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Results 1 - 25 of 56
1. Read This Terrific Letter to Teachers from a District Superintendent in NY.




I’m sharing this letter that’s been going around the interwebs today. I wish for all teachers that they can experience this level of support.

Have a great school year!

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2. All Over the World: Selected Titles in Arabic, Indonesian, German, Korean, Greek, Spanish and More


For someone who has such difficulties with the English language, it’s something of a shock for me to realize how many of my books have been translated into different languages.

Yesterday I got two new ones in the mail: Jigsaw Jones in Arabic and Scary Tales in Indonesian. I always discover these translations in a haphazard way. They just come in the mail or, in many instances, never come at all. I gather that the Arabic translations of Jigsaw have existed for years. Who knew? Not me. They keep us writers in the dark; like mushrooms, we prefer damp, dank places.

Today I warmed up the trusty, rusty scanner to share a random few translations with you. I have others in French, Italian, Portuguese, and more, but nevermind that. Look here . . .


Arabic versions of The Case of the Race Against Time and The Case of the Golden Key.

Arabic versions of The Case of the Race Against Time and The Case of the Golden Key.


Here’s a sample page . . .

Cool, right? Here's Geetha, the class artist, showing Mila and Jigsaw an artist's rendering of the suspect.

Cool, right? Here’s Geetha, the class artist, showing Mila and Jigsaw an artist’s rendering of the suspect. Illustration by Jamie Smith.


In German, Jigsaw Jones was entirely re-illustrated and translated into “Puzzle Paul.”

Jigsaw Jones -- I mean, Puzzle Paul --searches for a valuable coin in the German translation of The Case of the Christmas Snowman.

Jigsaw Jones — I mean, Puzzle Paul –searches for a valuable coin in the German translation of The Case of the Christmas Snowman.


Here’s the back cover of one of my Scary Tales titles, newly translated into Indonesian.

Scan 1


They love baseball in Korea too:

Six Innings, the Korean translation.

Six Innings, the Korean translation.


Let’s see, how about an interior from the Spanish translation of Hiccups for Elephant?

Poor Mouse was trying to sleep. Illustration by Hans Wilhelm.

Poor Mouse was trying to sleep. Illustration by Hans Wilhelm.


I’ll stop here with this one, a favorite, the Greek translation of Bystander. Isn’t it amazing? Aren’t I lucky? Doesn’t it just blow your mind to think about it, writing books that are read all over the world?

Scan 6

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3. This Week’s Best Thing Ever: What Happens When Boys Are Asked to Slap a Girl

Filed under: “So Good I Had to Share.”

I cry easily, it’s a running joke in my house, I’ve got faulty eye ducts. Or something. This video did that for me. It’s all there, just watch it, trust me on this.

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4. My New Poster, My New Book



I purchased this poster online the other day from the Syracuse Cultural Workers website. I found them by tracking down the poster, as I’d seen the image before. SCW is a “Publisher of Peace and Justice Products” since 1982.

What can I say? The poster spoke to me. Now I’m waiting for it to arrive in the mail, and wishing that I could afford to frame it properly. (Oh discretionary funds, where have you gone?)

But: Isn’t it beautiful? I really do believe the world needs changing.

As a writer, I’ve taken that big leap with the book I’m currently finishing up (DEAD, BUT CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC, Macmillan, 2016), allowing political thought to enter the story. The real world, pressing in around us. I feel badly about the world these young people have inherited. Their work is cut out for them.

At the same time, I’m excited to feel my voice rise up in my throat, to hear it enter the discussion — maybe touch a few hearts and minds, a chance to say something meaningful about the real world.

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5. OMG, I’m Flying!



I thought this was funny, so I’m sharing. The truth is that I am not at all an optimist. If I was that turtle, I’d be looking at the situation much differently. I appreciate that some people are glass half-full types, and that they are fueled by that positivity, but it’s just not in me. I’m more in the Dark Irish tradition.

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6. Meanwhile, a Surprising Development in the World of Children’s Literature


I did not see this coming . . . but I’m happy for the guy.

Namaste, Waldo.



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7. New Slide for School Visits

Came across this today and thought it would make a good slide for my Middle School presentations. It basically expresses where I come out on all the tips and strategies for so-called “Bully Proofing” a school. It’s why these students don’t need to be preached to. They already know. They just need to be encouraged to listen, and supported when they do.

When my presentation is over — which is decidedly not about bully-proofing a school, it’s about writing books — I like to keep up a final slide while the students filter out. Most of my slides are just images, not words. But at the end, I think that last slide can have words. This one just might make the cut.

Thank you, Shel Silverstein!

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8. This Is Remarkably Accurate to My Writing Process

Thanks to Algonquin Books . . . and cartoonist Tom Gauld, who nails it.


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9. Cartoon for Teachers: My Dog Ate My Homework (or maybe not)

Hey, teachers, librarians, educators, and so on . . . you might enjoy this.

Carry on and have a great school year. You do such an important job, play such a vital role in the life and development of our children. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


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10. How to Tip the Chambermaid

Over the past five years, I’ve traveled a lot to visit schools in far-flung places: Oklahoma, California, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, etc. Mostly I stay in the NY/NJ area. But regardless, the basic fact remains: I’m not at home. I’m often alone, away from my family, unwrapping a plastic cup from inside a plastic wrapper. Sigh.

51LvdCXV+dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of life’s little puzzles is how to properly tip the chambermaid. For the longest time, I was never quite sure. So I faked it, without much rhyme or reason. Last year I met author Kate Klise in a hotel in Rye, NY. We share the same tour administrator, the awesome Kerri Kunkel McPhail, who organizes and coordinates our school visits in the greater Westchester area and beyond. It’s a rare treat to meet real, live authors, especially since we spend most of our working lives alone, tapping out words on a keyboard. I quickly learned Kate is a hugely talented author, dedicated and wise to the ways of the world, and a kind person, too. I liked her a lot.

Sitting in the lobby, we hit upon the topic of hotel living. I must have said something about tipping the chambermaid, because Kate gave me a suggestion that I’ve used in every hotel stay since.

I leave $5 each morning. In the past, I’d often waited for the end of my stay, but I realized that it might cause an unfair distribution. A different hotel maid might be working that day. Better to leave a smaller amount daily. Five seems like the right number to me, though I didn’t arrive at that figure scientifically. Here’s where Kate told me her approach. She said, “I always leave a little thank you note.”

2698349-1“You do?”

“Yes. It’s such a tough job — think about it. I feel like the least I can do is just write a short note of appreciation.”

Nice, right?

It immediately made sense to me. After all, that’s all anybody ever wants in this life. Some basic recognition, a note of appreciation. The tip is one thing, certainly, but taking one minute for a quick note brings it to a higher level.

Now every morning in a hotel before I’m rushing out for a day’s work, I quickly grab a piece of paper, write “THANK YOU!” or some variation, and leave a tip.

And every time, I feel good about leaving behind a little extra kindness.

And last week, for the first time, I got a response . . . with three exclamation marks.


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11. “Library” — An Animated Poem by Scroobius Pip


What is a Scroobius Pip? Well, from what I can gather, Scroobius is no relation to any of the “pips” that — or who? — hung out with Gladys Knight. Born David Meads, Scroobius is a poet and hip hop recording artist out of England. Essex, specifically. A word guy. According to The Independent: “Mellifluous magician, street scribe, punk-poet with pop sensibilities, Pip conjures truly modern verse of genuine incision.”

Looks like a lot of fun to hang out with, too.



For what it’s worth, I dug around the interwebs and unearthed this comment to Mr. Pip from a fan. Too cool:

“Hey Scroobius Pip, You saved a life.

I just wanted to let you know that one of the main reasons i am alive and am able to type this is because of you. After being on the verge of suicide multiple times in the past, i stumbled upon your song “Magicians Assistant”. Your words filled my mind and distorted my view on my situation.

I will keep this short, but you changed the way i thought, and in turn snapped me the hell out of my mindset. It was a long journey, but recently i can look in the mirror and say im happy with my life. I just wanted you to know that, and i thank you from the bottom of my heart.”


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12. I Am Becoming This Guy . . .



Ha, well, that’s a little bit of me, I guess. I’m 53 and I did, in fact, grow up in a different world, one that would be increasingly unrecognizable to young people today.

I loved my stick.

And sometimes when I look at my own kids, half-watching TV as they half-scan their cell phones, fully nowhere, I wonder about what might have been lost.

I spent last week observing in four different second-grade classrooms (I want to write about that another time, when I have time), talking to teachers, or I should say, listening to teachers, and they do generally have concerns about this age of technology and what it might mean for listening and conversational skills. But whenever I get on this topic, it’s hard not to feel like that cliche, “back in my day . . .”

Carry on!

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13. On the Passing of Norman Bridwell, Creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog



I was hired by Scholastic as a junior copywriter back in 1985 for the princely sum of $11,500. To get the initial interview, I mailed in my near-empty resume and a writing sample, which addressed the hot topic of the day, Bernie Goetz, New York’s “subway shooter.”

After the first set of interviews with Willie Ross and Carol Skolnick, I was given a bunch of children’s books and asked to write about them in two voices. First, for young children, and secondly, for teachers. Writing about Curious George to students, I wrote something like, “Yikes! That silly monkey is in trouble again!” For teachers, the idea was to take a different tone, such as, “In this classic tale, award-winning author H.A. Rey conveys the hilarious antics of Curious George, one of the most enduring and beloved characters in all of children’s literature.”

I got the job writing the SeeSaw Book Club.

One of the first assignments I was asked to perform was to write a brief promotional brochure on three authors: Ann McGovern, Johanna Hurwitz, and Norman Bridwell. I was given their phone numbers, told to call them, set up an interview.

“Call them?” I asked.


“On the phone?” I asked.


“Um, me?”

“Yes, you.”

I stared at that phone for a few minutes, mustered up my courage, and pushed the numbers.

That’s the first time I spoke with Norman Bridwell. He was then, as he would forever remain, a humble, soft-spoken, generous man. The first Clifford book, published in 1963, came out in two-color, in an inexpensive, horizontal format. It looked cheap, because it was. But in the early 80s somebody at Scholastic had the bright idea of repackaging those books in a mass market, 8″ x 8″ format — and in virbrant full color. The books took off and the Big Red Dog became one of the great success stories in children’s literature. In fact, one can accurately imagine the Scholastic corporation as a great sled with Clifford the Big Red Dog hauling it through the snow. That benign character helped propel a company to greatness.

Through it all, Norman remained the same kind, gentle man. No one ever spoke badly of him. No one, not ever.

He was always courteous, generous, kind. Even grateful, I think. Norman always seemed to consider himself lucky. And the truth is, he was fortunate. I don’t think anyone makes it really big in this business without a little luck shining down on you. Norman understood that.



He deserved his success, for he had created something pure and genuine that touched hearts, and through it all he remained faithful to the essential core of what those books were all about. The love between a child and her dog, with a bunch of jokes and gags thrown in to get you to that final hug.

One other quick story about Clifford. It was sometime later, let’s call it the early 1990s, and I was in Ed Monagle’s office, chatting away. At that time, I’d moved upstate, gone freelance, and was trying to survive as a writer. (True story: I’m still trying to survive as a writer.) Ed was a terrific guy, but also a numbers guy. A financial analyst, chief bean counter at Scholastic. Ed cared about the books, and believed in the central mission of the company, but he was also impressed by profit-and-loss statements. He admired Clifford’s sales numbers, and respected the size of Norman’s royalty checks.

So on this day, Ed gave me some friendly advice. He said, “Jimmy, this is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to invent a character that everyone loves. Look at Clifford the Big Red Dog. Do you have any idea how many of those books we sell? You could do that!” he continued. “I mean, think about Clifford. He’s a dog. He’s big. He’s red. How hard could it be?!

That’s the thing with magic, I guess. It never looks difficult.

Ed was right, of course, the idea was laughably simple. He was also completely wrong. Clifford the Big Red Dog was an exceptional idea, marvelous in its simplicity, executed to perfection.

Not so easy after all.

Norman Bridwell passed away this week. And I’m here to say, very quietly, that he was a really good guy. I’m sorry to see him go.


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14. “UNBROKEN”: Worst Movie Trailer Ever . . . Or World’s Greatest Two-Minute Film?

I have not read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Despite various conversations and recommendations, almost the entire sum of what I know about the movie comes from the following 2:40 trailer. Now I consider myself an expert. Because the trailer appears to tell me everything, and explains everything, to the point where I’m not sure I need to see the two-hour film anymore. Which is a bummer, because I was looking forward to it. This is a common enough complaint, by the way: trailers that tell far too much. The idea is to get me, the potential consumer, interested in seeing the movie — to entice a purchase — not to summarize the whole thing. This trailer strikes me as particularly egregious. Let’s take a look:

0:07: Our hero is in the air force during WW II, flying over the ocean, which he observes is very large. “Lotta ocean,” he says. He’s not a pilot and he’s not a gunner. He’s a . . . something else.

0:20: After a tense and dramatic aerial dogfight, in which our hero acts bravely — “Inbound! Three o’clock!” — the plane is shot down and crashes into the aforementioned large ocean. All these shots look exciting and well-filmed.

0:32: Brief pause. The story REWINDS and we hear our hero reflect upon his childhood, specifically the positive influence of his older brother. Nonetheless, our hero gets into fights and various sorts of mischief and draws the attention of local law enforcement. He’s on the road to nowhere. The kindly older brother solemnly advises our hero, “If you keep going the way you are going, you’ll end up in the street.”

0:35: Cut to our hero in a track meet, where he overcomes bullies (who cheat!) to come from behind to win a race. The brother’s sage advice plays over the footage: “You train, you fight harder than those other guys, and you win.”

0:43: We see him racing what “might be the fastest final lap in Olympic history”; his family is at home, listening to the race over the radio, ecstatic and proud, because this is also a movie about family values.

0:46: VOICE-OVER MESSAGE: “If you take it, you can make it.”

0:48:  Type on screen informs me that this is based on an “extraordinary” true story.

FLASH FORWARD: Back to the plane crash.

1:00: Awesomely cool underwater sequence of plane crash (somebody learned from “Cast Away” starring Tom Hanks). Our hero once again demonstrates bravery and determination.

1:05: Three soldiers on a life raft. It does not look good. There’s at least one shark in the water. The weather absolutely sucks and they eventually get philosophical about life. One suggests out loud that they are going to die. Our hero is like, nuh-huh, “We’re not dying.” He does not accept defeat.

1:13: Our hero, despite horrific experiences clinging to life on the (large) ocean, still keeps a good sense of humor. “I have some good news, and some bad news.”

1:20: They are taken prisoners of war as “enemies of Japan.” Just the worst luck ever. Our hero is beaten and tortured.  There is a sweet-faced guard who is particularly cruel to our hero. There might be a love-hate element here, just the way he focuses on our hero, but it’s hard to tell in only a few seconds.


1:32: Whoa, holy crap. He takes a terrific blow to the face right there — singled out because he is an Olympic athlete, and presumably an embodiment of all that is noble about American toughness and spirit. Our hero, we know by now, is not going to stay down.

1:50: After a series of increasingly grim shots of POW camp — with emotional music swelling in the background — our hero says out loud: “If I can take it, I can make it.” Ah-ha, that must be the theme of the movie! A great spirit surviving against all odds. I think I’ve got it. Plus, um, all the family love that makes it possible.

1:58: An insanely long line of prisoners awaits their turn to punch our hero in the face, as he urges them to punch him, presumably out of some sort of self-sacrificing nobility: “Come on, come on!” This, again, seems exceptionally brutal and painful to watch.


2:00: Oh, great. Torture for Christmas! Let’s bring the kids, honey.

2:04: Wait, what? Does Minnie Driver play his mother? No, I don’t think so, but it looked like her for a second. Too bad, I like Minnie Driver. Carry on!

2:07: We finally learn our hero’s name, Louie, and that he loves his parents. A lot. Assorted shots of his family back home, feeling his absence. Oh look, there might even be a romantic interest in this movie, he’s just smooched somebody.


unbroken-movie-poster-2-378x6002:15: Okay, got it. He does not give up, and neither should we.

2:20: Cruel guard has Louie hold a huge piece of lumber that looks like a beam, clearly an allusion to the crucifixion of Christ. The guard says, “If he drops it, shot him.”

2:25: Another montage of shots of Louie’s  life, demonstrations of his strength, love, and character. At this point, we’re all 100% positive that he won’t drop it. Not going to happen. Music gets louder now, a chorus kicks in, the other prisoners root for our hero, whose strength and determination clearly inspires them.

2:32: More shots of triumph and familial love. Amazingly, he presses the huge piece of lumber over his head with arms fully extended. Rocky Balboa!

2:37: Final shot is of light bursting through the clouds, which can be viewed as either religious or secular, depending.



Quibble: This quote seems fairly pedestrian for a big final quote. It’s not very poetic, profound, or memorable. But maybe it’s there because Louie was really just a simple kind of guy with basic American values. Not a poet, but everyman.



Too bad, I barely finished chewing one Milk Dud. Louis Zamperini seems like an amazing, resilient  person who lived an extraordinary life. Wow. I’m so glad I saw that trailer!





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15. “BYSTANDER” Made VOYA’s Suggested Summer Reading List

My editor said, “Here’s to many more lists recommending Bystander.”

My agent said, “Huzzah!”

And I chanted, “Show me the money, show me the money, show me . . .”

I mean, er, “Well, goodness, this is certainly an honor.”

Click here for the full, annotated list, featuring categories that range from “Core Curriculum” (Little Women, The Time Machine, The Phantom Tollbooth) to “Anti-Bullying/Tolerance” (Bystander) to Social Studies (Amelia Lost, Chains) to Sci-Fi (The Maze Runner) to ALL SORTS OF OTHER STUFF.

Seriously, why make me work so hard? Get off my back and jump, instead, on the above link.

One title that captured my interest . . . Scrawl, by Mark Shulman.

It came with this annotation: “Enter the mind of a bully by reading his journal.”

Cool cover, don’t you think? Color me curious. I’m going to buy it right now.

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16. My 804th Post!

Just noticed that my last post was #803.

Which means almost nothing, and I suppose that’s something.

Still: 803 posts, 49 months, 199,462 visits, 379,788 pageviews.

I have no idea if those numbers are good or bad or whatever.

I’ve enjoyed posting, and that’s why I still do it.

Thank you, sincerely, for stopping by.

My best, JP

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17. Author Insight Series: On the Value of Social Media

My legion of stalkers may remember that I recently participated in the (ongoing!) Author Insight Series over at the legendary Wastepaper Prose blog.

In brief, more than a dozen authors answer the same question — and somehow it’s not nearly as tedious as that sounds.

Here’s today’s question: “Social Media can be a distraction for writers, but what’s its biggest benefit?”

Confession: When I do these things, I try to be quick, honest, without a great deal of think. But for this question, I had to go back and revise my answer — because my first reply was too grumpy, even for me, and maybe a little pretentious there at the end, a trait I dislike in others and loathe in myself. I had to cut that last bit out.

Here’s my initial response, which I softened:

“I don’t see the great benefit. Write a great book and they will come. If not, all the marketing in the world won’t make a difference. But, okay, maybe I’m just being contrary. I think you have to be yourself, figure out what feels right for you, and act accordingly. If you are a networker, go for it. For me, writing is about sustained concentration, focused effort, and distraction is my siren and my enemy.”

I cleaned that up to:

“Social media does not help the actual writing, and I think that’s where our energy should go. That said, I think you have to be yourself, figure out what feels right for you, and act accordingly. If you are a networker, go for it.

Anyway, click here (and for more, click again here) to read all of the answers, from an interesting variety of authors, including: Lauren Morrill, Margo Lanagan, Dan Krokos, Martha Brockenbrough, Joy Peble, Greg Leitich Smith, Kirsten Hubbard, Cyn Balog, Dayna Lorentz, Katie McGarry, Sarah Tregay, Stacey Kramer & Valerie Thomas, Barry Lyga, Huntley Fitzpatrick, C.J. Redwine, Lissa Price, Janette Rallison, Sarah Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Kevin Emerson, Jessi Kirby, Jennifer Hubbard, Elizabeth Eulberg, Cara and Lynn Shultz.

It’s interesting how I can totally relate to some of these answers — Barry Lyga, I’m with you 100%; Dan Krokos, you too! — and how others seem like they come from a faraway (maybe better, certainly friendlier) planet. I wonder if it’s more of a gender divide than generational? We are all so different, and I think this series exposes and celebrates that (happy) fact.

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18. It’s Like Riding a Bike

I basically took the summer off from blogging, so feel a little wobbly about it, my palms sweating on the handlebars, not sure I remember how to do this. I don’t know what happened, exactly, just somehow tired of the “James Preller” corporate thing. Ha. Mostly, I wanted to concentrate on other writings, as I’ve been deep in a new series that I’m writing for Feiwel & Friends. It won’t launch until The Fabled Summer of ‘13, but I’ve nearly finished the third book in the series.

NOTE: I just reread this and had a chuckle about that “nearly finished” line. It only signifies that I’m an old pro when it comes to deadlines and editors: a manuscript that has not yet been handed in is always “nearly finished.” Any writer who says otherwise is a fool and a boob.

As for my new series, it feels like I’m that kid behind the snow fort, busily stacking up a supply of snowballs. Can’t wait to fire ‘em out there. More on that topic another time.

I’m usually a one-book-at-a-time guy, but I’m now reading three very different but equally remarkable books concurrently: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem, and Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor.

Normally I don’t do that to myself, the three-books-at-once bafflement, but the mixture of long novel, short nonfiction, and poetry seem to complement each other nicely.

I have a long and sordid relationship with poetry, and I’m especially happy to find this sweet collection by Keillor, based on poems featured on “The Writer’s Almanac.”

Writes Keillor in the introduction:

Oblivion is the writer’s greatest fear, and as with the fear of death, one finds evidence to support it. You fear that your work, that work of your lifetime, on which you labored so unspeakably hard and for which you stood on so many rocky shores and thought, My life has been wasted utterly — your work will have its brief shining moment, the band plays, some confetti is tossed, you are photographed with your family, drinks are served, people squeeze your hand and say that you seem to have lost weight, and then the work languishes in the bookstore and dies and is remaindered and finally entombed on a shelf — nobody ever looks at it again! Nobody! This happens often, actually. Life is intense and the printed page is so faint.

Keillor, as curator, has a point of view. He likes poems that tell a story, poems that are direct and clear, that don’t sound too “written.” Poems that communicate. He quotes Charles Bukowski, “There is nothing wrong with poetry that is entertaining and easy to understand. Genius could be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.”

And I put a big star in the margin when Keillor described his former English major self — a tender self I identified with, all those lessons that have taken me so long to unlearn, the bad habits of academic thought, “back when I was busy writing poems that were lacerating, opaque, complexly layered, unreadable.”

I have a file drawer jammed full with opaque and unreadable poems.

Now I see that as my writer’s quest, this effort to write clearly (and yet, even so, to write interestingly, to achieve moments of “lift off”), to overcome my own big stupid fumbling ego, those temptations to craft “look at me!” sentences that dazzle and bore readers. Perhaps that’s the great gift of writing for children of all ages. They don’t go for the bullshit. You can deliver any kind of content — really,  there’s nothing you can’t say in a children’s book — but please don’t overcook it.

One last phrase from Keillor, in praise of Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton and, for that matter, all Good Poems:

“They surprise us with clear pictures of the familiar.”

So that’s how I’ve vowed to begin my days, by reading a few poems each morning. To sit in the chair, coffee at hand, and try on the silence. My favorite from today was Charles Simic’s “Summer Morning.”

You might enjoy it, too.

As a final treat, here’s Tom Waits reading “The Laughing Heart,” a poem by Charles Bukowski. Full text below.

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

@Charles Bukowski

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19. A Quick Pass-Along for Teachers

Note: This cartoon was created by Aaron Bacall. You can enjoy more of his work by clicking on this link.

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20. OVERHEARD: “I guess science is my favorite class — I just wish it wasn’t so serious.”

Lisa had asked Maggie, grade 6, about her classes and received the above reply. Which at first struck me as a hilarious thing to say about science. It was like saying, I don’t know, math should funnier.

But then I realized she might be onto something. When we think of our science teachers, most of them are dry, dull, strict. This is science, this is important: this is serious business!

And in fairness, it often is, kids can get hurt, things might explode.

But then there are those rare science teachers — and scientists like Bill Nye, on television — who bring the joy of discovery into the process. Or should I say, keep the joy. The wonder.

They find the fun and the funny. Like a child with a new toy, figuring out what makes it go. Discovering the awesomeness of it all.

On Facebook I “liked” a site called, “I Love F***ing Science.” I’ve always regretted the F***ing in that title because it makes it harder for me to share with others, especially anyone who might read my books.

This post reflects a few things I’ve picked up from there, and other places.

Just trying to bring the fun, Maggie. I’m glad you like science.

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21. But Are They Free Range?

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22. Neil Gaiman: “Well-Meaning Adults Can Destroy a Child’s Love of Reading.”

“Well-meaning adults can easily destroy

a child’s love of reading.

Stop them reading what they enjoy

or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like

–- the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature –-

you’ll wind up with a generation

convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

– Neil Gaiman.

In a recent lecture, Neil Gaiman passionately warned of the danger of adults trying to dictate what children should or should not read. He believes children should decide for themselves, they should read what they love, and that the wrong kind of interference, no matter how well-intentioned, can snub out a child’s interest in reading forever.

From The Guardian:

[Gaiman] said: “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children.” Every now and again there was a fashion for saying that Enid Blyton or RL Stine was a bad author or that comics fostered illiteracy. “It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.”

This all reminded me of an interview I conducted with Thomas Newkirk, author of the important book, Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture, Newkirk spoke to these same issues — the imposition of adult tastes on students, particularly young boys.

Newkirk told me:

“I don’t think that means that we give up on asking students to read and write realistic genres — but we need to be open to other tastes as well. Fantasy allows us to escape, to be bigger and braver than we are, to suspend the limitations of time and space. I think we all need that freedom as well.”

He continued: “I think we all like some AKA crap. No one is high brow all the time. So it seems to me OK to ask kids to value what we value; but we also have to understand the appeal of what they like. It can’t be all one or the other. We have values and goals for their reading and writing; but we won’t win the cooperation of students if our attitude toward their culture is one of dismissal. One challenge is to look at books from the boy’s point of view. I don’t think gender is an absolute barrier here. What’s needed is an open mind, a sense of curiosity. What makes this boy tick? What are the themes, passions, competencies in his life that I can build on? To teach we all need to get outside ourselves, and into someone else’s skin. I know many female teachers who are wonderful at this. And it seems to me that when a boy senses a female teacher cares about what he cares about, that boy will be open to other things the teacher asks of him.”

Yes, some of this strikes a chord in me. I’m an ex-kid myself. But I’ve already encountered glimpses of this — and open hostility — for my new SCARY TALES series. I was at a book festival in Chappaqua when a daughter and her father (after he put down the phone) had a long argument at my table. She wanted one of my SCARY TALES books. She said, “I really, really want to read this book.” He did not think it was worth her while. She countered, he hunkered down. This went on for five minutes while I sat there like a rubber dummy, agog and aghast.

This doesn’t just happen with girls.

In another situation, I was asked not to mention my new series to anyone at an elementary school where I had been invited to speak. I could come, I was told, they loved my books — just don’t talk about, you know, the books that should not exist.

I declined to meet the contraints of the dis-invitation. I concluded a long letter to the librarian with this:

Oh well. In the end we both know that many elementary school children love scary stories — many librarians I’ve talked to can’t keep them on the shelves — but in this case that’s not what you, or nameless others, want them to read. Or to even be made aware the books exist. We also know about the power of a motivated reader. And how readers grow and develop over time. How one good book leads to another. But this is what boys have always been told, that what they like isn’t worthy, what they enjoy is somehow “wrong.” We deny their maleness. And the “we” is usually well-meaning women. Rather than building bridges to literacy, some people put up obstacles. And thus: there is a national crisis in boys reading scores. And until attitudes change, that crisis will continue.

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23. Quick Teacher Pass-Along

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24. Donalyn Miller’s “The Book Whisperer” Reaches Cultural Icon Status

I met Donalyn Miller at a Literacy Conference in Ohio. She was the keynote speaker and I came away impressed, inspired, and determined to read her book, THE BOOK WHISPERER: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.

I started reading it yesterday, frustrated over my own 9th-grade son’s brutal, book-hating experience in advanced, 9th-grade English.

I underlined this passage from Donalyn’s book, page 18:

Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters — the saints and sinners, real or imagined — reading shows you how to be a better human being.

The book is filled with passages that make you want to stand up and cheer.

Anyway, this morning Donalyn Miller shared her enthusiasm over this fun bit of pop culture stardom:

Good for Donalyn Miller, good for Jeopardy.

It’s funny, isn’t it? That’s a real touchstone in America today. An undeniable sign that you’ve arrived and made your mark. You become a clue on Jeopardy!

Donalyn is also a founding member of the Nerdy Book Club, which you should definitely follow. Seriously, I insist.

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25. EDUCATION IS . . .

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela.

Today I came across this remarkable 1994 photograph by Michael S. Williamson, and this powerful quote, and thought I’d bring them together here.

For my own self. And for you to stumble upon.

That is all.

Carry on.

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