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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. Four Books to Celebrate El día de los niños

Today’s guest blog post is by Pat Mora, award-winning author and founder of El día le los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day.

All the books Pat recommends are available at deeply discounted prices on the First Book Marketplace to educators and programs serving children in need.

Pat MoraA lifetime of reading teaches us the pleasure and power of books, and that literature at all levels and from all cultures can not only teach us but humanize us.

Through the writings of others we can share the experiences of a Midwest family on a farm years ago, the fear of a Jewish family during the Holocaust or the internment terror of Japanese families here during World War II. As readers, we can share in the triumph of a black family or an Egyptian family that writes a play about its history or traditions. By reading writers from the diverse cultures that are part of our United States, children learn new songs, celebrations, folk tales and stories with a cultural context.

This is what El día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day is all about – implementing creative literacy strategies using diverse books and planning Día book fiestas for all children, from all cultures, in all languages. High-quality children’s books that reflect our rich plurality are able to reveal the many ways we are all alike as well as the ways we are all different.

Another major element in Día is honoring. Do we connect our literacy goals and efforts with really honoring each child and honoring home languages and cultures? Once honoring culture becomes a priority, creative and dedicated staff and families can propose and share ideas. Teachers and parents can create a sense of “bookjoy” with stories, games, literacy crafts and read-alouds. Coaching parents who did not have diverse literacy experiences growing up is of particular importance; whether a family is Spanish- speaking, English-speaking, Chinese-speaking, etc., we need to invest in respectfully and innovatively coaching multilingual families to join us in sharing a love of books.

Today, twenty-five percent of our children live in poverty – including one-third of black and Hispanic children. By 2018, children of color will be the majority in the U.S. What can we do to serve them and their families well? Celebrating Día and creatively championing the importance of literacy for children from all backgrounds is one way to start. Here’s to becoming a reading nation!

Here are 4 titles that can help you spread “bookjoy” and celebrate El día de los niños, El Día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day with children in your community! Sign up with First Book to access these and other great titles on the First Book Marketplace.

crazy_horses_visiongrandmas_chocolate_bilingualmeet_danitra_brown_2tomas_library_lady_mora

You can learn more about Pat Mora and El día de los niños, El Día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day on Pat’s website.

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20. Five questions for Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith Five questions for Cynthia Leitich SmithCynthia Leitich Smith’s urban fantasy series the Tantalize quartet did indeed tantalize readers with its vampire-themed eatery Sanguini’s: A Very Rare Restaurant (and, of course, the vampires and other supernatural beings involved therein). Her latest novel, Feral Curse (Candlewick, 13–16 years), is the second book in the Tantalize spinoff series Feral, which brings various species of werepeople (a preferred term for “shifters”) to the forefront with intrepid werecat protagonists Yoshi and Kayla. Despite the palpable suspense as her characters face bewildering magic, anti-were prejudice, and scheming yetis, Smith keeps the tone light and witty — a catnip-like combination for fans of smart supernatural romance.

1. The Tantalize and Feral series are populated with vampires, werepeople, angels, and yetis — a motley crew, to be sure. Any other supernatural creatures we should look out for?

CLS: My inner Whedonite relishes geek-team protagonists in a multi-creature-verse. Along the way, I’ve also unleashed hell hounds, dragons, ghosts, and sorcerers. Writing the series finale, I’m showcasing diva demons and my heroes’ metaphorical demons within. Not to mention the diabolical governor of Texas. But pffft! You probably saw that coming.

2. What kind of shifter would you be and why?

smith feral curse Five questions for Cynthia Leitich SmithCLS: I’ve been saying werecats, in light of their starring role in the Feral series. But as of late, I’ve become intrigued by wereorcas and Dolphins. I’ve lived a largely mid- to southwestern, landlocked life, so even though most of our world is covered by water, to me it’s as alien and fantastical as anything we’d find in fiction.

3. Will Quincie, Kieren, Zachary, and Miranda of the Tantalize books cross paths with Yoshi and Kayla?

CLS: Isn’t that what finales are for? Yes, they’ll all be back in Feral Pride (2015) along with heaven’s bureaucracy, Italian-Romanian-Texan fusion cuisine, and — of course — senior prom.

4. We can’t resist asking: what’s your favorite item on the menu you created for Sanguini’s? (And would you actually eat it?)

CLS: Chef Bradley’s signature dish: chilled baby squirrels, simmered in orange brandy, bathed in honey cream sauce. And I might, absent Brad’s secret ingredient. By the way, it’s inspired by a real-life historical Romanian recipe involving mice.

5. If you could live in the world of another YA fantasy series, which would it be?

CLS: The world of Ellen Jensen Abbott’s Watersmeet books, after Abisina saves it.

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

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21. Harriet at 50

harriet banner 76x550 Harriet at 50

She doesn’t look a day over eleven, but this year Harriet the Spy, first published in 1964, is turning 50. To celebrate, The Horn Book Magazine‘s May/June issue features thoughts, musings, riffs, and remembrances about the girl spy. Click on the tag Harriet at 50 to see what Jack Gantos, K. T. Horning, Megan McDonald, and more are saying about Harriet.

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22. I Spy: Harriet and I

harriet at 50 banner I Spy: Harriet and I

When I was a boy, I knew I was sneaky, but I didn’t think of myself as a “lowlife sneak” until my mother called me one with such disgust in her voice I actually did feel ashamed.

I was babysitting at the next-door neighbor’s house when my mother looked out her own bedroom window and spotted me, twenty feet away, in Mrs. Hanley’s bedroom. I was sitting on the edge of her bed and reading her Last Will and Testament, which I had found in a bottom dresser drawer. It was not interesting. But the thrill of being sneaky was addictive. I had done a lot of babysitting in the neighborhood. I read Mrs. Hogan’s diary and might have known she was leaving Mr. Hogan before he did. I knew where the smutty magazines were kept—and all their compatible products. I didn’t do anything with what I found — I just liked knowing I had discovered something that was supposed to be a secret.

I was carefully returning Mrs. Hanley’s will back into the dresser drawer when the doorbell rang. I ran to answer the door, and my mother was on the other side. Her first biting sentence was well chosen. “You are nothing but a lowlife sneak!” she hissed.

She had me there. But I was only a sneak of casual opportunity. Besides my babysitting sneakiness, I listened in on other people’s phone conversations, read mail that wasn’t mine, used binoculars to watch people from safe distances, and basically amused myself by ferreting out secrets that were none of my business. But I wasn’t an organized, literary sneak — that is, until I read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

I came to Harriet the Spy a little late in my reading life. Harriet was in sixth grade and I was in seventh when I first read it, and I wouldn’t have discovered the book at all except that my older sister, Betsy, had it. She didn’t care for the book, but she did say, “You’ll like it. You are a sneak, too.” My mother always confided in my sister, which only allowed my sister to loathe me more than what came naturally to her.

So I read the book. It was an odd read. Harriet creeped me out because I was as emotionally awkward as she was, and it repulsed me to see myself defined through the mirror of that text. Still, the book connected me to one particular activity: Harriet kept a notebook and wrote down secret observations she made while out walking on her “spy route.”

I had a journal (the boy name for a diary), and the idea of an organized “spy route” got under my skin. For the first time I began to draw maps of my neighborhood, and maps of my school, and maps of the inside of people’s homes I would visit or babysit for — and maps of my own home, too. I would annotate the maps and then write short bits about certain characters, objects, or events. I was a stamp collector and coin collector, and so discovering secrets about people and putting them into a book was right up my alley.

See, for example, the map of my home [printed in the May/June 2014 Horn Book Magazine].

Look inside the house and you will see “My Room” (with a picture of my journal). Across the hall was my sister’s room. I once read her diary and she caught me and hurt me badly, but for some reason I didn’t draw that moment. We had one bathroom and I was not allowed to lock the door because my mother caught me taking fake, waterless baths. The “Cool Air Chair” in the kitchen is pure genius — we had no air conditioning in South Florida, and the moment my parents would leave the house I would open the refrigerator, pull up a dining-room chair, get a book, and sit on the chair and stick my feet in the refrigerator and prop them up on a shelf. Now that was great reading! (My mother caught on to me one day because I had gotten too comfortable and kicked my sneakers off in the refrigerator and forgotten to take them out.) “Jack’s Stain” is where I threw up on the wall — it was spaghetti, and we never could get the faint, greasy orange stain off the wall. “Zippy the Roach” was one of my roach pals. I wrote his name on his back with nail polish and Scotch-taped him to a Hot Wheels car, and then made a leash out of thread and pulled him down the sidewalk. Once, when my sister was sleeping with her mouth open on the couch, I dropped him down her throat. She threatened to tell my mom unless I took off all my clothes and ran naked around the house. I opted for the naked punishment. But while I was running, she locked all the doors and windows, and I had to hide in the front bushes all day until my dad came home. “Wart Trouble” is when I ripped a wart off my foot with pliers and lost a lot of blood and it got infected and my foot swelled up to the size of a canned ham and then I broke out in boils. My mother told our family doctor that I was the “stupidest kid in the world.” I broke my little brother Pete’s arm in the backyard. Our cat fell out of a tree and did not land on its feet. An alligator ate our dog. I could go on and on…and if I had more room I’d write about the Pagoda family next door. My mother called them the “low supervision” family, and they taught me a lot of dangerous stunts.

Harriet the Spy started all this business, which resulted in maps and journals full of stories, which eventually turned into five volumes of Jack Henry stories. I’m forever grateful to Louise Fitzhugh for the inspiration. I love Harriet, and now when I read the book I get very upset when anyone is mean to her.

From the May/June 2014 Horn Book Magazine. Part of a special section commemorating the 50th anniversary of Harriet the Spy.

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23. Writer, Wrestler, Stutterer, Spy

harriet at 50 banner Writer, Wrestler, Stutterer, Spy

This is the story of how I came to read and know and love Harriet the Spy. It is also a harrowing account of my brush with danger, in which my ten-year-old self stared fear in the face.

When I was nine or so, I started having trouble with words. I grew up with four older sisters. My bridge-builder dad got home every night after dark, but Mom would hold dinner and we’d all eat together at our big round kitchen table with a lazy Susan in the middle. Dinnertime was our time to talk and tell about our day. But as the youngest kid, I could never seem to get a word in edgewise.

I began to stutter.

My mother was concerned about the stuttering. Every night, she would tap on a glass with a spoon and announce that it was my time to talk. Just me. Nobody else. The kitchen fell funeral-quiet. Forks stopped clattering and sisters stopped chattering. Of course, as soon as it was my turn, I became even more tongue-tied.

Then my mother had an idea. One day, she ventured into downtown Pittsburgh to the book department at Kaufmann’s department store, where she talked to a knowledgeable salesperson about a book that might speak to her ten-year-old daughter who stuttered.

She brought home a brand-new, shiny hardcover. Cleverly, it was not a book about a girl who stuttered, or the heroic story of how such a girl overcame stuttering. It was a book about writing. A book about wanting to be a writer. A book I would go on to read over and over. The book was Harriet the Spy, written and illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh.

And with it, my mother handed me a lined spiral notebook, in hopes that I’d write down all those things that I wasn’t able to say.

I read the book in gulps, lying on my stomach under the piano by the cozy heating vent. I read myself to sleep at night, just like Harriet. I still have my original hardback copy; it creaks with age. It smells of childhood and secrets and the underneaths of pianos and beds.

I soon began eating tomato sandwiches, pestering my mother for spy-approved dance classes, and conducting science experiments with my friend in the basement. I wore dress-up glasses with no lenses and adopted my own spy route. Pocket notebook in hand, that’s when I first began writing everything down. And spying.

Spying is bound to get you into trouble, as it did with Harriet. My own spying venture landed me in a world of trouble. I grew up in the suburbs, where, alas, nobody had a dumbwaiter for spying on rich folks like Mrs. Agatha K. Plumber. But dumbwaiter or not, I, too, wanted to spy on somebody interesting. Somebody other. Somebody famous.

I knew of only one famous person in our neighborhood: Bruno Sammartino. Bruno Sammartino was a famous wrestler. We watched him on Channel 11 on Saturday evenings, on the popular Studio Wrestling program hosted by Chilly Billy Cardille. Dad told us tales of Bruno’s historic match with Gorilla Monsoon.

Who wouldn’t want to spy on a famous wrestler? My plan was to sneak up to his house in an attempt to capture a glimpse of his exciting secret life. Then, à la Harriet, I would dutifully write down, for time and posterity, all the amazing things I uncovered.

I hopped on my red Schwinn Stingray Slik Chick bicycle and pedaled, fast and furious, over to Bruno’s street. WWHD? What Would Harriet Do? Ditch the bike at the corner, hidden in the bushes, of course. Then proceed to Bruno Sammartino’s house on foot. Glancing left and right, I made certain nobody was watching — no one even peering from behind a neighbor’s curtain. Crouching low to the ground, I crossed the yard and hid in the spiky bush outside his window.

I tried to quash the fear, the mixture of thrill and tomato sandwich rising up from my belly.

I took deep breaths to tame my heartbeat. Just as I was about to peek into the house, just as I was about to get a window into Famous-Studio-Wrestler-Bruno-Sammartino’s world, I froze.

Because what I hadn’t known was that Bruno Sammartino had a very large, very scary guard dog. A German shepherd with pointed black-tipped ears and the teeth of a wolf.

I remember the giant sound of a snarl.

I remember running.

I forgot I’d been told that dogs smell fear. I forgot to freeze in place. I forgot to think about what Harriet would do.

I ran. But not before I got bitten by Bruno Sammartino’s dog.

I ran all the way home. But as soon as I got to my front door, I realized I couldn’t tell my mother what really happened. If I did, I’d have to admit I’d been sneaking around and trespassing and spying on Bruno Sammartino.

So I told my older sisters. I showed them the gash on my arm where I’d been bitten. The bite was ugly and discolored, complete with what I was sure were tooth marks.

Their immediate reaction: “You have rabies!

I could not believe my ears. Rabies!? “What does that mean?” I wailed.

My sisters, who liked to tease me, soon had me convinced that I’d be rushed to the hospital, foaming at the mouth, where the doctor would strap me down and give me a shot with a needle the size of a baseball bat—right in my belly button.

Sisters.

I ran across the street to tell my best friend. Judy was to me as Sport was to Harriet. I showed her the dog bite. I asked her if she thought I had rabies.

“How do I know?” she shrugged. “But I know how we can find out.”

She rushed into another room and came back armed with Volume Q–R of the World Book Encyclopedia. She looked up “Rabies” and began reading aloud.

By this time, my arm was swollen at the site of the wound. It was turning black and blue. My arm felt numb and tingly, like when one of your limbs falls asleep.

As my friend read to me, we learned that there were three ways a person might detect if she has rabies.

1. At the site of the wound, it will begin to swell and turn black and blue.

I held up my arm as proof. “I have it!” I cried.

2. You will feel a sensation of numbness and tingling.

Bingo! My arm already felt as if it was asleep. I was going to have to get the big, giant needle in my belly button!

3. You will experience difficulty swallowing.

I did not have that symptom. Not until my friend read it to me from the encyclopedia. But the power of suggestion is strong, and I started to feel my throat closing up.

Judy dragged me by the shirtsleeve into her kitchen. There, she lined up glass after glass of water. I must have downed ten glasses of water! Twelve. Twenty. I’m certain I drank half of Lake Erie. We reasoned that as long as I could drink water—i.e., swallow—I did not have rabies.

In the end, my mother found out and took me to the doctor. Luckily, I was spared the baseball bat–sized needle; I did not have rabies after all. But they called the dog’s owner (yes, the famous Bruno Sammartino!) to find out when the dog had last had its shots.

I, and my Harriet-the-Spy top-secret spy mission, was discovered.

To this day, I still shrink down in my seat when we drive by the Sammartino house in our old neighborhood.

But that’s how my life as a writer began. As a spy. It was with that tiny Harriet-the-Spy notebook that I started to write. I stopped stuttering. I started to find my own voice.

Just as Ole Golly tells Harriet, if you’re going to be a writer, you’d better write everything down, and find your truth.

From the May/June 2014 Horn Book Magazine. Part of a special section commemorating the 50th anniversary of Harriet the Spy.

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24. 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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25. 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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