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Today we’re going to talk about what happens when your name is so common, it shows up in children’s books willy-nilly without actually having anything to do with YOU. Which is to say, me.
I took my name willingly. No parent in their right mind should name a child “Betsy Bird” after all. When I met my future husband it was, I will admit, one of the first things I realized. “If I marry this guy I could be . . . Betsy Bird!” So the die was cast. You can do something like that to your own name. When my own kids were born, however, I realized what a great responsibility a noun-based last name is. And not just any noun. An animal. So out the window went possible names like Robin, Soren, Colin (think about the song “The 12 Days of Christmas”), Claude, Charlie, Larry, and any first name beginning with the letter “B”. My husband and I broke the “no two nouns” rule, but at this moment in time I’m the only alliterative name in the family.
What I hadn’t counted on was how common it would be to find my name in children’s books. I sort of suspected. It happens in books for adults, after all. Little Big by John Crowley (which is definitely not a book for kids) has a “Betsy Bird” in it. And as for the name “Mrs. Bird” you can find it in everything from Buck’s Tooth to P.D. Eastman’s The Best Nest (where Mrs. Bird is a shrieking harridan, so I try not to read too much into that one). Mrs. Birds are a dime a dozen, it seems.
I do occasionally show up in children’s books, though. Sometimes clearly. Other times I try to read between the lines (and fail). As of this post there are only two instances of clear cut references. They are:
The Librarian in Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever
This is only because artist LeUyen Pham is the nicest human being alive. So in one scene Windy Pants is discussing what appears to be Junie B. Jones with this person:
In future books in the series, the librarian looks entirely different.
The only other time it happened was, in all books . . .
A Very Babymouse Christmas
In this book various alliterative animals are having their names called. Including (and off-camera):
There is also a bird librarian in the first Platypus Police Squad title The Frog That Croaked. The book takes place in Kalamazoo City and the librarian is a bird. I’m from Kalamazoo and my name IS Bird. However, this is probably just coincidental. After all, my mohawk is nowhere near as nice as hers.
This year I’ve also noticed a significant uptick in “Mrs. Birds” in middle grade novels. Women who are NOT me. Not even slightly. But folks do ask me from time to time, so to set the record straight . . .
The First Grade Teacher in The Best Man by Richard Peck
Is not me. She a bit dippy, so you’d be forgiven for mistaking us, but though I do own the occasional corduroy skirt, she’s not me.
Nor am I the mom in the next Rita Williams-Garcia book. A great sounding title (coming out in 2017) I can’t remember the actual title but it involves a love of jazz. As such, the mom is Mrs. Bird, probably because of Charlie “Bird” Parker.
I suspect that there are other children’s librarians out there who have accidentally found themselves within the pages of a children’s book in the past. Maybe even as the librarian his or her own self. If you have ’em, confess ’em! We the commonly monikered should stick together. And if you’ve been in the pages of a book thanks to the efforts of a kindly illustrator, tell me that too! I’d love to have a working list of librarians that appear in books by great artists.
Thanks to Travis Jonker who suggested that I write a post called “I’m (Not) So Vain, I Probably Think This Book Isn’t About Me”. That is because he is a nice guy. My post’s title is probably a little more on the nose-y.
Knowing about Culture Keepers and knowing about Della Nohl's work is part of my world. Earlier today, I submitted a comment to Betsy Bird's blog post at School Library Journal. There, she is making the argument that people have to read a book in its entirety to say anything meaningful about the book. I disagree.
I don't, for example, need to read every page of Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone to say I don't recommend it. My reason? I got to the page where her main character is in a coffee shop with unusual decor. As her character looks around, she describes what she sees, including:
A painting in a big gold frame of an Indian squaw kneeling by a fire needs dusting.
Rosoff's Picture Me Gone is not about Native people. It is, however, a best selling book, and part of what I do is read some of those bestsellers so that I stay abreast of the happenings, so to speak, in children's and young adult literature.
Rosoff used "Indian squaw" -- a term most people view as offensive. Did Rosoff know it is offensive? Did Rosoff's editor know it is offensive? My guess is no. I speculate that they don't know because they don't step over into the world that I am in.
So many Native children don't do well in school. Might they do better if the textbooks they read were ones that honestly presented their nations, past and present? Might they do better if they didn't come across terms like "squaw" as a matter of course, in the literature they read?
As I write this blog post and think about what I'll say in Chicago, I'm thinking about Rosoff's book, and I'm thinking about troubling books that are being discussed as possible winners of prestigious children's literature awards: Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl and Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall's A Fine Dessert troubling. And Rae Carson's Walk On Earth a Stranger has, perhaps, some of the most damaging content that I've seen in a very long time. It was on the long list for the National Book Award.
I do--of course--know of some terrific books that accurately and beautiful present Native peoples, and I will share those, too, on November 7th. I shared some--for teen readers--in a column that went live a few hours ago at School Library Journal. And I shared even more, there, two years ago. Here's the graphics SLJ's team put together, using the book covers for the books I recommended in that column:
My guess is that people who come to my talk on the 7th will be people who care about Native peoples, our histories, our cultures, and our lives. They will likely want me to talk about good books. It isn't enough, however, to know about books that accurately portray who we are; people have to know the others, too, because in the publishing world, they take up a lot of space.
Please put this day of events on your calendar! Bring your friends! Step into my world, and help me bring others into it, too, so that the status quo changes... So that best selling writers and books deemed worthy of awards are not ones that denigrate Native people.
Below is the press release Chicago Public Library is sending out.
CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY CELEBRATES NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH IN NOVEMBER
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2015
Chicago Public Library is "Celebrating Diversity," with its annual observance ofNative American Heritage Month. Throughout November, the Library offers a variety of programs highlighting the history, culture, traditions, and contributions Native Americans have made to Chicago, the state of Illinois, and to the U.S. In addition, a selected bibliography and the Library’s 2015 Native American Heritage Month Calendar of Events are available at chipublib.org.
The opening program for Native American Heritage Month takes place on Saturday, November 7, at 11:00 a.m., at the Edgewater Branch, 6000 N. Broadway St. Debbie Reese, author, lecturer, and blogger will be the keynote speaker. Ms. Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo and has a PhD in Education from the University of Illinois and an MLIS from San Jose State University. Her research articles and book chapters on American Indians in Children’s Literature are used in Education, Library Science, English, and Creative Writing courses in the U.S. and Canada. Andrea Perkins and the Chi-Nations Youth Council will provide drum performances. A film screening of, From Old to Modern, which focuses modern activism will also be presented by the Chi-Nations Youth Council.
During Native American Heritage Month, the Library will present interesting, entertaining and informative programs for all ages, including storytelling and crafts for children, lectures, film screenings, art exhibitions and workshops, and adult book discussions.
Here are some highlights from the 2015 Native American Heritage Month Celebration:
Archery for Beginners
Al Eastman, a certified archery coach with the Olympic Committee’s USA Archery program will teach the ten-step form of safety techniques for a hands-on archery demonstration with Olympic-style recurve bows. Eastman started the archery program at the American Indian Center in 2010 to help youth learn about math, science and history through archery.
Ehdrigohr: A Role-Playing Experience
Allen Turner, creator of Ehdrigohr—a table top role-playing game—will present this fun and challenging game that incorporates Naïve American themes. Turner has been involved in storytelling, games, play design, and education for most of his adult life. His work includes coordinating youth and adult programs focusing on literacy, storytelling, role-playing, and team dynamics for developing inference and problem-solving skills.
Create a Dreamcatcher
Artist and musician Dan Pierce will explore the meanings Dreamcatcher components and instruct participants in how to use materials to craft Dreamcatchers that they can take home. Pierce has taught music and art in the Chicago Public Schools for more than 20 years.
The Library presents five selected feature films spotlighting Native American culture including:
·The Exiles by Kent Mackenzie
·Up Heartbreak Hill by Erica Scharf
·Sun Kissed by Maya Stark and Adi Lavy
·In the Light of Reverence by Christopher McLeod and Malinda Maynor
·Stand Silent Nation by Suree Towfighnia and Courtney Hermann
For more information about the film series, or for the complete listing of Native American Heritage Month events, dates and locations, please visit chipublib.org.
Throughout every calendar year, Chicago Public Library “Celebrates Diversity” and its importance to a sustainable society, during all of its ethnic heritage and diversity month celebrations including: African-American History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, LGBT Pride Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Polish American heritage Month and Native American Heritage Month.
The article below came out the day before Halloween over at the Kirkus Reviews blog. It was written by the fabulous Julie Danielson, who also writes one of the best blogs in the whole dang internet: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Check it out, bookmark it, love it. Julie also has a new book out, co-written with Betsy Bird (of Fuse 8 fame) and the late, great Peter D. Sieruta.
I haven’t read this one yet, by the firm of Bird, Danielson & Sieruta, but it’s high on my reading list.
But enough about those guys. Let’s bring this conversation back to me, me, me.
Tomorrow is Halloween, and author James Preller wants to scare your children—the safe, exhilarating type of scare, that is, which comes from a well-constructed set of spooky stories just for the younger set. He’s been doing this not just on Halloween but all during the year with Scary Tales, his chapter book series of ghost stories, launched last year and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.Chilling and thrilling and very often spine-tingling, the series offers up serious page-turners for students who enjoy reading frightening tales while on the edge of their seats. It’s a far cry from Preller’s Jigsaw Jones series of chapter books, which debuted in 1998, the beloved fictional detective stories for children that are still circulating in libraries. The latest and fifth book in the Scary Tales series, The One-Eyed Doll, was just released. It brings readers hidden treasures, deserted houses, and a creepy one-eyed doll, who moves and tells stories. Needless to say, it’s a good fit for Halloween—or, really, any time of year.Next year, Preller will also see the release of a middle-grade novel, one that follows 2009’s Bystander, which the Kirkusreview called “eminently discussable as a middle-school read-aloud.” The Fall, as you’ll read below, addresses bullying, but not for the sake of jumping on the bullying bandwagon. That’s to say that as soon as many schools kicked off anti-bullying crusades in recent years, we suddenly saw a flock of books about bullying in the realm of children’s literature. But Preller isn’t one for the “bully” label.Let’s find out why.-The Scary Tales series started in 2013, yes? How much fun has it been to scare the pants off of readers?-Writing “scary” has been liberating. A blast. In the past, I’ve mostly written realistic fiction. But for these stories I’ve tapped into a different sort of imagination, what I think of as the unpossible. The trick is that once you accept that one impossible element—a zombie or a ghost in the mirror—then the story plays out in a straightforward manner.All storytelling has its backbone in realistic fiction.-So many kids, even at a surprisingly young age, are eager to read scary stories. I tried to fill that gap. “Scary” thrills them. It makes their hearts beat faster. Yet I say to students, “I’m sorry, but nobody gets murdered in these books. There are no heads chopped off. No gore.” To me, the great sentence is: The door knob slowly, slowly turned. That delicious moment of anticipation, of danger climbing the stairs. I’ve tried to provide those chills, while still resolving each book in a safe way.-You do a lot of school visits, as I understand it. What do you see the very best teachers and librarians doing (best practices, if you will) that really get children fired up about reading? -In its essence, teaching is enthusiasm transferred. The best educators seem to do that naturally—the excitement, the love of discovery. It leaks into everything they do. I think it’s about a teacher’s prevailing attitude, more than any specific activity.-Speaking of school visits, I assume you still visit schools to discuss Bystander, especially given the subject matter. How have middle-schoolers responded to that book in school visits? -The response to Bystander has been incredible—and humbling. Many middle schools have used it as their “One School, One Book” community reads, which is such an honor.I attempted to write a lively, unsentimental, informed, fast-paced story. I hope that I’ve given readers something to think about, while leaving them to draw their own conclusions. I didn’t write a pamphlet, 10 steps to bully-proof your school. Robert McKee, in his book Story, says that stories are “equipment for living.” I believe in the power of literature to help us experience empathy.-What’s next for you? Am I right that there’s a new Scary Tales coming out in 2015, as well as a new novel? Working on anything else you’re allowed to discuss now? -I have an ambitious hardcover coming out next year, titled The Fall (Macmillan, Fall 2015), in which I return to some of the themes first explored in Bystander. We’ve seen “the bully” become this vilified subcreature, and in most cases I don’t think that’s fair or accurate. Bullying is a verb, a behavior, not a label we can stick on people to define them—especially when we are talking about children. Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”The book is told in a journal format from the perspective of a boy who has participated in bullying—with tragic results—and now he’s got to own it. A good kid, I think, who failed to be his best self. To my surprise, the book ended up as almost a meditation on forgiveness, that most difficult of things. The opening sentence reads:
“Two weeks before Morgan Mallen threw herself off the water tower, I might have sent a message to her social media page that read, ‘Just die! die! die! No one cares about you anyway! (I’m just saying: It could have been me.)”
I was guided throughout my writing by a powerful quote from the great lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson: “I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
Betsy Bird, an author and the youth materials specialist at the New York Public Library, has landed a deal with Viking. Bird will curate a humor anthology called Funny Girl. It will feature short stories, essays, comics, and poems from a roster of almost 30 female writers.
Some of the contributors include El Deafo graphic novelist Cece Bell, Princess in Black author Shannon Hale, and Millicent Min, Girl Genius author Lisa Yee. Editor Sharyn November negotiated the deal with Inkwell Management literary agent Stephen Barbara. The book is slated for release in Spring 2017.
Bird shared the news on her School Library Journal blog. Here’s an excerpt from the post: “I asked parents, parents I knew, with kids, both boys and girls, to simply name ‘the funniest women they could think of.’ A simple request, no? The results were just as fascinating as I thought they’d be. Some kids mentioned contemporary comics (Zooey Deschanel, Amy Poehler, and Tiny Fey being the most frequently mentioned). Some were unable to think of any women at all. And none of them mentioned writers or comic artists. Hence, Funny Girl (and yes, I know Nick Hornby recently published a book of the same name but Streisand starred in a film of the same name in 1968 so it’s not like it hasn’t been used several times over). It’s the book I wish I could have read when I was a kid.” (Photo Credit: Sonya Sones)
Some books that we give to young children carry enormous weight. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage is one example. It is about the Supreme Court's decision in 1967, in which they ruled that people could marry whomever they loved, regardless of race.
Richard Loving was white. The woman he loved.... is misrepresented in The Case for Loving. The author, Selina Alko, echoed misrepresentations of who Jeter was when she wrote that Jeter was "part Cherokee."
Jeter didn't say that she was part Cherokee.
Indeed, her marriage license says "Indian" and when she elaborated elsewhere, she said Rappahannock. I wrote about this at length back in March of 2015.
A side issue has arisen concerning Mildred’s identification as Native American and whether or not the original case made more of her African-American roots because it would build a stronger case in court. This is a far bigger issue than a picture book could hope to encompass, though I would be interested in a middle grade or young adult nonfiction book on the topic that went into the subject in a little more depth.
Actually, saying that it "brought me up short" doesn't adequately describe what I felt.
First, I knew that Betsy was referencing my post. I took her use of "side issue" as being dismissive of me, and by extension, Arica Coleman (who I cite extensively), and by further extension, Native people who speak up about how we are represented--and misrepresented--in society, and in children's books. On one hand, I felt angry at Betsy. As a teacher, though, I understand that we're all on a continuum of knowing about subjects that are outside our particular realm of expertise.
Representation, and misrepresentation, of Native identity is important.
Because so many make that (fraudulent) claim, it strikes me as a significant wrong to see, in The Case of Loving, words that say Jeter was Cherokee when she did not say she was. It unwittingly casts her over in that land in which people claim an identity that is not really theirs to claim.
Here's another reason that Betsy's review (posted on July 2, 2015) bothered me. I read it within a specific moment in my work as a Native woman and scholar who is part of a Native community of scholars.
On July 30, 2015 (two days before Betsy's review was posted), The Daily Beast ran a story about Andrea Smith, a key figure to many academics and activist who are committed to social justice, especially for women, and in particular, women of color. The focus of the article is Andrea Smith's identity. For years, she claimed to be Cherokee. She said she was Cherokee. But, she wasn't. She is amongst the millions of people who think that they have Cherokee ancestry. Some do, some don't.
I met Andy several years ago (most people know her as Andy). At the time, she said she was Cherokee. I had no reason not to believe her. I don't remember when I first heard that she might not be Cherokee, but I did learn (not sure when) that she had been asked by the Cherokee Nation to stop claiming that she is Cherokee. I don't know what she personally did after that, and she has not said anything (to my knowledge) since the story appeared in The Daily Beast.
Things being said about Andy, about being Cherokee, and about claims to being Cherokee, reminded me of David Arnold's Mosquitoland. There's so much ignorance about being Cherokee! That ignorance was front and center in Arnold's book. I'm deeply appreciative that he responded to my questions about it, and that he is talking with others about it, too. Those conversations are so important!
I view Andy's failure to address her claim to Cherokee identity as a dismissal of the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation. It is a dismissal of their nationhood and their right to determine who their citizens are. Andy knows what the stakes are for Native Nations, and for our sovereignty. She knows what she is doing.
Jeter was adamant about who she was. My guess is that she knew what the stakes were, for her personally, and for the Rappahannock who, as of this writing, are not yet federally recognized as a Native Nation.
Betsy doesn't have the knowledge that Andy has. Few people do. Betsy is listening, though, as evidenced by her response to me this morning (see her comment on July 3). I am grateful to her for that response. She has far more readers than I do, and our conversation there will increase what people know, overall.
In that response, Betsy notes that Alko probably didn't have the sources necessary to get it right. Let's say ok to that suggestion, but, let's also expect that the next printing of the book will get that part right, and let's hope that editors in other publishing houses are talking to each other about this particular book and that they won't be releasing books with that error.
That error may not matter to a non-Native child or her parents, but it matters to a Cherokee child and her parents. It matters to a Rappahannock child and her parents. It should matter to all of us, and it will (I say with optimism and perhaps naively, too), because we're having these conversations.
By having them, I hope (again, optimistically and perhaps, naively), that we'll move to a point in time when the majority of the American population will understands what it means to claim a Cherokee (or Native) identity, and a population that ceases to misrepresent Cherokee culture and history. In short, we'll have a population that is no longer ignorant about Cherokee people specifically, and Native people, broadly speaking. Children's books are part of getting us there. They carry a lot of weight.
For now, I'll hit upload on this post, post the link in a comment to Betsy's review, and respond (there) to other things Betsy said. I hope you'll follow along there.
Further readings about Andrea Smith's claim to Cherokee identity:
I suspect that even if you have only been writing for children for a short while, if you live in the US (and maybe elsewhere) you will know the name Betsy Bird, who was the Youth Materials Selections Specialist of New … Continue reading →
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.
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!)
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!
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.
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.
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
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).
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!?’”
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!!!
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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.
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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.