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Results 1 - 25 of 172
1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. “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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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).

barnett_samanddave

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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. BA-BA-DOOK.

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!

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18. 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?

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19. 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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20. ‘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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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