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1. WWF Together app review

wwf together menuWith Earth Day‘s 45th anniversary celebration yesterday, it seems a good time to review the World Wildlife Fund’s lovely awareness-raising app WWF Together (2013).

The app introduces sixteen endangered species from around the world, each characterized with a quality emphasizing its uniqueness: e.g., panda (“charisma”), elephant (“intelligence”), marine turtle (“longevity”), tiger (“solitude”). Each animal receives its own interactive “story,” comprised of stats (population numbers in the wild; habitat; weight and length; and “distance from you,” the user, if you enabled your iPad’s location services), spectacular high-def photos, information on threats to its survival, and conservation efforts (particularly WWF’s). Tap an info icon at a photo’s bottom corner to trigger a related pop-up fact — did you know gorillas live in stable family groups, or that bison have been around since the ice age? Many of the stories also include “facetime” (close-up videos with narration) and/or educational activities. At the conclusion of each animal’s section is an opportunity to share it via email or social media and to explore symbolic adoption options.

wwf jaguar menu

wwf together jaguar stats

In addition to truly gorgeous photographs and video of these endangered animals, a cool animated-origami design element illustrates the text throughout. Disappointingly, every time I tried to access the (real-life) origami folding instructions from the app, it crashed — which may well be the fault of our iPad. But they’re easy enough to find and download (for free, although email registration is required) on WWF’s website.

From an unobtrusive menu along the left side, you can access a globe — also with a “folded paper” look — which shows locations of all of the featured species for a global perspective and supplies information on additional endangered species. A news section frequently updates the app with current information. Soothing acoustic music by Copilot rounds out this informative and moving app.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.

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2. Happy Earth Day!

schrefer_endangered199x300It’s Earth Day! To celebrate, we’ve updated our Earth Day reading list with new books about the beauty of our world and ways to help protect it, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine. Check ‘em out, then let us know what you’re reading today in the comments.

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3. Hat Monkey app review

hat monkey menuLet me say straight out that I don’t like monkeys. But I set my personal primate feelings aside to look at app Hat Monkey (2014), trusting in both creator Chris Haughton and developer Fox & Sheep — whose Nighty Night I liked a lot — to provide an enjoyable experience. Happily, the breakdancing, “meep-meep!”-ing Monkey soon won me over.

The app opens with Monkey dancing to surf jazz music, then offers a simple menu (scene selection, language options, a link to info about Haughton’s books, and a link to download more Fox & Sheep apps). From there the app begins a prompt-and-activity structure (“Monkey is coming! Can you open the door?”) that continues throughout the app as Monkey makes himself at home.

hat monkey hiding

“Monkey is hiding. Can you find him?”

The illustrations feature stylized shapes and a limited palette of hot pinks, purples, and oranges in high contrast with Monkey’s royal blue.

What could easily be familiar Pat the Bunny territory instead takes a meta, super-modern direction. After the prompt “Can you send Monkey a text?” choose one of four emoji to send to Monkey — who’s busy reading Haughton’s picture book A Bit Lost, by the way — and watch his cute and funny responses.

hat monkey text   hat monkey reading
(Send the banana, and Monkey surreptitiously licks his phone.) Other prompts include giving Monkey a high-five, learning Monkey’s sweet dance moves, talking to him on the phone using your device’s microphone, and playing saxophones together. The app ends with reading Monkey a bedtime story (Haughton’s Oh No, George!, of course) and turning off the light, sending him off to contented, lightly snoring sleep.

Preschool- and early-primary-perfect humor — including a more-endearing-than-gross fart joke — is communicated through all the app’s elements: the deadpan text; the illustrations; the animations, especially in the movements of Monkey’s huge, expressive eyes; and sound effects. Read a making-of blog post by Haughton here.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $0.99. Recommended for preschool and early primary users.

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4. Review of Fiete: A Day on the Farm app

fiete on the farm menuIn Fiete: A Day on the Farm (German developer Ahoiii, December 2014), children help sailor Fiete — star of his own previous, self-titled app — and his farmer friends, Hein and Hinnerk, throughout their busy day. The home screen shows the three in a boat. The sky is blue, the hills are rolling, the birds are chirping. Entering the app, it’s early morning; there’s a lit lighthouse in the background, and the boat is gently rocking. Touch the large alarm clock icon and you’re taken to the sleeping men’s bedroom — it’s time to wake them up (their gentle snores are audible along with the ticking alarm clock and birds; it’s really quite peaceful). There are no instructions, so you have to figure out what to do. Swiping at each farmer a couple of times seems to do the trick — each wakes up smiling and ready to start the day. First task completed!

You’re taken back to the early-morning landscape where, swiping horizontally, the sun rises in the background and a rooster crows. The farmers are outside and on the dock (they give you a wave).

fiete on the farm dawn

Touch the rooster to complete the next task: gathering eggs. Swipe a hen to get her to stand up, then use your finger to guide the egg down into an outstretched farmer’s hand (if you miss, the egg falls, crack, but to no ill effect).

Next it’s activities such as virtually pulling carrots, shearing sheep (fun!), sawing a tree trunk with Fiete (really fun!), picking apples (and rescuing a cat from the apple tree), milking a cow (in all honesty, a little weird), and, finally, loading each of the items into its proper delivery truck at the end of the day before settling in around a campfire.

fiete on the farm sheep

There are no written instructions anywhere in this “intuitive interactive app,” but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of things. It’s all very low-key and low-stress; the sound effects are quiet nature noises, and background movement is generally of the gentle swaying-in-the-breeze variety. The visuals are all rounded shapes and subdued colors (until the glorious pink sunset); it looks like the digital equivalent of cut-paper collage, with a bit of European edge to keep things from being too sleepy and bucolic. Wherever Fiete goes next, digitally, little kids will likely want to follow.

Available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch (requires iOS 4.3 or later), and Android devices; $2.99. Recommended for preschool users.

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5. Update: Francisco and Robert Jiménez School

jimenez_the circuitBack in February I interviewed my mom Gretchen, who’s an instructional aide in Southern California’s Santa Maria–Bonita School District, about her campaign to name the district’s newest elementary school in honor of Dr. Francisco Jiménez. Dr. Jiménez is an author, recipient of a 1998 BGHB Award, and an alum of the area’s schools. And, as he has poignantly chronicled in his book The Circuit and its sequels, he was a migrant farmworker child, like many of the district’s current students.

Who better, my mother asks, to recognize as a champion for these children than someone who has walked in their shoes?

Last night the school board’s naming committee met to hear spoken arguments for the three names on the short list of proposals, narrowed down from about eighty. The nomination for Dr. Jimenéz was combined with that for his late brother, Robert Jiménez — who also attended SMBSD schools and was a beloved employee of the district for decades. Bill Libbon worked with the Santa Maria Boys and Girls Club for forty years and recently retired from his position as its executive director. Santa Maria police officer Mark Riddering, who died of ALS in 2008, was instrumental in bringing the D.A.R.E. drug prevention program to Santa Maria schools. Choosing which of these influential community members to honor must have been difficult, but ultimately the committee unanimously voted to christen the new elementary school “Francisco and Robert Jiménez School.” The school will open in August.

Given that the school will have a dual immersion English/Spanish program, it seems especially fitting to name it after the Jiménez brothers. As Spanish speakers in English-only schools, and with their education spotty due to their many moves, their English bilingualism was hard-won.

It’s also good timing to celebrate both brothers, honoring the memory of Robert Jiménez (who passed away in December) and the literary accomplishments of Francisco Jiménez (whose fourth memoir series entry, Taking Hold, pubbed last week.)

Congratulations to the Jiménez family!

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6. T for two

Reading through the fiction reviews section of the May/June Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Transformations, I’m struck by the sudden urge for tea. One lump or two, protagonists?

teacup_dots

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff: “I didn’t do it on purpose, obviously,” says twelve-year-old Trent Zimmerman. “Kill Jared Richards, I mean.”

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge: “Eleven-year-old Triss Crescent wakes up confused after a terrifying accident.”

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman: “Twig Fowler and her mother keep to themselves so that their neighbors in Sidwell, Massachusetts, won’t discover their secret.”

Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt: “On the first day of school, September 1, 1948, eleven-year-old Tate P. Ellerbee learns that her class will be writing to pen pals.”

Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr: “Young narrator Trille’s best friend is his next-door neighbor, Lena, almost nine, perhaps best described as a more-realistic Pippi Longstocking.”

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente: “He lives an unhappy, bewildered life as ‘Thomas’ until Tamburlaine, a fellow Changeling, reveals her magical abilities and encourages him to find his own.”

t logo

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7. Song of the Sea movie review

song of the sea posterI’m a sucker for fairy-tale and folklore retellings, and a major sucker for selkie lore…so I had very high hopes for animated film Song of the Sea (Cartoon Saloon, December 2014), directed by Tomm Moore (whose The Secret of Kells was a 2009 Best Animated Feature Academy Award nominee) and cowritten by Moore and William Collins. I wasn’t disappointed — in fact, my expectations were far surpassed. And I’m not alone in my enthusiasm: Song of the Sea has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 98% and was nominated for this year’s Best Animated Feature Award.

Set in contemporary Ireland, the film begins on a craggy island with a lighthouse. The lighthouse-keeper Conor’s wife Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) is expecting a baby, and their young son Ben is excited to meet his new sibling. Bronagh assures Ben that he will be “the best brother ever” and tells him a bedtime story about the god Mac Lir — myth and legend are clearly a comfortable part of their everyday lives. That night, Bronagh’s labor begins, and in distress, she runs into the sea and does not return. Conor discovers the baby girl, wrapped in a white selkie skin, on the beach.

On Saoirse’s (pronounced “Seer-sha”) sixth birthday, she sneaks out of bed and discovers the child-sized selkie’s coat. She dons her coat and — now with the ability to assume a seal’s form — goes for a joyful midnight swim, scaring the wits out of her family in the process. The children’s overbearing Granny insists that the island is not safe for Saoirse, and dad Conor regretfully agrees; Granny takes them to her home in the city.

Ben (David Rawle) is determined to get back to the island and to his endearingly goofy sheepdog Cú; Saoirse longs to return to the sea. The siblings set out for home, soon encountering some (also endearingly goofy) fairies who tell them that the goddess Macha is turning supernatural beings into stone, and only Saoirse can undo Macha’s magic with her selkie’s song. But since Saoirse is growing weak far from the ocean — not to mention that she doesn’t talk yet, let alone sing — this is a tall order. Now with added urgency, Ben and Saoirse (eventually reunited with Cú) continue their quest. They come across many figures from Celtic mythology, including the not-so-bad-after-all Macha, along the way.

In both story line and its execution, the movie does a remarkable job of intertwining specific threads of Celtic mythology and folklore with universal human themes. The relationship between dad Conor — still very much mourning the loss of Brongah and afraid he will lose Saoirse to the sea as well — and Granny, for instance, parallels that between the grieving god Mac Lir and his mother Macha; the similarities of their dynamics are echoed in the characters’ appearances, personality traits, and voices (Conor and Mac Lir are both voiced by Brendan Gleeson, Granny/Macha by Fionnula Flanagan).

And the film is just gorgeous. The animation is lush, inviting, and masterful — fans of Miyazaki’s work will find plenty to love here — with many traditional Celtic visual motifs subtly worked in. Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) does not speak for the majority of the film, but she doesn’t need to: her small face and big eyes are incredibly expressive. Rounding out the lovely presentation is an original score by composer Bruno Coulais and Irish folk band Kíla.

Song of the Sea has a very limited theatrical release, so it may be difficult to find at a theater near you (although I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen if you can). Happily, it’s out on DVD and iTunes today! And if you’re lucky enough to be close to The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, you can check out the exhibit “Songs and Secrets” — featuring concept art from Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells — through June 21.

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8. Synthia Saint James at Simmons

(Say *that* three times fast!)

Next week, visual artist, author, and illustrator Dr. Synthia Saint James will be on the Simmons College campus as the Eileen Friars Leader-in-Residence. Right now some of her art is being installed along the hallway outside the Horn Book office. It’s lovely and thought-provoking — lucky us!

stjamesart2

stjamesart1

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9. Snow White app review

snow white menuThe latest in Nosy Crow’s series of fairy-tale adaptation apps (which includes The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk) is Snow White, released last week. Snow White employs the same winning formula of the other series entries: cheerful illustrations and animation; witty humor; well-integrated interactivity; straightforward navigation; charming narration by an all-child cast; and pop-up dialogue balloons extending the text.

This more-silly-than-scary retelling sticks to the traditional story but ages it down for its preschool and primary audience. Snow White is sent away by the queen’s huntsman with no real threat of his actually harming her, and there’s no mention of eating a heart, human or otherwise. Though Snow White is afraid during her wanderings through the forest, she is accompanied by a friendly fox. Her warm welcome at the dwarves’ home is never really in question. The evil queen attempts to kill Snow White with a poisoned piece of stinky cheese (“It’s kind of you to offer, but I don’t really like stinky cheese,” Snow White politely declines) and a poisoned cupcake before landing on the mostly-successful apple. Rather than the prince’s kiss, Snow White is awakened by the (traditional but now less-common) dislodging of the apple piece from her throat. The queen is imprisoned rather than killed.

snow white dwarves

snow white and the queen

In many scenes, the user is invited to assist Snow White, the dwarves, or the evil queen with tasks such as picking flowers, washing dishes, mining gems, or mixing up a poisonous brew. The characters encourage the user through each tasks (although their prompting can get a bit old — I’m matching socks as fast as I can, okay?!); sound effects indicate when the task is completed. A few of these activities subtly reinforce concepts of counting, colors, etc. The interactive moments smartly take advantage of the device’s capabilities, e.g., rocking the device rocks baby Snow White to sleep (be careful: the microphone may pick up sounds that wake her), the magic mirror reflects the user’s own face using the camera.

As in the series’ other apps, Snow White cleverly blends a contemporary sensibility into the fairy tale. The dwarves’ names are Bernard, Bob, Bill, Basil, Boris, Brian, and Barbara; music options at Snow White and the prince’s wedding feast include calypso and Bollywood. A few references to brushing teeth and choosing healthy snacks seem both very current and a little weirdly didactic.

“Read and play” and “Read by myself” options, plus a map of scene thumbnails, allow the user to progress through the app at her or his own pace and revisit favorite sections of the story.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $4.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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10. Signs of springtime: bunnies

Like bikes, bunnies have returned to the Simmons campus! (And not just chocolate ones left over from Easter baskets.)

bunny

Third-grade teacher Stacy shares her thoughts on using rabbit-themed reading with her students over at Lolly’s Classroom.

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11. Everywhere dragons

…at least, everywhere in the March/April Magazine! These four new dragon-themed books are all reviewed in that issue, offering something for dragon fans of several different age groups. Consider them additions to our dragon-centric fantasy booklist.

florian_how to draw a dragonFor preschool- and primary-aged kids, there’s author/illustrator Douglas Florian’s How to Draw a Dragon (Simon/Beach Lane, April 2015). Less a how-to guide than a celebration of creativity — and dragons, of course — it gives both practical drawing advice (“Draw your dragon’s pointed spines / using lots of jagged lines”) and Florian’s patented poetic silliness (“Dragon fire has reds and yellows, / and it’s good to toast marshmallows”). Mixed-media collage art with a childlike sensibility rounds out this appealing book.

yep_dragon's guide to care and feeding of humansAuthor Laurence Yep knows his dragons. He hilariously revisits the topic in his latest book for intermediate readers, A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans (Crown, March 2015), cowritten with Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Mary GrandPré. Refined Miss Drake and her scrappy new pet Winnie are having a power struggle over Winnie’s training: Winnie (a human) seems to think she is the owner and Miss Drake (a dragon) is the pet. They continue to butt heads, but there are more important things at stake — a magical creature called a pemburu could destroy San Francisco unless the pair can stop it.

Two dragon-themed YA sequels appear in this issue:

Shadowhartman_shadow scale Scale (Random House, March 2015) is the sequel to Rachel Hartman’s 2013 BGHB Fiction Honor Book Seraphina. Seraphina and a fellow half-dragon (or ityasaari) named Abdo search for others like them. They hope that, together, the psychically talented ityasaari will be able to establish a dragon-proof psychic defense. In their travels, Seraphina and Abdo learn to their horror that malevolent half-dragon Jannoula is manipulating the minds of many ityasaari. Plenty of suspense and a thoughtfully developed dragon-centered world make this a captivating read.

johnston_prairie fireE. K. Johnston’s gripping Prairie Fire (Carolrhoda Lab, March 2015) picks up where The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim left off: Owen and his friend Siobhan have graduated from high school and enlisted in the Oil Watch, helping to defend carbon resources from dragons. However, life in the Oil Watch is not exactly what they anticipated: they are stationed at a remote and dangerous location, and burns Siobhan sustained in the first book compromise her abilities.

For even more dragon-themed YA, see this list.

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12. Shh! We have an author event!

The other night, Martha Parravano and I attended an “Ink and Drink” at Candlewick Press for visiting author Chris Haughton. Boston was a stopover for Haughton, an Irishman who lives in London, on his way to Mississippi to accept the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Shh! We Have a Plan, which received a starred review in the November/December 2014 Horn Book Magazine. His other books include Little Owl Lost and Oh No, George! and he developed a snazzy-looking app called Hat Monkey.

Haughton_bks

Haughton started as a graphic designer, then got hooked in to People Tree, a fair trade organization specializing in fashion/textiles and gifties. He talked about his time in Nepal, including co-founding a free-trade carpet and knitwear organization called Node that works with an adult education and support center to train and employ women, many of whom are domestic violence survivors or otherwise victims of oppression. This little guy — a George hand puppet (from Oh No, George!) — is one of the projects.

george

Just when you thought he couldn’t get any more big-hearted, he also created the artwork for a hospital children’s ward. And he read Shh! We Have a Plan aloud to us. And all with an Irish accent. The evening was lots of fun. Thanks for hosting, Candlewick!

shhprofile

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13. April’s Notes issue

In our April edition of Notes from the Horn Book, we’re celebrating National Poetry Month by chatting with poet Nikki Grimes about her new picture book, Poems in the Attic. Other goodies in this issue:

  • more poetry books for primary and intermediate readers
  • spring-y picture books about birds
  • grrl-power intermediate and middle-school fiction
  • YA about teen boys facing tough challenges

april 15 notes

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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14. Boston-area kidlit events for April: seeing stars

There are a ton of star-studded children’s lit events coming up later this month in the Boston area. Here are some highlights:

yolen_you nest here with meMother-and-daughter team Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple will read and sign their new picture book You Nest Here with Me at The Blue Bunny in Dedham on Saturday, April 11th, at 11:00 am.

bartoletti_hitler youthSusan Campbell Bartoletti will lead two multigenerational book discussions based around her books at middle schools in reading. The first session (at Parker Middle School on Wednesday, April 15th, at 12:00 pm) will focus on the theme of youth in Nazi Germany. The second session (at Coolidge Middle School on Thursday the 16th at 8:15 am) will focus on the Irish Potato Famine.

Hinds_romeoGraphic novelist Gareth Hinds (who has an article coming up in the May/June magazine) will be signing at The Blue Bunny at 6:30 pm on Friday, April 17th.

lambert_crow of his ownFrequent HB contributor Megan Dowd Lambert will give a presentation called “Looking at the Whole Book: Exploring A Crow of His Own” with the book’s illustrator, David Hyde Costello. The event will take place at The Carle Museum at 1:00 pm on Saturday, April 18th, and is free with museum admission.

scbwi 2015 conferenceThe New England SCBWI Conference 2015: “Think Outside the Crayon Box!” will be held Friday, April 24th, through Sunday, April 26th, at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel.

jerry_pinkney smCaldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney will give the fifth annual Barbara Elleman Research Library (BERL) Lecture on the theme of “Art as a Manuscript” at The Carle Museum on Saturday, April 25th, at 2:00pm.

david diazPinkney’s fellow Medalist David Díaz will be giving a series of children’s art workshops on Wednesday, April 29th, to celebrate Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros. He’ll be at the BPL’s Connolly Branch at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm and at the East Boston Branch at 3:30 pm and 4:30 pm.

williams-gracia_gone crazy in alabamaCSK winner Rita Williams-Garcia will discuss and sign Gone Crazy in Alabama, the final book in her trilogy about the Gaither sisters, at Wellesley Books at 7:00 pm on Thursday, April 30th.

Also on Thursday the 30th at 7:00 pm, Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry wraps up a month of The Giver–centric programming for West Roxbury Reads with a lecture and Q&A at the West Roxbury Branch library.

Dazzling, right? And that’s just a sampling! Head over to our monthly events calendar for all the details and for even more great upcoming events.

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15. Caldecott-fandom crossovers, pt. 2

Well, I guess I’m flying my fangirl flag high on OOTB these days. After last week’s Sam & Dean post and Monday’s ALA Youth Media Awards announcements, I’m back with another “I can’t be the only one…” situation. Is it just me, or does unimaginary friend Beekle

santat_adventures of beekle

look a lot like the Adipose babies from Doctor Who‘s “Partners in Crime” episode?

adipose

Of course, Beekle is sporting that cute little crown — and now a shiny gold Caldecott medal sticker to match!

More Doctor Who silliness here.

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16. Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs app review

pterosaurs menuThough the American Museum of Natural History‘s Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs exhibit closed a few weeks ago, those of us who missed it can learn about these fascinating animals with the associated app (2014).

The first section, “What Is a Pterosaur?,” introduces this prehistoric creature, which lived for 150 million years, going extinct about 66 million years ago. Related to both birds and dinosaurs, the flying reptiles were the first vertebrates to develop flight and have “no modern analogue.” (One of many reasons pterosaurs were unique: though their wings look similar to bats’ on the surface, only one digit — a very long fourth finger — supported their membranous wings. In bats, four of their five fingers spread across the membrane to support it.) Thus far, pterosaurs are not well-represented in the fossil record, with only a small number of species discovered, and mostly coming from regions with similar types of habitats. This first section also covers some of pterosaurs’ adaptations to flight: hollow bones that were light but strong, powerful hind limbs for launching into flight, airfoil-shaped wings which maximized lift.

Five additional sections highlight various species of pterosaurs:

  • “Big Head, Long Tail: Dimorphodon
  • “Covered in Fuzz: Jeholopterus
  • “Extreme Size: Pteranodon
  • “Dramatic Display: Tupuxuara
  • “Tons of Teeth: Pterodaustro

Each section opens with the featured pterosaur’s scientific name with its pronunciation and meaning; its era, region, wingspan, and diet; plus a simulation of its flight and a graphic showing its relative size to humans or modern-day birds. Subsequent pages in each section relate the story of the species’ discovery (often including a diagram or photo of the first discovered fossil in situ) and give an in-depth look at one of its characteristic features, such as how Dimorphodon‘s long tail may have helped it balance on the ground and in flight. Other pterosaur species with similar features are introduced as well.

Integrated into the sections are many well-chosen and high-quality images (dynamic illustrations, diagrams, and photos of fossils and dig sites), videos, animations, and maps.

pterosaurs size chart

Occasionally users even get a glimpse of the ANHM’s real-life premises. This includes a look at their 1940s-era mural of pterosaurs — alongside updated info and illustrations correcting the many inaccuracies of “what scientists thought about pterosaurs at that time.” Good on ya, ANHM!

Available for iPad (requires iOs 6.0 or later); free. Recommended for intermediate users and up. A free companion app, Pterosaurs: The Card Game, is also available.

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17. Build a Boyfriend

jones_build a boyfriendThere are so very many things I could say about Kiki Jones’s Build a Boyfriend (Penguin/Price Stern Sloan, May 2015). Are there overly mature sexual innuendos for children ages ten to fourteen? Sure! Is there a strong message expressing that physical appearance is of the utmost importance when procuring a partner? Yep! What about an intense focus on stereotypical hetero-female desires? Absolutely! Does this “activity” book show young readers that society’s obsession with feminine physical attributes is okay because, hey, it’s being done to dudes, too? Yes, indeed! I could say all of that about this book. Instead, though, let’s get to the more important matters.

  1. Penguin Young Readers Group’s catalog states that there are “over 1,500 unique boyfriend combinations” in Build a Boyfriend. How is a girl to choose with so many options? The front cover instructs the reader to “create the cutest guy ever” but, with over 1,500 possible combinations (1,728 to be exact), how can a girl ever complete the task? Building a boyfriend has become my new job. How will girls ages ten to fourteen, with school, homework, and extracurricular activities, manage it? Perhaps this is the sneaky lesson in Build a Boyfriend: get ready, girls, you have to do it all and you have to do it all at the same time. My suggestion? Take them out of school! It will give them more time to focus on their Cutest Guy Ever.
  2. He has “fun, floppy hair that’s as wild as he is” but, if you ask me, that hair looks awfully well groomed. How to know if his “floppy” hair really indicates fun? I need a “scent” option to see if my Cutest Guy Ever smells like product, Perfection, or unwashed hair and too much fun. One of them “looks so cute in hats” but why, I ask, is he wearing that hat? Is it because he hasn’t showered in a few days? This is an easy fix! I suggest a scratch and sniff addition, for the girls who care whether their Cutest Guy Ever smells like Cheez Whiz.
  3. What if I want the attributes listed in the text, but not all of the attributes displayed in the accompanying photo? I certainly want “a mysterious and sensitive soul that stares straight into mine…” but that stare comes with some pretty tacky earrings. And that “smile that makes me weak in the knees” sounds fantastic but, well, he’s wearing a mustard-yellow turtleneck sweater. Honey, you can’t wear mustard yellow — it washes me out.
  4. There are only three choices per page: hair, eyes, and mouth. So, I can create a boyfriend who has “a gentle wave of soft, dark, luxurious locks…Playful hazel eyes that say ‘let’s try something new’…And a strong, chiseled jaw…Sigh.” But, what if I want eyes that say “let’s try something new” and also “might get me into trouble”? I mean, who knows what this “something new” is? With only three options per page, my choices for distinct characteristics are incredibly limited. Yes, Build a Boyfriend, I want my Cutest Guy Ever to have “lips so soft I wonder if they are actually there when we kiss” but I also want him to have “a smile that could melt a thousand hearts (including mine).” Let’s fix this, shall we? I propose MORE die-cuts. Or perhaps transparent pages with text so I can layer attributes. But, oh no, this is going to lead to far more options than 1,728…
  5. And, finally, my Cutest Guy Ever has a very serious problem: none of his parts match up. His red hair and barely-there beard are way too big for his trim face. I’m worried about him. How does that thin face support such a giant forehead? Why are his cheeks so sunken in? Is he going to make it? Don’t make me choose again, Build a Boyfriend — I’ve already spent my entire work day finding a perfect guy.

 build a boyfriend 2build a boyfriend 1
This spiral-bound activity book comes out in May, at which point you, too, can spend a significant amount of your time finding true aesthetic perfection. That is, as long as it can be found in the 1,728 options given. If not, well, I guess you’re just out of luck. Better option? Give it to the young readers in your life — they’re much more malleable and, now that they’ve been taken out of school, have way more time to decide.

(Oh, and if you can’t wait until May, there’s a Build a Boyfriend Instagram!)

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18. Most popular boys’ names 2025?

I read a lot of supernatural romance YA — for the Mag, for the Guide, and for fun — and I’ve been noticing how many dreamy guys in recent series are named either Jared or Cole. Bonus points for a Jared/Cole in a love triangle with the female protagonist, or if the protagonist and said Jared/Cole have a heartbreaking misunderstanding. For your consideration:

In Kami Garcia’s The Legion series, protagonist Kennedy must choose between Jared and his twin Lukas as they bust ghosts and come up against the demon Andras.

garcia_unbreakable garcia_unmarked
Kami is torn between Jared Lynburn and his half-brother Ash — both of whom she’s been connected to telepathically — in Sarah Rees Brennan‘s Lynburn Legacy trilogy. Complicating their love lives further is the boys’ seriously dysfunctional, magic-using family.

brennan_unspoken brennan_untold brennan_unmade
Nikki, protagonist of Brodi Ashton’s Everneath series, is in true-love-always with boyfriend Jack, but finds herself drawn to dangerous (read: life-sucking) immortal Cole after she thinks Jack has cheated on her.

ashton_everneath ashton_everbound ashton_evertrue
Ali, zombie-slaying protagonist of Gena Showalter’s White Rabbit Chronicles, is on-again, off-again with fellow slayer (and soulmate) Cole.

genashowalter_alice in zombieland showalter_through the zombie glass showalter_queen of zombie hearts
This one is cheating a little… Cole St. Clair, rockstar/werewolf, is one of several narrators (including his love interest, Isabel) in Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Cole gets his own story in spin-off Sinner.

stiefvater_shiver stiefvater_linger stiefvater_forever stiefvater_sinner
Interestingly enough, the data from this small sample indicates that Jareds tend to be love-of-your-life types, while Coles tend to be bad boys with hearts of gold. Occasionally Cole is both the love of your life and the bad boy with a heart of gold.

Any Coles or Jareds I missed? Thoughts on what (or who) might have inspired the trend?

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19. New swag!

“Katie! There’s a pretty package for you!” Martha said this morning when the mail arrived. For me?

Sure enough, the holographic, hot pink package was addressed to me, and inside was…

ballet cat book

ballet cat tote

a galley of Bob Shea’s early reader Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret (Disney-Hyperion, May 2015), a super-cute tote bag, and a letter addressed “Dear Friend of Ballet.” Being both a friend of ballet and a friend of cats, I claimed the tote bag before anyone else even got to see it. (MY Ballet Cat tote bag! MINE!)

Another recent delivery — also from Disney-Hyperion — was more conducive to sharing. A crate of apple-shaped stress balls emblazoned “Wickedly Good!,” “Bad Apple,” “Rotten to the Core,” etc., arrived to promote Melissa de la Cruz’s novel Isle of the Lost (May 2015).

isle of the lost crate

isle of the lost apples

Isle of the Lost is a prequel to the Disney Channel’s upcoming Descendants movie, which will follow the banished children of Disney villains such as Maleficent, Jafar, and Cruella De Vil. Tucked in with the “apples” was a note (which shrieks when you open it!) reading “We cordially dare you to share these wickedly good apples, produced on the Isle of the Lost.” All five stress balls went to happy homes on Horn Book desks.

Thanks, Disney-Hyperion!

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20. Reading rainbow? Not quite

Yo, Marsala, I’m happy for you, I’ma let you finish — but Eggplant is the real Color of the Year. At least according to this entire shelf of purple-jacketed books.

purple books

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21. Recommended reading on “the circuit”

In his 1998 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech for The Circuit, Dr. Francisco Jiménez said, “The blowing of the horn for The Circuit will draw attention to and compassion for the thousands of migrant families and their children of yesterday and today. This sound is truly music to my ears.” These books, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide, similarly highlight the experiences of migrant farmworker families.

Primary

adler_picture book of cesar chavezUsing quotes from the subject’s autobiography, David A. Adler and Michael S. Adler’s A Picture Book of César Chávez tells Chávez’s abbreviated life story, from migrant farm work in childhood through his life of activism to his death in 1993. Marie Olofsdotter’s warm-hued illustrations reflect the man’s heritage and commitment to his cause. The book’s source notes and other ancillary material are excellent. (Holiday, 2010)

brown_side by sideMonica Brown makes a significant contribution to the increasing number of books about César Chávez by focusing equally on his partner, Dolores Huerta, in Side by Side / Lado a lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chavéz / La historia de Dolores Huerta y César Chávez. Their life stories are told in parallel until they meet and “side by side…began their journey.” Huerta’s accomplishments are admirable, and she gets her due in this heartfelt bilingual volume enhanced by Joe Cepeda’s emotion-filled mixed-media illustrations. (HarperCollins/Rayo, 2010)

krull_harvesting hopeIn Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez, Kathleen Krull shows how Chávez developed into an advocate and spokesman for migrant workers, focusing on the march he led as part of a grape-pickers strike. The brief text creates a complex view of Chávez, and Yuyi Morales’s mixed-media paintings are suffused with a variety of emotions. There are no sources, but this is an excellent choice for furthering understanding of racism, of nonviolent protest, and of the lives of workers before unions. Look for Spanish-language edition Cosechando esperanza: La historia de Cesar Chavez. (Harcourt, 2003)

mateo_migrantIn a straightforward first-person narration, Migrant by José Manuel Mateo recounts a child’s memories of his migration from Mexico to Los Angeles. The dramatic journey includes jumping a train, scaling a wall, and being chased by dogs. Javier Martínez Pedro’s intricately detailed black-and-white artwork is presented as one long vertical image with an accordion fold, in the style of ancient Mayan codices. The reverse side of the book presents the Spanish translation. (Abrams, 2014)

Separate Is Never Equal In 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won —the desegregation of schools in California. Author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans in Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. (Abrams, 2014)

 

Intermediate

atkin_voices from the fieldS. Beth Atkin’s Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories features children and teenagers of migrant workers, depicted in black-and-white photographs, speaking about family experiences, work, gangs, friends, and assorted fears, hopes, and dreams. Poetry by the young people, printed in both English and Spanish, is interspersed among the interviews. (Little, Brown, 2000)

jimenez_the circuitFrancisco Jiménez’s The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child was originally published only in paperback (by University of New Mexico Press). The hardcover edition of this moving and transcendent book — which won the 1998 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction — includes an appended author’s note drawn from Jiménez’s acceptance speech for that award. (Houghton, 1999)

jimenez_breaking throughBreaking Through, Francisco Jiménez’s sequel to The Circuit, follows the pattern of the coming-of-age novel. Francisco and his family obtain visas that allow them to enter and stay in the United States without fear of deportation. Like its hero, the book’s pace is steady and deliberate, relying upon natural development rather than theatrics. For all its recounting of deprivation, this is a hopeful book, told with rectitude and dignity. (Houghton, 2001)

ryan_esperanza risingIn Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan’s poignant novel of the realities of immigration, thirteen-year-old Esperanza, daughter of an affluent Mexican rancher, is forced to trade fancy dolls and dresses for hard work and ill-fitting hand-me-downs after her beloved father dies. Laboring in the United States, picking grapes on someone else’s land for pennies an hour, Esperanza is transformed into someone who can take care of herself and others. (Scholastic, 2000)

 

Older

brimner_strikeIn his comprehensive history Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights, Larry Dane Brimner recounts the movement for better wages and working conditions among migrant farm workers in the Southwest, from California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century to the story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers’ strike. The compelling narrative includes both textual and visual primary sources. (Boyds Mills/Calkins, 2014)

jimenez_reaching outFrancisco Jiménez (The Circuit, Breaking Through) continues the fictionalized story of his maturation in Reaching Out, here describing his character’s college years in the early 1960s. The writing is precise and evocative, with the author’s affection for family and friends being especially palpable. A quietly compelling book for older teens and an important contribution to the body of works addressing the immigrant experience. (Houghton, 2008)

young_cesar chavezJeff C. Young’s thorough, well-documented biography César Chávez [American Workers series] recounts Chávez’s progression from fieldworker in California to activist, union organizer, and civil rights advocate. Chávez’s untiring efforts, extremely modest salary, refusal to back down, hunger strikes, and growing awareness of political process are emphasized, with the United Farm Workers Union as his crowning achievement. Considerable primary material is used, and captioned photographs illustrate the text. (Morgan, 2007)

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22. “These children need a champion”: an interview with Gretchen Bircher

Gretchen Bircher is an instructional aide at Adam Elementary School in Santa Maria, California. (She’s also my amazing mom!) Today she is submitting a proposal to the Santa Maria–Bonita School District, advocating that a new elementary school be named in honor of Dr. Francisco Jiménez — author, recipient of a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and an alum of the district’s schools.

Francisco-Jimenez

Dr. Francisco Jiménez

1. Tell us a little about Dr. Jiménez’s life and accomplishments.

GB: Francisco Jiménez was born in 1943 in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. When he was four years old, his family immigrated without papers to California’s San Joaquin Valley, where they hoped to find a better life. But things were very hard for the family, which eventually grew to ten. They moved constantly to follow the crops (working the “circuit”), living in tent camps and worse. Francisco began working in the fields at the age of six.

Only English was spoken in school, so Francisco had a difficult time communicating with his teachers. He loved learning, though, and kept a notepad with him to write down new words and ideas.

At one point, his family was deported to Mexico. Immigration officers came to Francisco’s eighth grade classroom to take him away. They were fortunate to find a legal way back to the U.S. when a sharecropper agreed to sponsor them.

Francisco realized that education was his means to escape the fields. He dreamed of staying in one place so that he could attend school full-time. That dream came true when the family settled in Santa Maria, California. He persisted in his education and was elected student body president at Santa Maria High.

After graduating from Santa Clara University, Francisco attended Harvard, then earned both a master’s degree and PhD from Columbia under a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He went on to become Chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Santa Clara University as well as the Director of the Division of Arts and Humanities.

In 1997, Dr. Jiménez published his autobiographical work The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, which won numerous awards, including the Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. He followed The Circuit with several more award-winning books. His stories have been published in more than fifty textbooks and anthologies and have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. In Santa Maria, we have The Circuit and its sequels Breaking Through and Reaching Out in our classrooms and school libraries.

2. What would be the significance of naming the new elementary school in his honor?

GB: The significance would be twofold: first, it would honor an amazing man who, despite incredible odds, went on to have a distinguished academic and literary career. Secondly, it would give the many farmworker students in our district a role model, someone who has been where they are now and who has succeeded through education.

Dr. Jimenez deserves to have the school named after him, but even more than that, our students need it. I’ve been an aide in this school district for twenty-six years, and I’ve seen how much these children need a champion. They need someone to relate to, someone from the same background who has succeeded, to show them that the fields aren’t their destiny. It’s about time that they had a hero of their own! Dr. Jiménez is a perfect choice.

People around the world are inspired by his books, and I think there should be schools named after him all over the world! But particularly here in Santa Maria — Dr. Jiménez went to schools in our district; he worked in the same fields as some of our students.

Last March, I attended a lecture presented by Dr. Jiménez at Allan Hancock College here in Santa Maria. The auditorium was packed. I was moved and impressed by the deep affection Dr. Jiménez has for Santa Maria and the profound emotional response of the audience. During the question-and-answer portion of the presentation, people (including children) got up to speak to Dr. Jiménez. They were crying, thanking him and telling him how much his work means to them. It was an amazing and powerful experience.

jimenez_the circuit3. As an educator, have you observed unique challenges facing migrant children in the school system? How do your school and school district address these challenges?

GB: Not all of our farmworker children are migrant. Some move with the crops and some stay in the area all year. I worked with AmeriCorps in a tutoring program at one of Santa Maria’s subsidized farmworker housing units, which allows one parent to leave to follow work while the rest of the family stays here. But many of our students live in difficult circumstances, including multifamily housing situations.

Another challenge occurs at school registration; without birth certificates, medical records, etc., a child’s age and appropriate grade level can be difficult to determine.

Often these children are very much like Francisco was when he first attended school. They sit, look, and listen. Their parents work very, very hard in the fields and generally speak little or no English. Although it is not a bilingual curriculum, all classrooms have a Spanish-speaking teacher and/or aide. Some of our families are Mixtec — they are from Mexico, but have their own spoken language and do not speak Spanish. None of the teachers in our district speak Mixtec and we have very few translators in the district because they are very hard to find. We call on them at parent-teacher conference time.

Our district has a free breakfast and lunch program for all students, as well as a grant that provides for a daily snack of fruits or vegetables. Students from the nearby California Polytechnic University come into the classrooms with a nutrition program to teach the children how to choose and prepare healthy snacks.

An after-school tutoring program helps students with their homework. Our students’ parents are hardworking and caring, but they are often unable to help their children with schoolwork due to language and education barriers they face.

4. You mentioned the importance for your district’s farmworker students to see that “that the fields aren’t their destiny,” that there are other possible futures for them. Have you seen this in action?

GB: Some of our students won’t finish school, but others will. Some go on to our local community college. We have former students who visit the elementary school and tell us that they want to be teachers. They have that same drive, that love of education, that helped Dr. Jiménez succeed.

5. Is there a piece of wisdom from Dr. Jiménez’s writing or lectures that particularly inspires you in your work as an educator?

GB: I love this quote from Dr. Jiménez’s 1998 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech:

“I wrote (these stories) to give voice to a sector of our society that has been largely ignored. Through my writing I hope to give readers insight into the lives of migrant farmworker families and their children, whose backbreaking labor picking fruits and vegetables puts food on our tables. Their courage, their hopes and dreams for a better life for their children and their children’s children, give meaning to ‘the American Dream.’ Their story is the American story.”

For The Horn Book’s reviews of The Circuit and its sequels, plus additional recommended reading on the experiences of migrant farmworker children, click here.

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23. The Carrot Patch comes to us

Today’s mail brought a box of (foam) carrots*,

box of carrots

buttons, stickers, bookmarks,

wolfie swag

and a very nice note from Wolfie the Bunny author Ame Dyckman. Thanks, Ame! In our March/April Magazine, Wolfie receives a starred review and Ame tells us a bit about Wolfie’s eating habits; look for the issue in your mailbox very soon.

*I have to confess we had hoped they were chocolate carrots — there are some Wolfie-sized appetites for sweets in our office!

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24. From Page to Screen panel

When my favorite books get made into movies, I’m there. But I’m usually wearing a t-shirt with this logo (courtesy of Unshelved):

the book was better t-shirt

So when Children’s Books Boston announced its latest event, “From Page to Screen: An Inside Look at Children’s Book Adaptations,” I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued when I saw the range of perspectives represented. Moderator and panel participant Deborah Kovacs, senior vice president at Walden Media and publisher at Walden Pond Press, has been involved with many book-to-film collaborations, including The Giver (a feature film in 2014) and The Watsons Go to Birmingham (which aired on the Hallmark Channel in 2013). Panelist Ammi-Joan Paquette, senior agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency and an author herself, has seen the work of several of her author clients begin the transition from book to film. Panelist Carol Greenwald, senior executive producer of children’s programs at WGBH Boston, helped create the television adaptations of Arthur, Curious George, and Martha Speaks. And Randy Testa, vice president of education and professional development at Walden Media, contributed to the discussion with in-depth reports of his involvement with The Watsons Go to Birmingham.

page to screen panel

L.-R.: Debbie Kovacs, Carol Greenwald, and Ammi-Joan Paquette

Almost immediately, Kovacs invoked The Giver author Lois Lowry, whose novel went through about two decades of attempts to bring it to the screen. According to Kovacs, Lowry has said that she considers a film faithful if it’s “true to the spirit of the book.” Lowry participated closely in the 2014 Giver film’s development, helping to write voiceover narration to clarify scenes that test audiences had trouble following. Kovacs and the other panelists agreed that adapters should consider the most important factors of a story’s appeal. She pointed out that when a movie has a long list of end credits, “about half of those people…have opinions” that can alter the way a film is adapted. “In their defense,” she added, “they’re putting up a whole lot of money.”

Paquette also emphasized the number of people and steps involved in the adaptation process; she warns authors not to expect that their books will be adapted for the screen. Even when books are optioned for adaptation, much in the adaptation process is beyond authors’ control. She did cite a success story, though: her client Jennifer A. Nielsen met with a scriptwriter working on the movie adaptation of her intermediate novel The False Prince. Nielsen had the opportunity to share what would happen later in the book series with the screenwriter so he could write with future events in mind.

For WGBH executive producer Greenwald, “the television series is not the book,” but part of the purpose of an educational book-to-television adaptation is to encourage kids’ continued reading about the characters. Converting brief picture books to long television series means fleshing out characters, giving them backstories, and specifying their parents’ jobs, for instance, but it’s important to preserve the spirit of the source material. The TV show’s Curious George might go on new adventures that aren’t in the book series, but (for example) the animals in his TV world can’t — and shouldn’t — talk, since they can’t in the books.

Testa spoke passionately about the Watsons film, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Although the film kept many of the episodes from the book, the bombing and issues of segregation became a more continuous part of the movie’s narrative arc. Later Testa declared, “we have to, have to, have to” depict more people of color on screen, naming Esperanza Rising and Monster as books that are waiting to be made into movies.

As you can see, book-to-film adaptations aren’t as simple as my t-shirt might have you believe, and there was a lot to talk about. Luckily, the conversation doesn’t have to end! Visit Children’s Books Boston for information on future events. Next up: a trivia rematch (date TBA)!

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25. Fiona & the Fog e-book review

fiona and the fog menu“One foggy morning, Fiona sat on her front stoop, wondering what to do with the day. ‘I’m bored. I wish something exciting would happen…'” With that, the fog snatches up Fiona’s scarf and leads her on a chase around a city’s environs (it’s unnamed but the skyline is San Francisco’s; makes sense given the fog).

Author William Poor wisely keeps the text of original e-book Fiona & the Fog (2014) fairly spare, leaving his stunning illustrations to tell most of the story. From his article on Medium.com: “A couple years ago, a design fad called ‘cinemagraphs’ swept the internet – these were still photographs in which portions of the image subtly moved. Imagine a still landscape photo with actual moving, drifting clouds, or a photo of a woman whose hair is waving slightly in the breeze.”

A design fad, maybe, but one that’s used to great effect here. The background photographs ground the story in real life (cartoonlike Fiona is sitting on a real stoop, standing on a real beach, exploring a real forest), while the moving images create an intriguing air of mystery — trees sway in the breeze, waves lap, a sea lion bobs in and out of the water, fog slowly fills the screen then lifts — that’s heightened by unexpected, almost surrealistic imagery: high in a tree, for example, a bicycle tire turns, and closer to the story’s climax a rope ladder reaches down from the sky.

fiona and the fog city

fiona and the fog rocks

Atmospheric background music by Ted Poor contributes to the zenlike mood, with gentle chord progressions and soothing nature sounds. It all works beautifully as an original e-book — that rare case where conventional picture book meets technology and the result is something fresh and harmonious.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $1.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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