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Earwig is used to getting her own way. An orphan left on the doorstep of St. Morwald's Home for Children, Earwig knows how to make others do her bidding. At her request the cook prepares her favorite lunch of shepherd's pie, the matron hurries to keep her supplied in red sweaters, and her fellow orphans indulge her in dimly-lit games of hide-and-seek, even the kids who are scared of the dark. Earwig is not among them. "Earwig was never frightened. She had a very strong personality."
This strong personality seems to meet her match when a strange couple visit the orphanage looking to foster a child. Till now Earwig has managed to fend off potential parents. For Earwig has no interest in leaving the orphanage. Why would she? She's got everyone in the joint under her thumb.
The couple choose Earwig, despite her best efforts to look unlovable, and take her home to their bungalow at Thirteen Lime Avenue. From the start, Earwig suspects the couple of being not what they seem. She's right. The "raggety, ribbly" woman in the big red hat is a bona fide witch and the man who has fiery eyes and what appear to be horns growing from his head is you-guessed-it. Earwig is put to work as the witch's assistant and spends her days pounding rat bones into powder and picking nettles from the garden. Her days of getting her own way are apparently over.
Or not. Earwig is a plucky child and she doesn't give in to despair. Refreshingly, she finds the odd situation she's in a challenge and one to be overcome not endured. Determined to learn magic, she pairs up with the witch's familiar, a talking black cat named Thomas, and together the two manage to turn the tables on the couple. By book's end Earwig is once again firmly in the driver's seat. How she gets there makes for a fast, entertaining read.
Knowing this is Diana Wynne Jones' last book made reading the story bittersweet. Although I can't know for sure, many signs pointed to this book being the first in a series. The question of Earwig's lineage (she was left at St. Morwald's with a tantalizing note pinned to her shawl) is left dangling, as is her friendship with Custard, a timid boy at the orphanage.
Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky Greenwillow, 128 pages Published: January 2012
We didn’t manage to be there for the full two hours but the SCBWI stand at the Bologna Book Fair was even more the place to be from 12.00-2.00 today, when authors from across the regions read their own unpublished manuscript and two (later, I think, three) illustrators battled it out to draw the illustrations.
Howdy, folks. I’m starting off today with a little podcast-related item. Back in the day I tried podcasting for sport. It was fun (I had my own intro music and everything) but after a while it became clear that podcasting is a labor of love best left to the professionals with their prodigious editing skills, like the old Just One More Book site. More recently I’ve contributed reviews to the remarkable Katie Davis Brain Burps About Books (more about that in a sec). Today, however, I am pleased as punch to reveal that I was recently the guest host on the Read It and Weep podcast. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: Name a bad children’s book and they would read it and discuss it with me. Well, I gave them the worst I could think of (you can guess what it was) and it was SO bad that they told me they couldn’t do it. Instead, we decided to turn our attention to the good old Triumvirate of Mediocrity (copyright Jane Yolen for the term): The Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, and Love You Forever. Even if you like one of these, it is physically impossible to love all three. Take a listen to our discussion about the gleesome threesome. Odds are, you’ll never think of them quite the same way again.
In other podcast news, the aforementioned Katie Davis has managed to compile a Library Love segment of her own podcast that is so o’erfilled with fantastic authors that you know and love that you’ll find yourself throwing fistfuls of money at your nearest library branch within minutes. The full list of participants and the podcast itself can be found here.
There are many ways in which to take the news that you’ve been nominated for a big award. Barry Deutsch’s? The best. Bar none.
True credit to Phil Nel. Hard to top a blog post that has the title Vandalizing James Marshall. Rather than discuss cases where folks have drawn bras on Martha (oh, you know it must happen) Phil is referring to the panned and scanned version of Marshall’s The Three Little Pigs in which the images have been truncated or removed altogether. It’s pretty horrific, Phil’s right. Particularly when you consider that this is James Marshall we’re talking about. Shame.
Some books defy classification, and Toys Come Home is one of them. It's been nominated for the Cybils' Early Chapter Books category, but like many classic children books it appeals to a much wider audience. The story is a prequel to two previous books, Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party. These books slipped under my radar, so I haven't read them. Rest assured, I will make up for that pronto.
All three books feature a trio of toy friends (two plush, one rubber): StingRay, a bit of a bossy boots; Lumphy, a brave buffalo; and Plastic, a hyper bouncy red ball. Toys Come Home relates how the three toys become friends in six easy-to-read chapters. In this made-up world, toys can communicate with one another and can move, but only when people aren't around. In spite of this restriction, the trio of friends have plenty of adventures. After a few difficult nights in her new home, StingRay runs away, ending up in the basement. She also rescues Sheep (my favorite character--a very old pull toy whose life ambition is to chew grass), from a thorny rosebush. Lumphy bravely defends some plush mice from the antics of an all-too-real kitten, and Plastic posits existential questions--such as "Why are we here?'--that keep her friends up nights searching for answers.
This amazing book by the talented Emily Jenkins (whose Invisible Inkling is also up for a Cybil in the same category) is perfect for beginning readers and would make a wonderful read-aloud for younger children. I wager older elementary-school kids would appreciate it as well, that is, if they aren't too embarrassed to be caught reading a book about toys. Paul O. Zelinsky's full-page black-and-white illustrations are sprinkled throughout. The detailed, realistic renderings add immensely to the story's charm.
Toys Come Home by Emily Jenkins illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky Schwartz & Wade Books, 144 pages Published: 2011
This book was nominated for the2011 Cybils Awardsin the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, and this review reflects my opinion only.
I’m feeling tetchy. Let’s set out some rules when it comes to prequels of children’s books then. Number One: You are allowed to write a prequel if you wrote the original book in the first place. Um . . . . okay, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. But it’s a good rule in general, don’t you think? Follow that rule and you won’t have to deal with seeing Anne before she came to Green Gables or speculate as to how Captain Hook got to be so mean. Not that every author should consider writing a prequel, mind. I’m sure Harry Potter fans would love to see what capers his parents got up to in school, but then we’d probably have to deal with a How Edward Cullen Became a Vampire novel, and that’s a road I’d rather not tread. All this is to say that if you have to write a prequel to a popular children’s book, it needs to make a certain amount of sense. Fortunately for all of us Toys Come Home makes oodles of caboodles of strudels of noodles of sense. Over the years children have asked Ms. Jenkins how Sheep lost her ear. Now that and a host of other questions (including some remarkably huge ones) are answered at long last.
How do special toys become beloved? Not in the ways you might imagine. StingRay, the stuffed sting ray, arrived too late to be a birthday present at The Girl’s party. Faced with not being The Girl’s favorite present she put up with the insufferable Bobby Dot (a walrus who wasn’t very nice) until after helping rescue the Sheep and facing her fear of towels, she managed to become worthy of snuggling and cuddling on the high bed. Lumphy, the toughy little buffalo, was plucked from a bin full of teddies, proving his valor soon thereafter with a particularly energetic kitten. And Plastic’s sheer energy and curiosity about the world leads the others to ask the ultimate question. Literally. In this way, we get to see how the characters of Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party came to be who they are.
I have never, in all my live long days, seen an author recall the trauma that comes when a child throws up on their favorite toy better than Ms. Jenkins. It’s sort of a two-part trauma. The first part is the sudden disgusting nature of your once beloved companion and the second is what happens when they go through the wash. Jenkins doesn’t dwell too heavily on the death of toys (just the nature of existence itself, but more on that later) but it’s there and it’s r
Last spring, just as OUP was beginning to buzz with excitement for our fall books, D. Michael Lindsay, the author of Faith In The Halls of Power, came and talked to us. For the next couple of weeks I am going to share some of what he said. It the podcast below Lindsay tells the story of what happened when Bud McFarlane woke up from his attempted suicide attempt. The transcript of the audio is after the jump.
To celebrate the holidays we asked some of our favorite people in publishing what their favorite book was. Let us know in the comments what your favorite book is and be sure to check back throughout the week for more “favorites”.
I first read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood about ten years ago. I’ve since reread it about a half dozen times. The true story of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith and how they brutally murdered a family in Kansas is chilling enough on its own. But it’s the brilliant and revolutionary way in which Capote pens this tale that makes it my favorite. (more…)
Aline and I have much to tell about our fantastic trip to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair at the beginning of this month. There really is no better event to take the pulse of the children’s book publishing world: and what a world that is!
We’ve met so many interesting people and enjoyed putting faces to names of organisations and publishers; we’ve attended inspiring presentations; and have been dazzled by the quality and endlessly varied styles of the illustrations we’ve come across, both in the books we have browsed through and as part of the fair’s special exhibits. The overall impression was of immense industry – people in deep discussion, buying and selling rights; looking through artists’ portfolios; rushing between presentations – what a buzz!
Over the next few weeks, Aline and I will be posting on a variety of topics. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights for us, in no particular order:
Looking at the proofs for Ed Young’s new book, Wabi Sabi (written by Mark Reibstein);
Meeting librarians from all over the world at a session organised by the IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions) – so lively that we were asked to be quiet…! – and hearing IBBY President and Canadian Groundwood Books publisher, Patricia Aldana’s presentation entitled “Books as Mirrors”;
Attending the launch of the International Youth Library’s White Ravens 2008 catalog;
Listening to poets Michael Rosen (UK Children’s Laureate) and Jorge Lujan’s contributions to a panel titled “Poetry Break: Poetry in Children’s Books”;
Attending the award-presentation of the Bologna Raggazzi “New Horizons” Award to Chennai-based Tara Publishing, for the hand-made book The Nightlife of Trees, and watching how the book came into being;
Hearing illustrators Robert Ingpen and Paul O. Zelinsky talk about their contributions to the book Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art (the proceeds of which go to the Eric Carl Museum of Picture Book Art.)…
Well, I could just keep going – and I will. And so will Aline: so keep coming back as the full picture unfolds…
If Pippi Longstocking is a redhead known for her casual legwear, Angelica Longrider (or just “Angel” for short) would have to be considered her blatantly barefoot ginger-headed equivalent. When the Anne Isaacs Caldecott Honor winning picture book Swamp Angel took the stage back in 1994 it was cause for celebration. Here you had an honest-to-goodness new tall tale with a vernacular smart enough to match the pictures, and vice versa. The pairing of Anne Isaacs with Caldecott winner Paul O. Zelinsky was inspired. I was a big fan, yet for some reason I never considered that the book might garner a sequel. Clearly it was ripe for it, but Isaacs and Zelinsky pursued other projects and the thought was all but forgotten. Until now. After 16 years the dynamic duo is back. She’s a wordsmith. He likes to kill himself by painting on wood. Clearly, Dust Devil was meant to be.
Having found Tennessee a bit too cramped to suit her, giantess and all around decent gal Angelica Longrider (“Swamp Angel” to some) has headed further into the country to set up shop in Montana. It takes a little settling in, but she’s happy enough and even manages to tame a wild dust storm into a steed worthy of her skills. Good thing too, since that nasty Backward Bart and his band of no goodniks are terrorizing the countryside, robbing good people of their pennies. If she could wrestle a bear into submission, Angel certainly can handle a couple of toughs. But it’ll take smarts as well as skills to put these nasty bandits away. Good thing she’s got her horse.
The first thing you need to know about Anne Isaacs is the fact that her books, all her books, ache to be read aloud. It doesn’t matter if you’re perusing Pancakes for Supper or The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch. Now sometimes they’re a bit too long for storytimes (much to my chagrin) but for one-on-one reading they’re the tops. I mean, there are certain sentences that just beg you to try them on your tongue. Sentences like, “The barn began to shake, the ground to quake, the windows to break, the animals to wake, and everyone’s ears to ache!” Fear not, this isn’t a rhyming text. There are just certain sections where it’s the right thing to do.
While you’re rolling her sentences around in your mouth, there are also Zelinsky’s images to contend with. Painting on cedar and aspen veneer, Zelinsky is meticulous about his process. The result is a book that is rather achingly beautiful. Even if you don’t take to his style, you have to respect the process. The size of the images combined with the tiniest of brush