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1. Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World – The Zena Sutherland Lecture

When we look to the astonishing growth of children’s books — especially YA books — in the last twenty years, we like to credit individuals — J. K. Rowling, for instance. But while it’s a kind of national obligation in the United States to praise individuals over collectives, I want to argue tonight that making good books for teenagers is dependent upon a vast and fragile interconnected network that collectively functions as what I am going to call the YA genre. All of this is offered, by the way, with the caveat that I might be wrong. I am wrong all the time.

My colleagues at Booklist, where I worked from 2000–2005, will tell you two things about me: first, that I was just about the worst publishing assistant in the 110-year history of the magazine; and second, that I am a bit of a worrier. Like Wemberly in Kevin Henkes’s wonderful picture book Wemberly Worried, I worry about big things (like whether there is any meaning to human life), and I worry about little things (like which suit I should wear to the Zena Sutherland Lecture). More or less, any time people ask me, “How are you?” the true answer is not “fine” or “good” or “sad”; the true answer is: worried.

This suits me well as a writer, since a big part of the job is to think about all the things that might happen and try to choose the best one, which is very often the most worrisome one. It suits me somewhat less well as, like, a person living in the world, because there is so much to worry about that if you are going to be a seriously anxious person, you have to devote all your time to it. You have to become like Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk whose legs atrophied while he sat staring at a wall for nine years, except instead of meditating you have to worry. So tonight I’m going to share with you some of my worry, but I’m going to wait until toward the end in the hope that you’ll now have to spend the next thirty minutes worrying about why I’m so worried about the future of YA fiction.

Before that, I want to talk about what I think fiction does so well, and why I think it remains so relevant to the lives of children and teens.

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Ann Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club, a series of novels about enterprising girls who built a small business and also dealt with the everyday problems of being a kid and taking care of kids and dealing with adults and occasionally having boyfriends. I loved these books. I also loved Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books and many other books that were called “girl books,” and I think I loved them both because I saw myself in them — I worried like Anastasia; I felt socially uncomfortable like Ann Martin’s Claudia — but also because I could escape myself. This was the first big thing that fiction did for me as a kid: it allowed me to see myself but also to escape myself. For me, one of the big problems of being a person is that I am the only me I will ever get to be. I am not like the main character “A” in David Levithan’s Every Day; I wake up every day in this body, seeing the world out of these eyes, and because my consciousness is the only one whose reality and complexity I can directly attest to, the rest of you seem — pardon the unkindness here — sort of not real. Even the people I love the most I see in the context of me: my wife, my children. But Claudia in the Baby-Sitters Club is not my anything; she is Claudia, through whose eyes I can, in an admittedly limited way, see the world.

This phenomenon is often credited with leading to empathy: through escaping the prison of the self and being able to live inside fictional characters, we learn to imagine others more complexly. Through story, we can understand that others feel their own grief and joy and longing as intensely as we feel ours. And I think that’s probably true, but I also think it’s just nice to be outside yourself at times, so that you can pay attention to the world outside of you, which in the end is even more vast than the world inside of you.

Here’s the other thing: I think there is an omnipresent pain inside us, a constant and gnawing pain that we ceaselessly try to distract ourselves from feeling, a pain way down deep in what Robert Penn Warren called “the dark which is you.” For most people, almost all the time, we don’t even have to think about this pain, but then sometimes you’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room or riding on the train or eating a chicken caesar salad at your desk at work and the pain will come crawling out of the cave darkness inside of you and you’ll feel an awful echo of all the pain that has ever befallen you and glimpse all the horrors that might still befall you.

Maybe you don’t actually know this pain, but I do, and for me it is the pain of meaninglessness. I fear that our selves are without value, that our vast interior lives will die with us, and that our brief miraculous decades of consciousness will not have been for anything. For me there is a terrifying depravity to meaninglessness, because it calls into question not only why I should read or write or love but also why I should do anything, in fact whether I should do anything, and so grappling with that way-down-deep-in-the-darkness-which-is-you pain is not like some abstract philosophical exercise or whatever but a matter of actual existential importance.

The obvious thing to do about this deep-down pain is to try very hard to ignore it, because at least in my life, I find that it comes on mostly in undistracted and quiet moments. And, look, if you can distract yourself from pain, great. I don’t want to minimize the importance of pleasurable distraction, of what’s sometimes called “mere entertainment,” be it Flappy Bird or CSI. But we have plenty of it. To quote David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King,

Surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called “information society” is just about information.

It’s also, of course, about distraction. For some readers, books can still be read purely for distraction, but for contemporary children and teenagers, there are far more effective distractions. My four-year-old son does not ask for a book to relieve himself of the terror way down deep in the darkness. He asks for the iPad, so he can play Angry Birds.

For contemporary kids, who can find sufficient distractions in gaming and video, I think books must do something more than just divert attention in order to be successful. And this brings us to morality.

fanfare green Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World   The Zena Sutherland LectureOnce upon a time, I gave a speech at the ALA Annual convention in which I said that I believed in the old-fashioned idea that books should be moral. And afterwards, the publisher of Booklist, Bill Ott, a man I’ve always looked up to immensely, took me aside and said, “That was a good speech except for all that bullshit about morality.” Fair enough. It was, in retrospect, bullshit. Books are not in the business of imparting lessons. What I was trying to say, I think, was that books should be honest without being hopeless. It’s easy enough to write a hopeful story, one that proclaims that If you can dream it, you can do it, or that God has a plan, or that Everything happens for a reason. Be grateful for every day. I parodied these ideas a little in The Fault in Our Stars by having one of the characters’ houses plastered with such pithy sentiments: Without pain, how would we know joy, and so on. In the book they call them Encouragements.

But these Encouragements are unconvincing, at least to me. Sure, you can write a novel about how if you can dream it you can do it, but in actual nonfictional fact there are a bunch of things that you can dream that you cannot do. For instance, I recently had a dream in which I was a banana that had escaped the Earth’s orbit and was slowly floating farther and farther away from my home planet.

What we need, and what good stories provide, are better Encouragements. Encouragements that aren’t bullshit. This is not a question of books being moral; it’s a question of books being hopeful without being dishonest. This is what good YA novels do for teens that Angry Birds cannot: they offer light that can burn bright even in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. I know this is an old-fashioned way of imagining the making of art, but I believe it. I believe that fiction can help, that made-up stories can matter by helping us to feel unalone, by connecting us to others, and by giving shape to the world as we find it — a world that is broken and unjust and horrifying and not without hope.

So that is why I think books matter. Now I want to turn to genre and talk a bit about why I think it matters. Whenever a properly good writer — Michael Chabon, say, or Joyce Carol Oates — writes a mystery or a romance or whatever, reviewers sometimes say that the author is upending the conventions of the genre. I don’t really find that to be the case — I think Chabon just wrote a really good mystery in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Most conventions of the genre turn out to be really useful, I think, which is how they got to be conventions of the genre. At Booklist we used to joke about that old cliché that novels only have two plots: a stranger comes to town, and our hero goes on a journey. But that doesn’t mean we only have two stories; we have countless stories, each of them building upon and relying upon others. We often imagine the best stories as having arisen sui generis from the mind of a great genius. But, really, every good story is dependent upon millions that came before it, that incalculably vast network of influences that stand behind every novel.

In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell made a stir when he argued that Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarism of Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings wasn’t really plagiarism, because, and I’m quoting here, “This is teen-literature. It’s genre fiction. These are novels based on novels based on novels, in which every convention of character and plot has been trotted out a thousand times before.” Now, this was a ridiculous defense of plagiarism, and Gladwell later apologized, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. My novels are novels based on novels based on novels. Almost all novels are. But they change in the retelling. Novels change to stay relevant, so that their hope might be less flimsy, so that they remain honest and relevant. It’s a slow process — millions of writers and readers working together across generations to make stories that can be a light in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. Writing and reading are not about a singular mind emerging from isolation to create unprecedented art. It’s a massive collaboration spanning millennia.

Let me explain how this works, at least for me. In my first novel, Looking for Alaska — in which, by the way, a stranger comes to town and our hero goes on a journey — I wanted to write a boarding-school novel — you know, like A Separate Peace or The War of Jenkins’ Ear or The Catcher in the Rye — but I was also interested in boarding-school fantasies like Harry Potter and A Great and Terrible Beauty. I liked the pranks, and the freaks at war with the cool kids. I liked the sneaking around campus in the middle of the night and breaking the rules and the omnipresence of one’s peers.

But there were conventions of the genre that were really problematic for me, like the one in which the boy — for the sake of simplicity, let’s call him Holden — flutters around, essentializing women, and the only person who ever gets hurt by his total failure to see women as actual humans is Holden himself, when in fact this habit boys have of imagining the girls they admire as flawless goddesses whose problems cannot possibly be as real or as important as Boy Problems…that habit turns out to be bad for women as well as the Holdens of the world. So, okay. You try to show that in your boarding-school novel. This is not upending a genre. It’s trying to make an honest, human story that isn’t bullshit. But lots of people are making YA boarding-school novels at the same time, and in a way we’re all working together. I think E. Lockhart, for instance, gave the genre its best book in recent years with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but she did it by writing a proper boarding-school novel that also happens to be a proper feminist novel and a proper postmodern novel and a proper romance.

Basically, I believe that genre is good. I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about being a genre writer. Like, you know how they always have those crazy concept cars at auto shows that look futuristic and exciting and entirely new, but then it turns out that this futuristic car seats 1.5 people and gets four miles to the gallon, and by the time the car actually gets to market…it looks like a car. That’s genre to me. It’s the thing that works. So, yeah, cars look different than they did fifty years ago. They’re safer and more efficient and cheaper to build. But we didn’t actually get there through radical change. We got there through incremental change, by drivers and engineers and designers all working together.

I was thinking a lot about genre while writing my most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a cancer book, but one that is very aware of cancer books. There’s a lot I like about cancer books, but here’s what bothers me: there is often a sick person who suffers nobly and bravely and in the process of dying so beautifully teaches the healthy people around him or her important lessons about how to be grateful for every day, or in the case of American literature’s most famous cancer novel, the lesson that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is ridiculous, of course: love means constantly having to say you’re sorry.

Anyway, I’m troubled by this convention because it imagines that sick people exist and suffer so that healthy people can learn lessons. This essentializes the lives of the sick, just as teenage boys essentialize girls when they imagine them as larger-than-life, when in fact the meaning of any life is a complicated and messy business that is about more than learning lessons. I wanted to write a cancer story that was about the sick people, not the lessons the healthy learn from them, about people who are disabled and human, who experience love and sex and longing and hurt and everything that any human does. I didn’t invent this idea, though; it’s the plot of many love stories. A stranger comes to town, and love blossoms, but an obstacle appears. Sometimes the obstacle is a basilisk. Sometimes it’s a jealous ex-husband. Sometimes it’s one’s own body.

And this brings me at last to worry. For genre to work best, I think, you must have basilisk stories and jealous ex-husband stories and cancer stories. Genre is not about individual geniuses; it’s a conversation that benefits from many voices.

The great strength of our children’s and YA genres is that we’re broad — we publish thousands of books a year, whereas Hollywood makes a few dozen movies aimed at kids and teens. Coe Booth, M. T. Anderson, Stephenie Meyer, Sarah Dessen, and Ellen Hopkins share the shelf. We’ve got poetry and sci-fi and romance and so-called literary fiction; we’ve got standalones and series and graphic novels and every subgenre imaginable. This year’s Printz winners included a romance, a futuristic fantasy, a violent fairy tale, a boarding-school novel, and a dystopian thriller. Nothing against the Pulitzer Prize, but it rarely offers such diversity. But I think there’s mounting evidence that our breadth is at risk. Consider the recent study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison saying that of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just ninety-three were about black people. That’s better than Hollywood is doing, but not that much better. Okay, so here’s my worry: we’ll see the breadth and diversity of our literature — at least the stuff that gets read — continue to decline, because there will be less institutional support for non-blockbuster books. There will be fewer review journals, fewer school libraries (and those with ever-shrinking book-buying budgets), and far fewer bookstores.

Imagine a world — and I don’t think this is hard to do — where almost all physical books bought offline are purchased at big box stores like Walmart and Costco and Target, which carry a couple of hundred titles a year. Anything that gets published that doesn’t end up in one of those stores doesn’t really get published, at least not in the sense that we understand the word now, because it won’t be widely available: it will only be available at the vast, flat e-marketplaces of Amazon and iTunes, where readers will choose from among a vast and undifferentiated sea of texts. Ultimately publishers will only be able to “add value” to the two hundred or so books a year that are sold at Walmart and Costco and Target, which will kind of mean that Walmart and Costco and Target will choose — or at least have a lot of say in — what gets published. Every now and again, a book will rise up out of the sea of the Kindle store and become so 50 Shades of Grey–popular that it will transition the author from online distribution to physical distribution, but most books that find readers will be franchises. In short, publishing will split: traditional publishing ends up looking a bit like Hollywood, focusing all its resources on a few stories a year that might make a lot of money. And then everything else will live on Amazon.

Amazon’s position is that in the future everyone will be on a level playing field because all authors will have access to all readers and the publishing business will be entirely disintermediated and books will succeed or fail based on whether actual readers actually like them. But of course that’s not actually what happens, as we’re already seeing.

What actually happens is that the richest and most challenging fiction of any category, particularly if it won’t appeal to a mass readership, struggles to find an audience in a world without critics and institutional support. Toni Morrison’s Beloved became a huge bestseller forty years ago. It’s hard to imagine that happening today, barring Oprah’s endorsement or something, and harder still to imagine it happening in the future.

The problem of discovery is complicated by the terribleness of Amazon’s recommendation engine. It is terrible for bestsellers — right now, it implies that if you enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars you might also enjoy Gone Girl, which is just — I mean, that is not good readers’ advisory. And it’s also terrible for books that aren’t bestsellers. For instance, there is a great nonfiction adult book called Ballad of the Whiskey Robber about an alcoholic Transylvanian semi-professional hockey goalie who becomes a bank robber, and right now if you go to that book’s Amazon page, it will recommend that if you like that book, you might also like A. S. King’s wonderful YA novel Ask the Passengers. These two books have exactly two things in common: they both contain text, and about a year ago, I recommended them both in a vlogbrothers video.

So what will it mean to write YA in a future where your work might be recommended alongside nonfiction books about bank robbers or adult mysteries about a very, very bad marriage? Well, we’ll keep writing and sharing stories for children and teens, of course. And lots of people — including kids themselves but also adult supporters such as other authors and librarians and teachers — will continue to recommend them. The genre will go on. But YA was weaker and less broad before it got its own physical sections in libraries and bookstores, and I worry that we will find it difficult to grow stronger and broader in the future.

These days, my career is often held up as a model for how YA novels will get to the next generation of teen readers: authors will build communities online around their work, and those communities will read and share their books. We won’t need gatekeepers or institutions to help us share books; we have Twitter for that now. But there are some problems with this idea. For one thing, there’s a massive advantage to being white and male on the internet; you experience less harassment and many privileges. And there’s also a massive advantage to speaking English on the internet. Furthermore, many people who are good at writing novels are bad at Twitter. I realize this advantage has long been with us — Twain owed much of his success to his crazy hair and hilarious lectures — but it’s a strange and dangerous business to judge a novel by its author, and stranger and more dangerous still to judge a novel by its author’s tweets.

But most importantly, it just doesn’t work. My books didn’t become successful because I was famous on the internet; at least initially, I became famous on the internet because I’d written successful books. My first novel, Looking for Alaska, sold a couple of thousand copies — many of them to libraries — before it won the Printz, an award chosen by a committee of librarians. When my brother Hank and I began our video blog series in January 2007, the few hundred people who watched us and helped to found the nerdfighter community were almost entirely fans of my books — including many YA librarians. Without institutional support, without librarians and teachers and critics and the rest of the human infrastructure of YA literature, my books would not have an audience. And neither would my video blog.

All of us together are making up what YA means as we go along. We are all creating the genre, by choosing what we read and write and lift up, by pushing ourselves and one another to think more complexly about teenagers as readers and as characters so that we might welcome them in to the great old conversations. This is no small thing. We are not in the widgets business, my friends. We are in the story business, the business of bringing light to the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. And in that sense, at least, business is good, because that darkness ain’t going anywhere. Our need to turn scratches on a page into ideas that can live inside of our minds ain’t going anywhere. We’re not at risk of people losing interest in strangers coming to town or heroes going on journeys, and we will always need ways to escape the prison of consciousness and learn to imagine the Other complexly. And this is why, despite my ceaseless worry, I remain quite hopeful. We need to grow the breadth and diversity of YA literature. We need to get more books to more kids so that publishing doesn’t become a business driven entirely by blockbusters. And we need to preserve the roles — critics, librarians, professors, teachers — that contribute so much to the continual growth and change in our genre. None of this will be easy, of course, and it’s all intensely worrying.

But I also know that story will go on. That’s the great thing about genre, about novels based on novels based on novels. The stories go on. They find a way through budget cuts and new technologies, winding their way through the flawed vessels who write and review and share them, flowing past history and memory, a process that has been going on so long that our stories, and our readings of them, are shaped by ancient stories we will never know. Somehow, improbably, even long after they are forgotten, the stories endure. And through them, so do we.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Adapted from the author’s 2014 Zena Sutherland Lecture.

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The post Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World – The Zena Sutherland Lecture appeared first on The Horn Book.

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2. On Creativity and Culture: Yuyi Morales

To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we had the opportunity to talk with the award-winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales about why she became an author and illustrator, the role of children’s books in understanding and celebrating cultures and her new book, “Viva Frida.”

Click here to read this blog in Spanish.

What led you to become a children’s book author and illustrator?

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Photo Credit: Antonio Turok

Soon after I immigrated to the USA in 1994, I found myself with my newborn at the doorsteps of the public library. I had never before seen a place with the treasures I saw in there.  Picture books immediately became my passion.

I didn’t know how, but I knew I wanted to create books like those. I started a journey of learning how to write in English, how to create stories, and how paint and make illustrations – a journey I am still on every day of my life.

In what ways does your personal story and your cultural heritage influence the work that you do?

I was inspired to write my stories and share with my son, then a baby who immigrated with me from Mexico.  The only way of living I knew until then were the stories, the customs, the treasures of the land we came from.  Learning to live and thrive in the United States reflected in everything I did, including my writing and the art I was trying to learn to create.

My creations became the amalgam of these two worlds: my country of birth and my country of growth and work, my past and my present, the cultures that formed me, both Mexico and the United States.

What impact do you see children’s books having in the lives of children and their families, particularly first generation immigrant families?

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Photo Credit: Antonio Turok

I can tell you about my own experience as a first generation immigrant because children’s books made all the difference in my life.  It was through children’s books that my son and I created a bond – finding, reading, and delighting in books that I was barely able to understand and that were a great challenge for me to read to my son.  In reading to him, I began making sense of the English language and I was able find a purpose and path.  Through children’s books, I was also able to create a bond with my new country – the USA.

I believe there are many families who share my experience.  Books bring families and communities together. Any family can find a way to grow and strengthen bonds by sharing the experience of books with their children.

What motivated you to tell Frida’s story from her own point of view, and in so few words?

9781596436039One of the things that surprised me here in the USA was seeing how Frida was such a revered artist.  Back in Mexico I had seen very little of her and what I knew of her – her art – was very confusing and sometimes even scary to me. But over the years I became more and more curious about Frida.

I began to learn about her determination to create despite her physical and emotional hardships.  I began to connect with the tragedies in her life as well as her great willingness to live, to create, to play, to laugh.

She became to me a symbol of resistance, of growth, of creativity and of life endurance. I wanted to celebrate Frida by honoring her passion to create and to heal herself through art.  I wanted to celebrate that, like Frida, we all have what it takes to create.

Your use of both two- and three-dimensional art in the book is truly extraordinary. How did you settle on this style, and did it pose any unique challenges?

To me Frida represents creativity and daring to create things out of the ordinary. I wanted to make the book I dreamed of without being scared of whether I was capable of doing it. So I dreamed big!  I thought I could make a book that conveyed how Frida made her own life and identity a work of art.

The combination of two- and three-dimensional art grew from my desire to weave together everyday life and imagination.

Click here to sign upIf you work with children in need, sign up with First Book by October 21st and you’ll be eligible to receive a free set of 25 copies of “Viva Frida” for the kids in your class or program.  For other books and resources of interest, visit the First Book Marketplace.


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3. B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview

novak photo B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview On October 2, the Harvard Book Store hosted B. J. Novak (from TV’s The Office, Saving Mr. Banks, and many others; also a Harvard University grad, thank you very much) reading his new picture book — The Book with No Pictures — at the Brattle Theatre. He invited kids on to the stage for a rollicking reading of his hilarious book. At least I thought that was rollicking, until I saw him read again the next day in front of about two hundred first-through-third-graders at a nearby elementary school. Pure kid bliss, complete with Q&A at the end (Kid: “Did you write books when you were little?” BJN: “Yes! Spooky books for Halloween, stories about the beach when it was summertime…”) and an invitation to send him story ideas (um… Uncle Shelby, anyone?! If you don’t get that reference, read on). We spoke afterward about standup comedy, childhood rebellion, and metafiction.

(BTW, as @RogerReads asked: “Is @bjnovak ‘s THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES still technically a picture book? I hope it makes the Caldecott committee squirm.”)

novak bookwithnopix B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview EG: How involved were you in designing The Book with No Pictures?

BJN: I was extremely hands on — I think I drove everyone crazy.

EG: Who were the editor and designer on this project?

BJN: I worked with two designers: Lily Malcom at Penguin and Kate Harmer, an independent designer I’ve worked with before, with Hum Creative in Seattle. The editor was Lauri Hornik. My approach is always to ask a million people for advice.

talking B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview

B.J. Novak at the Brattle Theatre.

EG: Were kids involved in that part?

BJN: Not knowingly, not wittingly. I would observe kids as they were read to, not just by me. I would ask parents to read so I could watch what they would naturally do. My original draft of what we call the “mayhem spread,” with all those crazy syllables, was very intimidating for a parent to read, I found. I mean, kids loved it. I showed my original black-and-white version to a two-year-old, and he started cracking up as soon as he saw the page. It had a lot of Hs in it, a lot of silent letters — I wanted it to look complicated. And while kids were delighted, I thought a parent would give up. So I simplified a lot of those syllables. That was a combined design/editorial decision.

EG: Who reined this book in? Because for all of its wackiness, it is very controlled and subtle. It could have gone crazy…

 B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview

His head is made of blueberry pizza.

BJN: Yeah, controlled rebellion. That was my approach. I looked at the original copy I made — I bought an 8 ½ x 12 moleskin journal and printed out pages and paper-clipped them in, with the font the size that I pictured and typewriter font. I glue-sticked a cover onto the journal so that a little kid would think it was a real book, so I could get a real reaction. It took like fifteen minutes per book, so you can’t just give them away, but I would carry them around places. And when I looked at that original paper-clipped version recently, it is almost identical to the finished book. So when I first had the idea, the tone of it was part of the idea. It was something that’s very rebellious for a three-year-old but actually not that edgy. “I am a monkey who taught myself to read” is very unedgy. “BooBoo Butt” is about as borderline as we get. A kindergartner once asked if he could whisper something in my ear so the grownups couldn’t hear, and he whispered, “I liked when you said BooBoo Butt.” He thought it was extremely rebellious and transgressive that I had said that. Controlled rebellion is the key to enjoyment because it makes a kid feel safe. And I’ve noticed that since I was a kid, trying to make other kids laugh, which I did, that younger kids — and especially, I’ve found, younger girls — can be scared of a book that is too wild. And a way to combat that is to keep assuring a kid that this is silly. This is ridiculous, what’s going on here. So the book repeats many times, “This is so silly,” which is partly to make a kid feel safe. Nothing too crazy is going to happen.

EG: It’s not Sendak.

 B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview

The mayhem spread, mid badoongy-face.

BJN: Yeah, who I loved, but whose work can be a little scary — you don’t know where it’s going. So with this book I wanted kids to feel safe in this rebelliously experimental environment.

EG: Was “preposterous” in your original draft?

BJN: No, “preposterous” I added later because I had said “silly” and “ridiculous” too many times. I was working on the movie Saving Mr. Banks, which was about the making of Mary Poppins, and I was enamored of the way kids learned certain words aspirationally. And I thought it’d be nice to have one word in this book that kids don’t recognize, that sounds funny, and it would be nice if they went around saying “preposterous” because they knew it from the book. So that was the one word I added to give a little… aspirational vocabulary.

EG: The Horn Book’s winter company outing last year was to see Saving Mr. Banks.

BJN: Well, I definitely identified with P. L. Travers, because I had written this book that I had intended to cause nothing but easy joy, and here I was being pretty much a monster the way P. L. Travers was. “No, no, that color is all wrong. This font is ridiculous. You can’t have pictures in the book.” I said no picture of me on the flap jacket. I even asked, at one point, if we could take off the little penguin logo on the spine of the book.

EG: They said no?

BJN: Well, I actually changed my mind on that. I think the brand is so wonderful and inviting that I decided technically the jacket isn’t the book, the jacket is the cover. But I was really a monster in the P. L. Travers mold.

EG: Had you read Mary Poppins?

BJN: I hadn’t, but then I read it when we started making the movie. What I was struck by is that the book is so sweet and clever, that I can only imagine how stunned the Sherman brothers must’ve been to meet this sour, negative person. You’d expect it to be a breeze. It’s not like she wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

EG: Or Where the Wild Things Are. Were you a reader as a kid?

BJN: Yes. My very favorite was Matt Christopher who wrote sort of wish-fulfillment sports books. The Kid Who Only Hit Homers I loved. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen.

EG: Do you know the story about how librarians used to pencil in little diapers on the kid?

BJN: I think they had a point! Reading it again recently I thought, “This is insane.” But at the time I thought it was spooky and exciting. I loved Amelia Bedelia, Harriet the Spy. I was caught under my covers reading Harriet the Spy with a flashlight. My mom was very angry because I had promised I’d go to bed. Danny, the Champion of the World. Roald Dahl in general but especially that. And Shel Silverstein I really liked. As I write both for kids and adults, he’s someone who comes up, for me, as a role model. Even the way he maintained his aesthetic, so deliberately, with black and white and a certain font.

EG: Do you read those books differently now than when you were a kid?

BJN: Actually, I probably read them the same. I flip through the Silverstein poems, I never read them in order. My book for adults, One More Thing, is influenced by that, too, the different lengths and playfulness, the black-and-white cover.

EG: The slightly transgressive nature… or more than slightly.

BJN: The important thing for me about The Book with No Pictures, and Shel Silverstein embodied it well, and Dr. Seuss embodied it extremely well too, is that it does encourage kids who will inevitably be rebellious to think of books as their allies. I was very lucky to grow up thinking that every time I was sort of angry and ambitious and didn’t fit in and wanted to do something cooler, I thought of books as the place where you’d find that. As a teenager it would be Jack Kerouac and Bukowski. And as a little kid it might be Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss was never on the side of your parent or the authority. He seemed completely anti-authority. And even though he’s so rightly accoladed for his educational books now, when you’re a kid you think: this is the opposite of learning. You think: this is freedom. And that, to me, is an extremely important decision that gets made in a kid’s mind, whether books are the ally or the enemy when they are feeling certain feelings. And I think that what excites me about something like The Book with No Pictures is making kids feel words are on their side, not their parents’ side. Words are this incredible code that can make people do things that they want them to do.

EG: It’s really a performance, reading this book, in a way that some picture books are not. You really have to, as a grownup, embody all of it.

BJN: On the one hand you do, on the other hand you don’t. Performers really take to this book, and I’ve especially found it to be good as a dad book. Dads often want to be a little more wild and rowdy with sons, and a lot of picture books are very gentle, so this is a rowdy book. But I’ve also found people who are not performers, who are shy about picking it up, get wonderful reactions, too. A shy or more quiet parent saying these things, even in a flat, straightforward voice, can be especially funny to a kid, because they’re not the type of parent who would normally say, “My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named BooBoo Butt.”

EG: Is the experience different reading to groups rather than one on one?

BJN: Well, I love groups because of all the years I spent as a standup comedian. You just want an audience. It’s a universal truth that comedy’s better with an audience. When I was growing up watching Seinfeld with my family we would all laugh, and now when people tell me they watch The Office on their laptop or on Netflix it’s a little sad. I think that’s why there’s so much activity on Twitter and Facebook about TV shows because you want to be watching this with everybody.

EG: You’ve really thought about all this.

BJN: Yes.

EG: It seems like many projects you’re involved in have this sort of meta quality to them.

BJN: Yes! Nice observation. What else?

EG: Well, even Punk’d is kind of meta. The Office goes without saying. Saving Mr. Banks — a movie about a book about the making of a movie. It’s just that you’re really smart, right?

BJN: I think it’s taste. My friend Mindy Kaling, equally smart, has no patience for meta.

EG: Some of it is really poorly done.

BJN: There seems to be a really sort of clever-teenage-boy drive toward the meta. I loved Mr. Show because it was meta. I loved early Simpsons. And when I was a teenager I loved Borges for being meta. So, yes, that’s always been my taste. The Book with No Pictures — even that title is meta. It’s commenting on itself, its own existence as a funny idea. So I’m always drawn to that. The conceptual, the meta.

EG: Could you write an article for us on gender and meta?

BJN: Interesting. Well, it’s a very small sample set, but I’ve tended to find that equally smart, equally literate people of opposite genders — meta is a dividing line, often. That and Bob Dylan.

EG: You are not a typical celebrity author.

BJN: I think the crazy thing is that I’m a celebrity, not that I’m an author. I’m an author by nature. My father is an author. I went to Harvard and studied literature. I was an ambitious and successful television writer. And then I started doing stand-up and acting, and for years I think the quiet nudge from my friends was, “Are you sure about this acting thing? You’re so clearly meant to be a writer.” And so now I actually take it as a compliment when people are skeptical about celebrity books. I’m like, “Really? You think I’m a celebrity? Wow! No one ever thought I could do it.” No one ever doubted I could be an author growing up, they doubted that I could be a celebrity.

EG: Do you have both these introvert and extrovert sides to you?

BJN: I’m very much both, in the way that very many comedy performers are, famously. And really this is my  ideal career. Most of the time I love being alone, writing, in my own mind, no one bothering me, dreaming up things, like a teenage boy in his basement laboratory. Plotting about how the world is going to crazy with excitement about what he’s writing.

EG: Sounds like your next middle-grade novel.

BJN: And then I want to go out and show it to the world and see people’s faces. So I really feel that what my real goal is, and always has been, is to be a public author. There was an era in which Mark Twain was America’s author. Everyone knew he was a writer. Dickens, too, performed live. All these guys performed their writing live and were public personas as writers. And in Europe there’s still something of a public persona as a writer. But it’s not really the case in America. You’re an author or a celebrity.

EG: Although now with Twitter, John Green and people like that…

BJN: Yes! I think it’s changing somewhat. And I would like to be that. What John Green is for his audience and his genre, I would like to be for mine. Which is meta comedy, I suppose. I would like to be the representative of it. Someone who is a hero of mine that I also want to be like is Rod Serling. He presented his writing, looked like his writing, embodied his writing. He wasn’t an actor, he was a public writer. So that’s what I want to be.

EG: So, picture book is your niche? Or are you going to come out with a YA — what was that toilet zombie book the kid suggested during the Q&A?

BJN: My first book, the short story book, is very personal expression. And this book is an expression of what I want to write for kids. Yeah, I would like to write YA as well, and middle-grade…

EG: See, you know what the words “middle-grade” mean. That’s great.

BJN: Well, again, I’m not a celebrity. That’s our secret.

Liz (the school’s hip librarian; cameo appearance): HA!

EG: He knows “middle-grade.” He used it in conversation! Oh, Shel Silverstein… Liz sending you all the kids’ story ideas… it makes me think of Silverstein’s ABZ book.

BJN: Yes! I loved it as a kid.

EG: As a kid you read it?

BJN: My father gently introduced me to it with the explanation that this is a fake kids’ book. I got the joke, I loved it…

EG: “L is for lye…”

BJN: I remember: “Steal your parents’ money and mail it to Uncle Shelby.”

EG: So there weren’t any books that you weren’t allowed to read as a kid? Was everything up for grabs?

BJN: Everything was up for grabs, in fact probably more than for most kids because my father had a library at home of all the books he would do for research. He had written a book on marijuana use. There were books on heroine in our house. There were books on Iran-Contra. Books on all kinds of things. And he never stopped me from reading any of that. I think he was secretly quite happy. Again, if your rebellion comes… look, rebellion’s going to come, for every kid. And if it comes in the form of literature, you’re much better off than if it comes in opposition to it.

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4. Five questions for Julie Berry

JulieBerry 500pxTall 242x300 by Bruce Lucier Five questions for Julie Berry

Photo: Bruce Lucier

Julie Berry’s 2013 book All the Truth That’s In Me (Viking, 14 years and up) is a dark, claustrophobic — and beautiful — novel set seemingly out of time and narrated (in her own head) by a young woman whose tongue was cut out by a captor she escaped. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Roaring Brook, 11–14 years) could not be more different in tone or content. A Victorian-set, girls’-school, murder-mystery farce with seven distinct young-lady main characters (with names such as Dour Elinor, Stout Alice, and Smooth Kitty), the book is light as air (well, except for all that murder).

1. This book is so different from All the Truth That’s In Me. Where did it come from?

JB: In some sense, from a lifelong love of Agatha Christie mysteries and a deep infatuation with farcical plays and films such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Arsenic and Old Lace. The real catalyst, though, was an audio lecture by Professor John Sutherland, who contrasted the regiments of soldiers in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with the large number of unmarried young ladies in the novel. He called them a “regiment of maidens.” It was a light-bulb moment for me. I knew I needed to write about a regiment of innocent maidens who were, perhaps, not so innocent. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place was the almost immediate result.

2. How did you keep all the voices straight? Did the girls “talk” to you as you were writing?

JB: It is a handful of voices to keep track of, to be sure, but they were very distinct in my mind. I grew up in a family of seven children so, to borrow from the title of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s beautiful book, I was well accustomed to “counting by sevens.” My five sisters and one brother and I are very different people, with lots of practice living, teasing, eating, working, squabbling, and angling for the last molasses cookie, all in one space. It felt natural to me to let my seven pupils talk to one another, and to me. Their conversations took more playful, naughty, and intriguing directions than I could have planned for them if I were in charge.

berry scandalous sisterhood of prickwillow place Five questions for Julie Berry3. Which came first: the characters’ names or their descriptors? (My favorite is “Disgraceful Mary Jane.”)

JB: Me too! She is always stealing the scene. She was tons of fun to write.

Both the girls’ names and their monikers appeared hand in hand from the very first page of writing. That same day when I had my “regiment of maidens” light-bulb moment, I sat down and wrote the first scene. When Disgraceful Mary Jane first appeared, she was just that: Disgraceful Mary Jane. It was not a device I had ever used before, but it felt right, so I ran with it. As I explored it more, it felt Victorian to me, and fitting for my little farce, since farces are all about exaggerating, and thus challenging, stereotypes.

4. Did you do a lot of research about the time period?

JB: Oh, for a Tardis! What I could do with a time machine.

I did a great deal of research into the Victorian era, and this was one of the chief pleasures of the project. Fortunately, the Victorian era is extremely well documented. We have access to volumes upon volumes of books, journals, magazines, fiction, art, photographs, and moving pictures of this vibrant window of history. The project offered me a delicious cocktail of inquiries: fashion, cosmetics, manners, teacakes, candies, and girls’ schools, alongside poison, murder, police procedure, burial, and grave-robbing. Fun stuff.

Part of my research included a visit to Ely, Cambridgeshire, the setting of the novel. Incidentally, Prickwillow Road is a real place. I did not make it up. I spent a week in the UK, both in Ely, touring the small city and its rambling country roads, and in visits to several marvelous London museums to learn more about travel, banking, schooling, dress, food, crime, and home life during the late nineteenth century. It was great fun, and I can’t wait to go back and do it again.

5. Is a strawberry social a real thing?

JB: Indeed it is. In Jane Austen’s Emma, most of the characters gather on a sunny day to enjoy an outdoor strawberry-picking party and picnic. Closer to home, in my childhood haunts in upstate New York, a church strawberry social is a regular fixture of small-town life. Mounds of biscuits, great tubs of berries, troughs of whipped cream, and plenty of neighborly gossip — I highly recommend them.

From the October 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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5. Garth Nix on Clariel

nix clariel Garth Nix on ClarielIn the September/October 2014 Horn Book Magazine, reviewer Katie Bircher asked Garth Nix about Clariel, the long-awaited prequel to his high fantasy trilogy Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. Read the review here.

Katie Bircher: Do you think the walker chooses the path, or the path the walker? Which is it in Clariel’s case?

Garth Nix: This is one of those questions that doesn’t have an answer, or the answer changes all the time. In Clariel’s case, she chooses her own path, but there are definitely forces at work that both influence her choice and limit her selection of paths. Neither predestination nor entirely free will, but a mixture of both…

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Jason Segel, we love you, man

segel nightmares Jason Segel, we love you, manOn Friday Cindy and I went to see actor Jason Segel discuss his new middle-grade novel (cowritten with Kirsten Miller) Nightmares! The sold-out event was sponsored by the Harvard Book Store and the nonprofit writing organization 826 Boston (program coordinator Karen Sama led the conversation with Segel). Cindy loves How I Met Your Mother (even the ending!), I love Freaks & Geeks, and we both love The Muppets. Segel is also the guy you may have seen naked in the very funny Saving Sarah Marshall (which he also wrote), and he was one of the bromantic leads in I Love You, Man.

segel kids Jason Segel, we love you, man

Photo: Cynthia K. Ritter

Nightmares! is his first children’s book, and he kicked off the event by asking everyone in the audience under age fourteen to raise their hands (there were a few). Later on he asked for kid volunteers to come up and read aloud from the book, instead of reading himself, which could have backfired but was awesome. “I’m like the Pied Piper,” Segel quipped as a girl named Tessa, two boys named Sam, and a cutie little one named Lucas came up onstage to read. Afterward he told them, appreciatively, “You’re so much braver than I would have been at that age.”

segel Jason Segel, we love you, man

Photo: Cynthia K. Ritter

The audience participation didn’t stop there. He asked people to share their nightmares; his as a kid involved a witch nibbling his toes (“because I have delectable toes”) and being chased around Dracula’s castle (“it was more Rococo than I would have thought”) which happened so frequently that he discovered a secret room where he could hang out and play video games. (Side note, and there were a lot of those: as a kid, Segel wore a Superman cape under his clothes “just in case” and carried the MYST game book around with him. Also? He’s been 6’4” since age 12 and the other kids used to jump on his back and chant “Ride the oaf!”)

And then there was the singing. During the Q&A a woman nervously asked: “What’s your favorite show tune?” “It’s gotta be the confrontation from Les Miz. Do you know it?” “Um, yes (giggle giggle).” “Ok, do you want to do it? Which part are you going to sing?” She chose Javert, and Jason sang his heart out as Jean Valjean (here’s how he did it with Neil Patrick Harris). The evening ended on an amazing note for fans with Segel at the piano doing the Dracula song (“‘Die… die… die…’ ‘I cahhn’t'”).

segel critter Jason Segel, we love you, man

Cindy in the signing line

If this guy isn’t the nicest, most genuine-seeming Everydude in Hollywood, well, he must be a truly great actor (slash-master-manipulator), because he seemed really thrilled (“This is so much fun! Seeing those kids read up there, that’s the coolest thing ever”) and humbled to be there — even after a two-hour-plus signing line that Cindy waited on. Any “grown man” (he was in his late twenties at the time) who “burst into tears” upon seeing Kermit the Frog “in person” and who also cried while sitting in “kind of a rough pub in London” after finishing Winnie-the-Pooh is a-ok in my book. I’ll even forgive his publicist for ignoring my Five Questions request *cough cough.* Jason Segel, we love you, man.

Quotable dude

Nightmares! was originally a screenplay I wrote at age 21, after Freaks & Geeks ended and I was unemployed and thinking, “I’m going to have to live with my parents forever.”

When I was a kid, movies like Labyrinth and The Goonies and Roald Dahl’s books made me believe I might find buried treasure. There’s still magic out there. You can catch a kid at the right age to say: don’t forget there’s magic…Kids’ imaginations are so much better than what you can put onscreen.

My mentor Judd Apatow said to me, “You’re kind of a weird dude.” Also [after Segel played him the Dracula song] he said: “Don’t ever play that for anyone else ever again.”

I’m willing to sit through the fear of doing something badly to get to passable. I tell myself: “I’m bad at this… right now”…The only thing I’m afraid of is being unprepared.

Coraline really scared me, and I’m a grown man!

Audience question: Who was your favorite actor growing up? Answer: Kermit. When you’re a kid, Kermit is Tom Hanks, Jimmy Stewart.

I wrote The Muppets when I was in London. With all those double-decker buses and furry hats, it’s a very Muppet-y place…The Muppets are Monty Python to a kid.

I did a Muppets screening at the White House and got to meet Barack Obama. He shook my hand and said, “I love you, man,” and I said, “I love you too, Mr. President!” It gets worse. Then I said, “You should come to the screening. There will be free snacks,” and he said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m missing. Not being able to get free snacks.”

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7. Pete the Cat in the Big Easy

I just spent a week in New Orleans, a place I’ve wanted to visit since first reading Interview with the Vampire as a teen. The week held plenty of sights and experiences I’d been highly anticipating (a ghost tour, the Garden District, blues and jazz clubs, and — of course — beignets) and some I hadn’t expected (Mardi Gras beads hanging in many trees; the informative but emotionally intense National WWII Museum, which Cindy also visited last year; lots and lots and lots of rain).

litwin pete the cat i love my white shoes Pete the Cat in the Big EasyOne pleasant surprise during my trip to NOLA was an encounter with Pete the Cat, star of the series of picture books and early readers written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. During a leisurely stroll in the French Quarter, I spotted Pete’s familiar face in the window of Gallery Rinard. My parents are huge Pete fans (and I’m an unrepentant cat lady), so I dragged my boyfriend into the gallery to take a look at Dean’s original art.

While the gallery offered lots of original canvases, prints, and even puppets of the cartoony Pete his picture-book readers will know and love, many of Dean’s paintings are geared towards adults in content and humor (such as this “Most Interesting Man in the World” Dos Equis commercial parody). A series of re-creations of well-known photos and paintings — including The Mona Lisa, Klimt’s The Kiss, and Munch’s The Scream — features cameos by Pete.

And much of Dean’s work portrays his feline friend in a softer, more realistic manner, revealing the artist’s deep affection for the real-life Pete. After quite a bit of deliberation, I eventually chose one of these as a souvenir for my parents:

 Pete the Cat in the Big Easy

“Pete the Cat: Weather or Not” by James Dean

Like Cindy encountering a Dahl book at the WWII Museum, I didn’t expect for my kidlit life to come out to play while I was on vacation — but I’m glad it did!

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8. Rockwell and Engelbreit

Over the weekend my family visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. It was suggested as a things-to-do-with-kids-in-the-Berkshires activity because of Rockwell’s “accessibility” as an artist. (Be that as it may, the little boys were much more interested in climbing on the outdoor sculptures — allowed! — and running around on the lawn.) Amidst all the small-town folksy scenes and the smiling cheerleaders was Rockwell’s arresting The Problem We All Live With. Large and horizontal, among the mostly vertical and more contained (and restrained) pieces, the image commands attention and reminds viewers that Rockwell, though undoubtedly adept at capturing cozy Americana, had something more to say.

rockwell The problem we all live with Rockwell and Engelbreit

I then read in the news about the flap caused by illustrator Mary Engelbreit, best known for her sweet, cherubic children and bucolic scenes — from her website: “Mary Engelbreit is known throughout the world for her distinctive illustration style, imbued with spirited wit and nostalgic warmth.” The St. Louis native was inspired by events in Ferguson, Missouri. Who knew she had it in her? You go, Mary.

engelbreit ferguson Rockwell and Engelbreit

It’s an apt time to re-post last summer’s thoughtful, moving piece by Christopher Myers — “Young Dreamers” — about cultural diversity in children’s media, the state of race in America, and childhood cut short.

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9. Five questions for Judith Viorst

judith viorst by milton viorst Five questions for Judith Viorst

Photo: Milton Viorst

Judith Viorst, creator of Alexander (he of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), writes about another little boy who might just wish he could curl back up in bed. The young protagonist of And Two Boys Booed (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years) is excited to perform in the school talent show… until it’s almost his turn. With equal parts realism, reassurance, gentle humor, and inventive wordplay, Viorst sets up a familiar stage-fright scenario and gives her main character an ingenious way to get himself out of it.

1. What was your inspiration for this multilayered book?

JV: My inspiration was my granddaughter Olivia, daughter of Alexander, who came over to my house one afternoon after a talent show at her summer day camp. When I asked how her portion of the talent show had gone, she replied, “Two boys booed.” To my shame I didn’t immediately offer her a hug and sympathy. Instead, my first response was, “Great book title!” I then had to figure out a story to go with the title.

2. Who thought of those terrific flaps?

viorst and two boys booed Five questions for Judith ViorstJV: I believe it was Sophie Blackall, the amazing illustrator of the book, who came up with the brilliant idea of doing flaps. But her brilliance is evident in all kinds of other ways as well: in the richly detailed double-page spread of our narrator’s many, many varied activities during the course of which he practiced singing his song; in the delicious specificity of every child in the story; and in the depiction of our narrator shrinking deeper and deeper into his shirt as his stage fright mounts.

3. Those two boys: were they jealous? Mean-spirited? Or just acting like boys?

JV: The two boys were being rather unkind, booing a kid because he was too scared to do what he was supposed to do, and then continuing to boo even after he did it. I wish they had been more sympathetic, and I hope their teacher had a little talk with them after the talent show.

4. Would your Alexander be onstage with the narrator? Or in the peanut gallery with the boys? (Maybe it would depend on the day!)

JV: Alexander could be fierce, frustrated, grumpy, but I don’t think he’d be either scared to perform or unkind to those who were.

5. Do you get stage fright?

JV: I had terrible stage fright all the way through college. I remember being told I had to stand in front of one of my history classes and read a paper I had written and offering to write a second paper if I could just please hand them both in and not read them aloud. I now give talks to large audiences without the slightest flicker of stage fright, but don’t ask me how that happened.

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. Bryan Collier’s 2014 CSK Illustrator Award Acceptance

knockknockjacket 232x300 Bryan Colliers 2014 CSK Illustrator Award AcceptanceI was inspired to create this book by Daniel Beaty’s wonderful monologue “Knock Knock.” His emotional delivery and moving text of a boy’s struggle to navigate his way toward manhood — not completely alone, but without the presence of his father — set the tone for this rollercoaster-like ride that is this boy’s life.

The art for the book was created in watercolor and collage on 400-pound watercolor paper and begins with a beautiful young boy tucked in bed, pretending to be asleep, anticipating the entrance of his father, who goes knock knock on his door. The boy then jumps into his papa’s arms, saying, “Good morning, Papa!” And Papa says, “I love you.” If you pay attention to the details, you’ll see marching elephants in the wallpaper around the boy’s room. They march over a bookshelf full of books, past construction trucks, sneakers, and a basketball, and under a rainbow and a window that lets the morning sun in. The boy and his papa play “Knock Knock” every morning, but one day the father’s knock doesn’t come. And morning after morning it still never comes and the rainbow falls. The boy’s mother is there to comfort, protect, and raise her son as she gets him ready for school and the world.

In the boy’s world you’ll notice that the sky is not as blue as it could be and the buildings all around are leaning and decaying, symbolizing that the boy’s world is crumbling around him, falling apart. The boy sits in his room, next to a calendar marked in red Xs for every day his father has been gone. He reasons that “maybe [Papa] comes when I’m not home?” So he decides to write him a letter. The boy then folds this letter into a paper airplane and tosses it out the window into a not-so-blue sky. And wearing his father’s hat, he hops aboard the paper plane and soars above the city, over the crumbling buildings. “Papa, come home, ’cause there are things I don’t know…how to dribble a ball, how to shave.” The boy sails close to rooftops, where you’ll notice faces on nearly every roof. His situation is not an isolated event, and he is not alone.

This is a universal story of loss and how one creates a beautiful life in spite of that loss. “Papa, come home, ’cause I want to be just like you, but I’m forgetting who you are.” As the face of his father fades away, the elephant motif in the art marches on as the paper plane flies on back through the bedroom window and lands on the boy’s bed. The boy stands framed by the doorway with construction trucks, a bookshelf full of books, and a basketball, with the elephants marching around his room.

WHO COULD LEAVE THIS BOY?

HE’S A PRINCE!

The bigger questions the book asks are: Who could leave you? and Who in the world could have the nerve to leave me? But, there’s joy in the morning, so let’s keep moving.

Finally, a letter of explanation and apology comes from the boy’s father. He imparts life lessons and wisdom to his son that will help the boy as he grows into his manhood. “Shave in one direction…to avoid irritation. Dribble the page with the brilliance of your ballpoint pen…KNOCK KNOCK to open new doors to your dreams…and you have a bright, beautiful future.”

The boy takes heed of his father’s words and grows to become a strong man, an architect and builder of community. He now has a beautiful wife and family of his own as they all march like those elephants of past days under a now-brilliant blue sky, with colorful balloons of music and joy. His family celebrates him with a surprise party.

“KNOCK KNOCK for me, for as long as you become your best, the best of me still lives in you.” The family presents the now grown-up boy with his father’s hat as a gift. And lastly, we see the father and son embrace, as all the letters written over the years fall around them from above.

But if you look closer, you’ll see that the father is just a hologram.

“KNOCK KNOCK.”

“Who’s there?”

“You are.”

Bryan Collier’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award acceptance speech for Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me was delivered at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 29, 2014. Read a profile of Bryan written by his editor Alvina Ling. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. I Pledge Allegiance

Today’s guest blog post is by Libby Martinez, co-author of the new children’s book “I Pledge Allegiance,” on teaching kids to be proud of the place they were born while being a proud American.

Libby’s book is available at deeply discounted prices on the First Book Marketplace to educators and programs serving children in need.

MoraMartinez-7502“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America….” Every time I say those twelve simple words, I smile because of all the unspoken things they represent—abstract concepts like community, safety, freedom and the American Dream. But how do you explain these concepts to a child who is five or six years old? How do you explain what it means to be an American in a concrete and real sense?

IPledgeAllegianceMy mother and I felt that the answer to these questions was through story—in this case, the story of our aunt who came to the United States during the Mexican Revolution of 1910.  By putting a name and face to the Pledge of Allegiance and by talking about words and phrases like “indivisible” and “liberty and justice for all” in simple and kid-friendly terms, we hope that children will understand more fully this special promise we make as Americans.

We hope they will also understand that they can be proud of the place they were born (even if that place is not the United States) and still proud to be an American at the same time. One of the wonders of picture books is that they allow for the creation of a rich, visual narrative to accompany sometimes complicated and complex topics.

As July 4th approaches and flags are raised across our nation, we are called to ponder what individually and collectively we can all do to continue to “lift [our] lamp beside the golden door“—our enduring legacy as Americans.

If you work with kids in need, sign up with First Book by June 27 and you’ll be eligible to receive a free classroom set (25 copies) of “I Pledge Allegiance” for your students.

Click here to sign up*All educators at Title I or Title I eligible schools, and program leaders serving 70% or more of children in need are eligible to sign up. The recipient of the  classroom set will be notified the week of June 30th.

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15. Angela Johnson on All Different Now

johnson all different now Angela Johnson on All Different NowOn this day in 1865 — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued — abolition was finally announced in Texas, the last stronghold of slavery. In the May/June 2014 Horn Book Magazine, reviewer Robin Smith asked author Angela Johnson about the closing words and image of All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom. Read the starred review here.

Robin L. Smith: The last spread shows the family packing up and leaving, an image I loved. The text simply says, “all different now.” Who made the decision that this family would leave when the text gives no hint of it?

Angela Johnson: The heart of All Different Now is truly the essence of change. Change might seem to come slowly but at the same time appear to come out of nowhere, swiftly. With that said, though, I played no part in the decision to show the family packing to leave at the end of the book. But I have always believed the measure of a good working text is that the artist can go beyond and interpret the emotions of a manuscript. E. B. [Lewis] has done this wonderfully.

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. First Book’s Summer Book List: High School

Summer_ReadingIn the last week of our series of great summer reads, we’re bringing you our favorite titles for high schoolers to dive into as the days become ever warmer.

Be sure to check out our summer book lists from past weeks for great reads for kids of all ages!

Sign up to receive more great book lists, tip sheets and summer reading facts from First Book!

If you work with kids in need, you can find these titles on the First Book Marketplace by clicking on the pictures next to the publisher descriptions of each book.

mares war“Mare’s War” by Tanita S. Davis

Meet Mare, a grandmother with flair and a fascinating past.

Octavia and Tali are dreading the road trip their parents are forcing them to take with their grandmother over the summer. After all, Mare isn’t your typical grandmother. She drives a red sports car, wears stiletto shoes, flippy wigs, and push-up bras, and insists that she’s too young to be called Grandma. But somewhere on the road, Octavia and Tali discover there’s more to Mare than what you see. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less-than-perfect life in the deep South and lied about her age to join the African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

Told in alternating chapters, half of which follow Mare through her experiences as a WAC member and half of which follow Mare and her granddaughters on the road in the present day, this novel introduces a larger-than-life character who will stay with readers long after they finish reading.

sammy_julianna“Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood” by By: Benjamin Alire Saenz
It is 1969, America is at war, “Hollywood” is a dirt-poor Chicano barrio in small-town America, and Sammy and Juliana face a world of racism, war in Vietnam, and barrio violence. Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is a Young Adult Library Services Association Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Young Adults.

 

absolutely_true_diary_part_time_indian“Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

maze_runner“Maze Runner” by James Dashner

The first book in the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series–The Maze Runner is a modern classic, perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade–a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every thirty days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up–the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

tall_story“Tall Story” by Candy Gourlay

Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long-lost half-brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London where he belongs.

Then Andi’s biggest wish comes true and she’s minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he’ll turn out to be tall and just as crazy as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he’s tall all right. Eight feet tall, in fact–plagued by condition called Gigantism and troubled by secrets that he believes led to his phenomenal growth.

In a novel packed with quirkiness and humor, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.

 

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17. First Book’s Summer Book List: Grades 5-6

Summer_ReadingOur favorite picks for summer reading continue this week with a list of the best titles to keep kids in fifth and sixth grade reading during sunny summer days (and cloudy ones, too!)

Sign up to receive more great book lists, tip sheets and summer fun from First Book!

If you work with kids in need, you can find these titles on the First Book Marketplace by clicking on the pictures next to the publisher descriptions of each book.

For Grades 5 to 6

confetti_girlConfetti Girl by Diana Lopez

Apolonia “Lina” Flores is a sock enthusiast, a volleyball player, a science lover, and a girl who’s just looking for answers. Even though her house is crammed full of books (her dad’s a bibliophile), she’s having trouble figuring out some very big questions, like why her dad seems to care about books more than her, why her best friend’s divorced mom is obsessed with making cascarones (hollowed eggshells filled with colorful confetti), and, most of all, why her mom died last year. Like colors in cascarones, Lina’s life is a rainbow of people, interests, and unexpected changes.

In her first novel for young readers, Diana López creates a clever and honest story about a young Latina girl navigating growing pains in her South Texan city.

turtle_paradiseTurtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

In Jennifer L. Holm’s New York Times bestselling, Newbery Honor winning middle grade historical fiction novel, life isn’t like the movies. But then again, 11-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She’s smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it’s 1935 and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle’s mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn’t like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida to live with relatives she’s never met. Florida’s like nothing Turtle’s ever seen before though. It’s hot and strange, full of rag tag boy cousins, family secrets, scams, and even buried pirate treasure! Before she knows what’s happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she’s spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways. Filled with adventure, humor and heart, Turtle in Paradise is an instant classic both boys and girls with love.

one_crazy_summerOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

one_only_ivanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home–and his own art–through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

lawn_boy_paulsenLawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

One day I was 12 years old and broke. Then Grandma gave me Grandpa’s old riding lawnmower. I set out to mow some lawns. More people wanted me to mow their lawns. And more and more… One client was Arnold the stockbroker, who offered to teach me about “the beauty of capitalism. Supply and Demand. Diversify labor. Distribute the wealth.” “Wealth?” I said. “It’s groovy, man,” said Arnold.

If I’d known what was coming, I might have climbed on my mower and putted all the way home to hide in my room. But the lawn business grew and grew. So did my profits, which Arnold invested in many things. And one of them was Joey Pow the prizefighter. That’s when my 12th summer got really interesting.

Looking for a previous week’s book list?  Click below:
Grades K-2
Grades 3-4

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18. Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Maya Angelou. Here are some books by which to help remember the great author and poet.

adoff I am the Darker Brother Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Adoff, Arnold and Andrews, Benny, Editors I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by African Americans
208 pp. Simon 1997. ISBN 0-689-81241-8 PE ISBN 0-689-80869-0
YA (New ed., 1968, Macmillan). Introductory comments by poet Nikki Giovanni and literary critic Rudine Sims Bishop reinforce the continued timeliness of this volume, updated and reissued after nearly thirty years. Expanded with pieces from twenty-one additional poets including Maya Angelou and poet laureate Rita Dove, the collection constitutes a part of the song of America, which, as Bishop states, ‘requires a multi-voiced chorus.’ Ind.

angelou amazing peace Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Angelou, Maya Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
40 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-84150-7 LE ISBN 978-0-375-94327-0
Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Angelou’s poem (first read at the 2005 White House tree-lighting ceremony) is about the promise of peace brought on by the Christmas season, urging listeners to “look beyond complexion and see community.” The luminous oil, acrylic, and fabric illustrations on canvas, depicting a snow-covered town, add concreteness to Angelou’s words. A CD of Angelou reading the poem is included.

angelou my painted house Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Angelou, Maya My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me
40 pp. C. Potter 1994. ISBN 0-517-59667-9
Gr. K-3 Photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke. Thandi, an eight-year-old Ndebele girl of South Africa, tells about her family, the fine art of house painting carried out mainly by the women in the village, and the contrast between village and city life. Courtney-Clarke’s abundant, brightly colored photographs accompany Angelou’s refreshingly warm introduction to the art, culture, and social life of the Ndebele people.

clinton I too sing Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Clinton, Catherine, Editor I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry
128 pp. Houghton 1998. ISBN 0-395-89599-5
YA Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. This chronological collection includes work by such poets as Phillis Wheatley, W. E. B. Du Bois, Arna Bontemps, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, along with twenty others. The verses, introduced with biographical information, reflect the African-American struggle for equality from the early 1800s to the present. The textured illustrations, done in muted tones, capture the drama and strength of each poem.

cox maya angelou Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Cox, Vicki Maya Angelou: Poet
122 pp. Chelsea 2006. LE ISBN 0-7910-9224-0
YA Black Americans of Achievement, Legacy Edition series. (New ed., 1994.) This biography details Angelou’s rise from adversity to international recognition. The book goes beyond the typical personal information to provide some social history relevant to the subject’s time. Captioned photographs and boxed inserts enhance the conversational text, most of which has been completely revised. Reading list, timeline, websites. Ind.

racism in I know why Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Johnson, Claudia, Editor Racism in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
150 pp. Greenhaven 2008. LE ISBN 978-0-7377-3901-5
YA Social Issues in Literature series. This volume presents brief, thoughtful essay reprints (primarily written by literary critics and academics) arranged into three sections that explore the author’s life, identify relevant social issues, and discuss current cultural applications. Although the pieces are sometimes awkwardly truncated, they usually present ideas that go well beyond superficial critique, inviting readers to consider fiction as a vehicle for analyzing American identity. Reading list, timeline, Bib., ind.

blount african american poetry Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Rampersad, Arnold and Blount, Marcellus, Editors African American Poetry: Poetry for Young People
48 pp. Sterling 2013. ISBN 978-1-4027-1689-8
Gr. 4-6 Illustrated by Karen Barbour. This representative poetry anthology of African American literary masters spans the sixteenth through twentieth centuries and includes renowned poets such as Phillis Wheatley, Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Nikki Giovanni; brief contextual notes accompany each poem. The selections, along with the watercolor, ink, and collage illustrations, reflect not only the black experience but also the evolution of free expression. Ind.

graves maya Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Wilson, Edwin Graves, Editor Maya Angelou
48 pp. Sterling 2007. ISBN 978-1-4027-2023-9
Gr. 4-6 Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue. Poetry for Young People series. After a four-page introduction about Angelou’s life and work, twenty-five of her poems are presented, each with a few explanatory sentences preceding them. Some selections are heavy, resonating with the penetrating philosophical stance from which Angelou views the world; others show a lighter side of the world-renowned wordsmith. Dark abstract paintings create mood and atmosphere. Ind.

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19. Books in Every Language for Every Child

Today’s guest blog post is from Dr. Mandy Stewart, an assistant professor of bilingual education at Texas Woman’s University. Follow her on Twitter at @DrMandyStewart.

nathan and neftaliHow many books have you read in your lifetime?  How many picture books did an adult read aloud to you while growing up?

Most of us can’t even begin to count the innumerable books we have been exposed to since birth.   Each book — its story, its illustrations, its author, and its language — sends strong messages to children. 

But what messages do children receive?  Are they learning every day at school that their language, the one they speak to those they love most, is not worthy of being in books?  Are they learning that people like them don’t belong in printed stories? Unfortunately, those are the messages some children receive on a daily basis at school.

Culturally and linguistically diverse books are not as accessible in our public libraries and Citlalibookstores as more mainstream books.  It takes countless hours (and countless dollars) to find books in other languages and get them in the classroom.  Every year I look for books in Spanish that are at various reading levels, that are engaging and that mirror student’s experiences.  And it is exponentially more costly to find the same books in other languages from even more cultural perspectives.

The good news is this does not have to be the case. Today there are many children’s, adolescent, and young adult authors writing from diverse cultural and linguistic perspectives and many publishers bringing these stories to life.  We now have quality age-appropriate literature available in many languages.

Through their Stories for All Project, First Book is a pioneer in ensuring that all children  have access to culturally and linguistically diverse books. They have an excellent collection of literature that represents diverse families. They also have many easy readers, picture books, and chapter books available in Spanish and other languages.  I am grateful that I am able to purchase many of these at a very low price for my son’s Spanish/English bilingual 1st grade class.

We must keep demanding quality literature in more languages, written and illustrated by more diverse people.  Surely we want all children to say: I am learning to read in my own language.  My language and culture are important enough to be represented in the books in my classroom.  My life story is worthy of being written.  My family, my language, my culture, and my life experiences are valuable. I am important.

We cannot stop until that is a reality for EVERY child and youth in our schools, in our neighborhoods, and in our society.

Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart, Ph. D. is an Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education at Texas Woman’s University.  Her son is in Mrs. Schirico’s 1st grade bilingual class at Elkins Elementary in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District in Fort Worth, TX.  His class has received about 100 books from First Book in English and Spanish to read at school with each other and at home with their parents.

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20. E. Lockhart on We Were Liars

e lockhart E. Lockhart on We Were LiarsIn the May/June 2014 Horn Book Magazine, our editors asked author E. Lockhart about writing the shocking ending of We Were Liars. Read the starred review here.

Horn Book editors: Did you write the end of the book first or last?

E. Lockhart: I knew the ending when I wrote the beginning, and I wrote the book out of order. I used the Scrivener software, which allowed me to very easily rearrange chunks of manuscript. Liars has a five-act structure, but the pieces of the story that went into each act moved around. There are a lot of flashbacks, and the placement of those changed. There are also interstitials, for lack of a better word — segments in which I tell the story of my protagonist and her old-money family through famous fairy tales. Author John Green read the book in manuscript and wrote me a fascinating e-mail that caused me to slice up the ending seconds before the ARC went to print. Thanks, John.

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Five questions for Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall author photo Credit Barbara Sullivan 226x300 Five questions for Sophie Blackall

photo: Barbara Sullivan

Sophie Blackall’s many children’s book illustration credits include Annie Barrows’s Ivy + Bean chapter books (Chronicle, 6–9 years), Matthew Olshan’s The Mighty LaLouche (Schwartz & Wade/Random, 5–7 years), and the 2011 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Honor–winning Pecan Pie Baby written by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam, 3–6 years; watch their award acceptance here). A book for adults, Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found (Workman), features illustrations inspired by such personal ads as: “Saw you sailing up Jay Street around 4pm on the most glorious golden bike. I think I’m in love.” If any of those “Missed Connection” couples end up connecting, Blackall’s newest picture book, The Baby Tree (Penguin/Paulsen, 3–6 years), might come in handy. Her loose, fanciful illustrations lend humor to a young boy’s interpretations of grown-up dodges to the question: “Where do babies come from?

1. When the narrator receives “the news” from his parents that he’s going to be a big brother, he has lots of questions, “but the only one that comes out is: Are there any more cocopops?” Were you consciously trying to take the edge off the subject matter with humor, or were you hoping to appeal directly to your audience’s love of sugar cereals?

SB: As a child in 1977, when our parents calmly told us they were getting divorced, my brother’s first question was famously, “Can we have afternoon tea now?” Everyone knows you need to get the urgent matters of cocopops and cookies out of the way before you can focus on the more profound ones of life and death and birth and love.

2. The answers the boy receives are standard-grown-up evasions… which turn out to be partially true! (All except for the stork.) Did you start this project knowing the story would take a circular path or did that happen organically?

SB: Some years ago I read an article in The New Yorker written by Jill Lepore, about sex-ed books for children. After examining funny but outdated books, progressive but heavy-handed books, and books with useful information but awful drawings, she concluded, or at least I fancied she concluded, “Sophie Blackall, will you please attempt a funny, sensible, beautiful book on this subject?” (What she actually wrote was: “it would be nice if it was a good book, even a beautiful book. If that book exists, I haven’t found it.”) So that was the beginning. Around the same time my children, giggling, relayed a Saturday Night Live skit in which Angelina Jolie and Madonna bicker over whose babies have come from the more exotic place, ending with one of them claiming her baby was plucked from a baby tree. The idea of the ludicrous, evasive answers each holding a grain of truth came as I began to write.

blackall baby tree Five questions for Sophie Blackall3. Did you do any research about what language to use with this age group? For example, in the very helpful appended “Answering the Question Where Do Babies Come From?” page, you suggest parents discuss intercourse as “a man and a woman lie close together,” rather than giving kids the full monty.

SB: I spoke to pediatricians and elementary teachers and other parents, and the one thing that seemed really clear is that children will absorb as much information as is appropriate for them at any given age; the rest will just spill over. A bit later they’re ready for a more sophisticated explanation and so on. This being a picture book, I wanted to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible, but also suggest ways to continue the conversation.

4. Did your own kids ask you about where babies come from? How did you handle it?

SB: My own kids must have asked the question every six months or so when they were little. They would just forget the bits which seemed too miraculous or ridiculous. Because conception really is miraculous and sex is rather ridiculous. Fantastic, but ridiculous. You mean, you put that in there? And take it out again? More than once? Why would anybody do that?

5. Sergio Ruzzier’s Bear and Bee (Hyperion, 3–6 years) and Brian Floca’s Locomotive (Atheneum/Jackson, 8–11 years) make cameo appearances on the boy’s bed — are those books telegraphing some kind of subliminal message?

SB: Definitely.

From the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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22. A Market-Driven Solution to the Need for Diverse Books

Nicola Yoon tweetLast week, hundreds of thousands of parents, educators and readers of all ages issued a call for more diversity in children’s literature, rallying under the banner of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The campaign spread quickly from Twitter to media outlets around the world as people shared powerful stories about the need for all children to see themselves in books.

Today First Book is answering the call with a market-driven solution addressing the lack of diversity in children’s literature.

Children from all walks of life need to see themselves – and others – in the stories they read. So First Book - a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books to kids in need – has reached out to U.S. and Canadian publishers and asked to see more books from new and underrepresented voices.

But we understand that publishers won’t print what they can’t sell, so First Book is putting our money where our mouth is and pledging to purchase 10,000 copies of every title we select.

Once published, the titles will be available to children everywhere.

The Lack of Diversity in Children's Books

In addition to helping bring these new voices to the children in our national network of schools and programs and to bookshelves everywhere, First Book will also fund, for the first time ever, affordable paperback editions of diverse titles that have previously only been publicly available in expensive hardcover formats.

Although we’re excited about the attention this critical issue has been receiving lately, our commitment isn’t new. Today’s announcement is part of First Book’s Stories for All Project, our ongoing efforts to increase the diversity in children’s books.

Join us in helping all children see themselves – and others – in the stories they read.

Click here to sign up for occasional email messages about The Stories for All Project and other First Book news.

Click here to download a PDF copy of the ‘Request for Proposals’ that First Book issued to publishers.

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23. Speed dating, CBC-Diversity-Committee-style

Tonight at Simmons College, the Horn Book, Children’s Books Boston, and the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature are cosponsoring “A Place at the Table: Speed Dating with Children’s Book Creators,” a Children’s Book Council Committee on Diversity evening with authors Susan Kuklin, Richard Michelson, Lesléa Newman, Francisco X. Stork, Nicole Tadgell, and Anne Sibley O’Brien. The tickets were gone pretty much instantly, but we’ll update you with the highlights. In the meantime: what would you ask these authors if you had their ear for five minutes?

cbb dating Speed dating, CBC Diversity Committee style

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24. First Book’s Summer Book List: K-2

Summer_ReadingLearning may not be on the top of children’s minds as the weather gets warmer and school lets out — but studies have shown that without reading those two to three months put kids behind the next year in school.

As we move into the long, hot days of summer, we’ll be sharing a new book list every week for a different age group featuring our in-house kid’s book expert Alison Morris’ picks for summer reading.  So stay tuned every week for a new list of five books to keep kid’s minds active this summer!

This week we’re sharing the best summer reading titles for kids in kindergarten to 2nd grade.

Sign up to receive more great book lists, tip sheets and summer fun from First Book today!

If you work with kids in need, you can find these titles on the First Book Marketplace by clicking on the pictures of each book.

For Kindergarten to 2nd Grade

Nate The Great“Nate the Great and the Boring Beach Bag” by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

It’s gone! Oliver’s boring blue beach bag is gone. Inside are his clothes, shoes, and a special seashell. All he has left is his beach ball.

This is a perfect case for Nate the Great and his trusty dog Sludge. But they don’t find many clues in the sand and surf. What trail should they follow next? Follow the leader to find out!

 

luke on the loose 1Luke on the Loose (Toon Books Level 2) by Harry Bliss

Luke looks on at the pigeons in Central Park, while Dad is lost in “boring Daddy talk,” and before you know it–Luke is on the Loose! He’s free as a bird, on a hilarious solo flight through New York City.

Harry Bliss, the renowned illustrator of many bestselling children’s books, finally goes on a solo flight on his own with a soaring story that will delight any young reader who has ever felt cooped up.

 

bnk and gollie 1Bink and Gollie by Katie DiCamillo

Meet Bink and Gollie, two precocious little girls–one tiny, one tall, and both utterly irrepressible. Setting out from their super-deluxe tree house and powered by plenty of peanut butter (for Bink) and pancakes (for Gollie), they share three comical adventures involving painfully bright socks, an impromptu trek to the Andes, and a most unlikely marvelous companion. No matter where their roller skates take them, at the end of the day they will always be the very best of friends. Full of quick-witted repartee, this brainchild of Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and award-winning author Alison McGhee is a hilarious ode to exuberance and camaraderie, imagination and adventure, brought to life through the delightfully kinetic images of Tony Fucile.

bugs_insects 1Bugs are Insects (Let’s-Read-And-Find Out Science Level 1) by Anne Rockwell

Is a spider an insect? Is a ladybug a bug? Lean how to tell what is an insect and what isn’t, and discover the fascinating world of the tiny creatures who live in your own backyard.

 

market_day_ehlertMarket Day by Lois Ehlert

Wake up! It’s market day and everyone’s going to the town square. But this is no ordinary market; it’s a feast of folk art from around the world. Whether you’re looking for fruits, vegetables, or just an afternoon of fun, this is a shopping trip you don’t want to miss!

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25. First Book’s Summer Book List: Grades 3-4

Summer_ReadingWe’re bringing you a second week of First Book recommended summer reads!  This week you’ll find the best books for kids in third and fourth grade.

Sign up to receive more great book lists, tip sheets and summer fun from First Book today!

If you work with kids in need, you can find these titles on the First Book Marketplace by clicking on the pictures next to the publisher descriptions of each book.

For Grades 3 to 4

babymouse“Babymouse #3: Beach Babe” by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm

Grab your sunglasses! Schools out and Babymouse is headed to the beach for a week of sun, sand, surfing, snorkeling, and sharks! Thats right, folks . . . sharks! Looks like Babymouses summer fun isnt shaping up quite the way she expected! Will Babymouse survive her summer vacation? Will she be the surfing star she dreams of being . . . or is she sharkbait?!

gloria_rising_cameron“Gloria Rising” by Ann Cameron

Gloria is thrilled when she goes to the store to buy an onion and meets Dr. Grace Street, an astronaut. It’s there that Dr. Street tells Gloria to have confidence in herself and that the big things aren’t always as big as they seem. But Gloria doesn’t really understand Dr. Street’s advice. Right now her problem seems gigantic. It’s the beginning of fourth grade and Gloria can’t do anything to please her teacher Mrs. Yardley. When Gloria writes a report about meeting Dr. Street, Mrs. Yardley doesn’t believe her. Gloria knows she’s telling the truth. How can she prove it?

ramos_zooms_rescue“Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue (Zapato Power Book 3)” by Jacqueline Jules

Things are not going well at Starwood Elementary! A squirrel is running through the halls. A tree fell on the gym. The principal is acting weird! Can Freddie save the day with his Zapato Power?

 

lemonade_war_davies“The Lemonade War” by Jacqueline Davies

As the final days of summer heat up, so does a sibling showdown over a high-stakes lemonade stand business. Jessie and Evan Treski compete to see who will make $100 first off of their respective lemonade stands. Full of surprisingly accessible and savvy marketing tips for running a stand (or making money at any business) and with clever mathematical visuals woven in, this sensitively characterized novel subtly explores how war can escalate beyond anyone’s intent.

alvin_ho_look_120“Alvin Ho: Allergic To Girls, School, And Other Scary Things” By Lenore Look

ALVIN HO IS an Asian American second grader who is afraid of everything-elevators, tunnels, girls, and, most of all, school. He’s so afraid of school that, while he’s there, he never, ever, says a word. But at home he’s a very loud superhero named Firecracker Man, a brother to Calvin and Anibelly, and a gentleman-in-training, so he can be just like his dad.

From the author of the ALA Notable Ruby Lu series comes a funny and touching chapter book-perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers- that introduces a truly unforgettable character.

Looking for previous week’s book lists?  Our K-2 Book List can be found here.

 

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