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1. Talking with Cynthia DeFelice: About Writing, Inspiration, the Common Core, Boys, Guns, Books and More

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I have long followed and respected the work of author Cynthia DeFelice, who over the past 25 years has put together an expansive and impressive body of work. No bells, no whistles, no fancy pyrotechnics. Just one well-crafted book after another. There’s not an ounce of phony in Cynthia; she’s the genuine article, the real magilla. Last November, I was pleased to run into Cynthia at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival. Pressed for time, we chatted easily about this and that, then parted ways. But I wanted more. Thus, this conversation . . . I’m sure you’ll like Cynthia almost as much as her dog does.

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Greetings, Cynthia. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this conversation. I feel like we have so much to talk about. We first met sometime in the early 90s, back when Frank Hodge, a bookseller in Albany, was putting on his elaborate, gushing children’s book conferences.

UnknownIt’s nice to be in touch with you again. I’ll always remember those conferences​ with Frank Hodge.  He made me feel validated as a fledgling writer.  He left me a voice mail telling me how much he loved the book Weasel.  I played it over and over and over!   In 1992, the Hodge-Podge Society gave the first ever Hodge-Podge Award to Weasel.  It meant the world to me.  Those were great times for authors, teachers, kids, and for literature.

Frank forced me to read your book — and I loved it. So I’ll always be grateful to Frank for that; it’s important to have those people in your world, the sharers, the ones who press books into your hands and say, “You must read this!”

Well, good for Frank! He is definitely one of those people you’re talking about. His enthusiasm is infectious.

We’ve seen many changes over the past 25 years. For example, a year or two ago I  participated in a New York State reading conference in Albany for educators. The building was abuzz with programs about “Common Core” strategies & applications & assessments & implementation techniques and ZZZZZzzzzz. (Sorry, dozed off for a minute!) Anyway, educators were under tremendous pressure to roll this thing out — even when many sensed disaster. Meanwhile, almost out of habit, organizers invited authors to attend, but they placed us in a darkened corridor in the back. Not next to the Dumpster, but close. At one point I was with Susan Beth Pfeffer, who writes these incredible books, and nobody was paying attention to her. This great writer was sitting there virtually ignored.

9780374400200To your point about finding fabulous authors being ignored at conferences, I hear you. It can be a very humbling experience. I find that teachers aren’t nearly as knowledgeable about books and authors as they were 10-25 years ago, and not as interested. They aren’t encouraged in that direction, and they don’t feel they have the time for what is considered to be non-essential to the goal of making sure their kids pass the tests. Thankfully, there are exceptions! You and I both still hear from kids and teachers for whom books are vital, important, and exhilarating.

But, yes, I agree with you completely that literature is being shoved to the side. Teachers tell me they have to sneak in reading aloud when no one is watching or listening.

When I was invited to speak at a dinner, along with Adam Gidwitz and the great Joe Bruchac, I felt compelled to put in a good word for  . . . story. You know, remind everybody that books matter. In today’s misguided rush for “informational units of text,” I worry that test-driven education is pushing literature to the side. The powers that be can’t easily measure the value of a book — it’s impossible to reduce to bubble tests — so their solution is to ignore fiction completely. Sorry for the rant, but I’m so frustrated with the direction of education today.

Well, it’s hard not to rant. It’s disconcerting to think how we’ve swung so far from those heady days of “Whole Language” to today’s “Common Core” curriculum — about as far apart as two approaches can be. I think the best approach lies somewhere in the vast middle ground between the two, and teachers need to be trusted to use methods as varied as the kids they work with every day.

On a recent school visit in Connecticut, I met a second-year librarian — excuse me, media specialist — who was instructed by her supervisor to never read aloud to the students. It wasn’t perceived as a worthwhile use of her time.

Well, that is sad and just plain ridiculous. I was a school librarian for 8 ½ years. I felt the most important part of my job was reading aloud to kids

I didn’t realize you were a librarian. 
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9780374398996Yes, I began as a school librarian. But, really, my life as a writer began when I was a child listening to my mother read aloud.  And every crazy job I had before I became a librarian (and there were a lot) helped to form and inform me as a writer.  This is true of us all.  I had an actual epiphany one day while I was a librarian. I looked up from a book I was reading aloud and saw the faces of a class of kids who were riveted to every word… I saw their wide eyes, their mouths hanging open, their bodies taut and poised with anticipation – I was seeing full body participation in the story that was unfolding.  I thought: I want to be the person who makes kids look and feel like THAT.
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And that’s exactly who you became. Which is incredible. This can be a tough and discouraging business; I truly hope you realize how much you’ve accomplished.

Thanks, and back at you on that. I think we have to constantly remind ourselves that what we do is important. I think we’ve all had the experience of being scorned because we write for children. The common perception is that we write about fuzzy bunnies who learn to share and to be happy with who they are.

I loved your recent blog post about the importance of books that disturb us. I’m still amazed when I hear from a teacher or parent –- and occasionally even a young reader –- saying they didn’t like a book or a scene from a book because of something upsetting that happened in it. Conflict is the essence of fiction! No conflict, no story (or, worse, a boring, useless one). I love my characters, and I hate to make them go through some of the experiences they have, but it’s got to be done! Did I want Stewpot to die in Nowhere to Call Home? Did I want Weasel to have cut out Ezra’s tongue and killed his wife and unborn baby? Did I want Erik to have to give up the dog Quill at the end of Wild Life? These things hurt, and yet we see our characters emerge from the dark forests we give them to walk through, coming out stronger and wiser. We all need to hear about such experiences, over and over again, in order to have hope in the face of our own trials.

I admire all aspects of your writing, but in particular your sense of pace; your stories click along briskly. They don’t feel rushed, there’s real depth, but there’s always a strong forward push to the narrative. How important is that to you?

I love beautiful writing, I love imagery and metaphor, and evocative language. But all that must be in service to story, or I am impatient with it.  I don’t like show-offy writing.

The ego getting in the way.

Yes. Even the best writers need an editor to keep that ego in check! I seek clarity — what good is writing that obscures and obfuscates? The purpose is to communicate, to say what you mean. That goes for all kinds of writing, not just writing for kids. Kids want to get to the point. So do I.

Can you name any books or authors that were important to your development as a writer? Or is that an impossible question to answer?

 Impossible. Because there are too many, and if I made a list I would inevitably leave out a person or book I adore. Safer to say that every book I’ve read -– the good, the bad, and the ugly –- all are in there somewhere, having an effect on my own writing.

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You are what you eat. Also, your love of nature — the great outdoors! — infuses everything you write.

Nature and the great outdoors, yes.  My love of these things will always be a big part of my writing.  I find that after a lifetime of experience and reading and exploring, I know a lot about the natural world, and it’s fun to include that knowledge in my writing. Sometimes I worry that kids are being cut off from the real world.  But I do know lots of kids who love animals and trees and flowers and bugs, love to hunt and fish, to mess around in ponds and streams, build forts,  paddle canoes, collect fossils — you name it. They give me hope for the future.
Where do you live?

On and sometimes in (during the floods of 1972 and 1993) Seneca Lake in beautiful upstate New York.

Is that where you’re from?

Nope. I grew up in the suburbs of northeast Philly. I came up here to go to college and never left.
Your books often feature boy characters. Why do you think that’s so?
9780374324278You’re right: more than half of my main characters are boys.  I’m not sure why.  And I don’t know why I feel so perfectly comfortable writing in the voice of a 10-11-12 year old boy.  Maybe because my brothers and I were close and we did a lot together?  Maybe because my husband still has a lot of boyish enthusiasm?  At any rate, I am crazy about pre-adolescent boys, their goofiness and earnestness and heedlessness.  My new book (coming out in May) is called Fort.  It features two boys, Wyatt and Augie (age 11) who build a fort together during summer vacation.  I had so much fun writing it.  (I have to admit, I love when I crack myself up, and these guys just make me laugh.)
While writing, are you conscious about the gender gap in reading? This truism that “boys don’t read.”

I am. Sometimes I am purposely writing for that reluctant reader, who is so often a boy. I love nothing so much as hearing that one of my books was THE ONE that turned a kid around, that made him a reader.

I just read Signal, so that book is on my mind today. I had to smile  when Owen gets into the woods and his phone doesn’t work. No wi-fi. It’s funny to me because in my “Scary Tales” series I always have to do the same thing. If we want to instill an element of danger, there has to be a sense of isolation that doesn’t seem possible in today’s hyper-connected world. “What? Zombie hordes coming over the rise? I’ll call Mom to pick us up in her SUV!” So we always need to get the  parents out of the way and somehow disable the wi-fi. You didn’t have that problem back when you wrote Weasel.

9780312617769Thanks for reading Signal.  And, yeah, it’s really annoying that in order to be plausible in this day and age, you have to have a reason why your character isn’t on the phone with Mommy every time something goes wrong.  (Another good reason to write historical fiction!)  In Fort, Augie lives with his grandmother and doesn’t have money for a cell phone, and Wyatt’s with his father for the summer. His parents are divorced, and (unlike Mom) Dad doesn’t believe in kids being constantly connected to an electronic nanny.  So — halleluiah!  Wyatt and Augie are free to do all the fun, dumb, and glorious things they feel like doing!
My friends and I built a fort in the woods when we were in high school. Good times, great memories, just hanging out unfettered and free. I included a fort in my book, Along Came Spider. For Trey and Spider, the book’s main characters, the fort represented a refuge. It was also a haven for their friendship away from the social pressures and cliques of school. A place in nature where they could be themselves. So, yes, I love that you wrote a book titled Fort. I’ll add it to my list! (You are becoming an expensive friend.)
Well, now that I’ve discovered your books, I can say the same. Money well spent, I’d say.
Where did the idea for Signal originate?
The inspiration for Signal came one morning as I was running on a trail through the woods with Josie, my dog at the time.  She proudly brought me a white napkin with red stuff smeared on it.  I thought, Whoa, is that blood?  No, whew. Ketchup.  But what if it had been blood?  And what if a kid was running with his dog and she brought him pieces of cloth with blood stains?  Eww.  That would be creepy!  And scary, and exciting, and mysterious — and I started writing Signal.

You’ve always been extremely well-reviewed. Readers love your books.  And yet in this day of series and website-supported titles, where everything seems to be high-concept, it feels like the stand-alone middle grade novel is an endangered species.

I have been lucky with reviews.  But, sadly, I think traditional review sources are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as blogs and websites and personal media platforms take over. That’s not good news for me because I am simply not interested in self-promotion.  Can’t do it.  Don’t want to do it.  I just want to write the best books I can and let them speak for themselves.  I know it’s old-school, but there it is.  You said that a stand-alone middle grade novel is becoming an endangered species amid all the series and “high concept” books out there, and I think you’re right.  But when that stand-alone book somehow finds its niche audience, when kids and teachers somehow discover it and embrace it as theirs . . . , well, it’s a beautiful damn thing, and it’s enough to keep me writing, for now.

For now?!

Well, my husband is 9 years older than I am and recently retired, and there are a lot of things we still need to do!

Like what?

We have a farm property we are improving by digging a pond, and by planting trees and foliage to benefit wildlife. We stocked it with fish, and enjoy watching it attract turtles, frogs, toads, dragonflies, birds and animals of all sorts. So we like to spend a lot of time there, camping out. We love to travel, and are headed next on a self-driving tour of Iceland. We also have four terrific grandchildren we like to spend time with. I could go on and on with the bucket list…

By the way, I agree about the blogs. I think we are seeing a lot more opinion — more reaction — but less deep critical thought. It’s fine and useful for a neighbor to tell you they hated or loved a movie, but it’s not the same as a professional film critic providing an informed, and hopefully insightful, critique. Yet somehow today it’s all conflated. 

Well, there is a similar phenomenon with self-published books. I’m not a total snob about it, and there are plenty of good books that didn’t go through the process of being accepted by and edited by a professional at an established publishing house. But I’ll repeat that everyone needs an editor. And I’m often amazed at the brazenness of people spouting off in various social media platforms, often without being fully grounded in the subject they are pontificating about. But, hey, maybe I’m just getting to be an old fart.

Yeah, I don’t Tweet either. We’re being left in the dust! My observation is that the “kidlitosphere” is comprised 90% of women. Of course, many of those bloggers are passionate, smart, generous women who genuinely want to see boys reading. But I always think of a favorite line written by one of my heroes, Charlotte Zolotow, where a boy imagines his father telling his mother, “You never were a boy. You don’t know.”

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zolotowa-father

I don’t think it’s an ideal thing that the blogging world — which has become such an important source of information about books — is overwhelmingly female. Of course, the situation is not at all their fault. 

That’s why it’s so great that there are writers out there like you, Bruce Coville, Tedd Arnold, Jon Scieska, Neil Gaiman, Jack Gantos –- who not only write books boys like, but are out there in schools demonstrating that REAL MEN read and write! I don’t know what we can do about the gender gap other than to be aware of it and to write the best books we can, books that both boys and girls will devour.

Tell me about Wild Life. Once again, you are mining the world of adventure — a boy, a dog, and a gun.

I never got as much mail from kids, teachers, grandparents and other caregivers as I did after that book came out. In our hyper-politically correct world, GUNS = EVIL. You can’t talk about them in school. So where does that leave a kid who spends his or her weekend hunting, who studies nature in order to be part of it, who hunts respectfully, with care, who is enmeshed in family history and tradition, who through hunting feels part of the full complexity of life?

8901928I had to keep silencing the censors in my head telling me I couldn’t put a gun in an 11 year old kid’s hands, unless it was a matter of survival in a book set back in “the olden days.”

I was amazed and immensely gratified to learn that a lot of kids found themselves and their interests represented in Erik’s story. I didn’t write it with an agenda in mind. I simply wrote it based on the experiences I’ve had when my husband and I take our bird dog on her yearly Dream Vacation to North Dakota to hunt pheasants.

Ha! I love that your dog has a Dream Vacation.

I get so much joy from watching her do what she was born and bred to do. I cherish our days out on those wide open prairies, and have learned to see the subtle and varied beauty of the landscape. I was just hoping to write a rip-roaring good story that incorporated all that wonderful stuff. Our hunting experiences have nothing whatsoever to do with “gun violence” of the sort you hear about on TV. It’s been interesting to hear from kids who really get that.

Yeah, I enjoy meeting those kids, often out in the western end of New York State. One of my readers from the North Country sent me this photo. Isn’t she great?

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Oh, man, I love that! We can’t forget those kids are out there.

What’s next, Cynthia? Any new books on the horizon?

Possibly, just possibly, a sequel to Fort. But that’s all I will say, even if you use enhanced interrogation techniques.

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Huge-rubber-duck-13--196-pWe do not waterboard here at Jamespreller dot com, and I resent the implication! Those are merely bath toys that happen to be . . . nevermind!

According to the rules of the interwebs, I see that we’ve gone way beyond the approved length of standard posts. Likely there’s no one left reading. It’s just us. So I’ll end here with a big thank you, Cynthia, for putting up with me. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I hope I’ll see you again in Rochester at the 19th Annual Children’s Book Festival

Yes!  I look forward to seeing you there.  It’s an incredible event, and gets bigger and better every year.

 

 

 

 

 

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2. A Pet for Fly Guy: Tedd Arnold

Book: A Pet for Fly Guy
Author: Tedd Arnold
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

I must confess that I have not read the books in the Fly Guy series of early readers, though I believe we have the first one around here somewhere. But I just read the first Fly Guy picture book, A Pet for Fly Guy, and I thought that it was fabulous. It's funny, and it's also warm without being cloying or message-y. And of course, Tedd Arnold's illustrations are a lot of fun.

The premise is introduced easily enough on the first page:

"A boy had a pet fly.
He named him --
FLY GUY!

Fly Guy was the smartest pet
in the world. He could say
the boy's name --
BUZZ!"

Here "FLY GUY" and "BUZZ" are shown as colorful text call-outs by the boy and the fly, respectively.

In the story that follows, Fly Guy and Buzz go on a picnic to the park. Upon witnessing lots of kids playing with their pets, Fly Guy becomes sad that he doesn't have a pet of his own. A search ensues, but finding the right pet for a fly is a bit tricky. Fortunately, a happy resolutions is found at the end.

A Pet for Fly Guy includes both subtle and overt humor. When Buzz and Fly Guy eat lunch together, we see Buzz eating a sandwich, while Fly Guy samples from an odorous trash can. The pets that the other kids bring to the park include a large fish in a tank (pulled along on a wagon) and a protective-suit-wearing kid playing with his porcupine. The possible pets considered include a frog, which chases Fly Guy and tries to eat him. 

This is one of those books in which the tight connection between text and illustrations is essential. Nothing needs to be said about the over-the-top pets belonging to the other kids - the pictures tell the story. Arnold's characters, animal and human, all have huge round eyes with tiny pupils, keeping the fly motif consistent. Fly Guy, though small, wears a range of expressions, through his expressions and posture. Arnold's digitally-generated art includes faint scribble-type markings in the background, lending an unusual texture to the brightly colored pages. 

Fly Guy's migration to the picture book format seems like a success to me! A Pet for Fly Guy is original, humorous, and kid-friendly. It's sure to be a hit, and will be a nice way to introduce new readers to the Fly Guy universe. 

Publisher: Orchard Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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3. Parts by Tedd Arnold

*Funny, realistic picture book for preschoolers through first graders
*Preschool boy as main character
*Rating: Parts by Tedd Arnold can easily become your favorite book–as a kid and as an adult.

Short, short summary:

This poor boy thinks the glue that is holding him together is not working. He find pieces of hair in his comb. Something fell out of his nose, and he is sure it is his brain. Then there’s the skin on the bottom of his foot, and the last straw–his teeth–how will he eat? He gets some masking tape to try to hold himself together; but finally, his parents remember to tell him that this is a normal part of growing up!

So, what do I do with this book?

1. The first time you read it to children see if they think something is really wrong with him or if this is just the body’s way of growing. Ask children if these similar things have happened to them, and give them a chance to tell their stories (so allow for some extra discussion time when reading this book aloud!).

2. We all know at the end of the book that the boy has found ear wax, but can your students make a creative story about what he really found in his ear? For preschoolers, you can do this as a shared writing activity and each student can draw their own illustration. For first graders, they can write a short ending to the story. Encourage them to be creative with what the boy found in his ear! :)

3. Use this book in a health unit to talk to students about what is really holding our body together–bone, muscles, skin, blood vessels, etc. etc. For younger students (such as two or three-year-old kids), you can talk about the parts they can see!

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4. Fusenews: “The Hardy boys were tense with a realization of their peril.”

So I’m reading through my weekly edition of AL Direct and I notice that no matter what worldwide occurrence takes place, librarians are always there. Whether it’s damage to two libraries in Egypt, stories from the librarians in Christchurch, New Zealand, or how the Wisconsin Library Association delayed Library Legislative Day due to the protests, the profession is there.  That last story was of particular interest to me, since I had wondered whether any school librarians were amongst the protesters in Wisconsin lately.  According to the article, they most certainly are.  You go, guys!!  Seriously, I want to hear more about it.  If any of you know any school librarians marching in WI, send them my way.  I’d love to do a full post on them.

  • Speaking of folks in the news, I have to give full credit to author/illustrator Katie Davis for consistently locating the hotspots in children’s literature and convincing folks to talk to her about them on her fabulous podcast.  In the past she’s managed to finagle everyone from the editor who wanted to replace the n-word in Huckleberry Finn to James Kennedy on the 90-Second Newbery.  Now she’s managed to get Bruce Coville to talk about what went down when he and fellow children’s author Liz Levy got stuck in Egypt during the protest period.  That Katie.  She’s got a nose for news.
  • I’m having a lot of fun reading How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely these days, and I can’t help but see echoes of the plot in this story about the man behind the Hardy Boys novels.  We hear about the various Carolyn Keenes all the time, but why not the Dixons?  After reading this old piece in the Washington Post from 1998 (The Hardy Boys The Final Chapter) I feel vindicated.  I reread some of my old Three Investigators novels not too long ago and they STILL held up!  I always knew they were better than The Hardy Boys.  Now I have proof.  I was going to save the link to this essay until the end of the Fusenews today, but it’s so amusing and so delightfully written that I just have to encourage you, first thing, to give it a look.  Thanks to The Infomancer for the link.
  • Fun Fact About Newbery Winning Author Robin McKinley: She’s learning to knit.  Related Sidenote: She also has a blog.  Did you know this?  I did not know this.  And look at the meticulous use of footnotes.  McKinley should write the next Pale Fire.  I would

    10 Comments on Fusenews: “The Hardy boys were tense with a realization of their peril.”, last added: 2/25/2011
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5. Kids’ Halloween Books: Cats, Bats, & Skeletons

By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: September 21, 2011

It’s time to start prepping for the holiday season. First stop: Halloween. No tricks here—only treats!

When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
‘tis near Halloween.
~Author Unknown

Our 2011 Halloween book list spotlights everything from growing pumpkins; overcoming fears (a great topic for youngsters that tend to get a little surprised when they no longer recognize their family and friends due to colorful costumes and scary masks); witches; skeletons; cats and bats; and plain-old, creepy stories that beg to be read on a dark night with a flashlight. From babies to beginning readers to middle graders to young adults, TCBR has you covered.

Board Books

Spooky Boo! A Halloween Adventure

by Lily Karr (Author), Kyle Poling (Illustrator)

Reading level: Baby-Preschool

Board book: 12 pages

Publisher: Cartwheel Books; Brdbk edition (July 1, 2011)

Source: Publisher

Publisher’s synopsis: What’s Halloween without a haunted house? Come inside SPOOKY BOO! A HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE – it’s filled with tons of Halloween fun! With spooky lift-the-flaps, icky touch-and-feels, and outrageous mirrors throughout, this is one haunted house that trick-or-treaters will want to visit again and again!

Add this book to your collection: Spooky Boo! A Halloween Adventure

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Little Black Book

by Renee Khatami

Reading level: Baby-Preschool

Board book: 14 pages

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (July 26, 2011)

Source: Publisher

Publisher’s synopsis: Black is the new black in this darkly tantalizing touch-and-feel extravaganza for the senses! Now babies can enjoy this daring color in a novelty board book chock-full of gorgeous, full-color photographs. There are textures to touch, a flap surprise, and the scratch ‘n’ sniff scent of sweet licorice that you can almost taste!

Add this book to your collection: Little Black Book

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6. Two Cute Valentine’s Day Books For Elementary Students

roses are pink Roses are Red, Your Feet Really Stink is one of my favorite Valentine books–especially when I was teaching. I read it to my class every year! Diana deGroat illustrated and wrote the book–such a talent. Here’s a summary of the story: “When Gilbert writes two not-so-nice valentines to his classmates, his prank quickly turns into pandemonium. But there’s always time for a change of heart on Valentine’s Day. This warm and funny book about a favorite holiday also provides a subtle message about forgiveness and being a good friend. Ages 5 up.” Besides using this book around Valentine’s Day, you can also use it to talk to children about how words can hurt and how to be a good friend. An activity you can do with this book is to exchange names among classmates and have students write a “nice” Valentine to the student whose name they received. You can talk to them about finding specific things, instead of general things, like, “I really like how you always help me with my math problems.” or “You are so good at kickball–you always kick a homerun.” Students can write their messages and decorate them before passing them out.

yuckiest-valentine-275 The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever written by Illinois author Brenda Ferber and illustrated by Tedd Arnold is a new picture book that is a real treat! If you are familiar with Tedd Arnold (Parts), then you know he is an illustrative genius. Brenda is a wonderful writer, and the two together make a terrific team. Here’s a summary of the story: “Leon has a crush. A secret crush. A dreamy crush. A let-her-cut-in-line-at-the-water-fountain-crush. And he’s made the perfect valentine. But the valentine has other ideas. ‘Love is yucky, kid! Valentine’s Day is all about candy!’ The card yells before leaping out the window and running away, leaving Leon to chase it across town, collecting interested kids along the way. Saying ‘I love you’ has never been so yucky or so sweet.” Brenda provides all sorts of resources on her blog for how to USE her book. She has a Q and A with her about things like why she wrote the book, how she named her character, and more. She also has an ACTIVITY KIT you can download for free (love this!). You can find all of this at this link: http://www.brendaferber.com/yuckiest-stinkiest-best-valentine-ever.php

Here’s a link to both books on Amazon! Have fun this Valentine’s Day and hug someone you love!

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7.

Warning: Explicit, Icky Pregnancy-Related Post Ahead.

Seriously, if you’re not into explicit, icky pregnancy-related stuff, feel free to skip directly to Miss Alli’s brilliant recap of the Best Nine“Amazing Race” Episodes Ever, which is the funniest thing I’ve read online in a while. (Four words: "My ox is broken!")

Or, in honor of the holiday, go pick up Joe Hill’s Twentieth Century Ghosts, which is the flat-out creepiest thing I’ve read in a while. I am still haunted by the cardboard-box maze in “Voluntary Committal” (and I’m not the only one…read raves here and here).

I will even give you a nice long page break so you don’t have to accidentally encounter any pregnancy-related ickiness, because believe me, it’s the last thing I want to inflict on you, my readers.







Okay? We’re all good?

Good.

Yesterday we went to the doctor’s for the 34-week let’s-see-what-we-got ultrasound. The doctor pressed the sensor against my belly and peered at the screen. “Ouch,” he said. “Wow. That can’t feel good.”

Long story short: the baby is breech. Transverse breech, to be specific, which means it's sort of lying sideways, with the head snug up underneath my diaphragm and stomach (which explains why I can’t eat more than three bites of anything without suffering the instantaneous pangs of the Heartburn of Doom, and why I took my last deep breath in August). Meanwhile, the baby’s feet are doing hourly performances of Riverdance atop my nether regions.

I wasn’t too surprised. Having been through this before, I know that pregnancy equals discomfort…but I also knew that lately I’ve been uncomfortable in a completely different way than I was uncomfortable with Baby the First. That time, it was nagging aches and pains. This time, it’s more like searing, stabbing, oh-God-make-it-stop pain.

My doctor left us with some parting advice: do NOT go on the Internet.

“You Google ‘breech baby’ and you’re going to get all kinds of craziness,” he said sternly.

So of course, I go home and Google ‘breech baby’ and get all kinds of craziness, plus many helpful DIY techniques for how you can get a breech baby to flip him or herself head down. Turns out, if I were so inclined, I could spend fifteen minutes of every two waking hours squatting on my bed, knees to chest, with a flashlight pressed against my lower belly, saying encouraging things to the baby such as “Come to the light! Come into the light! But not like in Poltergeist!”

Good times.

Or I could go swimming, which is supposed to help, and sounds a lot more viable, and less time-consuming, than the flashlight trick.

In book news, GOOD IN BED made the Associated Press’s roundup of best book endings. The book’s described as “chick lit with a heart and some brains.” And you know what I always say: some brains are better than none brains.

Happy Halloween, everyone, and don’t forget that Princeton reading next Wednesday at 4:30. Bring flashlights!

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8. Hooray for Fly Guy!

Hooray For Fly Guy! (Fly Guy)by Tedd Arnold (author); Cartwheel Books, 2008

Ages 4-8

"Flies can't play football," says the coach. But Fly Guy and Buzz are determined to prove him wrong. New readers will experience both pride and delight as they read the simple text and look at the funny pictures of Fly Guy trying to kick a football, go out for a pass, and tackle his friend Buzz. In the end Fly Guy scores and gets to do his hilarious touchdown dance.

Hooray for Fly Guy!

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9. Monster Mash


When I was little, the “Boogie Man” was represented by the cartoon devil from the Underwood Deviled Ham package. Don’t ask me how that happened. I had nightmares of him hovering over our house in a helicopter, lowering himself down by a rope to pluck me out of bed and take me away forever. The shapeless “monster” of finding myself separated from loved ones turned into an actual dancing devil monster. I’ve only had one child given to night terrors, but that was enough. She would enter that shady twilight between waking and sleeping and begin screaming about “mah-sters.” My son potty-trained himself at eighteen months, but went right back to diapers when his sister told him that the faint clinking sound in Nana’s bathroom vent was monsters. Even though most of my childhood fears have morphed into adult-sized monsters, I still can’t stand right next to a bed while getting in and it’s not just for the kids that a nightlight gets left on. Because we all have scary stuff to deal with, popular culture often works at helping us face our fears--or at least desensitizing us to them. Case in point: the runaway success of slasher films. For the preschool set, Sesame Street has fully reclaimed monsters, turning them harmless and endearing. And Tedd Arnold hijacked the familiar song about monkeys and jumping and beds for Five Ugly Monsters. The illustrations are great but the best part is getting to open up a can on the naughty monsters.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tedd_Arnold

http://www.amazon.com/Five-Ugly-Monsters-Tedd-Arnold/dp/0590222260

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10. Kids’ Summer Reading Lists: Emerging Readers / Ages 4-8

So, you think your child is emerging as a reader? Summer may just be the season to nurture your child’s desire to read.

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11. Seeing Things

Approaching a birthday this summer, and about to lose my vision coverage, I decided to go get my eyes checked just for the heck of it. I wasn’t having any problems seeing, but it seemed a waste to let any chance for healthcare slip away. So, I made an appointment and sat in the waiting area with all those poor people who aren’t blessed with great eyes like some of us. When I met the doctor, I confidently shook his hand, knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing anymore of each other after he checked my vision. After a couple of tests (which I breezed through with my super great eyes), I waited for the doctor to say he’s never seen such great vision in a forty-three year old and that I have the eyes of a teenager. But he didn’t say that. Or anything like it. What he said was, “Which frames would you like?” I was devastated. Glasses? Worse, reading glasses like some porch-rocking old lady? It’s not enough that gravity has had its way with me? I have to go blind as well? I exaggerate, of course, but I still desperately begged the doctor to tell me what I did to bring this fate upon myself and his response was, “Kept having birthdays.” Which is preferable to the alternative, but it still really stinks. In Tedd Arnold’s More Parts, one little guy goes to great lengths to protect what he’s got. I really need to start doing that.

http://www.amazon.com/More-Parts-Tedd-Arnold/dp/0803714173

http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00002322.shtml

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12. Words

Language is tricky. As a speech person and avid big mouth, I have years of talking experience and research behind me, but the wonder of the whole thing still leaves me, well, speechless at times. The encoding and decoding process of verbal and written communication is so complex, it’s a miracle we ever learn to do it at all, let alone with some proficiency (provided you think there is any proficiency--and looking at my students’ papers, sometimes I wonder…). It’s even more bizarre that babies can do it. In fact, they come here with the tools for language already in place and start dipping their pudgy toes in the convoluted communication waters before they can barely focus one eye at a time. Beyond the technical skills needed to produce language, there is a whole cognitive obstacle course to navigate--context, interpretation, cultural influences--before the magic of meaning happens. Which is another aspect of communication that kids do in their own small-person way. Years ago we were visiting friends with a four year-old daughter who mixed up her shoes in the on-putting process. When her father told her that her shoes were on the wrong feet, she looked up at him, so innocent and sincere, and said, “But, Daddy, these are the only feet I have.” And that prankster called language scored again. In Tedd Arnold’s Even More Parts, the poor little narrator gets worked over by simile, metaphor, and symbolism. Words are crazy. It’s enough to make you lose your mind.

http://www.amazon.com/Even-More-Parts-Tedd-Arnold/dp/0803729383

http://www.patriciamnewman.com/arnold.html

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13. My Working Mom




Illustration by Tedd Arnold

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