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Guardians of Childhood, a new series by William Joyce, goes on sale today. Here's my review of The Man in the Moon, which first appeared in the August issue of Parents Express (Montgomery News.)
The Man in the Moon, written and illustrated by William Joyce, Atheneum/Simon and Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, ages 4-8.
The September publication of The Man in the Moon marks the beginning of a grand event in bookmaking for it is the first book in the series The Guardians of Childhood.
Joyce has spent the past 20 years working on the concept of Guardians, which will present the histories of such childhood icons as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and the Easter Bunny. The series will consist of 13 books—seven chapter books and six picture books – and an animated film due in Fall 2012. In this book we learn the story of the Man in the Moon (MiM,) a baby loved by his parents and watched over by his friend Nightlight, all who traveled the heavens in a ship named the Moon Clipper, designed to turn into the moon at night. His parents and Nightlight are lost in a battle with Pitch, the King of Nightmares (a character who figures prominently in the series' story arc.) A stirring text and glorious, stunning art tells of MiM’s growing up and his discovery of Earth, its children and their dreams, and MiM’s plan to guard and protect them with help from friends – a toy maker, a regal rabbit, a fairy, a sleepy fellow who knew about dreams, and a lovely storyteller. This is the beginning of something special, a tribute to the caretakers we all know and believe in. For more information visit the website
Here's a link to the book reviews I wrote for the March issue of Parent's Express. March's Books of the Month - Parents Express - Montgomery News
A Tree for Emmy
Written by Mary Ann Rodman and illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
Peachtree, hardcover, March 2009
A simple story about appreciating the wild natural world and the satisfaction of realizing one’s desires.
Emmy loves trees of all kinds, though it’s the mimosa tree at Gramma’s that really grabs her. Her imagination is ignited by the mimosa’s strong low branches, its fuzzy pink blossoms and the rattling seed pods. Best of all the mimosa is “stubborn and strong, and a little bit wild. Just like me.”
Emmy decides a mimosa of her own is a perfect birthday wish and her parents do their best to find her one. But mimosas are considered wild and so they’re not available at garden centers. Disappointed, the family visits Gramma and unexpectedly Emmy finds her own mimosa, a seedling growing wild and free. The last page presenting an older Emmy watering her beloved tree (now taller than her) is a testament to time passing, patience and a nurturing heart.
Lovely designed papers used for just the right amount of collage add whimsy and create visual interest and texture against the watercolor art.
Thanks to Peachtree Publishers for providing a review copy.
Written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Feiwel and Friends, 2009
Hardcover Picture Book
This new picture book is about fun – pink fun, stretchy fun, bubble fun – yes, gum fun. And as the title states it’s a book about trouble too.
On a rainy day, Rueben and his younger brother are playing inside and soon the piglets’ raucous behavior unnerves their mother and visiting grandmother. Grammy offers gum while Mom invokes the three rules, “Don’t swallow your gum. Don’t play with your gum. And don’t blow big, sticky bubbles with your gum.” How long do you think it takes to break those rules? How long before fun becomes trouble? Cordell does a fine job with pacing and juxtaposing art with text so that readers are simultaneously laughing while exclaiming Oh no! The black line cartoon-y art with just small bits of pink, red and gray is perfectly placed against a white background. There’s plenty of room for changing perspectives, lots of action, and text that is both story and art. Some text in hand-lettered font -- SMAK! Stuuuuuuuuuurch Pop! -- creates a soundtrack of the misbehaving brothers. Cleverness and hilarity run throughout the story.
Thanks to Feiwel and Friends for the f & g given at their reception for bloggers during ALA.AND they gave us these terrific promo gifts -- guess what's inside the tiny box?
Click here to go to Matthew Cordell’s website.
Written by Janet Lord
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Peachtree Publishers, 2010
hardcover picture book
I'm a huge fan of Julie Paschkis'
art -- her colors and imaginative decorations are a visual delight. And I embrace the idea of sisters' collaboration. (Julie and her sister, Janet Lord, have shared credit for two previous picture books.) And, though I'm definitely a dog person, I like cats well enough. So, Where is Catkin?
, is a natural as a picture book that delights and engages me. The story begins with young Amy and Catkin against a background of fantasical lush flowers and a shining sun. "Catkin sneeks through the grass./He sees something shiny and small./ Kerik-kerik. Kerik-kerik
./Catkin hops ..." and is off to the hunt! Double page spreads full of bright colors against a black background, framed bottom and top by a decorative border in gold and orange-red, follow Catkin on the chase through the garden, as the cat hears various sounds and goes after a frog, a mouse, a snake. The borders also follow the story's progress as the animals chased but not caught populate the borders. Then, as the action shifts and Catkin is caught in a tree, the borders' placement changes. The last page portrays Amy with resucued Catkin in her arms, borders on all four sides, everyone happy and safe. Ahhh!
Thanks to Peachtree Publishers
for the review copy.
Serendipity! I just went to the wonderful Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
blog to check if there was an interview with Julie Paschkis I could link to. There is and it's dated today! Read it. Feast your eyes on images shown of art from Catkin
Now that I've discovered how easy it is to share content on this blog, I'll start sharing the book reviews we do for Parents Express in Philadelphia. Bobbie began writing for PE over 20 years ago!
Bobbie's Books of the Month - Parents Express - Montgomery News
Prey by Lurlene McDaniel
Reading Level: Young Adult
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (February 12, 2008)
Thus far, I've only reviewed books that I've really liked, so you may be thinking, "does Jill like every book she reads?" Of course not. I've read plenty of children's books I don't like but have decided not to review them because I really didn't think I had much to say except that they were just okay. I lead a team of writers at a communications firm and know how important it is to give constructive feedback to help writers grow. As a writer myself, I know what it feels like to receive wishy-washy, vague feedback. I need to know what needs work so I can improve, make it the best piece possible, and apply the same lessons to my next piece. So, in my opinion, if I read a book and don't have something constructive to say except I didn't like it, that's a useless review. That's why up until now I've intentionally chosen not to review books about which I had mixed feelings.
Last weekend, I read Lurlene McDaniel's new Young Adult novel, Prey, and I DO have something constructive (at least I think so) to say about it. It's a story about a female high school history teacher, Ms. Lori Settles who seduces her teenage student, Ryan Piccoli. We seem to be obsessed with real-life cases like this in this country. Probably the most infamous of these teachers is Mary Kay Letourneau who had two children with her teenage student and ended up marrying him when she finished her jail sentence. And then the 25-year-old teacher Kelsey Peterson made national news back in November when she was caught in Mexico with her 14-year-old student. As a former teacher myself, I am incredulous when I hear stories like this. Questions run through my head: Why would someone in such a professional and influential position do this? What was she thinking? What happened to this woman that would cause her to act this way?
I was naturally intrigued when I received a review copy of Prey. Perhaps this would answer some of my questions and get more into the head of these female predators. Prey alternates between the point of view of three characters: Ryan, Ms. Settles, and Honey, Ryan's longtime friend who is secretly in love with him.
The book gets off to a promising start. We learn from the very beginning that Ryan is intentionally Lori's target. From the very first day of school, she knows that, "he'll be the One" (p. 15). Upon reading this, I felt a chill and was eager to continue reading. However, I felt the seduction happened way too quickly, and Ryan's situation didn't seem realistic. His father is a traveling salesman and is out of town four days of the week. A housekeeper cleans the house, but doesn't live there and hardly pays any attention to Ryan when she is there. It almost seems too easy for Lori to manipulate him and too easy for them to get together.
Writing in first person is challenging and probably one of the most difficult tasks to pull off well. Successfully writing from the first person point of view of multiple characters is extremely difficult (I'm thinking of Faulkner here, who I believe was a master at this). I applaud McDaniel for taking a risk here. I was interested in the relationship between Honey and Ryan and then Ryan and Lori, but McDaniel never really went deep enough with the characters. While Honey's character was needed to describe Ryan's friend's and family's concern about his sudden change in behavior, I often felt she was just an aside, an interrupter of sorts, especially when her chapters disrupted the flow and momentum of the novel.
In addition, at some points, McDaniel didn't seem to capture the teenage voice in a believable way. For example, at one point in novel, Ryan hears that a coach at the school has been asking Lori out. When Lori picks him up for a tryst, he confronts her. Here's how he describes his feelings to the reader, "Rain is pelting the windows, sluicing in long noisy rivers along the glass, like a knife cutting through my heart. The windows are fogged, moist from our breath and the heat of anger. Hot wetness swells behind my eyes. I'm acting like a jerk, but I can't help myself. I have to know the truth about her and Coach" (p. 76).
To me, language like this coming from a 15/16 year old seems inauthentic, while at other times, he's completely thinking like a teenage boy. McDaniel did, however, make Lori Settles seem to be the most authentic and consistent of the characters. We see what's going on in her mind, what makes her tick, and her deliberate plot to seduce him.
Oh, and let me address the white elephant in the room: how were the sexual encounters portrayed? McDaniel tastefully describes the seduction and subsequent encounters. Without going into detail, she leaves much to the imagination and doesn't get too graphic. But don't get me wrong--we are talking about a teacher having sex with a teenage boy. It's in the book, but I was never shocked or offended or thought McDaniel went too far. Given the sensitive subject matter, I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you think it's appropriate for your teen, and I would only recommend this for teens.
Overall, Prey was a good story on surface level, but it lacked the depth, consistency, and authenticity that would have made it a great story. McDaniel herself admits in the author's note that this is not typical of her writing, and I commend her for stepping outside of her comfort zone. I also admire her for addressing such a serious issue and hope that teenagers who read the book will be able to spot the warning signs if their friends start to behave differently and secretively.
I promised Molly I would write about some of her favorite books. First up is Katie Loves the Kittens, written and illustrated by John Himmelman, due in September 2008 from Henry Holt (9780805086829). I don't laugh out loud at many books but I did with this one! The words and pictures work together perfectly, telling a fine story with on the mark canine and feline behavior.
Katie's owner, Sara Ann, happily brings home three kittens, and Katie LOVES them right off. She's totally unable to contain her enthusiasm and scares them witless. She tries to behave and be quiet but she just has to be with them, she can't help herself. Katie frightens them again. Sara Ann scolds her, she berates herself, she's so sad she goes to sleep. What happens when she wakes up? You'll have to read for yourself. Cartoony drawings with lots of white space put Katie and the kittens center stage and simple lines explode with expression and animation. I felt so bad for Katie I just wanted to scoop her up and give her a hug. The final illustration is a delight! Molly gives this one 5 wags.
In The Nine Lives of Dudley Dog by John and Ann Hassett, published by Houghton Mifflin (9780618811533), Sister wants a cat for her birthday but gets Dudley instead. He takes off during the party and proceeds through a series of perilous adventures, just scraping by with his life. The same refrain ends each close call "Do you think you have nine lives like a cat?" That night a cat -- looking very much like Dudley and wearing Dudley's collar -- returns to Sister. Her birthday wish came true. Hmmm. The Hassetts are definitely inventive picture book makers. My four-year-old niece pointed out the forshadowing in the cover illustration -- she got it right away! Three wags from Molly
Molly is a rescue dog, so she insisted I write about A Home for Dixie: the True Story of a Rescued Puppy written by Emma Jackson with photographs by Bob Carey. It's available now from HarperCollins (9780061449628/tr; 9780061449635/lb.) Emma tells us the heartwarming story of how she and Dixie got together and outstanding photos (lots of closeups) extend the story. Realistic and emotional but not cloying, this is a great addition to Molly's Bookshelf. Five wags.
Tupelo Rides the Rails
Written and Illus by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin (9780618717149) Available now
Another special dog finds a worthy home. Tupelo, abandoned by the side of the road with only her sock toy, Mr. Bones, courageously trots off in search of a place – “Everyone belongs somewhere” she says. She meets up with the BONEHEADS (Benevolent Order of Nature’s Exalted Hounds Earnest And Doggedly Sublime), listens to their stories, and observes their ritual bone-burying and wishes to Sirius, the Dog Star. A hobo named Garbage Pail Tex (wearing a shirt that reads ‘Going Places’) shepherds the dogs to Hoboken by train and he and his friends help find homes for the pooches. All except Tupelo. (Oh, my heart.) A full- bleed illustration shows Tupelo alone holding Mr. Bones in her mouth, the huge night sky above with Sirius shining in the distance. She makes her wish and is reunited with a good friend and finally finds her place. This folkloric story mixes up dogs, stars and trains and the power of the journey in a unique way, full of luscious language and subtle humor. And there’s so much to look at! Sweet uses watercolor and mixed media in full page illustrations, smaller sequential frames and extended foldouts. There are extras too – ancient star maps on the endpapers, a timeline in dog-years of dog heroes including Argos, Stickeen and Lassie, and information about Sirius. Five wags and a loud Arooooo!
I didn't intend to do a little roundup; it just sort of evolved on its own. It all began with a visit to the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester VT. One of several timely displays in the children's book area caught my eye -- weddings. There among Miss Spider's Wedding, Frog Bride, and Junie B. Jones is (almost) a Flower Girl was a copy of Uncle Bobbie's Wedding by Sarah Brannen. Yea!!! I love Vermont! This is just what I like to see -- being a part of and not singled out as different or an issue. (An aside -- wearing her Two Lives Publishing hat, Bobbie recently presented at SCBWI New England where Sarah was also a faculty presenter and at the New Jersey Library Association Conference they both presented on a panel about LGBT publishing for children. They were quite a team.)
Elizabeth Bluemle did a fine post about new titles for young children with LGBT parents on Shelftalker. (Another aside -- during our recent stay in Vermont, we planned to visit the Flying Pig Bookstore on our drive to Burlington but it was closed for Mother's Day.)
Elizabeth reviewed Mommy, Mama and Me and Daddy, Papa and Me, two delightful board books with two moms and two dads families written by Leslea Newman. Those titles are also the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Book of the Week.
I received an update about HRC Family Project’s Welcoming Schools program. You can download An Introduction to Welcoming Schools,a primer version of the Welcoming Schools Guide, a guide designed for use in elementary schools with tools, resources and lessons on family diversity, name-calling and gender stereotyping. Included is a list of LGBT-inclusive children’s books.
Last week I worked on some reviews for the Philadelphia Family Pride Newsletter. One of the titles I reviewed was 10,000 Dresses, a title I learned about from in-the-know Fuse #8. Thanks Betsy! Sorry I couldn't find the post to make a direct link
Here's my review:
10, 000 Dresses
Written by Marcus Ewert and Illustrated by Rex Ray
Seven Stories Press, 2008
This is the first picture book we know of with a transgender child as the main character. While some reactions might be “Whoa! Why a trans book for so young?” we’ve heard that there is a need – kids can and do identify with gender at young ages.
Bailey happily dreams of dresses every night – gorgeous, original dresses made of “crystals that flashed rainbows in the sun,” “lilies and roses with honeysuckle sleeves,” and “windows which showed the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids.” But when she tries to tell her parents about the dreams and her desire to own dresses like the ones she dreams about, their negative reaction fills her with despair. “You’re a boy. Boys don’t wear dresses! . . . don’t mention dresses again!” Luckily Bailey meets Laurel who thinks Bailey’s designs are “awesome” and together they make beautiful dresses for themselves. Laurel’s understanding and acceptance of Bailey are a huge gift to her, as this empowering book will be for many children. Artist and graphic designer Rex Ray’s paper collages provide a colorful, retro-futuristic backdrop for Bailey’s story.
The analogy of a window and mirror is often used when talking about diversity in children’s books – the books provide both a mirror for self- recognition and a window to viewing the world outside. The author’s use of dresses made of mirrors and windows may be coincidence but It’s a nice touch.
Olly and Me 1 2 3
Candlewick, hardcover, July 2009
Shirley Hughes’ familiar illustrations populate this counting book which also serves as a vehicle for young Kate to tell readers all about her family, including younger brother Olly, and friends. “There are four people in our family. When we go out, we usually take our dog, Buster, too, and that makes five. Buster likes to chase birds but he never catches any.”
The page layout places the featured number (1-10) written at the top of the page; next to it are large colored dots with the number of dots matching the number. On a double-page spread are multiple examples of the number in words and illustrations, such as “Three is company.” What I love about Hughes’ art is that it’s messy and expressive and full of motion, showing us happy animals and people in the everyday. It’s kids being kids and her language is just like listening to kids. Following the number 10 she writes
“Some things are too many to count –
Like blossoms falling from a tree
Or raindrops into a puddle . . .
Or flowers in the springtime
Or clouds in the sky going up and up . . .
Numbers go on forever.”
Thanks to Candlewick Press for supplying a review copy.