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Results 1 - 25 of 163
1. Sam & Dean Dig a Hole

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s latest, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, October 2014), has been getting quite a bit of buzz (including Caldecott buzz) and has appeared on several best-of-year lists (including Horn Book’s own Fanfare).


With all that talk, I can’t be the only person to accidentally call it “Sam & Dean Dig a Hole.” Right?

sam and dean winchester dig a hole

The Winchesters at work

Especially given that “Sam & Dean Dig a Hole” is a major plot point in a significant number of Supernatural episodes.

Any illustrators out there want to draw me a mash-up? ;)


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2. Sharon Draper on Stella by Starlight

sharon m. draper

In the January/February 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, editor Martha Parravano talked to Sharon M. Draper about her new intermediate novel Stella by Starlight. Read the full review here.

Martha V. Parravano: Have you ever tried to write by starlight?

Sharon M. Draper: I’ve marveled at the moon — the phases intrigue me — but I’ve never written anything while outside on a starry night. But I’m sure that those images eventually evolved into words in a story. All natural events inspire me — freshly fallen snow and thunderstorms and the changing of leaves in the fall — but the starlight and the moon I left to Stella. They belong to her.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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3. Bellydance Evolution: Alice in Wonderland

alice in wonderland posterYou may be wondering, “What the heck does bellydancing have to do with children’s books?” Having seen Bellydance Evolution’s production of Alice in Wonderland on Wednesday night, I can assure you that the two do play together nicely when brought together in a thoughtful way.

According to the mission statement on their site, dance company Bellydance Evolution “explores, celebrates, and re-imagines Middle Eastern dance for the 21st century. By fusing bellydance with dance forms more specific to the West, Bellydance Evolution takes you on a spectacular journey that will excite both mainstream audiences and bellydance enthusiasts.” The company — led by director Jillina — tours its productions with a small core cast, filling out the ensemble cast by video-auditioning local dancers at each stop. The Boston performance on Wednesday, January 7th included two Boston dancers (one a troupemate and dear friend of mine) and several NYC dancers.

“Evolution,” indeed: Alice in Wonderland was one of the most innovative and truly fusion dance productions I’ve ever seen. The dance forms showcased ranged from traditional Middle Eastern dance to contemporary styles including tribal fusion bellydance, hip-hop, and breakdance. Much of the score was symphonic-plus-electronic music, composed specifically for the show by Paul Dinletir; other pieces were classical Arabic, Arabic pop, or played live by drummer Issam Houshan. (The dancers also contributed drumming for a handful of scenes.)

The story line followed Disney’s animated adaptation more than the original Carroll novel. All the various styles of music and dance were well integrated, both “bellydancey” and serving the narrative with a playfulness appropriate to the source materials. A quarrelsome duet by Tweedledee and Tweedledum paid homage to raqs al assaya, a folkloric cane dance, with the spinning of the dancers’ canes reflecting the that of the propellers on their caps — and, of course, every so often one twin using her cane to wallop the other. The virtuosic, breakdancing White Rabbit almost stole the show. He was pursued through the audience at various points by (bellydancing) Alice and the Queen of Hearts.

The use of (lots of) props and costumes was especially well considered and creative. In one scene, dancers with parasols milled around the stage, then came together into a phalanx-like formation with the parasols’ tops facing the audience… suddenly creating the gigantic, grinning, floating face of the Cheshire Cat. In the croquet scene, dancers in pale pink, flapper-inspired costumes sported one beaked glove and one feather fan to represent the flamingos-cum-croquet mallets.

These are just a few of Alice in Wonderland‘s many inspired moments; see more in the trailer. I’m familiar with the story, but without a program I still occasionally found it difficult to follow the narrative and to identify minor characters — “Oh, she’s the March Hare!” (It seems programs were available at a merch table downstairs from my ticketed seat.) The caliber of dancing and staging was so high that even when I was a bit confused I was having a blast. I’m an aficionado of both bellydancing and kids’ books, but you needn’t be a super-fan of either to enjoy this immensely entertaining production.

And if you’re intrigued by the idea of bellydancing children’s books, come on down to the Geeky Bellydance Show at Arisia sci-fi and fantasy convention on January 17th! I’ll be performing as Sabriel from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Chronicles; other dancers will pay tribute to Tolkien and Gaiman, as well as many other geek-culture icons.


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4. The first Notes of the year

In January’s issue of Notes from the Horn Book, Jennifer Brabander asks Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future author A. S. King about that bat and lots more. You’ll also find:

  • more fierce female YA protagonists
  • snowy-day picture books
  • intermediate series
  • graphic-novel memoirs

notes jan 2015

Read the issue online or subscribe to receive the monthly Notes from the Horn Book newsletter — and its supplement Nonfiction Notes — in your inbox. For more recommended books and interviews, check out the newsletter archives.


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5. Nighty Night! app review

nighty night cover As Fox and Sheep‘s bedtime app Nighty Night! (2012) opens, the screen pans across a view of a little town. One by one the lights in houses’ windows go out, but the farmhouse’s lights still blaze. Tap them to explore inside and around the house, along the way discovering friendly animals: a duck, a hen and her chicks, a sheep, a dog, a pig, a cow, and a pond with three fish. (Sets of three additional animals — pony, cat, and rabbit or goat, spider, and stork — are available as unobtrusive in-app purchases from the main menu.)

Tap the animals for a few brief animations, then turn out the lights by tapping subtly highlighted switches to help the animals get ready for bed. Each animal stretches or yawns and settles down as the narrator (Alistair Findlay) bids it good night.

Nighty Night sheep

“Good night, dear sheep.”

The mixed-media collage illustrations and animations (both created by animator Heidi Wittlinger) are warm, cozy, and sprinkled with a few delightful surprises, e.g., the duck beds down in the bathtub, the three fish glow in the dark.

During this process, you can revisit the animals to see them sleeping (strangely mesmerizing) or to wake them. Once all of the lights are off and the animals are gently snoring, the narrator realizes, “Wait a minute! Someone is still awake!” and prompts you, the user, to head off to bed as well.

Turn the narration on or off, choose from twelve language options, or select autoplay mode from the main menu. There’s also an extra-soothing “snow” option. The low-key British-accented narration, instrumental lullaby soundtrack, and reassuring pattern make for a sweet bedtime experience.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 7.0 or later), $2.99, and Android devices, $3.99. Recommended for preschool users. Companion app Nighty Night Circus was released in November 2014.


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6. 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Awards

The winners of the 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Awards are:

My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth; illus. by Barbara McClintock (younger); *wipes away a happy tear*

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier; illus. by Marc Lizano; color by Greg Salsedo (older)

Storm by Donna Jo Napoli (teen)

In each category two Honor Books were named, along with a handful of Notables. Find the complete list here, on the Association of Jewish Libraries blog.

This was my first year on the committee (of a four-year term), and what a great experience. Thoughtful discussion, vigorous debate… and lots of fun. Thanks again to Horn Book Magazine editorial assistant Shoshana Flax for her invaluable help with our Buzzfeed quiz: Which All-of-a-Kind Family Sibling Are You? (Haven’t taken it yet? By all means do, then tell us who you are. I’m Ella!)

aylesworth_my grandfather's coatDauvillier_Hiddennapoli_storm


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babadook poster BA BA DOOK.A horror movie about an evil children’s book is, understandably, not everyone’s thing. But given that I’m both a horror fan and a big kidlit nerd, I’ve been waiting for Australian indie film The Babadook to hit US theaters since I first saw the trailer online several months ago. Despite its cleaning up at Sundance, the movie’s US release is so limited — only two local cinemas are showing it, one in a theater the size of a living room — that the screening my boyfriend and I attempted to see over the weekend was sold out. We wound up watching it at home on demand…which was probably for the best, since it minimized the number of people I bothered with my shrieking.

The Babadook was partially based upon director Jennifer Kent’s short film Monster, about a child who’s afraid of his plush monster toy and his mother who’s exasperated by his fear — only to come face-to-face with the real monster. The Babadook expands upon and complicates this plot. Its protagonists are young widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Sam (Noah Wiseman). Sam has both an active imagination and serious behavioral problems: he builds weapons, in preparation for “when the monster comes,” and takes them everywhere; has nightmares that prevent him from sleeping through the night; and is ostracized by other children for both his monster obsession and his dead father. With Sam’s seventh birthday (also the anniversary of his father’s accidental death) approaching, money tight, and Sam out of school due to his weapons-smuggling, Amelia is nearing her breaking point.

Then Sam chooses Mister Babadook, a book that mysteriously appears on his book shelf, for a bedtime story.

The book is a bit crudely written and illustrated, but creepy nonetheless. Direct-address text accompanied by black-and-white pop-up illustrations inform the reader that supernatural creature Mister Babdook will come out of the darkness of your closet, ceiling corner, etc., to watch you, and “you can’t get rid” of him once you’ve seen him. (It’s actually not unlike the story line of Liniers’s What There Is Before There Is Anything There.) Reading Mister Babadook exacerbates Sam’s intense fears about monsters and disturbs Amelia, who responds by first hiding, then tearing apart and trashing the book. When it reappears on their doorstep — pieced back together and with even darker content, this time depicting a Babadook-possessed Amelia harming Sam and their pet dog in pop-ups that seem to move on their own — Amelia suspects she and Sam are being stalked. Of course, the truth is much worse.

The movie’s supernatural element is legitimately frightening. The Babadook’s inhuman sounds and movement give me the serious heebie-jeebies, and the idea that underneath his already-scary-as-hell gaping-maw-and-claws exterior lies something that will make you “wish you were dead” doesn’t help. As promised by the book, Amelia and Sam can’t get away from the creature — or each other — and are trapped in their own home, cut off from any real help. The limited setting (mostly the house’s interior plus a bit of their small town) and cast contribute to the film’s claustrophobic feel.

But what’s especially effective is the way the supernatural horror works with the more insidious horror of a parent fast approaching a psychological break. Sam is a very difficult child; Amelia is grief-stricken, sleep deprived, financially strapped, isolated, and emotionally unsupported — in a word, desperate. It’s not hard to imagine Amelia harming Sam, herself, or someone else in a rage or in a fugue state, with or without any malevolent supernatural influence.

Other horror films (perhaps most famously The Shining) also depict a stressed parent manipulated by otherworldly forces towards hurting his or her family, but I can’t think of one whose parent-off-the-deep-end is as convincing or sympathetic as Davis’s Amelia. Her vulnerability makes her moments of Babadook-fueled (or just unhinged?) violence that much more disturbing. As Sam, Wiseman is both frustrating and genuinely endearing, an impressive feat given his very young age.

Is the Babadook real, and has monster-fighter Sam been right all along? Or is it a delusion shared by mother and child? You’ll have to watch the movie and decide for yourself. And if it reaches its crowdfunding goals, Mister Babadook may soon be available as an actual pop-up book — eek!

share save 171 16 BA BA DOOK.

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8. Look! Up in the sky! It’s…Super Roger!

bow tie Look! Up in the sky! Its...Super Roger!This week Roger talked with living-comics-legend Stan Lee about his new book Zodiac. That made us think of Roger as a superhero: his bow tie doubles as a boomerang! to chase down bad-guys! and retrieve books off high library shelves! It also made us think of Roger in tights and Spandex, which just made us giggle. [Ed. note: You laugh NOW…]

We ask: do you know any superhero librarians? Either librarians who could be existing superheroes (So. Many. Catwoman. Jokes.) or those who could helm their very own, all-new Marvel franchises. Admittedly, Bow-Tie Man isn’t the most scintillating. What are some other ideas?

I’ve always thought K. T. Horning must be able to fly, for example. And Julie Roach is always smiling. But I’m not saying she’s The Joker (though, like Heath Ledger, may he rest in peace, she is cute as a button).

You can also share your thoughts here, by letting us know how you library.

Also, is Stephen Savage’s Supertruck the cutest superhero around or what?

share save 171 16 Look! Up in the sky! Its...Super Roger!

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9. George R. R. Martin’s The Ice Dragon

martin_ice dragon 2014George R. R. Martin is best known for penning his A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy saga, the basis for HBO’s crazy-popular series Game of Thrones. Speaking from personal experience, it’s shamefully easy for fans of that franchise to forget just how prolific he is. Admittedly, ASOIAF is pretty absorbing — what with bloody betrayals and dragons and reanimated corpses and all — and the enormous cast of characters spread across seven kingdoms takes up a lot of mental space. But right now, with the show between seasons (season 5 won’t start until the spring) and book six, The Winds of Winter, not due out for…let’s say “a while,” it’s a good time to check out GRRM’s other work. His bibliography includes many more speculative fiction novels and short stories for adults in addition to a fantasy novella ostensibly for children, The Ice Dragon (Tor Teen, October 2014).

The Ice Dragon originally appeared in Dragons of Light (Ace Books), a 1980 anthology edited by Orson Scott Card, then was republished by Tor/Starscape in 2006 as a stand-alone volume illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert. This October, Tor Teen released a new edition with illustrations by comics veteran Luis Royo. Set in the same fantastical world as A Song of Ice and Fire, The Ice Dragon is one of several fairy tale–type stories that ASOIAF character Jon Snow recalls caregiver Old Nan telling him and his half-siblings during their childhoods.

In The Ice Dragon, “winter child” Adara is chilly, both physically and emotionally. Her mother died giving birth to Adara during “the worst freeze that anybody could remember,” and her neighbors gossip that “the cold had entered Adara in the womb.” As a small child, Adara frequently stays outside for hours despite freezing temperatures; at age four, she encounters an ice dragon (which breathes cold) and becomes fascinated. The ice dragon seems equally drawn to her, and each winter for several years the pair goes on many long flights. War nears Adara’s family farm and her uncle urges her father to take Adara and her siblings somewhere safer, but seven-year-old Adara runs away, unwilling to leave the ice dragon behind. When the enemy’s soldiers and fire-breathing dragon threaten her family, however, Adara and her ice dragon return to protect them… at a wrenching cost.

In the Spring 2007 issue of The Horn Book Guide, reviewer Deborah Kaplan wrote of the 2006 edition, “The combination of a seven-year-old heroine with scenes of gory violence makes the audience for this fairy tale unclear.” It’s a good point: despite its young protagonist, many illustrations, petite trim size, and large typeface, the book’s violence and formal language aren’t especially kid-friendly. I think the main audience of this new volume will be adult Game of Thrones completists, rather than child or even teen readers; after all, both Martin and Royo have dedicated adult followings. Lush paintings and block-print-looking chapter opener art printed (as is the text) in frosty blue on creamy pages — along with a dynamic poster of Adara and the ice dragon in flight — make this a handsome addition to a diehard GoT fan’s collection.

feastoficeandfireSide note: did you know that Sariann Lehrer and Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, the authors of A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Cookbook based on their blog The Inn at the Crossroads, live (and cook things like boar’s head and eels) in Boston’s Allston neighborhood? Small world! There are several recipes I’d love to try (honeycakes with blackberries, yum) if I could drop in for dinner — but I’d pass on the eels, thanks.


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10. ‘Tis the season…

…to get in some leisure reading! Here’s what we’ll be reading during our lazy vacation days and holiday travel.

french_broken harborKatie: I have long flights to California and back. My preferred plane reading is adult mystery and horror, so I’m hoping to pick up Tana French’s Broken Harbor (the fourth book in her Dublin Murder Squad series) in the airport bookstore. And my dad — who, like me, is a Miyazaki fan — lent me Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation.

allofakindfamilyShoshana: I will be rereading some of the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor because life is terribly hard and I find myself forced, for work-related reasons, to revisit the first chapter books I ever loved.

feiler_secrets of happy familiesKitty: The book I’ve been carrying around in my backpack for months (and which I’ve started 3 or 4 times): The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler (I should probably get cracking on that with school out until January 5). Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, which Elizabeth Law recommended on Facebook.

staples_sagaSiân: I will be rereading Saga by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, Volumes 1 through 3, over the holiday in preparation for Volume 4’s release. So excited.

hoffman_museum of extraordinary thingsElissa: I’m reading Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. And finally going to get to my holiday treat, As You Wish by Cary Elwes.

smiley_some luckMartha: My reading plan is to start the Dublin Murder Squad series. Also, if I’m really lucky, Jane Smiley’s Some Luck.

Lolly: Normally everyone in my family gives each other books for Christmas and our vacation time together is spent reading those books. But I’m trying to stop acquiring new books and use the library more, so I have requested instead descriptions of whatever books they were considering buying me. Since I will be far away from my library that week, I will probably end up reading books given to other people in my family.

lustbader_ninjaRoger: Ninjas, Eric Van Lustbader’s series from the 80s. And so my testosterone doesn’t go completely out of control, I’m listening to Anya Seton’s historical romance Katherine.


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11. Which All-of-a-Kind Family sibling are YOU?

AllofaKindAre you the type to gobble up your penny candy or savor it in tiny bites?

Can you imagine a world where candy costs a penny?

These and other important questions have been on our minds lately at The Horn Book, the Association of Jewish Libraries, and Lizzie Skurnick Books.

It all started when Elissa asked Lizzie Skurnick, who recently released new editions of the out-of-print books in Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series, which sister from the series was most like her. The question— “which All-of-a-Kind Family sibling are you?” — drew excitement from Elissa’s fellow Sydney Taylor Book Award committee members, who are pumped to announce their choices for the best kids’ and YA books portraying the Jewish experience later in January. Before we knew it, a half-joking idea had turned into a full-fledged quiz.

allofakindfamilyFor those wondering, All-of-a-Who Family?, the books were originally published between 1951 and 1978 and chronicled the author’s childhood in a Jewish family with five sisters and eventually a brother. (By the time the last book ends, a second brother is on the way.) Middle child Sarah, who changed her name to Sydney in high school, wrote five episodic novels recalling her family’s adventures. Some of the incidents truly are adventures: Henny gets lost at Coney Island, Henny stands up for a boy accused of stealing. (Henny, as you can probably tell, is the adventurous and often mischievous one.) But many of the stories rest on the family’s ability to create fun with the very little they have. Mama turns dusting into a game by hiding buttons. Charlotte and Gertie put so much thought into how they’ll stretch their pennies that the planning is more fun than the spending. Oh, and the family observes the Sabbath and cleans for Passover (in the midst of scarlet fever!). When you’re in elementary school, it’s a heady feeling to read explanations of traditions you already know about. You mean, I thought, people who aren’t Jewish might be interested in what we do?

There’s one other reason I felt in-the-know: in a prime example of the small-world phenomenon known as “Jewish geography,” my New York-based family knew some of the real-life siblings. My cousin Rena Mills remembers “Aunt Syd” as a drama and Israeli dance instructor at Cejwin Camps. Rena says, “We eagerly and excitedly got ready for bed, so that she would come in our bunks to tell us stories. You can imagine how thrilled we were!” How All-of-a-Kind Family is that?

Well, Aunt Syd and her sibs probably couldn’t have imagined a Buzzfeed quiz, but creating one was more fun than market day! Are you an Ella, a Henny, a Sarah, a Charlotte, a Gertie, or a Charlie? Take the quiz and find out!


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12. Boston KidLit Book Exchange

Pile-of-BooksIn the Boston area and looking to either offload children’s/YA books or pick some up for your library? You’re in luck: Boston KidLit Drink Night founders Sam Musher, Jennie Simopoulos, and Kimberly Huynh have just launched the Boston KidLit Exchange to help match up donors with recipient libraries.

According to the Exchange’s site, “We’re here to connect donations of new-condition, recent books and audiobooks with libraries that need them.” Just fill out a form with what you’re giving away/trying to find and post. Once connected, donors and recipients will need to figure out logistics themselves, but it’s a great starting point.

Of course, if you’re on or near the Simmons campus, come scope out the free book cart outside our office! (Please.)


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13. Sushi Monster app review

sushi monster menuBlobby, colorful monsters with insatiable appetites for sushi are the stars of entertaining — and challenging! — math-centric game-app Sushi Monster (Scholastic, 2012). Begin by selecting either Addition or Multiplication and a level (Addition has seven, Multiplication five). A gong sounds to move you on to the next screen and into the game.

A hungry monster with a number around its neck — the “target number” — is waiting in the center of two concentric circles. On the outer circle (it’s like a big, round table) are plates of sushi, each with its own number. The object is to select individual pieces of sushi whose numbers, when added or multiplied, equal the target number. The monster gobbles the selected sushi, then the next target number appears. Target numbers are previewed at the top of the screen, and each round has fourteen target numbers. As players select sushi-numbers, the “number sentence” they form also appears at the top, making it look more like a math problem — a helpful visual for people who might have trouble doing the math in their heads. (And some of these are really challenging! Especially in the Multiplication level.) You can skip target numbers and go back to them later, when there are fewer sushi choices, if you’re stumped. You’re also timed.

sushi monster addition

A loop of traditional-sounding Japanese music with a light techno beat plays in the background (the music and monster-gulping sound-effects can also be turned off). The sushi-and-monster elements have nothing much to do with anything, really; it’s all just very silly — and lots of fun, in a math-drill sort of a way.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 4.3 or later); free. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.


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14. Boston-area events for January 2015

Happy New Year! Here is a (very long) list of events to look forward to in the first weeks of 2015.

Tonight, January 8th, at 5:00 pm, join the Odyssey Bookshop for a mermaid party to celebrate the release of Jennifer Donnelly’s Rogue Wave, the second entry in her Waterfire fantasy saga.

The Writers’ Loft kicks off its series of regular writing critique and think tank groups:

  • Picture Book Crit Group: tonight, January 8th, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
  • Nonfiction Think Tank: Thursday, January 9th, 10:00 am – 11:30 am
  • Scribe & Snack Monthly Friday Write-In, Friday, January 16 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
  • Query Support Group: Saturday, January 17th, 9:00 am – 10:00 am
  • YA Think Tank: Saturday, January 17th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
  • Middle-Grade Morning Critique Group: Thursday, January 22nd, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
  • Picture Book Crit Group: Thursday, January 22nd, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Tomorrow evening at 6:00 pm, Odyssey Bookshop welcomes YA authors Chris Lynch and Jason Reynolds will discuss and sign their latest books (Killing Time in Crystal City and Boy in the Black Suit). They will also appear for a similar event at the Peabody Barnes & Noble on Saturday, January 10th, at 2:00 pm.

Also on Saturday the 10th, beginning at 2:00 pm: the Writers’ Loft will host a (free and open to the public) launch party for Loft member Anna Staniszewsk’s The Gossip File, the third book in her Dirt Diary series.

Learn about the Simmons College Graduate Study in Children’s Literature satellite program at The Carle Museum on Sunday, January 11th, at 10:30 am. Email childrensliterature@simmons.edu for more information.

GrubStreet’s Young Adult Novel In Progress class begins Tuesday, January 13th, and meets every Tuesday from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm for ten weeks. Instructor Mary Sullivan will lead class participants in discussion of “what works and what doesn’t, focusing on character, point of view, dialogue, and plot/conflict” as well as critique of manuscripts in progress. Class fees are $455 for GrubStreet members, $480 for nonmembers.

black_darkest part of the forestHolly Black will sign her new YA novel The Darkest Part of the Forest at launch party events at the Odyssey Bookshop (Tuesday the 13th at 7:00 pm) and the Brookline Public Library Teen Room (Wednesday, January 14th, at 7:00 pm).

The Writers’ Loft will hold a brainstorming meetup to discuss potential programing for writers of adult fiction and nonfiction on Tuesday, January 13th, at 7:00 pm.

The R. Michelson Galleries’ 25th annual Children’s Illustration Exhibit closes on Thursday, January 15th.

GrubStreet’s six-week “Realist Children’s Literature” class begins Thursday the 15th from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm. Instructor Ursula DeYoung will cover classic children’s realistic novels from 1910 to 2005. Tuition is $305 for members, $330 for nonmembers.

Puppeteer Matthias Kuchta presents an adaptation of “Snow White” at The Carle Museum with showings on Saturday, January 17th, and Sunday, January 18th, at 1:00 pm. Ticket prices are $7.50 for Carle members, $8.50 for nonmembers.

NESCBWI members and “anyone interested in children’s books — authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, agents, editors, readers” — are invited to a social meet up at Aprile’s European Restaurant in North Chelmsford on Tuesday, January 20th, from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm.

Instructor Jane Kohuth will lead a GrubStreet class on writing for children for six Thursdays, beginning Thursday, January 22nd, from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Class members will examine “extensive examples from contemporary children’s literature” and participate in class writing exercises and writing critique. Tuition is $305 for GrubStreet members, $330 for nonmembers. Classes will be held at the Newton JCC.

Kate Axelrod (The Law of Loving Others) and Wendy Wunder (The Museum of Intangible Things) will discuss and sign their books at Porter Square Books on Friday, January 23rd, at 7:00 pm.

Geoff Edgers will talk about his recent biography Who Is Stan Lee? and discuss writing and editing in a presentation for students in grades 4-8. The event will be at the Concord Free Public Library’s Fowler Branch on Saturday, January 24th, at 11:00 am.

On Saturday the 24th at 1:00 pm, The Writers’ Loft will host an “All-Star Nonfiction Author” panel discussion with nonfiction writers Sarah Albee, Leslie Bulion, Loree Griffin Burns, Susan Goodman, and April Jones Prince. A book signing will follow the discussion. $5 donation; Loft members free.

Sarah Mylnowski will be a special guest at the Odyssey Bookshop’s “Just like Frozen” party on Saturday the 24th at 2:00 pm. Mylnowski will read from Whatever After: Cold As Ice (which, like Frozen, is inspired by “The Snow Queen”), and there will be a Frozen costume contest and a “Let it Go” sing-along.

Also on Saturday the 24th at 2:00 pm, Book Ends Winchester welcomes Elisabeth Wolf to read from and talk about her intermediate novel Lulu in Honolulu.

Brandon Sanderson will discuss his new book Firefight (second entry in YA series Reckoners) at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, January 28th, at 7:00 pm.

Author/illustrator Mary Lundquist will discuss and sign her debut picture book, Cat & Bunny, at Porter Square Books on Thursday, January 29th, at 7:00 pm.

GrubStreet’s “What Kind of Kids’ Writer Am I?” class, taught by author Beth Raisner Glass, will take place on Friday, January 30th, from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm. The workshop “will finally help you determine what kind of children’s book you want to write (or have written) from picture books to YA.” Class fees are $55 for GrubStreet members, $65 for nonmembers.

In GrubStreet’s “Young Adult Writing: Finding and Developing Your Ideas” seminar, instructor and author Holly Thompson will “introduce techniques for gathering YA story ideas and developing them into creative works of powerful fiction.” The six-hour seminar will be held Saturday, January 31st, from 10:00 am to 5 pm; cost is $110 for GrubStreet members, $130 for nonmembers.

Author Jen Malone will discuss creative marketing strategies in her “Thinking Outside the Box to Market Your Book” presentation at the Writers’ Loft on Saturday the 31st at 10:00 am. Cost is $20 for Writers’ Loft Members, $30 for nonmembers.

Graphic novelist George O’Connor will discuss Ares: Bringer of War, the seventh book in his Olympians series, at the Odyssey Bookshop on Saturday the 31st, at 4:00 pm.


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15. Halloween boooOOOoooks roundup

all hallows read 2014 Halloween boooOOOoooks roundupHalloween is here — and so are Halloween books! Here are some recent recommended titles for you to share (perhaps through All Hallow’s Read?) with your little goblins.

Horn BOO! 2014

Baby Horn BOO! 2014: Halloween-y board books

Halloween-themed Notes from the Horn Book: 5Q for Julie Berry, eerie places, off-the-wall picture books, atmospheric audiobooks, and YA supernatural baddies

Millie’s Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app

Click on the tag Halloween books for previous years’ recommendations.

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16. Susan Bonners storytime this Saturday

bonners silver balloon Susan Bonners storytime this SaturdayAuthor/illustrator Susan Bonners and friends will read from Bonners’s books in a special storytime this Saturday, November 8th, from 10 am to noon. As Ms. Bonners is a Roslindale resident, the event will take place in the Community Room of the Roslindale Public Library.

Ms. Bonners’s many books include A Penguin Year (1982 National Book Award: Nonfiction Children’s Book winner), The Silver Balloon (1997 Christopher Award winner), Edwina Victorious, Making Music, The Wooden Doll, and Why Does the Cat Do That?

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17. Steampunk queen: an interview with Gail Carriger

gail brookline parasol Steampunk queen: an interview with Gail Carriger

Tea time! Photo: Elissa Gershowitz

Gail Carriger introduced readers to her alternate Victorian London — chock-full of steampunk technology and supernatural characters — in 2009 with Soulless, the first volume of her five-book adult series The Parasol Protectorate. The Finishing School series, a YA prequel series set in the same world, soon followed, beginning with Curtsies & Conspiracies. Espionage lessons, a dirigible boarding school, a girl inventor, vampires and werewolves, witty banter: what more could a steampunk fantasy fan ask for? Gail is currently working on another companion YA series, The Custard Protocol, which will kick off with Prudence in spring 2015.

brooklineinvite Steampunk queen: an interview with Gail Carriger

You’re invited… Photo: Elissa Gershowitz

My beloved local Brookline Public Library (hi Robin!) hosted Gail on November 10th for a lovely evening tea party — cucumber sandwiches and all! — and Q&A event to celebrate the release of Waistcoats & Weaponry, the third book in the Finishing School series. I spoke with her over tea just before the event. In addition to being a prolific and (ahem) fantastic author, Gail is also an archaeologist by training, Elissa’s college roomie (Oberlin represent!), and a very stylish lady — she told me she had a different Waistcoats & Weaponry–cover coordinated ensemble for each stop on the book tour.

The Parasol Protectorate books are adult books and The Finishing School series is YA — although there’s been a lot of crossover, with the YA books being read by adults and the adult books being read by teens. Have you found that there are things you can do in adult books that you can’t do in YA, or vice versa?

For me, YA has to be — and this is what I like about it — it has to be very clean and sharp. As a writer, it requires me to do a lot more editing because it needs to be very sparse. You don’t sacrifice details, but you sacrifice a certain amount of waffling. In adult books you’re allowed to put in extra little bits and distract the readers with pretty description for a while. In young adult, you just can’t do that. You have to be very structured and paced. Pacing is always really important to me, but I think in YA it’s even more important. That’s one of the biggest differences. And I allow myself to be a little more racy when I’m writing the adult stuff.

carriger waistcoats and weaponry Steampunk queen: an interview with Gail CarrigerYour Finishing School protagonist Sophoronia Temminnick has quite the name. Do you have other favorite Victorian-era names that you’ve come across in your research (or that you’ve come up with yourself)?

I tend to use them if I come across them. I love the name “Euphrenia”; I don’t know if I’ve leaked it into the books yet, but it’s one of my favorite ultra-Victorian names. I really like first names that are traditionally Victorian but are not used anymore. That’s one of the reasons I chose “Sophronia.” It’s still a pretty name, and sort of like “Sophia,” but just old-fashioned enough for you to know immediately, the minute that you read her name, that she’s not of our time. “Dimity” was another actual name from the time period. Alexia [from the Parasol Protectorate books] only got named “Alexia” because she was one of those characters that announced herself as being named that. Sometimes characters just enter your head and they’re like, “This is my name!” “Soap” is one of those as well. “Pillover” is another one — it’s not a real name; I just made that one up completely. But “Sophronia” and “Dimity” I picked.

Is there a mythological creature that you’ve been wanting to introduce into this world that you haven’t gotten to yet?

I’m pretty strict with myself with world-building. I’m sticking to motifs of vampires, shape-shifters, and ghosts, probably because almost every ancient culture has some version of them, like the kitsune in Japan. But I excavated in Peru for a while and there is a legend in the Peruvian highlands of a creature called a pishtaco (which is fantastically ridiculous-sounding, first of all). It’s essentially a fat-sucking vampire rather than a blood-sucking vampire — which is comedy gold. I’m dying to get [Custard Protocol protagonist] Prudence to the New World at some point so that she can meet one of these creatures and I can write all about them.

gail standing brookline Steampunk queen: an interview with Gail Carriger

Ensemble #1 at the Brookline Public Library. Photo: Elissa Gershowitz

Are we going to see more mechanimals like Bumbersnoot in the Finishing School books? (Or do you say “mech-animals”?)

I say “mechanimals,” like “mechanicals” but with an “animal” at the end. You will see more of them, but you’re not going to see a named little friend like Bumbersnoot. There’s quite a few in the last book but that’s all I’m going to say.

If you were going to have a mechanimal pet yourself, what kind of animal would you pick?

Probably something like a hedgehog. I would like a round, roly-poly, friendly sort of critter. I have a very demanding cat who’s svelte and overdramatic, so I think I’d like a calm, rodentia-style, chubby little creature. Something in the porcupine, hedgehog arena. The cat would probably be very upset with it.

What would your dream teatime guest list and menu look like?

Oh, goodness. Do I get to pick fantastic characters? Or historical people?

Sure. Living, dead, fictional — anyone you want.

There’s part of me that has to be true to my archaeological roots and pick Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Boadicea… I’m attracted to super-powerful female historical figures, the queens and mistresses, so I’d probably concoct a party that was all these fantastic women from history. The problem, of course, would be interpretation, but it’s my fantasy so everyone would speak English. I’m an adventurous eater, and I’d like to cater to the guests, so I’d have foods from all of the different places and times they came from. One of my favorite things is cooking ancient food, sourcing the ingredients and re-creating it myself. I think if you can taste the flavor of the past, you can get a better impression of it. I’d try to do that so everybody got to try everybody else’s dishes.

What’s your specialty, your pet era as an archaeologist?

I’m not an area specialist; I’m a materials specialist. My focus was on ceramics. To this day I have a propensity to pick up a piece of pottery and flip it over to look at the back side — which can be terribly embarrassing if I’ve forgotten that there’s food on the front side — to look for the maker’s mark.

gail cambridge Steampunk queen: an interview with Gail Carriger

Ensemble #2 at Cambridge’s Pandemonium Books and Games store. Photo: Elissa Gershowitz

Are there other historical eras that you’d like to write about?

The series I’m writing now [The Custard Protocol] is set in the 1890s, which is basically the dawn of female emancipation. Mostly because of trousers — women gained a great deal of autonomy due to education and to the bicycle. The two combined started the New Woman movement, these educated young ladies with self-motivation and autonomy. I’m excited to move closer to the turn of the twentieth century and to have a bit more realism behind my super-strong female characters, because they’re not quite realistic to their time. There’s certainly other time periods I’d love to write in. I’d love to set an ancient story in some of the places I’ve visited.

What would be the most useful gadget for a Finishing School student to have on her person in the case of an espionage emergency? (This is a very difficultly worded question!)

It sounds like something I’ve written! The voice-acting talent [for my audiobooks] is always calling and complaining because I love tongue-twisters. I don’t even realize I’ve written them until somebody’s like, “Why did you write that?!” “I didn’t think about you guys reading it out loud.”

“Handiest gadget?” is the short version!

I love Sophronia’s fan, but I think it’s really handy for her. She becomes comfortable with it and adapts to it, but it’s not necessarily something that would be useful for everybody. In the final book, the chatelaine really comes to the fore. The girls keep going to balls, and they keep having to have chatelaines on them. A chatelaine is like the base for a Swiss Army Knife; it hangs off your belt and there’s a bunch of little chains and clips so you can hang multiple little things off it. Customarily you’d have a bit of perfume and a dance card, maybe keys or a little sewing kit. But of course Geraldine’s girls have a whole different set of things dangling! I love the idea that you could just attach something that has everything useful hanging off of it. Why can’t we still do that?

More fabulous photos at the Brookline Public Library Teen Room Tumblr.

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18. Jump See Farm app review

 Jump See Farm app reviewNew educational app Jump See Farm (JUMPSEEWOW, October 2014) introduces preschool and primary-age kids to life on several independent rural farms as well as an urban apiary (Best Bees, right here in Boston!).

From the main menu, tap on an icon to explore one of six subjects: pig, sheep, dairy cow, chicken, tractor, and bees. Each subject has its own “landing page” featuring a friendly, naive-style illustration with a couple of interactive animations.

 Jump See Farm app review

Tap on select objects or animals in the illustration to access brief documentary videos (up to four on each subject, for a total of more than 30 minutes), narrated by a mix of farm-working adults, kids, and teen 4-H members. These videos detail the animals’ jobs on the farm, their care and feeding, attributes of the specific breeds being raised, and how milk, cheese, honey, etc., are produced, all with cheery bluegrass music (composed for the app by Tomas Murmis) in the background.  Jump See Farm app review

The videos also highlight the different species’ personalities. According to one teen girl, Tamworth pigs (a “heritage” breed) “act like dogs. My pig last year would come up to me and she would sleep on me. I just like them because they’re really social and they’re really loving.” Dairy cows, apparently, are curious but “mellow creatures.”

While it’s obvious that these are working animals valuable for their usefulness, their human caretakers clearly do feel plenty of affection for them. One young girl says, “I have a lot of favorite things about chickens, but one of my favorite things is when they take dirt baths.” A teen gives her pig a pat and tells him she loves him. Occasionally the narration gets a little cutesy — as when a beekeeper points out a brand-new bee emerging from her cell in the honeycomb and exclaims, “It’s her birthday!… How special is this?” But kids likely won’t mind, and the information communicated with this warmth and enthusiasm will intrigue them. A list of recommended resources on farm animals and farm living is available at JUMPSEEWOW’s website.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and for the Kindle Fire; $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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19. OMG

Here are two new YA books about the Rapture, starring teen girls.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it / And Vivian Apple and Abigail feel fiiiine.”

coyle vivianapple OMG   bliss noparking OMG

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20. Read like the Obamas

Over the weekend, the Obamas did some shopping at the DC indie bookstore Politics and Prose to support Small Business Saturday. Here’s what they bought. And here’s what The Horn Book thought of their selections when they were originally published. Reviews are from The Horn Book Guide Online and The Horn Book Magazine.

cronin barnyardcollection Read like the ObamasCronin, Doreen A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More
120 pp. Atheneum (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) 2010. ISBN 978-1-4424-1263-7

(3) K–3 Illustrated by Betsy Lewin. This volume commemorates the tenth anniversary of the publication of modern classic Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. In addition to that story, this compendium includes Giggle, Giggle, Quack (2002) and Dooby Dooby Moo (2006), both starring the same crafty critters as in Click. A removable sticker sheet is appended.

jacques redwall Read like the ObamasJacques, Brian Redwall
351 pp. Philomel 1987. ISBN 0-399-21424-0

(2) 4–6 Illustrated by Gary Chalk. The decline in the American taste for blockbuster fantasies, no matter how good, seems to have discouraged American authors. Such lengthy but acclaimed works as Watership Down (Macmillan) or Hounds of the Morrigan (Holiday) are by British authors; American authors tend to break up long works into volumes — Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, for example. We have in Redwall another long, beautifully written, exciting British fantasy. The hero is the mouse Matthias, a novice in the handsome Redwall Abbey, a haven of bounty, kindliness, and peace. The inhabitants of the Abbey are noted for their charity toward all their neighbors of Mossflower Woods. But the tranquil life of Redwall Abbey and the surrounding countryside is threatened by the advent of Cluny the Scourge, a rat of insane ferocity, and his horde of villainous fighters. Cluny has never been defeated and expects no trouble from Redwall. But Matthias, emboldened by his admiration for the legendary Martin, a notable warrior hero, mobilizes the defense of Redwall. Matthias also begins the search for Martin’s burial place and weapons, which he instinctively feels are the key to defeating Cluny. Matthias’s adventures alternate with Cluny’s, as the attacks on Redwall are fended off and the battle intensifies. The scenes of combat are quite fascinating, with the strategy and counter strategy cleverly and clearly worked out. The book offers an immense cast of distinctive characters, including the redoubtable Constance the badger, extremely strong and utterly fearless; Basil Stag Hare, a satirical replica of the regimental British officer; the sparrows, notably Warbeak, who speak a butter language reminiscent of that of the seagulls in Watership Down; and Abbot Mortimer, the epitome of goodness and gentleness. The flaw in the book, if there is one, is that the lines drawn between good and evil are never ambiguous, not allowing for that shiver of doubt and wonder about the outcome. But the book is splendid, with a delightful hero and a smooth, charming style.

jacques mossflower Read like the ObamasJacques, Brian and Chalk, Gary Mossflower [Book 2]
431 pp. Philomel 1988. ISBN 0-399-21741-X

(2) 4–6 series. Illustrated by Gary Chalk. In Mossflower, the prequel to Redwall (Philomel), we are introduced to the mouse, Martin the Warrior, the role model for Matthias in the later novel. Martin has come upon the Mossflower community just as their oppression by the evil wildcat, Tsarmina, has become too much to bear. As an experienced fighter, he takes control of the defense of the animals who live in Mossflower, aided by his new friends, Gonff, the Prince of Mousethieves; the strong, brave badger, Bella; the squirrel archers, led by Lady Amber; and the industrious moles; clever otters; and other small woodland creatures. Their chances against Tsarmina and her hordes appear small, but the woodlanders brace themselves to learn military ways and win several minor skirmishes; they even rescue some of their unfortunate comrades from the dungeons of Tsarmina’s stronghold. Martin realizes that further help is needed, and he undertakes a perilous journey to the fabled Salamandastron, in company with Gonff and other friends, to enlist the aid of Lord Boar the badger. The help is forthcoming, although not in the way that Martin expects, and Tsarmina is finally overthrown. The story is very long and contains what seems like a cast of thousands. The characterizatino is remarkably individual, sometimes funny and often even satirical, with many notable characters. There is, however, extended use of dialect, at times hard to follow; the moles make such remarks as “‘Goo boil yurr’eads, sloibeasts.’” The nonstop action suffers from too frequent transitions from one site of battle or intrigue to another. There is much talk of the delectable-sounding food — candied chestnuts, honeyed toffee pears, maple tree cordial — which, with the emphasis on cozy homes and devoted families, is reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows. Although lengthy and quite British, the book will provide excitement, fascinating characters, and an ultimately satisfactory conclusion.

jacques mattimeo Read like the ObamasJacques, Brian and Chalk, Gary Mattimeo [Book 3]
446 pp. Philomel 1990. ISBN 0-399-21741-X

(4) 4–6 series. Illustrated by Gary Chalk. The final volume of the Redwall trilogy is a reprise of the other two books. Cruel villains, indomitable heroes, hearty adventures, and endless cozy talk of food do not quite compensate for the fact that it is far too long. For Redwall enthusiasts only.

park juniebbus Read like the ObamasPark, Barbara and Brunkus, Denise Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus [Book 1]
70 pp. Random (Random House Children’s Books) 1992.
Library binding ISBN 0-679-82642-4
Paperback ISBN 0-679-92642-9

(4) 1–3 First Stepping Stone series. Junie B. Jones is a likable character whose comic mishaps on her first day of school will elicit laughs from young readers. But the first-person narration by a kindergartner quickly becomes tedious, and the net result is more annoying than amusing.

park juniebmonkey Read like the ObamasPark, Barbara and Brunkus, Denise Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business [Book 2]
46 pp. Random (Random House Children’s Books) 1993. LE ISBN 0-679-83886-4 PE ISBN 0-679-93886-9

(4) 1–3 First Stepping Stone series. Junie brags at school that her new brother is a ‘real, alive baby monkey.’ The principal uses her misunderstanding to talk with Junie’s first-grade class about expressions that are not to be taken literally. The cutesy tone makes Junie sound babyish and bratty but is finally dropped for a satisfying ending.

perkins nuts to you Read like the Obamasstar2 Read like the Obamas Perkins, Lynne Rae Nuts to You
260 pp. Greenwillow 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-009275-7

(1) 4–6 Jed the squirrel’s odyssey begins dramatically when he is captured by a hawk and carried far away from his community. Using an “ancient squirrel defensive martial art,” he escapes and so begins his journey home. Meanwhile, his two best friends Chai and TsTs set off to find him. In the course of these two (eventually converging) adventures, our heroes meet some helpful hillbillyish red squirrels, a threatening owl, a hungry bobcat, and a group of humans who are cutting brush and trees for power-line clearance, thus threatening the squirrels’ habitat. The three make it safely home only to face their biggest challenge: convincing their conservative community to relocate before the humans destroy their homes. Part satire, part environmental fable, and all playful, energetic hilarity, this story takes us deep into squirrel culture: their names (“‘Brk’ is pronounced just as it’s spelled, except the r is rolled. It means ‘moustache’ in Croatian but in squirrel, it’s just a name”); their games (Splatwhistle); and their wisdom (“Live for the moment…but bury a lot of nuts”). Perkins uses language like the best toy ever. The storm “howled and pelted, whirled and whined; it spit and sprayed and showered. Its winds were fierce. Its wetness was  inescapable.” The book begs to be read aloud, except that you’d miss the wacky digressions, the goofy footnotes, and the black-and-white illustrations with their built-in micro-plots.

rundell cartwheeling Read like the ObamasRundell, Katherine Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms
248 pp. Simon 2014. ISBN 978-1-4424-9061-1 $16.99

(2) 4–6 Will (short for Wilhelmina), the only daughter of William Silver, white foreman of the Two Tree Hill Farm in Zimbabwe, leads a “wildcat” life with her Shona best friend Simon, filled with good rich mud, lemons pulled from the tree with her teeth, harebrained stunts on horseback, and baby hyraxes in the barn. This idyll ends abruptly and tragically with her father’s death from malaria. The farm’s European owner, gentle Captain Browne, becomes Will’s guardian, but the captain has recently married the scheming Miss Vincy, whose ambition is to sell the farm and ship Will off to boarding school in England. This she does despite Will’s concerted opposition. Will’s arrival at school is a bumpy one — the other girls at Leewood insist she’s a “stinking savage” and a “filthy tramp” — and their continual harassment causes Will to finally run away. The protagonist’s passionate engagement with the world around her, her high moral standards (but not moralism), and her unconquerable search for joy will win readers to her side from the start, while Rundell’s finely drawn etchings of the people in Will’s sphere and rich descriptions of African colonial farm life sprawl across the page in sensual largesse. Only when Will has been reduced to almost complete destitution does Rundell allow a glimmer of hope into her life, but the ending, with its promise of relief from loneliness and despair, is that much sweeter for the wait.

woodson brown girl dreaming 170x258 Read like the Obamasstar2 Read like the Obamas Woodson, Jacqueline Brown Girl Dreaming
328 pp. Paulsen/Penguin 2014. ISBN 978-0-399-25251-8 (g)

(1) 4–6 Here is a memoir-in-verse so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. It starts out somewhat slowly, with Woodson relying on others’ memories to relate her (1963) birth and infancy in Ohio, but that just serves to underscore the vividness of the material once she begins to share her own memories; once her family arrives in Greenville, South Carolina, where they live with her maternal grandparents. Woodson describes a South where the whites-only signs may have been removed but where her grandmother still can’t get waited on in Woolworth’s, where young people are sitting at lunch counters and standing up for civil rights; and Woodson expertly weaves that history into her own. However, we see young Jackie grow up not just in historical context but also — and equally — in the context of extended family, community (Greenville and, later, Brooklyn), and religion (she was raised Jehovah’s Witness). Most notably of all, perhaps, we trace her development as a nascent writer, from her early, overarching love of stories through her struggles to learn to read through the thrill of her first blank composition book to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry here sings: specific, lyrical, and full of imagery: “So the first time my mother goes to New York City / we don’t know to be sad, the weight / of our grandparents’ love like a blanket / with us beneath it, / safe and warm.” An extraordinary — indeed brilliant — portrait of a writer as a young girl.

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21. Kitten envy

echo Kitten envy

With new friend Echo. Do I have to give her back?

It seems as though all of my friends have new kittens and want to torture me by constantly posting pictures, resulting in a serious case of kitten envy. For various reasons (#1 being my neurotic adult cat), introducing a kitten to my life is not the best plan at the moment, so I’m contenting myself — for now — with a few kitty-centric books.

On the cute-overload side…

marciuliano i knead my mommy Kitten envyI Knead My Mommy and Other Poems by Kittens by Francesco Marciuliano (Chronicle, August 2014)
The latest in Marciuliano’s series of pet-perspective poetry books (I Could Chew on This, I Could Pee on This) features a kitten’s-eye view of the world. Although the brief poems admittedly aren’t great literature, they are frequently funny or touching; one of my favorites is “Not Goodbye”:

I still smell the older cat
On his favorite chair
On his favorite blanket
On his favorite toy
On me
I still smell the older cat
But I can’t find him anywhere
And now his dish is gone
And now his bed is gone
And now you are crying
But I still smell the older cat
So tomorrow I will look again

The poems are accompanied by many super-cute (stock) photos of kittens in all their fuzzy, bobble-headed glory. A good gift book for the crazy cat person on your list.

cinotto itty bitty kitty committee Kitten envyThe Itty Bitty Kitty Committee: The Ultimate Guide to All Things Kitten by Laurie Cinotto (Roaring Brook, March 2014)
Part photo album, part how-to book, this paperback inspired by “kitten wrangler” Cinotto’s blog of the same name introduces several dozen of her previous foster cats as well as basic kitten care and the responsibilities kitten-fostering entails. Instructions for DIY kitten accoutrements, an advice column “written by” adult cat Charlene, comics created with photos and speech bubbles, kid-oriented tips on keeping kittens happy and healthy, and suggestions for helping shelter cats round out this offering. The kitty pics are definitely the main attraction, though; just try not to squee at this one.


On the bizarre-but-kinda-awesome end of the spectrum…

kelly Downton Tabby Kitten envyDownton Tabby: A Parody by Chris Kelly (Simon & Schuster, December 2013)
Cats make a weirdly appropriate (re)cast for the Edwardian-era BBC drama about an entitled family and their servants: “A Code of Conduct for Cats and Gentlefolk” offers advice such as “Never do anything for yourself that someone else can do for you,” “Communicate disapproval [and affection] with a withering glare,” and “Loaf in a decorative and highly charming manner.” This is a strange and not entirely successful little volume, but the well-dressed hairless cat as the acerbic “Dowager Catness” is pretty spot-on. (Another gem: a diagram of a formal place setting indicating the “mouse fork,” “vole fork,” etc.)

herbert pre raphaelite cats Kitten envyPre-Raphaelite Cats by Susan Herbert (Thames & Hudson, May 2014)

Possibly even stranger (/cooler) is this collection of cat-ified Pre-Raphaelite portraits. Thirty works by Pre-Raphaelite founders Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais and their followers are reimagined with a variety of anthropomorphized kitty subjects. Some highlights: homages to Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix, John William Waterhouse’s Ophelia, and Edward Burne-Jones‘s The Golden Stairs. Each painting on the recto is accompanied by a few lines of contextual information or a short quotation on the verso; about half the versos include spot line-art of the featured felines. Black-and-white thumbnail reproductions of the original art are appended.

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22. The Human Body app review

Last week’s edition of Nonfiction Notes offered several recommended books about medicine and the human body (plus books on social change, how things work, indigenous cultures, and geography/cartography). Another resource, TinyBop’s The Human Body app, introduces the human body and its systems through exploratory play.

Begin by selecting from four child avatars. The app’s main page then shows your avatar in silhouette; a pull-out toolbar along the left side offers icon representing the body’s systems: nervous, skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and muscular. Tap on a single icon to see an individual system in place in the child’s body, or select multiple icons to see systems working in tandem. Clear diagrams and sound-effect-enhanced animations present the systems in an approachable (often humorous) way.

 The Human Body app review

the nervous, skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems

Tapping a system icon brings up several sub-icons (e.g., the nervous system menu offers brain, eye, nose, and ear options), allowing you to zoom in on its specific features. Select the brain icon to see its structure in more detail, then tap on the labeled lobes to see representations of their functions (for example, tapping on the cerebral cortex prompts a math equation to pop up). Move a slider bar to view the surfaces of systems’ organs, their cross-sections, or a combination of the two.

 The Human Body app review

the brain’s surface (left) and cross-section (right), with the cerebral cortex highlighted

The app also models cause and effect in relation to body systems. Tap an icon of legs at the bottom right and the child avatar goes from standing to a run, illustrating various organs’ response to exertion. “Tickle” the child with a feather to see neurological pathways in action, “feed” him or her a variety of foods to witness digestion (including burps and farts), play sounds and watch how the ear drum vibrates, or use the device’s camera function to simulate vision — and those are just a few of the many interactive opportunities to try.

 The Human Body app review

the digestive system — and a selection of foods to “digest”

Since the app is available in a huge range of languages, body part labels are the only text — download the free accompanying Human Body Handbook PDF for information about the systems of the body as well as tips for using the app. A settings icon in the sidebar allows you to turn labels and sound effects on/off and to change the language.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $2.99. Immune system and urogenital system add-ons must be purchased individually ($0.99 each).

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23. Special delivery

We just received this lovely advent calendar — “Christmas in the Square” by Eve Tharlet — in the mail from publisher NorthSouth. What a nice surprise (and a good way to combat my case of the bah-humbugs). Thank you, NorthSouth!

northsouth advent calendar Special delivery

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24. Liniers on What There Is Before There Is Anything There

liniers what there is before there is anything there Liniers on What There Is Before There Is Anything ThereIn the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, editor Martha Parravano asked Argentinian cartoonist Liniers about the inspiration for his “deeply unsettling” but “bravely existential” new picture book, What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story. Read the full review here.

Martha V. Parravano: What made you decide to make such a realistic — and thus dark — picture book on this topic for children?

Liniers: I don’t like children’s books that treat them as tiny ignorant human beings. 
They are smart, and as Mr. Sendak used to say, you can “tell them anything you want.” 
I remember enjoying being scared by movies and books when I was a child. Witches and vampires! Also, the story I decided to tell actually used to happen to me. I must have been three or four because I have a very vague memory of this. When my parents would turn out the lights I thought the ceiling disappeared, and I recall imagining — almost seeing — a tiger coming down in a spiral downfall. A very weird kid I was. Or not.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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25. Fanfare 2014 Notes

Da-da-da-daaaaaa! It’s here: the Fanfare special edition of Notes is arriving in subscribers’ inboxes right now.

We began with a long longlist, then fought it ou— er, cordially discussed the options until we whittled it down to twenty-nine favorites of 2014. With picture books, fiction, folklore, poetry, and nonfiction, there’s something — probably several things — for everyone.

Notes (and its occasional supplements Nonfiction Notes and Talks With Roger) will be back to regularly scheduled programming in January.

fanfare notes 14 Fanfare 2014 Notes

Read the issue online or subscribe to receive the monthly Notes from the Horn Book newsletter. For more recommended books plus author and illustrator interviews, check out the newsletter archives.

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