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Q: Could you tell us more about the life and work of the great children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom? What are some of the books you recommend from this great editor?
Betsy Bird: ”Ursula’s list begins to resemble nothing so much as a Who’s Who in children’s literature after a while. She had this crazy sense of humor that went well with her ability to spot potential children’s literature talent.
I mean, seriously, who would have looked at Shel Silverstein‘s rather explicit cartoons in Playboy and thought ‘There’s the man that children everywhere will love!?’”
Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature is an insider's guide to the world of children's books and their creators, written by three well-known children's book bloggers. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have known Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson since my earliest days of blogging. While we've only met face to face a few times, I've read their blogs for years, and been on shared mailing lists and the like. I also read the late Peter Sieruta's blog, though I don't believe I ever had any direct contact with him. So you should consider my discussion of Wild Things! more along the lines of a recommendation than a critical review. I very much enjoyed the book.
Wild Things! reveals the authors' deep affection for and knowledge of the field of children's literature. They discuss everything from the history of subversive children's literature to book banning to the ways that the Harry Potter books have affected the industry. This is the first book I've seen that openly discusses gay and lesbian authors of children's books, and how the outsider status of some of these authors may have affected their work. Like this:
"Unique perspectives yield unique books. It is difficult to be gay and not see the world in a way that is slightly different from that of your straight peers." (Page 54, ARC)
I especially enjoyed chapters on "scandalous mysteries and mysterious scandals" and "some hidden delights of children's literature." There's also an interesting discussion of the books critics love vs. the books that kids love.
Despite covering a lot of ground, Wild Things! is a quick, engaging read. Though there are extensive end-notes citing sources, and it's clear that much research has been done, the book itself reads like a series of chatty essays written by friends. Wild Things! is full of interesting tidbits, like the extra pupil shown on one page of Madeline, and a rather disturbing claim by Laura that Pa Ingalls may have once encountered a serial killer. There are some resources that may help those new to thinking about children's books, such as a list of publications that review children's books. But for the most part, Wild Things! is a book that's going to appeal most to people who already have a reasonably solid grasp of the industry, and at least a passing familiarity with the key players.
Wild Things! is not, however, insider-y in terms of the book blogging world. Because I've read so many posts by Betsy and Jules, there were certainly places where I could hear their distinct voices coming through. There are some fun sidebars in which all three authors briefly take on some question or author. But there is scant mention in the book of the authors' blogs themselves. The authors do muse a bit in the final chapter about the impact of cozy relationships between bloggers and authors, but for the most part they keep their emphasis on books and authors, and other people who have been instrumental in the evolution of the larger children's book world (like Ursula Nordstrom). They do include snippets of interviews with many authors and publishers, frequently backing up their own opinions with remarks from leaders in the field.
WildThings! is strong on the defense of the importance of children's literature (and fairly strong against message-driven celebrity books). Like this:
"And with every doctor, librarian, and early childhood educator telling us that childhood's importance is without parallel, it is baffling to see their literature condescended to, romanticized, and generally misunderstood." (Page 5 of the ARC)
"Childhood is not a phase to be disregarded; the same should be said of the books children read. They deserve well-crafted tales from the people who have the talent to write and illustrate them and who take their craft seriously. Do they need heavy-handed sermons from the latest celebrity "It" girl's newest children's book? Not so much." (Page 6)
I also loved this quote from A. A. Milne:
"Whatever fears one has, one need not fear that one is writing too well for a child, any more than one need fear that one is becoming almost too lovable." (Page 192)
Wild Things! is a book about the joy and quirkiness that is the field of children's literature. It is a celebration of books and their authors, and a defense of the importance of putting the very best possible books into children's hands. Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta accomplish all of this by sharing stories and opinions, theirs and those of others, with the reader. Fans of children's books, be they authors, bloggers, teachers, librarians, parents, or just people who appreciate a good book, are sure to enjoy Wild Things! Recommended for adults and older teens (there is definitely content that is not for kids), and a must-purchase for libraries. Wild Things! is a keeper!
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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Noodle sent me this infographic on finding your next children's book. The titles were suggested by the Kidlitosphere's own Betsy Bird, the New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist.
I’m just messing with you. No, I’m not going to actually review my book here. I’m not going to wax rhapsodic over the hidden meanings lurking behind the mysterious cupcake on the cover. I’ll refrain from delving deep into how Lexy’s emotional journey with the giants is just a thinly disguised metaphor for U.S. / Russia relations between the years of 1995-2004 (it isn’t, for the record). I won’t even talk about the twist ending since spoilers make for interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reviews.
No, I’ll just talk instead about how happy I am that publication day is here at all. And how pleasant it is to share that day with my buddy / pal / illustrious illustrator Brandon Dorman. I’ve had a couple chances to present the book so far (including one disaster that I’ll get to in a moment) and here is what I have learned.
1. It is possible to read this book to 3-year-olds thanks in large part to the pictures.
This is true. The text is bouncy, which doesn’t hurt matters any, but when one is dealing with very small fry it is also mighty helpful when you have eye-popping visuals on your side. And let me tell you, kids like the art of Brandon Dorman. More than that, they love it.
2. It is possible to read this book to 4-year-olds thanks in large part to the mentions of dances.
I have discovered by reading this at a couple daycares that if you teach kids jazz hands, interpretive dance, the twist, and the chicken dance in the course of reading this book, they don’t get bored. As a children’s librarian I was always the storytime reader whose peripheral visual would zero in on the single kid out of thirty that looked bored. This flaw in the programming has carried over to reading my own book. If one kid is bored I suddenly get this manic tinge to my voice and everything becomes a little more frantic. Be warned, easily bored children. I’m gunning for you.
3. Etsy is the creator of and solution to all of life’s woes.
I learned this truth when I constructed a necklace out of Caldecott cover Shrinky Dinks. To make the necklace I wanted something that featured fuses (as a nod to the name of this blog). So what do you do when you get such an urge? You go to Etsy and search for such a thing. In the case of my book presentations I decided I wanted blue furry boots. So I type “blue furry boots” into Etsy and what do I get? Something even better. Blue furry rave legwarmers. Oh, they’re the pip. Here’s what I look like talking to the kids in ‘em.
Dance for me, little children. Dance, I say!
They are also very easy to snuggle, if snuggling is what you want to do.
4. When you decide to go to a bookstore you’ve never visited before, give ‘em your phone number. Beforehand.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are TWO bookstores in Brooklyn called Powerhouse? As of Saturday, I did not. And thus begins my tale of woe.
I think there’s a general understanding out there that authors have at least one bad author experience tale they can tell. But that experience, as important as it may be, is not usually their VERY FIRST BOOKSTORE APPEARANCE. Because, you see, on Sunday I knew I was speaking at Powerhouse. So I Googled it, got the address in Dumbo, and merrily traipsed over there. The poor staff was cleaning up from an event the previous night and had no clue what I was talking about. Still, they were very nice and helpful and though they didn’t have any copies of my book I just figured folks might order it. Mind you, “folks” was a pretty optimistic term to be using in my head since nobody was there. I mean nobody. Little tumbleweeds would have been my audience had I spoke.
After giving it some time I packed up, the clerks apologized, and I went home. Mildly mortifying that no one in Brooklyn came to see me, but it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Not ideal.
And I would have proceeded in my merry little bubble for whole weeks at a time had I not gotten an email the next afternoon that made it very clear that I had gone to the wrong Powerhouse. That there are, in fact, TWO stores out there with the same name. Two. Not one. Two. And my lovely publicist at Harper Collins had even gone so far as to send me a link to the event with the address front and center. An address that was not in DUMBO at all but Park Slope.
So apparently (and this is where I sink into a puddle of 100% sheer uncut mortification) folks DID come to my event. Folks I like. Folks I would want to see. Folks who would want to see me and who failed to do so because this doofus author merrily went to the wrong friggin’ store.
What have we learned here today, children? Even if a publicist sets everything up for you, give the store your cell phone. All this would have been solved if the store had had my info and had given me a ring. There are other lessons of course (actually READ what your publicist sends you might be right up there) but you can bet I’ll be contacting all my future store appearances with my cell # right now. Yup yup yup.
Whew! What a weekend! September 28-29 was the sixth KidLitCon and what a whirlwind it was. Kidlit bloggers from all around the country flocked to NYC, my old stomping grounds, eager to share their love of children's books.
The fun began on Friday with visits to publishing houses to partake in previews of their spring lists. That morning I went to Holiday House, a delightful old-school publisher, and saw previews of so many enticing books my notebook quickly filled with my scribbles. The husband-wife team of Ted and Betsy Lewin made a special appearance, showing us their upcoming books. Betsy has a charming easy reader featuring a determined alligator called You Can Do It! and Ted's book Look! showcases amazing watercolors of African and rainforest animals he photographed over years of traveling.
After a quick lunch, I hightailed it downtown to Penguin's offices, where bloggers were treated to an informative session in which editorial members of the various imprints introduced a multitude of upcoming middle grade and YA novels.
I left Penguin bogged down with so many ARCs I could barely make it to the next venue--dinner at IchiUmi. Ensconced in our own private room, conference goers feasted on an endless buffet of Japanese food and compared notes. Then the supremely talented Grace Lin, herself a longtime blogger, gave an engaging talk about her artistic career. While she powerpointed away, her husband kept their adorable baby daughter entertained.
Saturday the conference shifted to the NYC's Public Library on 42nd Street. Of the many session being offered, I attended Shelia Ruth's "Who's in Charge" and Greg Pincus' "Avoiding the Echo Chamber: Bringing the World of Children's Literature to the World." Ruth, of Wands and Worldsfame, is an amazing multi-tasker who sure knows her social media. In her talk she explained the ins and outs of social networking. I learned scads of useful information. Did you know that the worst time to tweet is Fridays after 4? Now you'll never catch me tweeting during that dead zone.
Pincus, of Gotta Book, charmed the socks off his audience. The thrust of his presentation resonated--book lovers spend much of their time preaching to the choir. Pincus made the valid point that we also need to cast our net further afield. I, for one, will definitely be taking his advice. Just not this post.
After lunch, we regrouped in the auditorium and listened to a panel made up of some of the shining stars of the kidlitosphere discuss the burning question "How Nice Is Too Nice: Critical Book Reviewing in the Age of Twitter". While no consensus was reached, the panel (Elizabeth Bird, Liz Burns, Monica Edinger, Marjorie Ingall, Sheila Barry of Groundwood Books, and expertly moderated by Jennifer Hubert-Swan) suggested several useful rules, top among them: "The author shalt never upon pain of death contact the blogger."
Unfortunately, I missed the final session and the keynote speech by YA author Maureen Johnson due to a tummy bug. I bid adieu and took off to recuperate. In doing so I missed the event I most wanted to attend, Kidlit Drink Night at the Houndstooth Pub. Oh well, I'll just have to wait till next year's conference to raise an elbow with my fellow scribes. Cheers!
First, I know it's Thursday and I will post a storytelling thingie before midnight. I promise - but...
Over on A Fuse #8 Production, Betsy Bird is popping up with all kinds of awesome links. Check out Jarrett Krosoczka's double-dog dare to guys...(Hi, Jarrett! Remember when you came to the Parkland Community Library back around the time of Baghead and Annie Was Warned? That YS librarian? That was I!)
Betsy Bird of SLJ's A Fuse #8 Production and Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page, were kind enough to set aside time to join me last night for dinner during their visit to Anaheim for ALA. We ate, drank, and helped Betsy create footage for her blog video in Downtown Disney. Our food came about five minutes after placing our order. Perhaps it was less than five minutes. Either way, it was suspiciously fast, like magic.
I do have a few regrets about the evening. One was that I didn't bring them a copy of Singing to the Sun (sorry, ladies - you'll have to pick one up at the booth). I also regret not bringing along a camera, although I suspect that if I Say Please, Betsy will arrange for the photo of the three of us to reach me. Another regret was that I didn't order a Sangria. They looked beautiful and were pretty tasty, from what I heard. The discussion over dinner ranged from the Irish travelers that Betsy ran into to the six hour drive for Jen; the upcoming ALA events, the interesting culture that surrounds Disneyland and of course, blogging and blogging for outside sources.
We shared our individual experiences about the power of reading and being able to enjoy this magic with the young people in our lives. This, perhaps, was the highlight of my night as I talked about my son and could feel the same motherly-type pride that both Jen and Betsy expressed while sharing stories about the little ones that they enjoy reading with.
It's always a pleasure for me to hit the road and meet with people familiar with children's literature and to get feedback, from a marketing point of view. I head to the Stanford Professional Publishing Course in less than two weeks so I am preparing for more networking with others in the field. For now, and over the next three days, I will continue to share the magic that surrounds ALA.
And I believe my favorite part is ... (drumroll)... the love shown One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia: "Does Bird have a prediction for the next Newbery winner in 2011? Of course, and naturally it's unconventional. "Have you heard the story about a mother who joins the Black Panthers?" she asks. It's called, One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia. "It's funny and painful and just a little bit brilliant."
My second favorite part is the picture with the article looks like the card catalog may be attacking Betsy. (Seriously, random shelves are pulled out and she is sitting so close that it looks like any second one shelf may push itself out to attack her. Duck, Betsy! The card catalog is upset it was replaced by an OPAC and is coming after librarians!)
Back to seriousness.
I am tickled pink that Betsy is highlighted in Forbes.
Because Betsy is a friend, and I know what a hard worker she is (along with being smart and funny and dedicated, hard working is important for any success story). Because I know how many people out there not only aren't reading any book blogs, but aren't aware of them as a resource, so having something that brings both positive attention and new readers is made of awesomesauce.
And because it makes me jealous in a good way.
Bad jealous: sitting at home, eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
Good jealous: being inspired to follow my own dreams.
Anyway (like how it always ends up being about ME?), congratulations, Betsy!!!
Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.
Having read Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP Newsletter, featuring children's book recommendations including ones made by Betsy "Fuse #8" Bird, I prefer to believe that Gwyneth and Betsy are on a first name basis, and call each other "Gwynnie" and "Fuse." Actually, I picture all the people mentioned in the newsletter getting together over wine and cupcakes. Sure it was just Gwynnie's assistant....
What really impressed me was not Betsy's appearance in GOOP. Tho I am suitably impressed.
What really impressed me was how short Betsy's book blurbs were!!
All joking aside, congrats to Betsy and click thru to the GOOP Newsletter for some great book recommendations.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.
True story: I was telling a teacher friend about the video contest the other day, urging him to check it out, and thought to myself: “Hmmm, blog fodder!”
Because once you have a blog, the world quickly divides into two parts: blog-worthy or not so much.
Here, give this 90 seconds and we’ll talk:
Fun idea, right? Simply compress the full story of a Newbery Medal or Honor Book into a video that runs no more than 90 seconds.
I can see how a good teacher, with a lively classroom, could make hay out of something like this. Get creative, allow students to actively contribute in different ways, read and learn how to analyze (not to mention summarize) a classic book, and so much more.
If you missed Part One of the Alan Silberberg Interview, it’s absurd for you to be here. I mean, really. Please follow the link to catch up.
Don’t worry, we’ll wait . . .
Late in the book, Milo gathers together a number of objects that remind him of his mother, that press the memory of her into his consciousness. Where’d you get the idea for that?
I think that comes from the fact that I really don’t have anything from my mother. Things did get thrown away or given away and it really was like she died and then she was erased. When I was writing the book I started to think hard about my mom and tried remembering objects that evoked her to me. That became a cartoon called “Memories Lost” which were all real objects from my childhood that connected me to her. After making that cartoon, it struck me that Milo would want to go out and replace those objects somehow and that’s why he and his friends hit up the yard sales.
There is a scene toward the end in one of my books, Six Innings (a book that similarly includes a biographical element of cancer), that I can’t read aloud to a group because I know I’ll start to slobber. It’s just too raw, too personal for me. And I suspect that might be true of you with certain parts of this book. I’m asking: Are there any moments that get to you every time?
I think there are two specific parts of the book that choke me up, though lots of little places make me reach for tissues. The chapter where Milo goes to the yard sale and finds a blanket that reminds him of the one his mom had will always get to me. My mom had that blanket, the “pea patch blanket” in the book — so as Milo wraps himself in it and remembers her getting sick — I am always transported to the image of my mom and her blanket. The second place in the book happens in cartoon form, when Milo remembers the last time he saw his mother, which was when she was already under anesthesia being prepped for surgery and she has had her head shaved and he can see the lines for the surgery drawn on her head like a tic tac toe board. That image is directly from my memory of my last time seeing my mother. It’s pretty heavy stuff.
And so powerfully authentic. Milo describes that period after his mother died as “the fog.” Was that your memory of it?
I think trauma at any age creates a disconnect inside us. I think the fog settled in for me slowly. As the initial shock of my
Our popular feature is back! Blank-Meets-Blank was actually started first by Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 – she ranks the best “Blank-Meets-Blank” when she attends publishers’ librarian previews. This is an awesome way to booktalk to kids and teens in your library or classroom!
Today, we’re sharing the best Blank-Meets-Blanks for our upcoming Fall 2011 titles:
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis Wendy Lamb Books, 2012
The girl on this cover spends no time feeling sorry for herself. She is not to be trifled with. This girl isn't afraid to break the rules, if it means doing the right thing. She talks back to adults and knows more about life than most girls her age. She is eternally optimistic, strong and resilient. Can't you tell?
I wrote that having not yet read this novel, and with only a scant idea of the book's premise. I wrote it before reading this lukewarm-at-best review by Betsy Bird at the Fuse #8 Production blog. Apparently, Deza isn't quite as take-charge as the cover image suggests.
But I still love this cover. The muted blue-green background and the luminosity of Deza's skin jump out at you from across the bookstore. The way she is turning back to give you that Look--irresistible. Maybe she's about to tell you something. Maybe she doesn't have to tell you; maybe you just know from her expression.
Even if this model does have elastic in her sleeves, which, according to Betsy's source, would be unlikely during the Depression, I still love this cover. (Why not? Elastic has been used in garment construction since the 1820s. Was it scarce? Too expensive?)
I'll even go so far as to say that I'm not sure there's elastic in there, anyway--the sleeve could be gathered with a tied cord which isn't very visible under the author's name. No? Look at the photo on the Audiobook download edition, where the sleeve hem is more visible. I can't tell for sure.
In case you missed it, this week’s results for School Library Journal’s Fuse #8 Re-Seussify Seuss challenge were in, and they were pretty spectacular! The mission, as set forth by children’s lit guru Betsy Bird, was to draw a spread from a Dr. Seuss book, but in the style of ANOTHER famous picture book artist. I was inspired by the fun mash-up idea, and pulled off the image of Yertle The Turtle in the style of Arnold Lobel, above.
The idea for the image itself came to me pretty easily. It’s no surprise that I love drawing turtles, and Yertle The Turtle is a family favorite. The reptile vs. amphibian factor – Yertle crossed with Frog and Toad - was amusing to me as well. In particular, I wanted to try my hand at Arnold Lobel’s style. I thought the limited palette with textured graphite would be fun, and his characters and watercolors lend themselves easily to my own style. Plus, he’s a fellow Pratt alum!
I learned a lot about Arnold Lobel’s creative process from this video with his daughter, Anita Lobel. She sought to replicate her father’s paintings when she colored Arnold Lobel’s unfinishedThe Frogs and Toads All Sang:
I am very interested in Lobel’s use of color separations to make the Frog and Toad illustrations, and I wish I could find more on the subject. While Anita went with full-color in her recent interpretation, I wanted to imitate the 2-color (and black) separations by sticking to a green layer, a brown layer, and dark graphite. I’m pleased with the result and think it was rather successful, if I do say so myself.
Now go check out Betsy’s post for the other mind-blowing creative Re-Seussification mash-ups!
I am grateful to Robin Adelson, Executive Director, Children’s Book Council and Every Child A Reader, for inviting me to a wonderful evening in Celebration of Children’s Book Week. It was a night to remember! Once my videos are finished downloading, I will share some clips from the awards presentation but in the meantime, guess who?
Amy and Betsy Bird (Blogger Fuse8 who is lovely)
Amy and Author Jon Scieszka (HE makes me laugh so much!)
Amy and Rachel Rene'e Russell (Author of Dork Diaries)
I know that Betsy Bird's A Fuse #8 Production has been featured here before - or at the very least mentioned. Right now, she is intent on counting down the 100 Top Picture Books and the 100 Best Fiction for children, based on her most recent survey of school and children's librarians.
This huge undertaking makes great reading, since Betsy not only gives her personal take on each book but a quote from one of the librarians who responded to this survey.
Every day, Betsy will post 10 or so books from one of these lists until she gets all the way to #1. Right now, she has reached #61 on the Best Children's Fiction list. Some of my all time favorites have already been mentioned. And some books I never read, too. I like that. I am always on the prowl for good kids' books, no matter when they were written.
Elizabeth Bird, author of SLJ's A Fuse 8 Production blog has, for the past few weeks, been posting the results of the 2012 survey of the "Top 100" picture books and novels of readers who responded to her survey.
Today (June 12, 2012), Betsy wrote about book #19 in the Top 100 novels: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. Betsy pointed her readers to my site:
Be sure to check out Debbie Reese’s reaction to this book the last time it appeared on this poll, including a problematic section regarding American Indians in the book. There is another piece following the book’s inclusion on the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac. The book is also mentioned in conjunction with the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.
This isn't the first time Betsy has pointed her readers to my site. I'm glad each time she does it, because her readers to click on her links and read what I have to say. That, in my view, is a good thing for all of us, Native and not, who value children and the books they read.