowley, Joy Red-Eyed Tree Frog
32 pp. Scholastic 1999. ISBN 0-590-87175-7
(Preschool) Photographs by Nic Bishop. Startlingly close-up photographs of rainforest fauna depict the nocturnal adventures of a red-eyed tree frog. The simple, aptly paced text relates the hungry frog’s search for a meal and his close encounters with dangerous predators, and an accessible afterword provides a good overview of facts on the subject. The engaging narrative and captivating pictures are perfectly attuned to the preschool audience–a rare and noteworthy find in nonfiction.

pfeffer fromtadpoletofrog Frog Fridays booklistPfeffer, Wendy and Keller, Holly From Tadpole to Frog
32 pp. HarperCollins 1994. ISBN 0-06-023044-4 LE ISBN 0-06-445123-2 PE ISBN 0-06-023117-3
(Gr. K-3) Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series. This lovely introduction sketches the most basic aspects of frog life–the laying and hatching of eggs, the stages of growth, eating and the danger of being eaten, and hibernation. Pleasing views of plants and animals sharing the pond environment are rendered in bold economy. The text’s clarity and shape make the book an inviting read-aloud science lesson.

turner Frogscientist Frog Fridays booklistTurner, Pamela S. The Frog Scientist
58 pp. Houghton 2009. ISBN 978-0-618-71716-3
(Gr. 4-6) Photographs by Andy Comins. Scientists in the Field series. Readers are introduced to Dr. Tyrone Hayes, who studies the effects of pesticides on frog development. Hayes travels to a pond research site and back to his laboratory, explaining step by step the careful procedures his team follows. Sharp, vivid photographs alternate between portrayals of the scientists–at work and relaxing–and abundant images of the frogs they study. Websites. Bib., glos., ind.

Picture Books

cooper frog Frog Fridays booklistCooper, Susan Frog
32 pp. McElderry (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) 2002. ISBN 0-689-84302-X
(Preschool) Illustrated by Jane Browne. “Little Joe couldn’t swim….[He] just didn’t get it.” The boy finds the inspiration and gentle encouragement he needs when he rescues a frog trapped in his family’s swimming pool. Little Joe’s involvement in Frog’s small drama shifts the boy’s focus off of himself and his imagined limitations. Both text and art are stripped down to the essentials, with short, simple sentences and uncomplicated, expressive paintings telling the story.

french growing frogs Frog Fridays booklistFrench, Vivian Growing Frogs
32 pp. Candlewick 2000. ISBN 0-7636-0317-1
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Alison Bartlett. A mother and daughter gather frog spawn from a pond to observe the metamorphosis from egg to tadpole to frog. While French provides step-by-step guidance for gathering and observing frog spawn, there’s enough detail for a vicarious scientific experience. Bartlett’s use of multiple frames showing frog development paces the action while allowing enough detail for small, but important, changes. Ind.

hassett Too Many Frogs Frog Fridays booklistHassett, Ann and Hassett, John Too Many Frogs!
32 pp. Houghton 2011. ISBN 978-0-547-36299-1
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by John Hassett. No sooner has the plumber de-flooded Nana Quimby’s cellar than frogs emerge…first ten, then twenty, thirty (count ‘em), and more. For each escalation, children playing outside have a solution (e.g., put them in a goldfish bowl). The ultimate answer? Re-flood the cellar. Delicious to look at–with its explosion of acrobatic frogs, primitivist-detail décor, and confectionery colors–and a treat to listen to.

heo thegreenfrogs Frog Fridays booklistHeo, Yumi The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale
32 pp. Houghton (Houghton Mifflin Trade and Reference Division) ISBN 0-395-68378-5
(Gr. K-3) Two frogs enjoy always doing the opposite of what their mother asks. Years later she finally catches on and asks to be buried by the stream instead of in the sun. Remorseful, they obey her last request, only to fear that her grave will wash away–which is why frogs cry by the side of streams whenever it rains. Too mischievous to be morbid, this quirky ‘pourquoi’ tale features quaint, comic illustrations.

kimura 999 Frog Fridays booklistKimura, Ken 999 Frogs Wake Up
48 pp. North-South 2013. ISBN 978-0-7358-4108-6
(Preschool) Illustrated by Yasunari Murakami. Time to check in with the tadpoles-turned-frogs that we left in a pond in 999 Tadpoles. It’s the following spring and the baby frogs are popping up out of the mud while Mother Frog tries to take inventory. Neon green endpapers springboard us into clean white pages that provide an inviting stage for waves of energetic lumpy froglets cunningly arranged and rearranged.

kimura 999tadpoles Frog Fridays booklistKimura, Ken 999 Tadpoles
48 pp. North-South 2011. ISBN 978-0-7358-4013-3
(Preschool) Illustrated by Yasunari Murakami. When 999 tadpoles transform into 999 frogs, things get crowded. Relocation across the field proves hazardous when a hungry hawk nabs Father. Mother’s quick thinking saves the day as she grabs onto Father, and all the young frogs link up in turn. There’s not a word misplaced in the spare and funny text, and the illustrations are full of lively movement and personality.

meyer frog Frog Fridays booklistMayer, Mercer Frog Goes to Dinner
32 pp. Dial 2003. ISBN 0-8037-2884-0 (Reissue, 1974)
Mayer, Mercer Frog on His Own
32 pp. Dial 2003. ISBN 0-8037-2883-2 (Reissue, 1973)
Mayer, Mercer and Mayer, Marianna One Frog Too Many
32 pp. Dial 2003. ISBN 0-8037-2885-9 (Reissue, 1975)
(Preschool) Each of these wordless books about the adventures of a boy and a rambunctious frog is a tiny masterpiece of storytelling, with expressive characters and easy-to-follow action. Thankfully, no attempt was made to change the cozy trim size, colorize the art, or–heaven forbid–add words to these reissues.

wiesner tuesday Frog Fridays booklistWiesner, David Tuesday
32 pp. Clarion 1991. ISBN 0-395-55113-7
(Gr. K-3) A surreal, almost wordless picture book shows the mysterious levitation of lily pads and frogs from a pond one Tuesday at dusk. The frogs soar around town until they fall to the ground at sunrise. Large, detailed watercolors use dramatic points of view and lighting effects and often show a humorous range of expressions. There is a forecast of further surprises to come on following Tuesdays.

willems citydog Frog Fridays booklistWillems, Mo City Dog, Country Frog
64 pp. Hyperion 2010. ISBN 978-1-4231-0300-4
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Jon J Muth. The dog and frog of the title become friends over the course of three seasons, but when the dog returns in winter, the frog is not to be found. This story of a friendship cut short by mortality is economically told and bittersweet; its atmosphere is matched by Muth’s paintings of the two at play in a glorious country landscape.

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2. And straight on ’til morning

finding neverland musical And straight on til morningThe other day my friend’s four-year-old daughter asked me, “Guess what I wished for?”

I was a little nervous about this — after all, isn’t it bad luck to tell others your wish? — but she insisted.

“A puppy? A pony? A baby elephant?”

No, it wasn’t an animal at all. It was the second star to the right!” I didn’t follow this logic, so she patiently(ish) explained, “I wished to go to Neverland!” Well, obviously. What a dumb grown-up moment.

Brand-new musical Finding Neverland, based on the 2004 Johnny Depp movie about author J.M. Barrie and his friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family, opens tomorrow at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater. I should probably go and get back in touch with my inner lost kid.

What’s your favorite Peter Pan adaptation? Hook will always have my heart. (Bangerang!)

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3. Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 Edition

This column is part of a series of recommended board book roundups, formerly published twice a year, now published every season. You can find the previous installments here. Don’t miss Viki Ash’s primer “What Makes a Good Board Book?” from the March/April 2010 Horn Book Magazine.

blair baby animal farm Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionBaby Animal Farm
by Karen Blair
Candlewick    18 pp.
4/14    978-0-7636-7069-6    $6.99

Blair, doing her best Helen Oxenbury impersonation (successfully!), depicts a gaggle of cutie-patootie toddlers (accompanied by a puppy and one of the kids’ teddy bear) visiting a farm populated by baby animals: ducklings, chicks, piglet, etc. Simple, active sentences include accompanying kid-pleasing sound effects: “Feed the lamb. Baa, baa, baa… / Time for lunch. Nom, nom, nom.”

 

deneux jojos first word book Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionJojo’s First Word Book
by Xavier Deneux
Twirl    60 pp.
3/14    978-2-8480-1943-7    $16.99

Little rabbit Jojo and his sister Lulu learn basic kid-skills: getting dressed, eating with utensils, using the potty, etc. Each clear, uncluttered illustration shows one or both bunnies with items around them labeled with simple words (in script, for what it’s worth): “Jojo and Lulu’s house: chimney, roof, window, mailbox, door.” The sweet illustrations feature lots of rounded edges and saturated colors. Sturdy pages include thick tabs to quickly flip to four sections (“Jojo and Lulu,” “Home,” “Out and about,” “Animal friends”).

 

holub be patient pandora Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionBe Patient, Pandora! [Mini Myths]
by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli
Appleseed/Abrams    26 pp.
9/14    978-1-4197-0951-7    $6.95

 

holub play nice hercules Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionPlay Nice, Hercules! [Mini Myths]
by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli
Appleseed/Abrams    26 pp.
9/14    978-1-4197-0954-8    $6.95

Board book master Patricelli (Yummy Yucky; No No Yes Yes; The Birthday Box, among many others starring the adorable gender-neutral baby with the single spiral curl) and Ready-to-Read maven Holub (recent coauthor of the middle-grade Goddess Girls series) team up for these witty introductions to Greek myths for preschoolers — and also starring preschoolers. Hercules’s bearded, jeans-wearing dad tells him to “play nice” with his baby sister (“I am not nice. I am strong!”). Pandora’s mom warns: “Do not open the box” — which turns out to contain cupcakes. The last page in each book gives a very brief synopsis of each Greek myth.

 

samoun how gator says goodbye Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionHow Gator Says Good-Bye!
by Abigail Samoun; illus. by Sarah Watts
Sterling    22 pp.
2/14    978-1-4549-0821-0    $6.95

 

samoun how hippo says hello Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionHow Hippo Says Good-Bye!
by Abigail Samoun; illus. by Sarah Watts
Sterling    22 pp.
2/14    978-1-4549-0820-3    $6.95

In each book the title animal character visits seven countries — France, Russia, Egypt, India, China, Japan, Argentina — then returns home to the U.S. (a map appears at the end). Left-hand pages include text (“He says ‘Alvida!’ in India”) with pronunciation (“[AL-veh-da]”), while right-hand pages feature friendly scenes of Hippo or Gator smiling and waving at the people (well, animals) who live in each place. Simple shapes and subdued hues make these useful books eye-pleasing and approachable.

 

thomas birthday for cow Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionA Birthday for Cow
by Jan Thomas
Houghton    38 pp.
4/14    978-0-544-17424-5    $7.99

Thomas’s gleefully silly picture book about turnip-obsessed Duck trying to hijack Cow’s birthday cake prep translates well into a board-book version. If anything, Duck’s personality is even more outsized in this smaller format, and little kids will easily be able to follow the action and the humor.

 

van genechten 8 9 and 10 2 Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 Edition8 9 and 10 [Odd One Out]
by Guido van Genechten
Clavis Toddler    20 pp.
2/14    978-1605371870    $12.95

 

van genechten happy angry sad Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionHappy Angry Sad [Odd One Out]
by Guido van Genechten
Clavis Toddler    20 pp.
2/14    978-1605371863    $12.95

These lively books reward close observation from little kids. Each spread features an array of adorable, nearly identical looking critters (flamingos, camels, rhinos, spiders). The text asks a series of questions, including those that are number-based in 8 9 and 10 and emotion-based in Happy Angry Sad: e.g., for ladybugs — “Who has 4 dots and who has 5? Who can’t keep up? And who is going to the beach?” Spoiler alert: at the end of 8 9 and 10 all the animals end up at the beach; the mountains are their destination in Happy Angry Sad.

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4. Review of Like No Other

lamarche like no other Review of Like No OtherLike No Other
by Una LaMarche
Middle School, High School    Razorbill/Penguin    347 pp.
7/14    978-1-59514-674-8    $17.99    g

How’s this for a meet cute? New York teens Devorah and Jaxon get stuck in a hospital elevator during a hurricane. Though their encounter is a fairly brief one, it’s also intense, and both come away with that love-at-first-sight feeling. Here’s where things get complicated. Devorah is a Hasidic Jew, and a frum one at that (“basically the Yiddish equivalent of ‘hopeless goody two-shoes’”). Jaxon is black. They live in present-day Crown Heights; and although, as Jaxon says, “the neighborhood has become so gentrified that I’m more likely to get hit by an artisanal gluten-free scone than a bullet, let’s be real,” tensions can still run high, especially within Devorah’s ultra-conservative family. Even though Devorah’s menacing brother-in-law, a member of the Shomrim (Orthodox neighborhood watch), is on to them, she still can’t resist accidentally-on-purpose bumping into Jax at his work and accepting the cell phone he sneaks (in a grand romantic gesture) into her yard. The story is told from the teens’ alternating perspectives. While Jax is a little too good to be true, Devorah, whether agonizing over her love life or sharing informative details about Hasidic daily life and religious philosophy, is believable and engaging. Her struggle between tradition and modernity, filial duty and personal fulfillment, is complicated and realistic; just because she doesn’t want an arranged marriage doesn’t mean she’s ready to turn her back on her family and her culture. This leads to a conclusion that, while bittersweet, is still hopeful.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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5. Yaqui’s text set

medina yaqui delgado1 Yaquis text set Since I wrote recently about using a text set built around the idea of respect and the title Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, a few people have asked what other texts we used alongside it. Our* essential question was “What makes someone worthy of respect?”

We were aiming for a set that spanned genres, and so the resulting set was both too big to use in our short time but also made of texts that weren’t only from the YA world. It included the some of the following:

  • Poems like “The Ballad of the Landlord” by Langston Hughes and “Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike
  • A series of quotes about respect from famous people
  • The short story ‘Chuckie’ by Victor LaValle
  • A couple of articles about bystanding and upstanding when bad things happen to others
  • Lou Holtz’s famous first locker room speech at Notre Dame
  • A couple of pieces from the This I Believe collection having to do with self-respect (thisibelieve.org)
  • Several anecdotes from the book Discovering Wes Moore about choices, misunderstandings, and facing adversity

This group of texts are all related to the idea of respect and who gets it and who doesn’t, and the different readings allowed us to consider respect from a variety of vantage points as we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of Piddy and Yaqui in the anchor novel.  They also gave us lots of time to dabble in writing different genres.

Text sets are such a fun way to really think hard about important stuff, and I’m excited to keep adding to this set about respect.

*This curriculum for the BGA/BU Summer Institute was developed in collaboration with my awesome friends Marisa Olivo and Lucia Mandelbaum from BGA and Scott Seider from BU. 

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6. Kidlit crafts

Lately I’ve been drooling over the craft tutorials at EPBOT: Geekery, Girliness, and Goofing Off, another blog written by Jen Yates, mastermind behind the genius and hilarious Cake Wrecks. (If you’re not familiar with Cake Wrecks, start with “Grammar geeks, UNITE!” and gorgeous children’s lit cakes.) EPBOT is pretty much what it sounds like from the subtitle: tutorials for geeky, non-geeky, and home decor DIY projects; links to other geeky content (check out this Hobbit-themed birthday party); ooh, shiny! jewelry pictures; and cat pictures. In other words, awesome.

I’m geeky and crafty, but not frequently at the same time, so it’s nice to have some guidance in how to combine the two. I love how nerdy Jen’s tutorials are — both in aesthetic (with their geek culture content) and in approach (detail-oriented, thorough, efficient, authentic to the source material). They seem pretty idiot-proof, too, although I haven’t tried any myself yet… I can’t decide where to start! Here a few kidlit-related projects; click on the pictures for links to the tutorials:

epbot white rabbit mask and watch Kidlit crafts

White Rabbit steampunk mask and pocketwatch

epbot wands Kidlit crafts

LED light-up wizard wands…

epbot wand display Kidlit crafts

…and, of course, an Olivander wand display

epbot death eater mask Kidlit crafts

Deatheater masks (don’t you kinda want to be a Deatheater now?)

epbot frog and toad purse Kidlit crafts

book purse dos and don’ts

Now that I’m done fangirling over a fellow fangirl, I want to know: have you made any crafts inspired by favorite books?

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7. Review of Pom and Pim

landstrom pom and pim Review of Pom and Pimstar2 Review of Pom and PimPom and Pim
by Lena Landström; illus. by 
Olof Landström; trans. from 
the Swedish by Julia Marshall
Preschool    Gecko    32 pp.
3/14    978-1-877579-66-0    $16.95

Pom is a small child with sparse orange curls, clad in a long purple sweater; Pim is Pom’s inanimate sidekick of indeterminate species: a dirty pink, with two eyes and four floppy appendages, the better to be dragged around by. “Pom and Pim are going out. It’s warm. The sun is shining. What luck!” But ahead, lying in wait, are a rock and a piece of paper. Pom trips over the rock (“Ouch! Bad luck”) and does a face-plant on the paper — which turns out to be “Money! What luck!” Small adventures ensue, alternating good and bad luck. Eating a huge ice-cream cone leads to a tummy ache — but lying down to recover leads to spying a pink balloon above the bed; taking the balloon outside for a walk (“The balloon bounces beautifully”) leads to it popping on a thorn bush. Pom is downcast but then, indomitable, comes up with the ideal use for the limp leftovers: “A raincoat for Pim!” And what luck: it’s now raining. In matching pink coats the two friends splash through a spare but joyful double-page spread of raindrops and puddles. The brief text and droll ink and watercolor illustrations keep the focus tightly on Pom and Pim, working together brilliantly to bring out the considerable situational humor; Pom’s facial expressions telegraph every fluctuating emotion. The good luck/bad luck progression will let readers predict events — and then allow them to (perhaps) be happily surprised by the closing twist. Quirkier and much smaller in scope than classics such as Remy Charlip’s Fortunately and Margery Cuyler’s That’s Good! That’s Bad! — but just as entrancing.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. A winter’s tale

exit A winters taleIf you aren’t completely burned out on dystopian fiction, do go see* Snowpiercer, a big, violent, gorgeous, baroque movie about the end of civilization, its last remnant perpetually traveling the ice-covered globe in a nonstop great big train. There is NO love triangle, with eros limited to a couple of crypto-gay warrior-bonding types, and plenty to thrill your (mine, anyway) inner ten-year-old, like an exciting shootout between cars as the train curves around an enormous bend. There’s high camp, too, supplied by Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill as the banality of evil and a gun-toting schoolteacher, respectively. (Wait, did I just repeat myself?) And Ed Harris is on hand, playing–spoiler alert–the very same part he played in The Truman Show.

But best of all is the look of the thing, from the icy landscapes and ruined, empty cities the train charges through to the train itself, from the squalid cars at the back where the slave labor lives to the sleek sushi bar, spa, and disco for the more privileged passengers at the front. One of the more subversive elements of the film is the way it gets you to think “why, yes, I could totally enjoy watching from the dome car as the world freezes to death. Waiter!”

The ending–spoiler alert again–is beautifully and starkly ambiguous. Life or death. I understand that the French graphic novel on which the movie is based has a sequel, but truly: none needed.

*In a movie theater, if you can. While the film is available on TV as an on-demand feature, you really want the big screen and sound for this one.

 

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9. Catchy titles

myers on a clear day Catchy titlesI was entering some new book titles into our database this morning and ran across the late, great Walter Dean Myers’s novel On a Clear Day (Crown, September 2014). Now for the last hour I’ve had Barbra Streisand in my head singing “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the musical and film (starring Babs, of course) of the same name.

This got me thinking about other book titles I’ve run across over the years that also automatically make me think of a song title or lyric I know well — and then inevitably get stuck in my head all day:

Out of My Mind (Atheneum) by Sharon M. Draper / “Out of My Head” by Fastball

Across the Universe (Razorbill/Penguin) by Beth Revis / “Across the Universe” by The Beatles

I’ll Be There (Little, Brown) by Holly Goldberg Sloan / “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5 and by Mariah Carey (With this one, I end up with a mash-up of the two versions in my head!)

Stars (Beach Lane/Simon) by Mary Lyn Ray; illus. by Marla Frazee / “Stars” from Les Miserables

Stay with Me (Dial) by Paul Griffin / “Stay with Me” from Into the Woods

The Space Between (Razorbill/Penguin) by Brenna Yovanoff / “The Space Between” by Dave Matthews Band

How to Save a Life (Little, Brown) by Sara Zarr / “How to Save a Life” by The Fray

Just Call My Name (Little, Brown) by Holly Goldberg Sloan / “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5 and by Mariah Carey andAin’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

I inherited this habit from my musically-inclined mother who, any time she hears a line from a song she knows, will break out into song. But I’m sure we’re not the only ones who do this. What children’s book titles remind you of a song title or lyric?

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10. Using Dear Mr. Henshaw to encourage students to write

dearmrhenshaw 200x300 Using Dear Mr. Henshaw to encourage students to writeDear Mr. Henshaw, a Newbery medal-winning book by Beverly Cleary, is a great way to get students to think about some of the therapeutic benefits of writing. Of course, you don’t have to mention how helpful writing can be when you need to sort out feelings but you can let students figure this out on their own as they read the book.

Leigh Botts writes to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw, as part of a school assignment and when the author writes back and asks Lee questions, his mother says he has to respond. Through his correspondence with Mr. Henshaw Lee learns about accepting life’s difficulties and — with the encouragement of Mr. Henshaw — starts to keep a journal.

In addition to coping with his parents’ divorce and missing his father, Leigh also deals with moving, adjusting to a new school, and having his lunch continually stolen — certainly timeless topics.

While some children may not think of writing letters to an author, they may keep a journal or know someone who keeps one. There are a lot of projects that can be added to the study of this book, including writing letters or journal entries as one of the characters. Students could also write to offer advice to the characters. Introducing students to the basic format of a personal letter (or e-mail) will provide valuable experience.

Mr. Henshaw certainly proves to be more interesting (and interested) that Leigh probably imagined. Reading this book could also foster discussion about the kinds of people your students admire (authors, celebrities, athletes) and what makes a person worthy of admiration. Ask if there are any local, “hometown heroes” that your students admire in addition to people who are nationally or internationally famous.

One of the many takeaways from the book for adults is that adults encourage Leigh to write and while he is hesitant at first, it grows on him. Students who would not write on their own may learn to enjoy it more if a teacher or parent lays the groundwork for them to get comfortable first.

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11. Third grade transitional books

Third grade is a funny transition period between picture books (“baby books”) and chapter books (“big kid books”).  Personally, I think there is much to say about a great picture book, but my students tend to balk at the idea of reading them; they want long books with as many chapters as possible. I think what my students are really searching for is more challenging content, but not all students are ready to enter the realm of the chapter book or even a very complex picture book (meaning fonts, vocabulary, and overall visual structure). So I try to encourage students toward picture books that are meant to be more academic or informative, and relatively straightforward. Here are two of my many favorites.

michelle 233x300 Third grade transitional booksMichelle by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by AG Ford
When I was working for AmeriCorps, my nonprofit purchased this book as a Christmas gift to all its student participants. My students were enthralled by this book because of its subject, Michelle Obama. The book’s text was complex but straightforward enough that it was accessible. It narrated her story without over-fantasizing, and told my students that by working hard, anything was possible. The pictures helped with the comprehension but what shone was Michelle’s values and strength of character. Because of the population I was working with (low income, racially diverse community), I think Michelle continues to be a relevant role model and the reason why the book remained so dear to my students.

redwoods 199x300 Third grade transitional booksRedwoods written and illustrated by Jason Chin
Another great find while working for AmeriCorps, I wanted my students to grasp the height and girth of a redwood tree without ever visiting one. I read this book aloud because the text was sometimes too long and detailed, and needed summarizing or simplifying. This is probably more appropriate for an older grade, but my students enjoyed this nonfiction picture book nonetheless.  Jason Chin also wrote and illustrated two other nonfiction books (Coral Reefs and Island: Story of the Galapagos), but I found this one to be the simplest for 3rd grade.

I know what you’re thinking: what about graphic novels for 3rd grade? That’s another blog post in the making. Until then, what picture books have you found that are both engaging and academic?

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12. Batter up!

With baseball season in full swing, it is the perfect time to check out one of the many great picture books featuring baseball. Here are some of my favorites.

Wise SilentStar 219x300 Batter up!Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy by Bill Wise with illustrations by Adam Gustavson (K-3)
Today many baseball fans may not know this, but in the late 1800’s one of the best major league players was William Hoy, who also happened to be deaf. This book tells his story with wonderful oil painting illustrations that will help readers understand both the time period and Hoy’s life.

Perdomo Clemente 235x300 Batter up!Clemente! by Willie Perdomo with illustrations by Bryan Collier (K-3)
Told in English with scattered Spanish words, this book follows a young boy named Clemente as various family members tell him about his namesake, the great Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente. While the book details Roberto Clemente’s baseball career, it also includes other aspects of his life, including his charitable work. It is a great option, particularly for those looking for a book that incorporates Spanish language text.

Adler LouGehrig 300x247 Batter up!Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David A. Adler with illustrations by Terry Widener (K-3)
Though he is perhaps best known now for the disease named for him, Lou Gehrig was an important figure in baseball well before he was diagnosed. In this book, readers learn about his early life, including his studies at Columbia University and his fourteen years in major league baseball, during which he played in a record number of consecutive games. While the book does not shy away from Gehrig’s illness, it tells the inspirational story of his life both before and during that period.

Winter SandyKoufax 247x300 Batter up!You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Andre Carrilho (K-3)
In a striking departure from many sports biographies for children, this book focuses on Koufax’s struggles and early failures before recounting his rise to the top of the game. Readers also learn about the important role that Koufax’s Jewish faith played in his career, causing him to face discrimination and also leading to his refusal to play in the 1965 World Series because it fell on a high holy day. Though this book will appeal to all baseball fans, those who love baseball statistics will particularly enjoy the way that it integrates important stats into the illustrations at key points in the story.

Meshon Yakyu 300x249 Batter up!Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon (Preschool)
In this fun, brightly colored book, a young boy goes to baseball games in both the United States and Japan. Side-by-side pages show the differences between the experience in each country, both at the stadium and outside of it. The book integrates Japanese words in the text and unique details of baseball culture in each country into the illustrations.

Thayer CaseyattheBat 182x300 Batter up!Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer with illustrations by Joe Morse (K-3)
This entry in the Visions in Poetry series takes the classic poem “Casey at the Bat” and moves it to an urban setting. The poem is a classic for a reason, and a new generation of baseball fans can enjoy it with the modern, updated images that accompany it.

Bidner JoeDiMaggio 298x249 Batter up!The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of ’41 by Phil Bildner with illustrations by S.D. Schindler (K-3)
Whether you are looking for a baseball book or an exciting glimpse into a period in history, this book won’t disappoint. It follows the separate paths of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams as they each chased baseball records over the course of the summer of 1941. The illustrations bring the time period to life and make this book a great way to make baseball fans into history fans — and vice versa.

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13. Reading Rainbow (Rowell)

rowell landline Reading Rainbow (Rowell)Who knew Rainbow Rowell had a new book (for adults)? Not me! Until I snapped it up at the Cambridge Public Library yesterday. A TV-writer mom bags out on her husband and kids during Christmas vacation in order to stay home and prepare for a big pitch at work. Her marriage has been cooling for a while, and this might just be the nail in the coffin. (I haven’t gotten to the time-travel part, but the flap copy tells me it’s coming.) Like the narrative voice(s) in Rowell’s Attachments, this one is smart, witty, and slightly bemused. Watch out, Jennifer Weiner; Rainbow’s coming for you!

And speaking of curly girls… who else is annoyed by this new Progressive Insurance ad, starring the otherwise inoffensive, even endearing, Flo? What the hell, Flo? My people don’t talk smack about your Carol Brady throwback hair.

flo Reading Rainbow (Rowell)

 

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14. Dinosaur versus… everything

Roar roar ROAR! When it comes to destruction, dinosaurs win! Check out these two brand-new titles about dinosaurs on rampages:

dinos Dinosaur versus... everything

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15. Review of The Midnight Library

kohara midnight library Review of The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library
by Kazuno Kohara; illus. by the author
Preschool    Roaring Brook    32 pp.
6/14    978-1-59643-985-6    $16.99

Welcome to the Midnight Library, where a little-girl librarian and her three owl assistants provide a friendly spot for animals from “all over the town” to “find a perfect book.” Outside the windows, stars twinkle in a black sky; inside, the library glows with a warm golden light. The little librarian, braids flying, cheerfully bustles around the packed bookshelves, where small dramas are happily resolved alongside library business-as-usual. Kohara’s (Ghosts in the House!, rev. 9/08) gentle story and vibrant compositions have an old-fashioned sensibility and simplicity. The illustrations, which look like wood-block prints, feature just three colors: black, gold, and blue. With this limited (but not limiting) palette and strong, energetic lines, Kohara captures the magic of the middle-of-the-night goings on. This is a dream of a library, too, designed with lots of reading nooks (including top-of-bookshelf perches), comfy chairs, lanterns, and trees with ornaments on the branches, adding to the enchantment. There’s a lot to linger over on the pages, and the art varies from full- and double-page spreads to smaller panel illustrations. When the sky begins to lighten, it’s time for the library to close and for the little librarian and the owls to “find one last book.” Of course, that last book is a bedtime story, which is the perfect way to end this beguiling library visit.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Week in Review, July 7th-11th

banner weekinreview 550x100 Week in Review, July 7th 11th

This week on hbook.com…

July’s issue of Notes from the Horn Book: 5 questions for The Great Greene Heist author Varian Johnson, more middle-school capers, pet picture books, nature nonfiction, and dragons and witches in YA fantasy

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “From the Guide: Cultural Diversity in Middle-Grade Fiction

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

  • My gun, my foot“: so, about that early July/August issue…
  • Get appy“: Book Verdict app takes Horn Book reviews mobile

Out of the Box: A photographer to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

Lolly’s Classroom:

2014 Summer Reading

July kidlit events in Boston

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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17. The Animal Book e-book review

animal book The Animal Book e book reviewSteve Jenkins’s 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth is available in an enhanced e-book edition (HMH, 2013).

An introduction describes the book’s features: Animal Fact Pop-Up Boxes provide more information about select creatures’ sizes, habitats, and diets, along with fun facts.

animal book manatee fact box The Animal Book e book review

An Embedded Glossary allows for quick definitions of terms that are printed in blue; there’s also a complete glossary for reference. Occasional Interactive Elements include comparison charts, timelines, and other at-a-glance features.

animal book ecological pyramid The Animal Book e book review

A Notes feature allows you to highlight text and take your own notes (on blank note-cards), along with quiz-like Study Cards that can be shuffled with your notes and used for recall.

The whole thing is pretty low-tech, but not in a bad way. Just as in Jenkins’s book, the art is what really shines through. The quality is high — all the pictures are crisp and bright, even the close-up images (go eye-to-eye with the colossal squid on page 44 or nose-to-nose with that Siberian tiger on page 104… if you dare!). The table of contents and scrolling footers allow you to jump to individual sections or to pages in Jenkins’s book, which was already well suited for browsing. There’s a 4.5-minute Making Of video at the end in which Jenkins discusses his process and shows viewers how he creates a rhino, from sketch to paper selection to cutting pieces with an X-acto to assembling the collage; he also shows a page-layout board… and shows off his own animal! (His dog makes a cameo.) Some ’80s-sounding background music jazzes up the narration.

Available for iPad and Mac; $9.99. Recommended for primary to middle school users.

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18. Review of Hi, Koo!

muth hi koo Review of Hi, Koo!Hi, Koo!:
A Year of Seasons

by Jon J Muth; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Scholastic    32 pp.
3/14    978-0-545-16668-3    $17.99

Twenty-six haiku are presented by young panda Koo, whom fans of Muth’s Zen Ties will recognize as the haiku-spouting nephew of Stillwater, the Zen Buddhist panda from Zen Shorts and Zen Ghosts. Here, Koo is on his own, eventually joined by two human children who appear on his doorstep to play. The story told through the haiku follows the cycle of the seasons, from fall (“Autumn, / are you dreaming / of new clothes?”) to winter (“snowfall / Gathers my footprints / I do a powdery stomp”) to spring (“New leaves / new grass new sky / spring!”) to summer (“Tiny lights / garden full of blinking stars / fireflies”). Muth’s watercolors are as clear and translucent as the child-friendly, easily understood haiku, the gentle mood of his paintings perfectly matching the tranquil emotion of the poems. In an author’s note at the front Muth explains his choice to forego the traditional five-seven-five syllable pattern and states that “a haiku embodies a moment of emotion that reminds us that our own human nature is not separate from all of nature.” Each haiku contains just one capital letter, in order from A to Z; although the randomly capitalized words can look awkward, young readers may enjoy tracking the “alphabetical path” through the book.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2014 CSK Author Award Acceptance

Good morning, family. I am honored to stand before you all: Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee Chair Kim Patton and the committee; most distinguished fellow honorees; and all of us joined through our love of books, tolerance, and peace.

p.s. be eleven Rita Williams Garcias 2014 CSK Author Award AcceptanceA certain type of ignorance is truly bliss. I’d been writing for young people over the years without any true awareness of Midwinter and those glorious announcements — or what I now call Pumpkin Monday. Sidebar: Pumpkin Monday is my term for the morning we learn whether Cinderella will be at the ball or sitting in the pumpkin patch. Recently I’ve gained more of a clue about the Midwinter gathering — when it convenes, and what it could mean. But this year I was in a blissful state of unawareness because I went to bed without thinking to leave my phone nearby. I had a wonderful, dream-filled sleep — and then, about six hours later, my eyes popped open: IT’S PUMPKIN MONDAY! I shut my eyes to pray as I do every morning. I hadn’t uttered three words of praise when the phone rang. I heard the thing ringing, but where was it? I ran into the living room and found the phone just as the call was about to go to voicemail. I only remember seeing PHILADELPHIA on the display and hearing a cheerfully assertive voice proclaim, “This is Kim Patton calling from Philadelphia” — blur, blur, blur — “the Coretta Scott King Award for text.” Committee members, I apologize to you all for those high-pitched screams that followed. Repeatedly. Forgive me. Recognition for a sequel is traditionally a long shot. I humbly thank you for recognizing P.S. Be Eleven and its place in the narrative stream of African American family amid changing times in the community and in the world.

Just because a silent prayer is answered, it doesn’t mean stop praying. I had much to be thankful for. As soon as I hung up from receiving that glorious call, I returned to morning prayer. However, afterwards, I was too excited to write. If you know me at all, you know that when I’m this excited I can’t keep still. I have to jump. Or dance.

I picked up the phone and called Joan. Who is Joan? Joan is someone who shares a phone number with my editor, Rosemary Brosnan — except for one digit. How does one bungle speed dial? I resorted to e-mail and sent Rosemary one word and a few exclamation marks: “CORETTA!!!” Finally I managed to pull it together and dial Rosemary’s number the old-fashioned way. Digit by digit.

I thought no one else could know and love Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern — and even Cecile, Pa, and Big Ma — like I do, but not so. Rosemary has loved these characters and advocated for them, and has known when to mother them and when to let them be. I could not have a better editor, sister, and believer in me than Rosemary Brosnan.

I chose themes of change in P.S. Be Eleven because life as we knew it back then screamed for change like an angry baby in a funky diaper. Change me. Now! The world was in a continual state of unrest. There was war and a strong anti-war movement, and strife between the generations; the Civil Rights era was giving way to the Black Power Movement; women’s fight for equality challenged the status quo; a gay rights movement brewed on both coasts; riots and drugs turned poor neighborhoods into urban wastelands; and the ecological well-being of the planet was under attack. Let me hear you say ball of confusion!

For Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, it was all happening right now: change in the home, at school, in the neighborhood, and in the world. And they had a personal ball of confusion — change was happening from within — in spite of Delphine’s mother telling her to “be eleven” when she was on the verge of twelve.

I liked the idea of change and the conundrum it poses for children. On the one hand, children need to feel secure. They need a stable environment to thrive and to be able to look forward to the future. On the other hand, the change needed to secure that stability, that future, that chance to thrive — it can’t happen without volatile struggle. We enjoy a good deal of what we have today because someone struggled. Quite a few of you sitting here at this breakfast were on the uneasy but right side of change.

This past March, I participated in an essay-writing workshop at Queens Central Public Library in Jamaica, New York, with the writer Mariah Fredericks, where I met a sixth grader who lived in a shelter. She and her family would soon move to a house in Connecticut and have stability for a change. She was happy for her mother but sad to leave her friends in the shelter. Many children like her along the way have reminded me to write from the heart of a child. Delphine, Vonetta, Fern, and I are indebted to the children I continue to learn from — especially my daughters, Michelle and Stephanie. My vision of childhood has been formed by the children I’ve been privileged to observe over the years.

One day that young girl who left the shelter will love her new home and won’t be able to imagine living anywhere else. When positive change happens, it’s hard to consider that the page we’re on now isn’t the page we were on back then. Even Delphine doesn’t quite know what to make of the women’s movement, although she and her sisters will ultimately benefit from this struggle.

Peter Garcia; his late mother, Elaine; and I have raised feminist daughters. We have a saying in the Garcia house: “Our daughters are our daughters; our daughters are our sons.” I wish I could tell you I was always on the right side of change while the women’s movement was happening. But I remember men in my family having limited opportunities for employment and education. I also remember how my classmates’ mothers bragged that their husbands wouldn’t allow them to work. In the meantime, my mother put on her white uniform and walked a mile to the bus stop to get to work six days a week. One day my mother caught one of the stay-at-home wives at the bus stop, her work uniform hidden in a bag.

At eleven, I wasn’t completely on board with the feminist struggle of the sixties. I wanted my father to have a job and my mother to stay at home. I didn’t make a connection between my own aspirations, my constant competitiveness with my brother, my desire to explore what was out there, with those young women marching and burning bras. Heck, at twelve I needed a bra. Big time.

My father, like Delphine’s father, was a chauvinist. He had rules and expectations for his daughters and a different set of rules and expectations for his son. But this didn’t stop him from giving my sister, brother, and me boxing gloves and lessons. Like most people, my father believed in change but was also a person of his generation and its values. For Dad, genuine change from within came over time.

As tempting as it was, I couldn’t let Delphine be entirely on the right side of change — she, a child who pined for a traditional mother in the home. She would come to understand her mother over a time that extends beyond the last chapter of the book. I have to believe that what now sounded far-fetched to Delphine — a woman president, a black woman in political office — might not be so far-fetched to Delphine as she witnesses and becomes a part of change.

I find that as things change, and change becomes status quo, the memory of struggle fades with each generation. “Weren’t things always this way?” The one constant about change seems to me that we can bring it about, but we can’t control it. Each generation reshapes the memory of change and then seeks to bring about change for what they envision. Let us pray that those who seek change aim high and that the change sought positively includes the least of us.

I cannot leave you without thanking a host of people who affect my life greatly in the most positive ways.

I must begin with someone on the frontlines of change: professor emeritus Rudine Sims Bishop. Back to the Pumpkin Monday call: a familiar voice had come on the line to say, “Rita, this is Rudine.” I’m sure I screamed “Rudine!” You see, Rudine and I go back to the early nineties, when she said I “may well be among the most prominent African-American literary artists of the next generation.” Over the years I felt I had let her down. Rudine, it means the world to share this embodiment of your faith in me so many years later.

I feel the weight and cheer of my HarperCollins family with every novel sent out to young readers. I wrote P.S. Be Eleven, but it was everyone behind it, believing in it, that made it go. Rosemary Brosnan, Susan Katz, Kate Jackson, Patty Rosati, Molly Motch, Robin Tordini, Stephanie Macy, Kim VandeWater, Olivia deLeon, Andrea Martin, Barb Fitzsimmons, Cara Petrus, Brenna Franzitta, and Annie Berger, I sincerely and joyfully thank you all.

I am indebted to artist extraordinaire Frank Morrison, who knows my girls, the stoop, and the times, and is simply brilliant.

My Vermont College of Fine Arts colleagues are my writing community and cheered me on through my early sharing of this novel.

When they were young, my daughters, Michelle and Stephanie, recognized the signs of silent writing. The stare. My daughters make me the opposite of Cecile. My son-in-law, Adam, taught me to crochet and gives me comedy tips.

To my lifelong partner, Ferdinand Leyro, who has changed the quality of my life and in doing so changed my mind and heart.

Lastly, I thank Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York, who filed for his patent on his improved waffle iron in 1869. There is no celebration on Pumpkin Monday without waffles.

Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speech for P.S. Be Eleven was delivered at the annual American Library Association conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 29, 2014. Read a profile of the author written by Kathleen T. Horning. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. A Profile of Rita Williams-Garcia: Being Eleven

horning williamsgarcia brosnan 550x365 A Profile of Rita Williams Garcia:  Being Eleven

From left: Kathleen T. Horning, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Rosemary Brosnan.

I first met Rita Williams-Garcia three years ago, soon after One Crazy Summer was published. Prior to that, though, I had known her through her books for many years, starting with her first novel, Blue Tights. It stood out among all the YA novels published in 1988 for its honest and realistic depiction of a working-class teen. Blue Tights was followed by Fast Talk on a Slow Track (1991) and Like Sisters on the Homefront (1995), two books that were unusual in their time because they featured older teens. Fast Talk, for example, takes place over the summer between Denzel Watson’s senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Subsequent books dealt with serious subjects: rape, female genital mutilation, teen violence. Heavy subjects, even for young adult literature.

So when I first read One Crazy Summer, I was surprised. It was so different from Rita’s earlier books. Who knew she could write so well for middle-grade readers? And who knew she was so devastatingly funny? I laughed aloud at least once on every page while I was reading the book. It all felt so familiar. In fact, I could tell how old Rita was because we had grown up in exactly the same era. Vietnam. Black Panthers. Power to the people. Right on! It all rang so true that, although Rita and I had not yet met, I felt as though we had grown up together.

We were eleven years old at the same time.

Since we’ve become friends, Rita and I have compared notes about that time in our childhoods. She was born in Queens, New York, and grew up in interesting places like California and Georgia; I was born in the boring Midwest and have stayed there all my life. Rita was the youngest of three siblings in a military family, and I was the middle child of five being raised by a newspaperman and a teacher. On the surface, our lives seemed different.

jackson5banner 550x232 A Profile of Rita Williams Garcia:  Being ElevenBut Rita and I bonded over our mutual love of the Jackson 5. Nothing defined the era during which we were eleven better than the Jackson 5. We both remember the thrill of seeing them on TV for the first time in the fall of 1969. Here were five talented brothers, kids like us, performing live on national television. And for African American kids, they represented even more: a twin sense of hope and pride. If you remember the chapter in One Crazy Summer where Delphine and her sisters Vonetta and Fern count the number of words spoken by black people on TV, you’ll get a sense of what a momentous occasion the group’s first television appearance was. As Delphine might say: black infinity — multiplied by five! Rita perfectly re-created that thrill in an early chapter of P.S. Be Eleven, where the three sisters tune in to see the Jackson 5 performing on Hollywood Palace. The chapter is based on her own memories of what it was like; halfway across the country, I was experiencing the same thing. It was an excitement we had to contain. Rita once described it as painful silent screaming — silent so as not to draw undue adult attention after bedtime.

Every girl fan, and probably more than a few boys, set their sights on one brother for singular adoration (and future marriage). Delphine chose the oldest one, Jackie, because of his height. I went for Jermaine’s shy smile. And Rita fell for Tito’s eyebrows. She also thought Tito looked like he could handle himself at the rough school she was attending at the time. Her reasoning was so typical of that eleven-year-old mindset in which a famous pop star might show up in your schoolyard at any moment. In Rita’s fantasy, Tito walked her home each day and carried her books.

p.s. be eleven A Profile of Rita Williams Garcia:  Being ElevenBoth Rita and I had time for childhood fantasies, and we both had the luxury of a long childhood; unlike Delphine, who has adult responsibilities thrust on her. She has no choice but to be a surrogate mother for her younger sisters, since her own mother left them. Ironically, it is her estranged mother, in her recurring postscripts, who reminds Delphine to hold on to her childhood a bit longer: “Be eleven.”

I was with Rita and her editor, Rosemary Brosnan, on November 6, 2012. They had come to Madison for the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture the next day, and we all gathered at my house to watch the presidential election returns. I got to see Rita do her happy dance when the race was called for Obama. There was quite a bit of Vonetta in that performance, believe me. And then Rita wanted to read me the opening chapter of her new book, P.S. Be Eleven, because she knew I loved those three sisters as much as I loved the Jackson 5. We talked about what it was like back then, being eleven, and being so hopeful for the future. It felt like anything was possible.

It only occurred to us later that someone else was eleven years old at that time — Michael Jackson, the lead singer of the Jackson 5. He seemed to have everything. Wealth. Fame. Talent. Leather vests and platform shoes. But there was one thing Rita and I both had that he didn’t: being eleven.

I asked Rita if there was anything she had learned from the Jackson 5 when she was a child, other than how to dance the Funky Chicken. She wrote:

The thing I learned came long after I was eleven: there is no foundation quite like having a childhood. A balanced and solid childhood can halfway guarantee a healthy adulthood. Those brothers were incredibly talented. They worked hard but made it look easy and fun. Even with seemingly having it all, the one thing Michael missed was time to play. Be a kid.

Be eleven.

Read Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speech. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Review of This One Summer

tamaki this one summer Review of This One Summerstar2 Review of This One SummerThis One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki; illus. by Jillian Tamaki
Middle School    First Second/Roaring Brook    320 pp.
5/14    978-1-59643-774-6    $17.99

Rose Wallace and her parents go to Awago Beach every summer. Rose collects rocks on the beach, swims in the lake, and goes on bike rides with her younger “summer cottage friend,” Windy. But this year she is feeling too old for some of the activities she used to love — and even, at times, for the more-childish (yet self-assured) Windy. Rose would rather do adult things: watch horror movies and talk with Windy about boobs, boys, and sex. In their second graphic novel — another impressive collaboration — the Tamaki cousins (Skim, rev. 7/08) examine the mix of uncertainty and hope a girl experiences on the verge of adolescence. The episodic plot and varied page layout set a leisurely pace evocative of summer. Rose’s contemplative observations and flashbacks, along with the book’s realistic dialogue, offer insight into her evolving personality, while the dramatic changes in perspective and purply-blue ink illustrations capture the narrative’s raw emotional core. Secondary storylines also accentuate Rose’s transition from childhood to young adulthood: she’s caught in the middle of the tension between her parents (due to her mom’s recent abrasive moodiness and the painful secret behind it) and fascinated by the local teens’ behavior (swearing, drinking, smoking, fighting, and even a pregnancy; the adult situations — and frank language — she encounters may be eye-opening reading for pre-adolescents like Rose). This is a poignant drama worth sharing with middle-schoolers, and one that teen readers will also appreciate for its look back at the beginnings of the end of childhood.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. B: A Profile of Brian Floca

locomotive B: A Profile of Brian FlocaAn editor’s dream — smart authors, smart artists. They save so much time. That is, they’re up to speed without undue heaving or the need for sand on the tracks (see Locomotive for more on the subject). My subject in this tribute is someone who is all three: author, artist, smart.

Given a pencil, Brian Floca doodled young and was still happily at it when, in the spring of 1991, we met in Providence, Rhode Island, in (unaccountably) an empty office in the Department of Egyptology at Brown University. Doodles, by then, had become a comic strip in the campus newspaper. As a junior at Brown, Brian was also studying with David Macaulay at nearby Rhode Island School of Design (what a treat, then, to read in The Horn Book’s review of Locomotive that the back endpaper cutaway illustration of Central Pacific engine Jupiter surely “would make David Macaulay proud”).

It was Avi who arranged our meeting. He was seeking an illustrator for a 400-page gleam in his eye that became City of Light, City of Dark (1993), an early entrant in the recent resurgence of graphic novels. Brian had been recommended. He did some sample pen-and-inks: lots of energy; inventive perspectives; a touch of the sinister, which Avi’s tale required.

Before that first project was published, Avi had dreamt up a second — a fantasy called Poppy (winner of a 1996 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award). The three-inch mouse heroine emerged first in what the illustrator describes as “cartoony pen-and-ink” but then matured magically in velvety pencil. From gargantuan cityscape to atmospheric woodland, this young man could draw anything.

I hadn’t yet read any of Brian’s own story ideas. Turned out he was not only a skilled draftsman, but also a witty writer, sometimes wacky, sometimes tender. The first text Brian brought me was a goofball romp about a boy in a natural history museum, The Frightful Story of Harry Walfish (1997), though not till he’d finished, for Orchard, Helen Ketteman’s Luck with Potatoes (1995). Years later, I mean years, he admitted that before Helen’s book he’d never done any watercolor illustrations requiring book-length focus. But focus he did…on a departure, and also in watercolor: Five Trucks (1999), which Booklist starred and which prompted the reviewer to ask: “If picture books about trucks are so easy to do, why do we see so many poor ones and so few as good as this?”

A stylistic throwback followed, Dinosaurs at the Ends of the Earth (2000) about explorer/naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews. Not quite nonfiction (Brian imagines some dialogue), the book spreads as wide as the Gobi Desert; the text, mostly arrayed horizontally, is lengthy and looks it. Great rectangles of words. But the writing is alive, a throwback only in its long-lined form.

As a kid I loved poring over Holling C. Holling (but oh, those long texts) and the informational books by Edwin Tunis (dry as tinder, yet the drawings captivated). Fifty years later, here was Brian Floca of Temple, Texas, an artist who could bring to life gizmos, vehicles, feats, and all manner of things that go and do and make noises. And not go on and on for paragraphs. Here was an artist to channel that one-time kid who liked “process” and long-looking. I hope it’s clear that we’d hit it off as friends from the beginning, but now the making of books about the workings of things had become a connecting passion.

The Racecar Alphabet (2003) was the first brainchild: rambunctious, even raucous, with an alliterative text only 205 words long. One NASCAR driver we heard from via e-mail reads the book to his son regularly and praised Brian for the accuracy of art, car info — and sound effects. For a further example of those, see Lightship (2007).

“A committee member” asked for a lunch-break look at our copy of Lightship in the Atheneum ALA booth.
She’d heard that the text was “strong.” It was Lightship that alerted the world that this young man could not only illustrate and pace a book beautifully, he could also write. Brian’s texts thereafter arrayed themselves vertically; visually spare, like ribbons floating to allow room for art, they often read like poetry (think of the glorious Moonshot in 2009, and now Locomotive). The words brim with emotion even when it is facts he’s presenting.

Since his beginnings, Brian has been a working illustrator. His website makes clear that his range is impressive —
animal, vegetable, mechanical. I have a most personal collection of hand-drawn postcards and notes the Society of Illustrators could make a show of; a recent highlight is a pen-and-ink Jupiter, puffing a great blast of thank-you flowers.

Locomotive began life in 2008 as an homage to a wondrous big chugger such as Jupiter, when Brian’s flight of Apollo 11 was still on the drawing board. It soon became clear that locomotives, especially those engines destined for transcontinental travel, bore on their wheels the great weight of nineteenth-century America. Homage
became paean. Had to. Thirty-two pages became, progressively, 40, 48, 56, 64. Research led him this way and that — into many an account of the heroism, ingenuity, venality, and even crime behind the country’s westward expansion. These elements, outside the immediate focus of Locomotive, make appearances in the narrative in supporting roles, which, it is hoped, will lead readers to other books, other stories. But the stars of Locomotive had to remain the locomotives themselves (several were required to make the Omaha-to-Sacramento trek); sometimes even pieces of their stories fell to the cutting room floor.

Nearly a victim of the streamlining ax was the KA-BOOM! explosion picture. (Brian said: “Boys will like it; I hate to lose it, but…”) Lots of the book hit the floor at one time or another, great puddles of remarkable art, often without room for itself in the narrative, offshoots of story for which there was no space or time. The nights of the journey had to be documented with rhythmically placed dark pages; lighting for existing scenes had to be changed from midnight to sunlight — perspectives had to be juxtaposed. Locomotive was pulled apart and reassembled many a time. Like a machine itself, this book was built.

And as with the pictures, the text too was an assemblage. I must have read it a hundred times and yet I am always impressed with how the skein of language supports the visual story. For by now, after a long, evolutionary, and iterative process, a story had emerged — of one family traveling westward, propelled by a sequence of Union Pacific and Central Pacific locomotives. Listen to the book read aloud. Through its words, it presents the experiences of one boy (a stand-in, surely, for the artist himself) lucky enough to see and see more and hear and hear more — a whole world opening up to him.

At the touching end, the simplicity of the family’s reunion seems to me just right — no bustling background, just feeling. Full but spare, the text here through the arrival in San Francisco was sifted and shifted well into final proofing stage. The book ends with the art/text version of a hug. And extends to the back of the jacket, which shows six grown boys loving a machine — just as three grown boys, Brian principally, but also the designer, Michael McCartney, and I, have loved the tinkering, the polishing, the priming of this book for its journey from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.

Brian Floca has opened a world to me.

And now, what’s next? Back to the man who put this crew together: Avi and his Old Wolf. Brian has illustrated in rich pencil the fable-like tale of an aged wolf-pack leader determined to feed his hungry pups (does he or doesn’t he have one more kill in him?), a boy with a birthday bow-and-arrows who knows about killing only from video games, and a raven who knows about everything.

After that, there’s a picture book starring a cat behind the wheel—a vehicle-sized cat or a cat-sized vehicle? Only the artist knows for sure…

I am grateful that there’s to be a future for us. Thank you, young sir, for the ride so far. I have learned much.

Your pal, D

Brian Floca is the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner for Locomotive. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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23. Two Arthurs

Here in Boston we are getting ready for a sideswipe by Hurricane Arthur. They’ve even moved the Boston Pops and fireworks festivities to tonight instead of tomorrow. Meanwhile, Arthur is headed for the southeast coast here in the US today. It’s pretty rare for that first storm of the season — the one named with an A — to do much damage, but still one worries. I hope everyone stays safe.

Thinking about this hurricane’s name reminded me of the most famous children’s lit Arthur, Marc Brown’s aardvark. I admit to never watching one of the cartoons all the way through, in part because I don’t like how the character’s face was made so generic for the cartoon version. It’s as if Arthur’s makeover role model was Michael Jackson: lighter skin tone (or is it fur?) and smaller features. I never did understand the color change, but regarding the nose, it’s probably difficult to animate a character with a large droopy nose and short arms. How would he carry anything?

Still, when you compare the first book — which is about Arthur learning to come to terms with having a very large nose — to the present incarnation, I have to wonder what children make of this change.

arthursnose Two Arthurs       arthurnow Two Arthurs

Has anyone had a conversation with a child about the different physiognomies? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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24. Review of Emily’s Blue Period

daly emilys blue period Review of Emilys Blue Periodstar2 Review of Emilys Blue Period Emily’s Blue Period
by Cathleen Daly; illus. by Lisa Brown
Primary    Porter/Roaring Brook    56 pp.
6/14    978-1-59643-469-1    $17.99

Young Emily is an artist — a fact thoroughly established, visually, from title page on. She draws and she paints; she pores over art books. In school, she is learning about Pablo Picasso, and his work and career make a surprisingly apt frame for this story of divorce, told in five chapters. Like the faces in Picasso paintings during his cubist period, expected elements are not where they are supposed to be (“Emily’s dad is no longer where he belongs. Suddenly, he lives in his own little cube”); Emily’s sadness over the changes in her family pushes her into her own blue period; later, an assignment to make a collage of her house helps her make sense of the situation (collage is “how you take things from different places to make a whole”). Daly (Prudence Wants a Pet, rev. 7/11) has a gift for taking familiar childhood experiences and elevating them into, well, art. Here her affecting but unsentimental story is elegantly supported by Brown’s simple pencil and watercolor illustrations and innovative book design. Inventively, the end of one chapter segues seamlessly into the beginning of the next on the same double-page spread. Dialogue is often indicated simply with circles penciled around text: instant speech balloons. This is a heartfelt, relatable, and even sometimes funny picture book (especially when Emily’s little brother Jack has a meltdown in a furniture store). It’s also empowering for readers struggling with similar situations, as Emily figures out a way to redefine her idea of home — herself, through the making of art.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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25. One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

My dance troupe just had a photoshoot with the super-talented Sarah Ann Loreth, a photographer and digital artist I consider a rising star. I mean, check out this gorgeousness:

vadalna tribal dance co by sarah ann loreth 2014 One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

Vadalna Tribal Dance Co., photographed by Sarah Ann Loreth. 2014

Imagine my excitement when I came across Susan Vaught’s book Insanity (Bloomsbury, February 2014), with Sarah’s disquieting photography on the cover, on our shelves.

vaught insanity One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

Sarah’s photos (several of them self portraits) have been featured on many adult book covers like this one

webb unseen One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

internationally, but to my knowledge Insanity is the first American YA novel to use her work. I’m certain there will be many more to come, though — keep your eye on this up-and-coming artist.

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