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LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Chess Rumble, which explores the ways this strategic game empowers young people with the skills they need to anticipate and calculate their moves through life.
Synopsis: In Marcus’s world, battles are fought everyday—on the street, at home, and in school. Angered by his sister’s death and his father’s absence, and pushed to the brink by a bullying classmate, Marcus fights back with his fists.
One punch away from being kicked out of school and his home, Marcus encounters CM, an unlikely chess master who challenges him to fight his battles on the chess board. Guarded and distrusting, Marcus must endure more hard lessons before he can accept CM’s help to regain control of his life.
Awards and Honors:
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, American Library Association (ALA)
Notable Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English
Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, International Reading Association (IRA)
Top Picks for Reluctant Readers, BoysRead.org
G. Neri, an award-winning filmmaker whose work has earned him several honors. Inspired by his editor, Jennifer Fox, who had wanted to do an urban chess story for years and finally saw the possibility of making it come to life through him, Neri dove into the project with unbridled enthusiasm. “I loved the idea of using chess strategy as a way to approach life. I had dealt with a few teens who had come from troubled pasts and had difficulty finding an outlet for their inner struggle. So the idea of pairing a kid like this with a chess mentor who did not back down came naturally. It was a very organic process, and I let the characters tell me their stories.”
Neri hopes that readers will come away from Chess Rumble “think[ing] about their lives and the choices they make before they make them.” Pressed to continue, Neri says, “I hope they are intrigued to play chess, and maybe start thinking about acting on, instead of reacting to, negative situations. Acting considers what can happen if you make one choice versus another. Reacting just responds impulsively to the problem instead of thinking ahead three steps and maybe making a better choice.”
Two years ago I wrote a piece called The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting in which I raged unto the heavens against picture books where the artists put little work into bothering to figure out if knitting needles should be held up or down. Well, it’s time for me to apologize to those illustrators. If depicting knitting needles with the ends to the sky is irresistible to you, you’re in good company. Seems that every picture book illustrator of the past put you on the wrong path early.
Today, we rank the great illustrators history and see how precisely they’ve chosen to portray knitters. As a refresher, here is how you hold knitting needles:
The method of holding them with the ends up is not unheard of, but it is rare. For example, I tried to find a Google Image of that particular style for the piece and failed utterly.
From Worst to Best: Knitting in Children’s Literature
To be fair, I know very little about the fibers of Truffula Trees. It is possible that one has to . . . um . . . Okay, I’m not entirely certain what the Onceler’s family is doing here. They appear to be stabbing the fibers in a downward manner with their needles, miraculously producing thneeds. This exact image isn’t exactly from the book (I think it’s wallpaper) but it’s an accurate depiction of what Seuss drew. Whatever floats your boats, guys. Just don’t call it knitting.
Et tu, Eastman? I was merrily reading Robert the Rose Horse when I saw this image. I may have to give Eastman points for the inherent humor of it, though. Knitting without digits. Think about it for a moment.
I’m with you, kitten. Shocked SHOCKED that the great Garth Williams failed to get this right.
No word on whether or not Moominmamma . . . oh, wait.
Darn it. No pun intended.
Wait! This just in! I believe this is an image from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. If so, then this cat isn’t knitting but tatting. And if she is tatting then it’s possible the needles go up, right? So let’s just find an image of someone tatting.
So much for that.
I think we may have a winner. Yes, it looks like it. Granted, she’s put the knitting down on her lap to whisper “Hush” to the bunny in the bed, but I think it very likely that the needles were held correctly before then. Shall we give it to him?
Okay. Enough with the deceased. Let’s see how some of our contemporary masters fare in this game.
Didn’t see that one coming.
YES!! And Pinkney for the win! The cat’s needles are down, I REPEAT! The cat’s needles are down!
Paul O. Zelinsky
Considering how much work Paul put into getting the spinning wheel right in Rumpelstiltskin, it’s little wonder he’d get the knitting right in Swamp Angel.
Cheating a bit here. This is from one of Sophie’s Missed Connections pieces and not from a children’s book, but it at least proves that if knitting ever does come up in one of her books, she’ll know what to do about it.
I suspect I would have had a small heart attack if it turned out that Ms. Brett didn’t know knitting. She has, after all, portrayed some of the greatest illustrations of stitching ever seen in a picture book.
Notable missing illustrators aren’t listed here simply because I couldn’t figure out if they ever depicted knitting in their books. Hence the lack of John Steptoe, Maurice Sendak, Trina Schart Hyman, Grace Lin, Tomie de Paola, Yuyi Morales, and others. If you’ve inside knowledge on the matter, have at it. Other contemporary illustrators like Lauren Castillo or Jon Klassen can be found on the previous piece about knitting books in 2014.
So I’m no longer in New York City anymore as you might have noticed but that doesn’t meant there aren’t some fantastic events going on there. Free events. Free events at my old stomping grounds, NYPL. It’s all in conjunction with Banned Books Week and the guests are a bit on the famous side. Gene Luen Yang. Katherine Paterson. Rita Williams-Garcia. STRANGER THINGS!!! *ahem* In any case, behold below. I give you one heckuva fantastic week.
Banned Books Week annually celebrates the freedom to read. Highlighting the value of free and open access to information, Banned Books Week brings together librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types in shared support of the freedom to seek, to publish, to read, and to express ideas. The Library is hosting a series of events September 25-October 1 celebrating the freedom to read with some of your favorite children’s authors!
Join the New York Public Library in partnership with Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street!) on Sunday September 25 from 10:30 AM-12 PM (doors open at 10:15 AM), as we welcome the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, joined by his furry friend, Sesame Street’s Walkaround Grover, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Sesame Street classic storybook,The Monster at the End of this Book. Yang will read aloud this time-honored tale (first published in 1971 by Little Golden Books) and will discuss his ‘Reading Without Walls’ initiative, which encourages readers to explore books of diverse voices, genres, and formats.
Join the New York Public Library Saturday October 1 from 2-3 PM as we welcome Katherine Paterson and her sons, David and John, to discuss Ms. Paterson’s enduring young adult classic THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS and new feature film version of THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS debuting in theaters and On Demand October 7.
After the success of the first #DVpit event in April, #DVpit is back for another round of Twitter pitching fun on October 5th and 6th! If you’re unfamiliar with this event, #DVpit is a Twitter pitch contest created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors.
While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event! The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s #DVpit website.
A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan
October 5, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Children’s and Teen Fiction/Nonfiction
October 6, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction
What is #DVpit?
#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.
The first #DVpit took place on April 19, 2016 and was a national trending hashtag. There have been over 15 authors signed by agents as a direct result of this event so far, with editors from small to mid-size to Big Five publishers requesting to receive the manuscripts at submission stage.
#DVpit was covered by Bustle, Salon, YA Interrobang, and multiple blog sites like Lee & Low Blog and Daily Dahlia.
The event was created and is moderated by Beth Phelan, a literary agent at the Bent Agency.
When is the next #DVpit?
#DVpit will occur over two days. Please make sure you are pitching your work on the appropriate day; many of the agents and editors will only tune in on a specific day, to see the pitches in the categories they represent/acquire.
October 5th will be for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (picture books, chapter books, graphic novel, middle grade, young adult).
October 6th will be for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (all genres, commercial and literary).
The event will run on each day from 8AM ET until 8PM ET using the hashtag #DVpit on both days.
What kind of work can you submit?
The participating agents and editors will be looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the description here.
Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.
How do you submit?
The event will be broken up over two days, one for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (October 5) and the other for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (October 6). Please make sure that you pitch on the appropriate day.
Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.
Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags as well.
We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book / you are a diverse author, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc. These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you label your experience. Please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.
Please pitch no more than once per hour. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.
Please do not tweet-pitch the agents/editors directly!
The event will run from 8:00AM ET until 8:00PM ET, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time, on the appropriate day.
What happens next?
Agents/editors will “like” your pitch if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply or quote-tweet with compliments.
Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.
All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), I encourage you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).
If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same company have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy on multiple submissions, or reach out to me and I will be happy to find out for you.
Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!
Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating again this round. So get those pitches ready for October 5th!
If you need help with your pitch, check out these helpful resources here.
Mmmm. It’s that time again. The summer is beginning to cool its jets and with fall on the horizon I need to present the third in my yearly four-part prediction series. What was that fantastic quote Travis Jonker came up with the other day? Ah, yes.
“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” – Lao Tzu
And like Travis, we’re just going to run roughshod over that one. As ever, I will remind you that my ability to predict these things is a bit on the shoddy side. You might be better off reading the Mock Newbery and Mock Caldecott lists of Goodreads. That said, I can give you something those lists can’t: Scintillating commentary!! Unless you’re reading Heavy Medal or Calling Caldecott (both of which have just started up again). Then you’ll get commentary from a variety of different voices. Anyway . . .
Let’s do this thing.
2017 Caldecott Predictions
Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead
I think I’m going to stick with this one. Here’s what usually happens when I mention this book on a prediction list. I say I don’t find it very kid-friendly and then someone responds that they know several kids who love it. They just happen to be older kids. One forgets that not all picture books are aimed at three-year-olds. Stead’s book pushes the boundaries. It may, in fact, be one of those very rare picture books written for a middle grade audience. With that in mind, a consideration of the text and image together takes on a different light entirely.
Not fish, nor fowl. Is it nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, poetry, or a picture book? The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards placed it squarely in the picture book category (those judges must have been awfully smart, don’t you think, huh huh, don’t you think, huh?) though like Ideas Are All Around it’s for older readers. A bit of a trend here, eh? Maybe. After all, the last few nonfiction Caldecott winners (Finding Winnie, Locomotive, etc.) were on the older side as well.
Miracle Man by John Hendrix
Chant it with me! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Now last time I did a prediction edition I mentioned the whole question about whether or not a Jesus book could win a Caldecott anymore (since, y’know, the first 1938 winner was Animals of the Bible). Now I’ve found out that I’ll get to talk with The Horn Book Podcast soon about religion and children’s literature in the 21st century. That should help me straighten out my thoughts on the matter. In the meantime, I’m keeping this one in the mix. As I mentioned before, it’s the wildest of my Wild Cards, but I think it may have an outside chance.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
Speaking of the Horn Book Podcast, there was an interesting discussion the other day with Jules Danielson of the 7-Imp blog about whether or not publishers should include information about how the art was made on the publication page of a picture book. Roger Sutton was asking if knowledge of how a book is made adjusts your interpretation of the art. I mentioned this to a friend and they pointed out that in 2016 we’re seeing a crazy amount of eclectic and interesting art in our contenders. From the found wood of Yuyi Morales’s Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas to the Moroccan influence and mixed media of Evan Turk’s The Storyteller (we’ll get to that) to the found wood (again) of this book, it has never been a better time to get creative with your medium. And anyway, this book just blew me away. Technically a bio won the Caldecott last year, but there’s no rule saying it can’t happen repeatedly. And how awesome would it be for a Steptoe to win the Caldecott again? Javaka completely deserves it with this book.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Okay! So graphic novels have been winning Newberys left, right, and center lately, right? Which is to say, Newbery Honors. On the Caldecott side, This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki essentially blew our minds when it won a Caldecott Honor two years ago (and it was YA!). This 1930s reinterpretation of the Snow White story is far younger than Tamaki’s book, and done in an elegant black and white style. It is, in its own way, very sexy but still child appropriate (I’ll have to review it sometime to figure out how that’s even possible). Phelan’s never won any Caldecotts that I can tell, but he’s also become more and more accomplished as the years have gone by. This book would be a risk for the committee, but it would also be a wonderful way of praising Phelan’s evident expertise.
Sometimes a Caldecott winner says something about the times in which we live. Turk’s book talks about the roles stories have in our lives. It folds a story within a story within a story and then backs out again without tripping up once. Visually it’s a stunner, with smart writing to match, but more importantly it’s speaking to the times in which we live. We are desperate for stories these days. This book speaks not just to that need but the solution. Aw, heck. It may even have a chance at a Newbery. Look at the art when you get a chance, though. It’s truly beautiful.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, ill. Yuyi Morales
This book was already mentioned on Heavy Medal’s Ten Picture Books That Can Win the 2017 Newbery Medal. On the Caldecott side of the equation it’s already received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. It’s one of those books where the art slowly grabs you. There are circles within circles, connections upon connections. A long discussion of the book yields treasures. You will see things you missed many times before.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Someone told me recently that this book is scientifically accurate. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the premise is that a single cat is viewed in a multitude of different ways by different animals. I haven’t looked into the veracity of this claim yet, but if true then it’s just another feather in the cap of a remarkable title. Word on the street says that Chronicle paid a pretty penny for the manuscript. From everything I can see, it was worth it in the end.
2017 Newbery Predictions
Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet
You know, you guys should really listen to that Horn Book Podcast sometime. It was Roger Sutton who mentioned this book and piqued my interest in it. I already had a copy at home since it came with rather peculiar swag. With the book came two little cut out stencils. One of a cloud. One of a whale. Aside from pitying the poor intern that spent at least a day cutting these out, it did interest me. Good cover. Good title. And Nesbet? That was the author behind that Cabinet of Earths series, right? Well I’ve been reading it and on some level it reminded me of The War That Saved My Life. Not the setting so much as just the pure enjoyment I’ve received while reading it. Roger said something similar himself. Nesbet has taken 1989 East Germany and just riddled it with interesting details and great writing. Y’all have to check this out.
It’s been (checks calendar) six days since this book was released. Have you read it yet? Have you, have you? Because I’d really like to talk to somebody about it. I think 2016 is going to be The Year of Difficult Writing for me. So many authors are taking risks, doing things no one’s done before, and creating art in the process. Mr. Bryan is no exception. I’ve never seen anything quite like what he’s done here. Naming this book as even an honor would be a powerful statement.
I actually did a double take when I reread my Summer Prediction Edition and found, to my shock and horror, that I had not included this book on the list. I must have read it right after I posted. In fact, I know I did since three or four readers named it as a top pick. Whole lotta religion in this one. And blood and guts too (this is Mr. Gidwitz we’re talking about) but talk about risks! He’s basically taking Christianity and Judaism and discussing them in a context almost never seen in middle grade historical fiction (fantasy? fiction?). Gutsy. Blood and gutsy.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Ah, Pax. Let out of the gate early in 2016 with a huge marketing push to match. It worked in terms of sales, of course. This book has already become a New York Times bestseller (no mean feat for a book that isn’t part of a series written by a man whose name rhymes with My Own Pen). It was the earliest book to garner Newbery buzz as well. Indeed, there’s a reason Heavy Medal chose it as one of the first books of the year to discuss. Love it or hate it, there is a LOT to chew on in this novel. It could either sweep the awards or not even get an Honor nod. Though, if I were a betting woman, I’d say it’s a clear cut Newbery Honor book.
The Newbery is not awarded for difficulty. If it were, Fleming would be a shoo-in. Instead, she’s written a middle grade nonfiction biography of a figure forgotten by most kids today. A biography hasn’t won a Newbery since 1988 (Lincoln, a Photobiography, in case you’re curious). So the chances of Fleming winning for this book are slim, but I’m a fan of the underdog. The writing is extraordinary, the topic impossible, and the take clever. We’ll see if the committee agrees.
Like Pax, this is one of those shoo-ins for discussion. Also like Pax it came out early in the year. Will the committee be burned out by the time they actually get around to discussing it? Considering how much there is to discuss about the book, not likely. If it wins the Award proper that will be DiCamillo’s third Newbery Award (not counting Honors). Something to chew on.
Mmm. Poetry. Slightly less rare than middle grade biography winners. After all, verse novels have won. Monologues done in rhyme have won. Even straight up books of poetry have, technically, won. One thing I have learned about this book is that not everybody shares my love of it. Like humor, the worth of poetry can prove subjective. Still and all, there’s a groundswell of support for it out there. One of the loveliest books of the year, by far.
Also known as the book I had to flip to the back of because it became too tense for me not to know how it ended. They keep comparing it to To Kill a Mockingbird in the ad copy, which I feel is a bit unfair. Any book compared to Harper Lee’s classic is going to end up with a raw deal. It’s an interesting take on prejudices and has, by far, the most evil bully in a book I have EVER read. I wouldn’t call it enjoyable in the same way as the Nesbet book, but it was deeply compelling and beautifully written.
AND NOW . . . THE BOOK THAT IS GOING TO BE SUPER FUN FOR THE NEWBERY COMMITTEE AS THEY TRY TO FIGURE OUT IF IT’S EVEN UP FOR CONTENTION OR NOT . . .
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, narrative and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi
Haven’t heard of it? I bet not. I have not yet begun to sing its praises on this blog, having just read it, but this is without a doubt one of the most amazing books of the year.
Now this should be an open and shut case of a book that simply can’t be a Newbery contender. See how I mentioned that there was a translator or two involved in this book? Right. Books eligible for the Newbery must have originally been published in the United States. Case closed, right? Maybe not. This book is about the life of a celebrated Japanese poet for children who was rediscovered not long ago, and became famous thanks in large part to one of her poems circulating after the tsunami of 2011. It pulls no punches and reproduces original translations of her poems throughout the text.
So the book itself was originally published in the States, right? But the poetry spotted throughout the book comes from a Japanese anthology of Kaneko’s works. What this means is that even if the poetry has never been translated in this way before, technically the poems have been translated overseas before and therefore the book is not a Newbery contender. I think. If true this is a pity since I truly believe that anyone who reads this book will be utterly blown away by what they find inside. In any case, the author of the poetry is dead and I believe that may be an impediment to its Newbery qualifications as well. Ah well. Check it out when you get a chance. It’s really quite remarkable.
Last weekend I was at Salt Lake Comic Con. I had a great time talking to people and selling my art. During this time, I spoke to a few individuals who told me they are writing a book and are looking for an illustrator.
“Your style is perfect,” They say. “Just what I’ve been looking for.”
It’s always nice to hear that people like my art, but when someone says this to me I cringe inside. Not that these people have done anything wrong but I know these people are missing some crucial information about book publishing.
Three Things Beginning Picture Book Writers Need to Know About Publishing
1. The publisher picks the illustrator
I’m starting with this as the number one thing because if your writing a children’s book and you’re here, you are probably looking for an illustrator.
As a picture book writer, choosing the illustrator is not your job.
At this point, you may be thinking, “What if my publisher doesn’t pick an illustrator I like?”
I’m not going to lie. There is a possibility you might not like the artist they pick, but before you write this idea off think of the benefits.
Publishers work with hundreds of illustrators. They get tons of postcard mailers every day from illustrators. They have education and experience at finding artists and matching them to the right picture book text. They also hire the illustrator, have lawyers to create contracts that include important details like deadlines and rights, and they pay the illustrator what they are worth so that you, the writer, don’t have to.
On the other hand, you might know 3-5 artists who are really good. Out of these artists, one or two may have professional work experience. If they know how book publishing works, they’ll probably say no to your project. Sometimes, they may say yes if you have the budget for it. If you can pay them enough, then all you have to worry about rights, deadlines, and art directing. No biggie.
Save yourself some stress. Let the publisher pick your illustrator.
2. It’s hard work
If you read section one up there, you’ve probably realized by now this picture book thing is more difficult than you think. Don’t let this discourage you. It’s hard work, but you can do it.
When you write a picture book, you are writing a story. Your story should have a beginning, middle, and end. It doesn’t matter how short the text is, all stories have those three things. Even the board books I illustrated have a beginning, middle, and an end and they have less than 100 words each.
Picture books are about text and pictures. When you write a picture book, think about what the images might show and don’t put that in the text. There is no need to use lengthy descriptions of the characters or settings. Remember a picture is worth 1000 words. That means on every page there are at least 1000 words you don’t need to write.
Picture books these days are very short. Remember, parents and teachers read picture books out loud. Less than 1000 words is a great guideline, but lots of books have less than 500. Work on your drafts until you have the right amount of words for your story.
3. It’s not only your book once you involve an illustrator and publisher
Once you have a fantastic draft and you, start looking for a publisher you have to let some things go. In the end, it’s not only your book. The publisher and the illustrator also have their names on it, and they want to do they best they can to make it great. Just focus on the writing and trust the illustrator and publisher to make the book as great as they can, and everyone wins.
Here are some resources to find out more about writing and publishing your book
SCBWI.org is the Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators. They have great publishing resources and put together some great conferences all around they world where you can get more info about writing and illustrating picture books.
Stories Unbound Podcast is a great resource with interviews with published authors and illustrators. I got to be a co-host in a few episodes talking about attending conferences and setting up a critique group. Check it out.
The Purple Crayon is another great website with excellent info about children’s publishing. This website has the answers to tons of publishing questions. You’ll also learn stuff you probably never thought to ask.
Ooo. Lots of adult books with smatterings of children’s literature littered about the pages today. Don’t even know where to start with this one. Let’s see, eeny meeny miney . . . MO!
Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books by Christine Woodside
This is the most interesting of the batch in many ways. This year saw the publication of the book The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, published by editor William Anderson. I know these letters well since Jules Danielson and I used them for our book Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. Yet little did I know that the story of Rose Wilder was far more interesting than the degree to which she wrote the Little House books herself or whether or not she could swear like a sailor (she could). Listen to this part of the description:
“Rose hated farming and fled the family homestead as an adolescent, eventually becoming a nationally prominent magazine writer, biographer of Herbert Hoover, and successful novelist, who shared the political values of Ayn Rand and became mentor to Roger Lea MacBride, the second Libertarian presidential candidate. Drawing on original manuscripts and letters, Woodside shows how Rose reshaped her mother’s story into a series of heroic tales that rebutted the policies of the New Deal.“
Nope. Didn’t know that one!
Lois Lenski: Storycatcher by Bobbie Malone
Sometimes a book gets published and I sit in my library and think, “Is anyone else in the entire world going to really read and enjoy this besides me?” Then, after a moment, I’ll get a crazed look in my eye, stand up at my desk, and scream, “THEN I SHALL MAKE THEM ENJOY IT!!!!” Little wonder my desk is sequestered at the end of my floor, far from my cowering co-workers. This Lenski bio may have a limited built-in audience but for Newbery die-hards (Strawberry Girl fans, are you with me?) this is a must. Plus I really like the central conceit involving inherent class structures. Says the description: “Lenski turned her extensive study of hardworking families into books that accurately and movingly depicted the lives of the children of sharecroppers, coal miners, and migrant field workers.” Now somebody out there write me a comparative study looking at how Kate DiCamillo has done similar work with working class people in Florida, with a good compare and contrast of the two award winning authors’ work. And . . . go.
Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises by Lesley M.M. Blume
Okay. You’ll bite. What’s the children’s literature connection here? Is it the fact that the book’s about Hemingway and we know that his grandson Eddie Hemingway makes picture books? Is there going to be a revelation in the book that Hemingway based The Sun Also Rises on The Velveteen Rabbit (think about it . . . no, wait, don’t)? No, it’s a lot simpler than that. Its author, Lesley M.M. Blume, has made a veritable plethora of children’s books over the years. My personal favorite was her Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate. Now she’s getting stellar reviews on the adult side of things. Bully for her, says I! Well done!
Love From Boy: Roald Dahl’s Letters to His Mother by Donald Sturrock
What We Know: 2016 marks 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl.
What That Means: Lots o’ books about Dahl. Some covering areas we’ve seen before. Others traipsing into new territory. I certainly haven’t seen this one before and as the mom of a 2-year-old boy it gets frighteningly close to teary-eyed territory. I also love this part of the book’s description: “Sofie Magdalene kept every letter her son wrote to her (sadly, her own side of the correspondence did not survive).” Tsk. Ain’t that like a boy.
The Best “Worst President” by Mark Hannah, ill. Bob Staake
Bob Staake cover and interior art. Nuff said.
Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland by Laura O. Foster
One of my catalogers came up to me the other day, book in hand. Baker & Taylor has cataloged this book as 813.54 (literary stuff) but the book is clearly (Cleary-ly?) a travelogue. Indeed, open it up and you get a whole mess of delightful Portland, Oregon haunts. Where the HECK was this book when I was moving there, all those years ago? I would have lapped it up. As it stands, it’s really very delightful. Those of you planning to move there, or have friends or kids moving there, grab this thing. Like I say – Ramona invented the original Portlandia.
In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant, Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary
Hold the phone. Now hand the phone to me. Someone else besides Leonard Marcus has written a biography of Margaret Wise Brown? Who is this Amy Gary type personage? Sez the description: “In 1990, author Amy Gary discovered unpublished manuscripts, songs, personal letters, and diaries from Margaret tucked away in a trunk in the attic of Margaret’s sister’s barn. Since then, Gary has pored over these works and with this unique insight in to Margaret’s world she chronicles her rise in the literary world . . . Amy Gary has cataloged, edited, and researched all of Margaret’s writings for the last twenty-five years.”
Oh. There you go then.
Okay. One more.
Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I by Paula Becker-Brown
For whatever reason I feel like this is slightly more accessible than the Lois Lenski book. Probably because MacDonald had a career outside of children’s literature occasionally. “Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and The Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters.” Piggle-Wiggle is what she’ll go down in history for, but it’s nice to see another side of her as well. Could have put a little more work into that book jacket, though. Seriously, University of Washington Press. You weren’t even trying.
This year is the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93.
It might seem impossible to believe, but this year’s incoming high school freshmen weren’t even born in 2001! So they might not be aware of some of the events that happened on that day.
That’s why I continue to post the essay below about my experience living in Manhattan a few dozen blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11. I think it’s important we don’t allow the brave acts that so many men and women performed that day to be forgotten.
So if you have a few extra minutes in your day, please read on. And if you think what you read was important, please share it with a friend. There’s tragedy in the personal story I’ve written below, but there’s also plenty of inspirational heroism, too, I promise, starting with this, the boat lift on 9/11 that helped rescue some of my husband’s co-workers:
Meg’s 9/11 Diary
9/11/01 started out as one of those super nice fall days where the sky was cloudlessly blue and it was just warm enough, but not hot. My LA friends call that “earthquake weather.”
So we probably should have known something awful was going to happen, but most of us didn’t.
My husband had woken up early to go jogging before leaving for work at his job as a financial writer at One Liberty Plaza, which was across the street from the World Trade Center.
He has never been jogging again.
Not being a morning person, I was still asleep in my apartment on 12th Street and 4th Avenue, a few dozen blocks from the Trade Center, when the first plane hit. Our windows were closed and the air conditioning was on. I didn’t hear a thing until my friend Jen called.
Jen: “Look out your window.”
That is when I saw the smoke for the first time.
Me: “What’s happening?”
Jen: “They’re saying a plane hit the Trade Center.”
Me: “But how could the pilot not see it?”
Jen: “I don’t know. Isn’t that near where your husband works?”
It was. I couldn’t see his building from our apartment, but I could see the World Trade Center. The black smoke billowing from it had to be going right into my husband’s busy investment office on the 60th or so floor.
“I better call him to see if he’s okay,” I said, and hung up to do so.
There was no answer at my husband’s office, however, which was crazy, because over a hundred people worked there.
Were they all right? I didn’t know. I couldn’t get through to anyone anywhere. I couldn’t make any outgoing calls from either of my phones that day. For some reason, people could call me, but I couldn’t call anyone else.
It turned out this was due to the massive volume of calls going on in my part of the city that day, both on cell and land lines.
But I didn’t know that then.
Sirens started up. It was the engine from the firehouse directly across the street from my apartment building. It was a very small firehouse, but it was always bustling with activity. All the young, handsome guys used to sit outside it on folding chairs on nice days like the one on 9/11, joshing with the neighbors who were walking their dogs, with my doormen, with the neighborhood kids. The old ladies on my street always brought them cookies.The firemen, in turn, always had treats for the old ladies’ dogs.
Now all the firemen from the station across from my apartment building were hurrying to the fire downtown, throwing on their gear and urgently blaring the horn on their truck.
Every last one of those young, brave boys would be dead in exactly one hour. Their truck would be crushed beyond recognition. That firehouse would sit empty and draped in black bunting for months. No one would be able to look at it without crying.
Of course none of us knew it then.
I turned on New York 1, the local news channel for New York City. Pat Kiernan, my favorite newscaster, was saying that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
Weird, I thought. Was the pilot drunk? How could someone not see a building that big, and run into it with a plane?
It was right then that Luz, my housekeeper, showed up. I’d forgotten it was Tuesday, the day she comes to clean. When she saw what I was watching, she looked worried.
“I just dropped my son off at his college,” she said. “It’s right next to the World Trade Center.”
“My husband works across the street from the World Trade Center,” I said.
“Is he all right?” Luz wanted to know. “What’s happening down there?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t reach him.”
Luz tried to call her son on his cell phone. She, too, could not get through.
We didn’t know then that our cell servers used towers that were located on top of the World Trade Center, and they all had stopped working due to the intensity of the flames shooting up the building.
We both stood there staring at the TV, not really knowing what to do. It was as we were watching that something weird happened on the TV, right before our eyes:
The OTHER tower at the World Trade Center — the one that hadn’t been hit — suddenly exploded.
I thought maybe one of the helicopters that was filming the disaster had gotten too close.
But Luz said, “No. A plane hit it. I saw it. That was a plane.”
I hadn’t seen a plane. I said, “No. How could that be? There can’t be TWO drunk pilots.”
“You don’t understand,” Luz said. “They’re doing this on purpose.”
“No,” I said. “Of course they aren’t. Who would do that?”
That’s when Pat Kiernan, on the TV, said, “Oh, my God.”
It’s weird to hear a newscaster say, “Oh, my God.” Especially Pat. He is always very professional.
Also, Pat’s voice cracked when he said it. Like he was about to cry.
But newscasters don’t cry.
“Another plane has hit the World Trade Center,” Pat said. “It looks as if another plane — a commercial jet — has hit the World Trade Center. And we are getting reports that a plane has just hit the Pentagon.”
That’s when I grabbed Luz. And Luz grabbed me. We both started to cry. We sat on the couch in my living room, hugging each other, and crying as we watched what was happening on TV, which was what was happening a dozen blocks from where we sat, where both the people we loved were.
We could see things flying out of the burning buildings. Pat said that those things were people. People were choosing to jump from their offices in the World Trade Center rather than burn to death. They couldn’t escape the flames, and rescuers couldn’t reach them.
But their offices were sixty to ninety floors from the ground. Some of them were holding hands with their colleagues as they jumped. Many of them were women. You could tell by the way their skirts ballooned out behind them as they raced towards the pavement below.
Luz and I sobbed. We didn’t want to watch, but we couldn’t stop. This was happening in our city, just down the street, to people we saw every day. Who would do this? Who would do something like this to New Yorkers?
That’s when my phone rang. I grabbed it, but it wasn’t my husband. It was his mother. Where was he? she wanted to know. Was he all right?
I said I didn’t know. I said I was trying to keep the line clear, in case he called. She said she understood but to call her as soon as I heard anything, and hung up.
Then the phone rang again. It was my husband’s sister-in-law. Then it rang again. It was MY mother.
The phone rang all morning. It was never my husband. It was always family or friends, wondering if he was all right.
“I don’t know,” I kept telling them. “I don’t know.”
Luz went up to the roof of my building to see if she could see anything more from there than what they were showing on New York 1. While she was gone, I went into my bedroom to get dressed (I was still wearing my pajamas).
All I could think, as I looked into my closet, trying to figure out what to wear, was that my husband was probably dead. I didn’t see how anybody could be down in that part of Manhattan and still be alive. All I could see were things falling —and people jumping — out of those buildings. Anyone on the streets down below would have to be killed by all of that. The jumping people couldn’t choose where they landed.
I remember exactly what I put on that day: olive green capris and a black T-shirt, with my black Steve Madden slides. I remember thinking, “This will be my Identifying My Dead Husband’s Body outfit. I will never, ever wear it again after this day.”
I knew this because when I worked at the dorm at NYU, we had quite a few students kill themselves, in various ways. Every time a body was discovered, it was so horrible. All the first responders involved in the discovery could never wear the same clothes we wore that day again, because of the memory.
Luz came back down from the roof, very excited. No, she hadn’t seen if the buildings in which my husband and her son were in were all right. But she’d seen thousands — THOUSANDS — of people coming down 4th Avenue, the busy street I lived on at the time. 4th Avenue is always heavily trafficked with honking cars, buses, taxis, bike messengers, and scooters.
Not today. Today all the cars and buses were gone, and the entire avenue was crowded with people.
“Walking,” Luz said. “They’re WALKING DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET.”
I ran to look out the window. Luz was right. Instead of the constant stream of cars I’d gotten used to seeing outside our living room window, I saw wall to wall people. They had taken over the street. They were coming from the Battery, where the Trade Center is located, shoulder to shoulder, ten deep in the middle of the road, like a parade or a rally. There were tens of thousands of them.
There were men in business suits, and some in khakis. There were women in skirts and dresses, walking barefoot or in shredded pantyhose, holding their shoes because their high heels hurt too much and they hadn’t had time to grab their commuter running shoes. I saw the ladies who worked in the manicure shop across the street from my building running outside with the flip flops they put on their customers’ feet when they’ve had a pedicure (the flip flops the staff always make sure they get back before you leave).
But today, the staff was giving the flip flops to the women who were barefoot. They were giving away the flip flops.
That’s when I got REALLY freaked out.
The manicurists weren’t the only ones trying to help. The men who worked in the deli on the corner were running outside with bottles of water to give to the hot, thirsty marchers. New York City deli owners, GIVING water away. Usually they charged $2.
It was like the world had turned upside down.
“They have to be in there,” Luz said, about her son and my husband, pointing to the crowd. “They’re walking with them, and that’s what’s taking them so long to get here.”
“I hope you’re right,” I said. But I wasn’t sure I shared her faith.
Then Luz ran downstairs to see if anyone in the crowd was coming from the same college her son went to, to ask if anyone might have seen him.
I was afraid to leave my apartment, though, because I thought my husband might try to call. Not knowing what else to do, I logged onto the computer. My email was still working, even if the phones weren’t. I emailed my husband: WHERE ARE YOU?
A friend from Indiana had emailed to ask if there was anything she could do. At the time, the only thing I could think of was, Give blood.
My friend, and everyone she knew, gave blood that day. So many people gave blood that there were lines around the corner to give it.
After a month, a lot of that surplus blood had to be destroyed, because they didn’t have room to store it all. And there turned out to be no use for it, anyway. There were few survivors to give blood to.
My friend Jen, the one who’d woken me up, e’d me from her job at NYU. Fred (out of respect for their desire for anonymity, I have changed the names of some people in this piece), then one of Jen’s employees, and also a volunteer EMT, had jumped on his bike and headed downtown to see if there was anything he could do to help.
Jen herself was organizing a massive effort to set up shelter for students who didn’t live on campus, since the subways and commuter trains had stopped running, and the kids who commuted to school had no way of getting home that night. Jen was trying to arrange for cots to be set up in the gym for them.
She ended up staying in the city too that night. She had no way to get back to her house in Connecticut.
Another co-worker from NYU, my friend Jack, did manage to reach his spouse, who worked in the Trade Center, that day. Jack used to train the RAs. He would ask me to “interrupt” his training with a fake administrative temper tantrum — “Why are you in this room?” I would demand. “You never reserved it!”— and then he and I would “fight” about it, and then after I left Jack would ask the RAs what would have been a better way to handle the situation . . . and by the way, did any of them remember what I was wearing? After they’d tell him, he’d have me come back into the room, and point out that every single of them was wrong about what I’d had on. This was to show how unreliable witness testimony can be.
Jack’s wife had just walked eighty floors down one of the Towers to reach the ground safely since the elevators weren’t working due to the flames, only to realize the guys in her IT department were still up there, backing up data for the company. Once she reached the ground, and saw how bad things really were, she tried calling them to tell them to forget backing up and just COME DOWN, but of course she couldn’t get hold of them because no phones were working.
So she went back up to MAKE THEM come down, because who doesn’t love their IT guys?
“Why did you go back up?” Jack asked her, when he finally reached her. By that time she, along with the IT guys, had become trapped in the fire and smoke, and couldn’t make their way down again.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.
Of course it did. She was married to Jack. Jack would have done the same thing. She told Jack to say good bye to their twins toddlers for her. That was the last time they spoke.
I can never think of this, or of Jack’s happy, cheerful greeting every time I saw him, or the stunned looks on the RAs faces when they realized we’d pulled one over on them, without wanting to cry. It seems so unfair that those twins have had to grow up not knowing their mother. And for what reason?
Another friend, a pilot who had access to air traffic control radar, e’d me to say all the planes in the U.S. were being grounded — that what had happened had been the result of highjackings. That it was a commercial jet that had hit the Pentagon, where my friend’s father-in-law worked (they eventually found him, safe and sound. He’d been stuck in traffic on his way to the Pentagon when the plane hit. Many people that day were rewarded for tardiness).
But another friend – a girl I’d worked with when I’d been a receptionist in my husband’s office, a girl whom I’d helped pick out a wedding dress, and who, since the big day, had quit her job to raise the four kids she’d had – wasn’t so lucky. She never saw her husband, who worked at the Trade Center, again.
Then, behind me, I heard Pat Kiernan on the TV say, “Oh, my God,” again.
And this time he really WAS crying. Because one of the towers was collapsing.
I watched, not believing my eyes. Since having moved to New York City in 1989, I had become accustomed to using the Twin Towers as my own personal compass point for the direction “South,” since they’re on the southern tip of the island, and visible from dozens of blocks away. Wherever you were in the maze of streets that made up the Village, all you had to do to orient yourself was find the Twin Towers, and you knew which direction to go.
(If you ever watched closely during the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” you can see the towers beneath the Washington Square arch in the scene where Sally drops Harry off when they first arrive in New York.)
And now one of those towers was coming down.
I don’t remember anything else about that moment except that, as I watched the TV in horror, the front door to my apartment opened, and, assuming it was Luz back from the street, I turned to tell her, “It’s falling down! It’s FALLING DOWN!”
Only it wasn’t Luz. It was my husband.
He said, “What’s falling down? Why are you crying?”
Because HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON.
Because my husband, being my husband, had picked up his briefcase after the first plane hit and said, “Let’s go,” to everyone in his department, took the elevators downstairs, and insisted everyone start walking for our apartment, because it was the closest place to where they were that seemed unlikely to be hit by an airplane.
(He told me later he’d worried they were going to try for the Stock Exchange, or the federal buildings you always see on Law and Order, and so had made everyone take small side streets home around those buildings, which is why it took them so long to get there).
They had to dodge the bodies of the people who jumped from the burning towers because they couldn’t stand the heat anymore. They saw the desk chairs and PCs that had been blown out of the offices so high above littering the street like tickertape from a parade. They saw the second plane hit while they were on the street, and ducked into a cell phone store until the rubble from the explosion settled. A piece of plane, nearly twenty feet long, flew past them, and landed in a parking lot, just missing Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in this country.
And they kept walking.
I don’t know what people normally do when someone they love, who they were convinced was dead, suddenly walks through the door. All I know is how I reacted: I flung my arms around him. And then I started yelling, “WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL ME?”
“I tried, I couldn’t get through,” he said. “What’s falling down?”
Because they had no idea. All they knew was that the city was under attack (which they had surmised by all the airplanes).
So my husband and his colleagues gathered in our living room—hot, thirsty, but alive, the ones who lived in New Jersey wondering how (and if) they were going to get home. Eventually, that night, they managed to catch boat rides – see the film above.
Meanwhile, Luz, not wanting to go home until she’d heard from her son, who was supposed to meet her after class in my building, cleaned.
I told her not to, but she said it helped keep her mind off what was happening.
So she vacuumed, while eleven people sat in my two room apartment and watched the Twin Towers fall.
It wasn’t long after the second tower came down that our friends David and Susan from Indiana, who lived in a beautiful condo in the shadow of the Twin Towers with their two young children, showed up at our door, their kids and half the employees from their office (which was also in our neighborhood) behind them.
They had been some of the people shown on the news escaping from the massive dust cloud that erupted when the towers fell. They’d abandoned their daughter’s stroller and run for it, while shop owners tossed water on their backs as they passed by, to keep their clothes from catching on fire.
In their typical way, however, they had stopped on their way to our place to pick up some bagels.
For all they knew, their apartment was burning down, or being buried under ten feet of rubble. But they’d stopped for bagels, because they’d been worried people might be hungry. Or maybe people just do things in times like that to try to be normal. I don’t know. They didn’t forget the cream cheese, either.
I took the kids into my bedroom, where there was a second TV, because I didn’t think they should see what everyone was watching in the living room, which was footage of what they had just escaped from.
I set up my Playstation for Jake, who was seven or so at the time, to use, while Shai, just turning 4, and I did a puzzle on my floor. Both kids were worried about Mr. Fluff, their pet rabbit, whom they’d been forced to leave behind in their apartment, because there’d been no time to get him (their parents had run from work and grabbed both kids from school).
“Do you think he’s all right?” Jake wanted to know.
At the time, I didn’t see how anything south of Canal Street could be alive, but I told Jake I was sure Mr. Fluff was fine.
This was when Shai and I had the following conversation:
“Are planes going to fly into THIS building?” Shai wanted to know. She was crying as she looked out the windows of my thirteenth floor apartment.
Me: “No. No planes are going to fly into this building.”
Shai: “How do you know?”
Me: “Because all the planes are grounded. No more planes are allowed in the air.”
Me: “No. Just until the bad guys who did this get caught.”
Shai: “Who’s going to catch the bad guys?”
Me: “The police will catch them.”
Shai: “No, they won’t. All the police are dead. I saw them going into the building that just fell down.”
Me (trying not to cry): “Shai. Not all the police are dead.”
Shai (crying harder): “Yes, they ARE. I SAW THEM.”
Me (showing Shai a picture from my family photo album of a policeman in his uniform): “Shai, this is my brother, Matt. He’s a policeman. And he’s not dead, I promise. And he, and other policemen like him, and probably even the Army, will catch the bad guys.”
Shai (no longer crying): “Okay.”
And she went back to her puzzle.
Watching from my living room window, we saw the crowds of people streaming out from what was soon to be called Ground Zero, thin to a trickle, then stop altogether. That was when 4th Avenue became crowded with vehicular traffic again. But not taxis or bike messengers.
Soon, our building was shaking from the wheels of hundreds of Humvees and Army trucks, as the National Guard moved in. The Village was blockaded from 14th Street down. You couldn’t come in or out of the neighborhood without showing proof that you lived there (a piece of mail with your name and address on it, along with a photo ID).
The next day, after having spent the night on our fold-out couch in the living room, Shai’s parents snuck back to their apartment (they had to sneak, because the National Guard wasn’t letting anyone at all, even with proof that they lived there, into the area. For weeks afterwards, on every corner from 14th Street down, stood a National Guardsman, armed with an assault rifle. For days, you couldn’t get milk, bread, or a newspaper below Union Square because they weren’t allowing any delivery trucks — or any vehicles at all, except Army vehicles — into the area), and found Mr. Fluff alive and well.
They snuck him back out, so that later that day, we were able to put the entire family on a bus to the Hamptons, where they lived for the rest of the year.
As my husband and I were walking back to our apartment from the bus stop where we’d seen off our friends, we saw a familiar face standing on the corner of 4th Avenue and 12th Street, where we lived:
Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea Clinton, asking people in our neighborhood if we were all right, and if there was anything they could do to help.
I didn’t go up to shake the ex-President’s hand, because I was too shy.
But I stood there watching him and Chelsea, and something about seeing them, so genuinely concerned and kind (and not there for press or publicity, because there WAS no press, there was never any mention of their visit AT ALL in any newspaper or on any news broadcast I saw that day), made me burst into tears, after having held them in the whole time Shai had been in my apartment, since I didn’t want to upset her.
But you couldn’t NOT cry. It was impossible. Everyone was doing it …so much so that the deli across the street put a sign in its window: “No Crying, Please.” Our doormen were crying. Even Rudy Giuliani, New York City’s mayor (whom I will admit up until this crisis I had not particularly liked for cheating on his very nice wife, Donna Hanover, who used to be on the Food Network), kept crying.
But he also kept showing up on New York 1, no matter what time you turned it on, even at two in the morning, there he was, like he never slept, always crying but also telling us It’s going to be all right, which was BRILLIANT.
The same day we put Shai and her family on a bus to the Hamptons, September 12 — which also happened to be poor Shai’s birthday — companies (even RIVAL companies) all over Manhattan offered up their conference rooms and spare offices to all the businesses in the Trade Center and One Liberty Plaza that had lost theirs, including my husband’s company, so that they would be able to remain solvent, another act of kindness that never gets mentioned anywhere, but should.
Since he was the only person in the company who lived downtown, my husband was elected for the duty of removing all the sensitive data from their now mostly destroyed office, which meant he had to pass through the Brooks Brothers in his building’s foyer, from which he had bought so many of his business shirts and ties. The Brooks Brothers at One Liberty Plaza was now serving as Ground Zero’s morgue.
While under escort of the National Guard, he and guardsmen–the first to enter his floor since the event–found a body in an emergency stairwell. It was determined to be the body of someone from another office, who had probably suffered a heart attack while trying to evacuate One Liberty. The body was removed and taken to the morgue while my husband watched. (He threw away the clothes he wore that day.)
For the next week in Lower Manhattan, even if you wanted to forget, for a minute, what had happened on that cloudless Tuesday morning, you couldn’t. The front window of my apartment building filled with Missing Person posters of loved ones that had been lost in the Trade Center. The outside walls of St. Vincent’s Hospital were papered with them as well, and Union Square, at 14th Street, became an impromptu memorial to the dead, filled with candles and flowers. So did the front doors of every local fire station, including the one across the street from my building. The old ladies who used to bring cookies there stood in front of it and cried.
You couldn’t go outside during that week — until it finally rained Friday night, four days later – without smelling the acrid smoke from Ground Zero … and, in fact, you were encouraged to wear surgical masks outdoors. An eerie grey fog covered everything. Some of us tried to brave it by not wearing masks — like Londoners during the Blitz — meeting for lunch like nothing had happened, but the smoke made your eyes burn. I have no idea how the rescue workers at Ground Zero could bear it, and I’m not surprised so many of them now have respiratory diseases and cancer. I have no doubt that for some, the horrors of 9/11 will continue to be felt years from now.
It wasn’t until employees from a barbecue restaurant drove all the way to Manhattan from Memphis, and stationed their tanker-sized smokers right next to Ground Zero, and then started giving away free barbecue to all the rescue workers there for weeks on end, that the smell changed to something other than death. Everyone loved those guys. It was just barbecue.
Except it wasn’t just barbecue. It was a sign that, as the mayor kept assuring us, things were going to be all right.
But of course, for a lot of New Yorkers that day, things were never going to be all right again. While I was celebrating the fact that my husband had come home, Fred – Jen’s employee, the volunteer EMT who had ridden his bike downtown to see if there was anything he could do – couldn’t find his crew. This was before the buildings fell, before anyone had any idea those buildings COULD fall, when the police and firemen were still streaming into them, confident they could get people out.
The crew that Fred normally volunteered with were inside one of those buildings, helping people down the stairs. Fred couldn’t find them, because all the cell towers were down, and communication was so sketchy. Someone told Fred to drive a bus they’d found, to help evacuate people out of the World Trade Center area.
Fred didn’t want to be outside driving a bus. He wanted to be inside with his crew, saving people.
But since he couldn’t find his crew, he agreed to drive the bus.
Then the buildings came down. Later, Fred found out that the crew he normally volunteered with had been one of the many rescue squads buried under the rubble.
Like a lot of the rescue workers who lost coworkers in the attack, Fred seemed to feel guilty about having survived, while his friends had not. Even when all his NYU co-workers pitched in and bought him a new bike (after his old one got buried beneath rubble at Ground Zero), Fred couldn’t seem to shake his sadness. It was like he didn’t believe he’d done any good that day.
“All I did,” he said, “was drive a stupid bus.”
But that’s not all he did. Because remember Luz’s son?
Well, he showed up at my apartment not long after Jake and Shai and their parents did. Luz grabbed him and kissed him and shook him and cried, and when she finally let go of him, he told his story:
He had been heading towards — not away from – the towers, because he’d wanted to help, he said. A lot like Fred.
But suddenly, from out of nowhere, someone grabbed him from behind, and threw him onto a stupid bus.
“But I want to stay and help!” Luz’s son yelled at the guy who’d grabbed him.
“Not today,” Fred said.
And he drove Luz’s son, and all the other students from that community college to safety, just before the towers fell.
Fifteen years has passed since 9/11. A year or two after finding that body, and the company he worked for got back on its feet, my husband decided financial writing wasn’t for him. He decided to follow a lifelong dream: he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. He got to work with chefs like Jacques Pepin. At his graduation, Michael Lamonaco–who ran Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the Twin Towers. Michael is another person who happened to be late to work on 9/11–offered my husband a job in his new restaurant.
My husband declined, however, because we were moving to Key West, where the pace of life is a little bit slower. Michael said he completely understood.
Luz and her family are doing fine. Fred is now married with two children, and head of his own division at NYU. Mr. Fluff did eventually die, but of natural causes. Jake is enrolled in law school, and Shai is now attending a college she loves. Shai’s mother says her daughter has no memory whatsoever of that day, or of the conversation she and I had, or of the promise I made her — that we’d catch the bad guys.
Shai, however, says she does remember our conversation, and that I was right: we did catch the bad guys.
Of course, now there are some new bad guys out there.
But the important thing is that we never forget . . . and that we all remember: we’re all in this together.
Before my big move to the publishing industry, I worked in the corporate world of fashion and apparel (and a small stint in home furnishings). There were many times when I’d look forward to seeing what new styles would pop up on the runway during NYC Fashion Week. I’d even spend my lunch breaks gazing at every single design captured perfectly by photographers at the right moment. I knew in my head that most, if not all, those pieces I probably wouldn’t wear (and let’s be honest could never even afford), but anyone can dream.
When looking for the perfect piece to add to my wardrobe I’d mainly resort to stores that actually fit my price point including one of my favorites––Uniqlo. From their simple, yet modern designs to their commitment to quality and longevity, I knew that Uniqlo was the perfect place for me to shop and satisfy my need for stylish and affordable clothing.
Recently, Uniqlo, in collaboration with UK fashion designer Hana Tajima, introduced an entire collection featuring kebayas, headwraps, and hijabs. The Uniqlo website says, “From casual pieces including long, flowing skirts, tapered ankle-length pants, and blouses to more traditional wear like kebaya and hijab, this collection fuses contemporary design and comfortable fabrics with traditional values.”
Rarely have I seen a collection from an apparel company of Uniqlo’s size that directly serves anyone other than the mainstream demographic. And what I appreciate the most is that this collection was done with grace and respect.
Over the years, I’ve seen designers co-opt traditional pieces from other cultures to incorporate into their lines. One can argue that many of these designers have and still continue to appropriate aspects of different cultures in order to look edgy and daring while reaping the benefits of accolades and praise for their “newly inventive” designs. But there’s a huge difference between taking from one’s culture in order to make oneself look edgy, daring, or “exotic,” and serving a community with respect, dignity, and keeping the customers’ needs and values in mind.
Other companies including Oakley and Warby Parker have featured collections that are also designed to serve a specific demographic. A few years ago, Oakley introduced the Asian Fit collection, which Jason Low wrote about here, and recently, my favorite eyewear company, Warby Parker, came out with a Low Bridge Fit collection for “those with low nose bridges (if the bridge of your nose sits level with or below the pupils), wide faces, and/or high cheekbones.” Even Warby Parker’s ad for this collection features only models of color, something that I rarely ever see in the fashion world.
So what does this have to do with the publishing industry and Lee & Low Books?
In the publishing industry in particular, there seems to be this common thread that pops up from conversations regarding diversity and serving marginalized groups. We hear that books (and movies) with nonwhite protagonists “do not fit the mainstream” or “do not sell well.” This is unfortunately why we have such a huge diversity gap in children’s publishing. But what about the opportunities that are missed from ignoring entire demographics? Who’s to say that you can’t serve both? Marginalized readers deserve to see their experiences, their communities, their stories, properly represented in the books that they read and the media that they consume.
That’s why at Lee & Low Books we publish books about everyone, for everyone. Because everyone, no matter who they are, deserves to see themselves in books. Everyone deserves to know that their story matters. Everyone deserves to be properly represented––in books, in movies, in fashion, and in life.
Last week I was sick. Sick as a dog sick. Sick in that way where you feel the cool breezes coming through your window and have a fleeting glimpse of how lucky you are to be sick at the end of the summer rather than even a week earlier when your misery could have only have been compounded by hot winds and bright, horrible, happy sunlight.
In the midst of all this lovely blah-ness I was given the chance to speak with a German reporter about political picture book biographies. Thanks to the fever I’ve only a mild inkling of what I said (we’ll all find out together, yay!) but I do remember a long discussion of American picture book biographies and nuance. Look at the bios of Hillary out there for kids and you’re not going to find much within them beyond praise. How true is that of other picture book biographies? Are they capable of showing several sides of an individual or are they, by definition, only able to show the good sides of their subjects and never the bad?
I’ve been pondering this for the past week and I don’t know if I’m any closer to an answer. A picture book biography by its very nature is supposed to tell a child more about a subject. Moreover, that subject is supposed to be someone that child should learn and grow from as well as emulate in their own lives. You will not find picture book biographies of Hitler or Ted Bundy because that flies in the face of a picture book bio’s purpose in life. The only time you can come close is when you write a parody for adults like A Child’s First Book of Trump.
But is that actually true? I mean, if a kid is supposed to emulate a picture book biography’s subject and you don’t show their flaws and failures, doesn’t that automatically make the subject seem otherworldly and perfect? Isn’t there value in displaying the problematic areas and showing how someone surmounted them?
I set out to locate a couple picture book biographies of people who led complicated lives. How did their picture book biographers choose to handle their less than stellar personal qualities? When drawing up the list, I was surprised to find that the most examples involve drugs. I made a conscious effort to include some of those, but to come up with other personal failings as well.
Personal Difficulty: Died of drug overdose
Does the Book Address This? Sure, but not in the text for kids. Since the text pretty much just shows him as a kid, that was a given. Now one way these books get around the problem of a problematic life is simply to put all the less-than-stellar stuff in the backmatter. If a book does that, can you honestly say that it’s discussing a subject’s complicated life head-on? By the same token, it’s obviously there and has the additional advantage of being readily available to a teacher or parent IF and only IF they want to share it. In this case, mentioning Jimi’s death wouldn’t have made sense in the main body of the text.
Personal Difficulty: Got cozy with a Nazi
Do These Books Address This? Ah, nope. But I’ve a theory on this one anyway. Seems to me that when a person’s personal life involved drug abuse, or even physical violence, that’s something a picture book biography can work with. Sex, in any form, is far more difficult. Read on and you’ll see what I mean a little later.
Personal Difficulty: Drug addiction
Does the Book Address This? Yes. In fact, this turned out to be one of the very few picture book biographies I could find where the text written for kids discussed the fact that the subject of the book had personal failings. As I wrote in my review, “You see the days when his deep sadness caused him to start drinking early on. You see his experiments with drugs and the idea some musicians harbored that it would make them better.” There’s even an in-depth “Author’s Note: Musicians and Drug Use” section at the end. Now the author of this book, Gary Golio, also wrote the aforementioned Jimi Hendrix biography so he’s no stranger to writing about complicated men. If you seek complexity in a picture book biography, this is where you start.
Personal Difficulty: Several, but let’s just stick with the fact that he left his wife for Rosanne.
Does the Book Address This? Not really. It definitely mentions Rosanne and how much Johnny admired her, but the storyline stops strategically before they get togehter. If you want to get into the sticky subject of infidelity the text of the book won’t help you out. But could it even? Could any picture book biography tackle infidelity in any manner without the topic tipping everything in the text in only that direction? Can we state for the record, then, that infidelity cannot ever be discussed in a picture book biography?
Personal Difficulty: Family mental issues and drug addiction
Does the Book Address This? Yep. The problems with his mother are discussed at length in the text. The drug problems come up in the backmatter. This is a pretty good example of a book that has found the right balance in the public and personal, and has found a way to make an honest picture book biography that touches on the big issues and how they formed the man as an artist without letting them take over the book itself.
Robert Miller a.k.a. Tricky Vic
Personal Difficulty: Um . . . his whole entire life? Remember when I said you couldn’t write a bio of a villain? Well, Tricky Vic was more of an anti-hero, but that’s splitting hairs. This may well be the only picture book bio I’ve seen of a true shyster. He was a con man, and he didn’t exactly repent. Or learn. Or grow.
Does the Book Address This? The book doesn’t address anything BUT this! How did Pizzoli do it? There wasn’t even an outcry against this book when it came out. People were on board with it. I wonder if they saw it more as a history than a bio. I wonder too if the fact that Vic isn’t that well known contributed to the lack of protestation. If you wrote a biography of a famous sadist, people would assume the book was, by definition, in favor of that person. But if the person is low-level and not particularly well known it flies right under the radar. Much to chew on here.
Conclusion: Let’s say someone wanted to write a serious picture book biography of Donald Trump tomorrow and have it published by a major publisher. Let us also say that this person was not personally associated with Mr. Trump and wanted to present him as honestly as possible to a child readership. Finally, let’s say that this person wanted this to be a “good” book. Could it be done?
I don’t know the answer to this question. I told the reporter that American picture book biographies were capable of nuance, and I’ll stand by that. But they are also, by their very design, meant to inspire as well as inform. If you take away that initial intent, do you do harm to the form itself?
Deep thoughts for a Tuesday, folks. Be interested in your opinions.
Folks, let me level with you. I only love two things in this world. Cats. And astronauts.
Okay, that’s a lie. I love a whole lot more than just those two things. But let’s say I was stranded on a desert island somewhere and I was told that I could have a book about only two of my favorite things in the world combined. Would I want a book on The Brave Little Toaster + Gene Wilder? Would I want a book on kookaburras + chocolate cake? Would I want a book on the dictamnus plant (YouTube it sometime) + the city of Amherst? Yes to all of these, obviously, but the coolest combination of all time, the one that would make a kind of strange illogical logical sense, would be (you guessed it) . . . .
Cats + Astronauts
Behold. The odd girl gets her wish.
Yep. A brand new graphic novel series from brand new author/illustrator Drew Brockington.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “This looks good. The only thing that could make it better was if there was a cat named ‘Waffles’ involved in some way.” Well, are you in luck. Check out this description of Book #1:
CatStronauts: Mission Moon
When the world is thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage, the Worlds Best Scientist comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet!
And it gets better. Because in Book #2 . . . well, read it for yourself . . .
CatStronauts: Race to Mars
Fresh off of their heroic mission to save the world, the CatStronauts–Major Meowser, Pom Pom, Blanket and Waffles–are taking a well deserved victory lap. Parades and fancy awards dinners are the new norm! But around the world, other cat space programs are watching–in particular the CosmoCats, the first cats to go to space! With national pride and scientific research on the line, the world rushes to be the first cats to Mars, and the CatStronauts are starting months behind! Can they catch up and prove their first space-changing mission was no fluke?
Did you catch that? Rival CosmoCats who technically got to space first? Heaven, I’m in heaven . . .
But wait . . . there’s more. An interior spread (you can click on it to make it bigger):
Hat tips and thanks to the good folks at Little, Brown & Co. for allowing me this appropriately kooky reveal.
Dive Into Reading! is LEE & LOW’s new line of early chapter books that focuses on supporting readers in each stage of their reading development.
The Confetti Kids series follows a group of five children from diverse backgrounds living in a friendly city neighborhood, and each book follows a different character as they learn about friendship and how to navigate common childhood experiences.
Synopsis: Lily moves from a quiet suburb to an apartment on a busy street in the city. Lily worries that she’ll never fit in. As she and her parents explore their new, multicultural neighborhood, Lily discovers that sometimes change can be a good thing!
Synopsis: It’s a warm, sunny day, and the gang heads to the neighborhood playground to play. What should they play? Pablo comes up with a great idea: to play pretend. It’s a game that everyone can do easily. They can pretend to be archaeologists, astronauts, and explorers. There’s no limit to what they imagine they can be!
You can purchase a copy of Lily’s New Home or Want to Play on our website here.
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. A biography of the legendary Native American Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), voted the Greatest Football Player and Greatest Athlete of the Half-Century by two AP polls, focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
Synopsis: The biography of the legendary Native American, Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
From the day he was born, Jim Thorpe’s parents knew he was special. As the light shone on the road to the family’s cabin, his mother gave Jim another name — Wa-tho-huck — “Bright Path.”
Jim’s athletic skills were evident early on, as he played outdoors and hunted with his father and twin brother. When the boys were sent to Indian boarding school, Jim struggled in academics but excelled in sports. Jim moved from school to school over the years, overcoming family tragedies, until his athletic genius was recognized by Coach Pop Warner at the Carlisle Indian School.
Awards and Honors:
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Honor, National Council for Social Studies
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Teachers’ Choices, International Reading Association (IRA)
Best of the Best List, Chicago Public Library, Children & YA Services
Storytelling World Resource Award, Storytelling World magazine
Check out thisinterview with author, Joseph Bruchac, about Native American literature.
Resources for teaching with Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path:
Draw attention to the use of similes in the book. For example: Jim took to it all like a catfish takes to a creek. It made him (Jim) feel like a fox caught in an iron trap. Epidemics of influenza swept through like prairie fires. Have students try to write their own similes for other events or actions in the story.
Ask students to explore the National Track & Field Hall of Fame (www.usatf.org ) or the Pro Football Hall of Fame (www.profootballhof.com ) and plan an imaginary trip there or enjoy a visual visit on the Web.
Have you used Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path? Let us know!
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
I recently received a very interesting, if puzzling, question. A friend of mine needed to know, for professional reasons, what I would consider the top themes in picture books these days. By “themes” I don’t mean trends but rather emotional or social lessons for young readers. You might even go so far as to call them the morals we’re trying to impart upon our 21st century offspring.
This is not as easy a question. While I attempt to take meticulous notes on every picture book I read, it’s far easier to keep track of, say, movie cameos in 2016 books than overarching societal anxieties. Still, I managed to whip up a list and then thought, why not share it widely?
Here then are the top themes I’m detecting in picture books this year.
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes – Particularly as it applies to girls in science or math, but also to how kids do their own art. I’ve seen a lot of books where a kid is making art, messes it up in some way, and then learns how to turn it into something new. By the same token, a lot of books are about how you have to make mistakes to get better at something. And it’s not about failing once or twice but a LOT. Not mention asking as many questions as possible! Hopefully those books where someone tries something three times and gets it done perfectly on the third will be a thing of the past soon.
A Good Example Would Be:
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, ill. David Roberts
Though you might just as easily apply this to Ada’s predecessor Rosie Revere, Engineer.
Gender Roles – Most notably when it comes to boys in dresses (though no girls identifying as boys) as well as just how kids interact with one another. Kids learn gender roles VERY early and enforce those roles with one another. There’s a great book call NutureShock for adults that talks a lot about this. Picture books have always liked this theme (William’s Doll came out in the 1970s, after all) but now it’s ramping up again.
A Good Example Would Be:
I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail
I was initially going to go with the new James Howe picture book Big Bob, Little Bob, but I already mentioned that one in an earlier post. There are remarkably few books where gender stereotypes for girls are as thoroughly knocked to the floor and trampled upon than what you’ll find here. It even saves space to kick to the curb some male gender stereotypes as well at the end. I’m a fan.
Economic Disparity – We’re finally seeing some books that acknowledge that not all kids have the same resources at home. Some kids have parents who lose their jobs. Others have single family homes. And not every kid you know has parents who can afford to buy them a bike.
A Good Example Would Be:
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, ill. Noa Z. Jones
I think what I love so much about this is the easy breezy ignorance of Sergio. He simply cannot conceive of a world where a boy’s parents wouldn’t be able to buy their son a bike if they wanted to. Meanwhile the character of Ruben is placed in the awkward position of having to hide his family’s economic situation from his best friend. And this is a picture book! We’re finally seeing this topic handled in something other than a Charlie Bucket kind of way. I’m very pleased.
Unplug – Possibly the MOST popular theme in the past three to four years. Very Willy Wonka in the moralizing sometimes (imagine what Mike TeeVee could have done with a personal device), but important to adults. Many is the picture book where someone turns off all their devices and discovers the wide and wonderful world.
A Good Example Would Be:
Tek, the Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell
What I like about this book is that since you’ve got a caveperson with a cell phone, adding dinos to the mix really isn’t going to upset anyone. You’ve already gone beyond the pale.
Try to See It Their Way (or, Everyone’s a Person – Even Mean People) – Picture books where you have to see it from another person’s point of view are becoming very sophisticated these days. Some of them will also show that bullies sometimes have problems at home or at school that cause them to act out. Though, if we’re going to get technical about it, even The Berenstain Bears and the Bully discussed this decades ago.
A Good Example Would Be:
Eddie the Bully by Henry Cole
Bully books aren’t going away anytime soon. Nuanced bully books? That might mark the second wave of titles.
Apologize When You’re Wrong – Oddly popular as a theme. Owning up to your own mistakes is hard. Books are making that infinitely clear, but also show the right way to do it.
A Good Example Would Be:
What’s Up, Chuck? by Leo Landry
I think this might fall more into the “early reader” category vs. “picture books” but I care not. The interesting thing about this storyline is that when our main character has acted like a spoiled brat for not winning a contest’s first prize medal for the first time in three years, the person who does win gives Chuck (our hero) an out. But Chuck doesn’t take it, and apologizes like a pro. It’s really well executed in a book this simple. Check it out sometime.
Try Something New – Whether it’s food or school or new friends or whatever, trying something new is a big time theme.
A Good Example Would Be:
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, ill. Christian Robinson
So my daughter started Kindergarten this week and I figured this book might make a good gift to her Kindergarten teacher. Turns out, it’s been a HUGE hit in the school, with other teacher vying to borrow it. What I like about it, though, is that it takes time to acknowledge that when you try something new it isn’t instantaneously fantastic. Things go wrong. It takes time to enjoy something you’ve never done before.
And yes, you could argue that these are themes every year, but I feel like they’re particularly prevalent in 2016. What are you seeing that I’ve missed?
“Parks, Biodiversity, and Education” by Edward O. Wilson*
This is a very important meeting and book, and I’m grateful to be part of it. First, I’ll summarize what scientists have learned about biodiversity and extinction, especially during the past 20 years. Then I’ll suggest what I believe is the only viable solution to stanch the continuing high and growing rate of species extinction. Then, finally, I’ll make the point already obvious to many of you, that our national parks are logical centers for both scientific research and education for many domains of science, but especially and critically biodiversity and conservation of the living part of the environment.
The world is turning green, albeit pastel green, but humanity’s focus remains on the physical environment—on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land, and on that great, wrathful demon, climate change. In contrast, Earth’s biodiversity, and the wildlands on which biodiversity is concentrated, have continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. Consider the following rule of our environmental responsibility: If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical nonliving environment, because each depends intimately on the other. But if we save only the physical environment, as we seem bent on doing, we will lose them both.
So, what is the condition of the living environment, in particular its diversity and stability? How are we handling this critical element of Earth’s sustainability? Let me summarize the basic information that scientists have assembled up to the present time, most of it during the last decade.
First, what is biodiversity? It’s the collectivity of all inherited variation in any given place, whether a vacant lot in a city, an island in the Pacific, or the entire planet. Biodiversity consists of three levels: an ecosystem such as a pond, a forest patch, or coral reef; then the species composing the ecosystem; and finally at the base, the genes that prescribe the traits that distinguish the species that compose the living part of the ecosystem.
How many species are known in the whole world? At the present time, almost exactly two million. How many are there actually, both known and unknown? Excluding bacteria and the archaea, which I like to call the dark matter of biology because so little is known of their biodiversity, the best estimate of the diversity of the remainder (that is, the fungi, algae, plants, and animals) is nine million, give or take a million. Except for the big animals, the vertebrates, comprising 63,000 known species collectively of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, and 270,000 species of flowering plants, very little to nothing is known of the remaining millions of kinds of fungi and invertebrates. These are the foundation of the biosphere, the mostly neglected little things that run the planet.
To put the whole matter in a nutshell, we live on a little-known planet. At the present rate of elementary exploration, in which about 18,000 additional new species are described and given a Latinized name each year, biologists will complete a census of Earth’s biodiversity only sometime in the 23rd century.
I’m aware of only three national parks in the world at the present time in which complete censuses have been undertaken: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Boston Harbor National Park and Recreation Area, and the Gorongosa National Park of Mozambique. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most advanced, with 50,000 hours of fieldwork by experts and assistants completed, about 18,000 species recorded, and a rough estimate of 40,000 to 60,000 species considered likely when all transient, rare, or undescribed species have been registered. Fewer than 1%, let me repeat, 1%, of the species have been studied beyond this first roll call. (Incidentally, the largest biodiversity in a North American park would be the one under consideration for the Mobile Alabama Delta and Red Hills immediately to its north.)
Next, what is the extinction rate? With the data sets of the best-known vertebrate animal species, and additional information from paleontology and genetics, we can put the extinction rate, to the closest power of 10, at 1,000 times greater than the extinction rate that existed before the coming of humans. For example, from 1895 to 2006, 57 species and distinct geographic subspecies of freshwater fishes were driven to extinction in the United States by human activity. These losses have removed roughly 10% of the total previously alive. The extinction rate is estimated to be just under 900 times the level thought to have existed before the coming of humans.
This brings us to the effectiveness of the global conservation moment, a contribution to world culture pioneered by the United States. It has raised public awareness and stimulated a great deal of research. But what has it accomplished in saving species, hence biodiversity? The answer is that it has slowed the rate of species extinction but is still nowhere close to stopping it. A study made by experts on different groups of land vertebrates, species by species, found that the rate in these most favored groups has been cut by about 20% worldwide. Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, by focusing on recognized endangered vertebrates in the United States, with legal process and processes designed for each species in turn, has brought 10 times more species back to health than have been lost to extinction.
Nevertheless, the species, and with them the whole of biodiversity, thus continue to hemorrhage. The prospects for the rest of the century are grim. All have heard of the 2C threshold, 2°C (or 3.6°F), the increase in the ground average temperature above which the planet will enter a regime of dangerous climate changes. A parallel circumstance exists in the living world.
Earth is at or approaching an extinction rate of 1,000 times above prehuman levels, and the rate is accelerating. Somewhere between a rate of 1,000 times and 10,000 times, Earth’s natural ecosystems will reach the equivalent of the 2C global warming threshold and begin to disintegrate as half or more of the species pass into extinction.
We’re in the situation of surgeons in an emergency room who’ve brilliantly slowed the bleeding of an accident patient to 50%. You can say, “Congratulations! The patient will be dead by morning.”
There is a momentous moral decision confronting us here today. It can be put in the form of a question: What kind of a species, what kind of an entity, are we to treat the rest of life so cheaply? What will future generations think of those now alive who are making an irreversible decision of this magnitude so carelessly? The five previous such mass extinctions, the last one 65 million years ago that ended the Age of Reptiles, required variously 5–40 million years to recover.
Does any serious person really believe that we can just let the other eight million species drain away, and our descendants will be smart enough to take over the planet and ride it like the crew of a real space ship? That they will find the way to equilibrate the land, sea, and air in the biosphere, on which we absolutely depend, in the absence of most of the biosphere?
Many of us, I believe, here present understand that only by taking global conservation to a new level can the hemorrhaging of species be brought down to near the original baseline rate, which in prehuman times was one species extinction per 1–10 million species per year. Loss of natural habitat is the primary cause of biodiversity extinction—ecosystem, species, and genes, all of it. Only by the preservation of much more natural habitat than hitherto envisioned can extinction be brought close to a sustainable level. The number of species sustainable in a habitat increases somewhere between the third and fifth root of the area of the habitat, in most cases close to the fourth root. At the fourth root, a 90% loss in area, which has frequently occurred in present-day practice, will be accompanied by an automatic loss of one-half of the number of species.
At the present time, about 15% of the global land surface and 3% of the global ocean surface are protected in nature reserves. Not only will most of them continue to suffer diminishment of their faunas and floras, but extinction will accelerate overall as the remaining wildlands and marine habitats shrink because of human activity.
The only way to save the rest of life is to increase the area of protected, inviolable habitat to a safe level. The safe level that can be managed with a stabilized global population of about 10 billion people is approximately half of Earth’s land surface plus half of the surface of the sea. Before you start making a list of why it can’t be done, that half can’t be set aside for the other 10 million or so species sharing the planet with us, let me explain why I believe it most certainly can be done—if enough people wish it to be so.
Think of humanity in this century, if you will, as passing through a bottleneck of overpopulation and environmental destruction. At the other end, if we pass through safely and take most of the rest of the life forms with us, human existence could be a paradise compared to today, and virtual immortality of our species could be ensured—again, if enough wish it to be.
The reason for using the metaphor of a bottleneck instead of a precipice is that four unintended consequences of human behavior provide an opening for the rest of the century. The first unintended consequence is the dramatic drop in fertility at or below zero population growth whenever women gain a modicum of social and economic independence. Population growth is slowing worldwide, and the world population has been predicted most recently by the United Nations to reach between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion by the end of the century. This assumes that the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa will pass through the demographic transition and fertility rates there will drop to levels consistent with the rest of the world.
The second unintended consequence is from the ongoing abandonment of rural, primitive agricultural economies by the implosion of people into cities, freeing land for both better agriculture and the conservation of natural environments by restoration. It’s worth noting also that the present daily production of food globally is 2,800 calories per person. The problem is not food production but transportation and the poor quality of artisanal agriculture. We can fix that. Present-day agriculture is still primitive, with a lot of wriggle room.
The third unintended consequence is the reduction of the human ecological footprint by the evolution of the economy itself. The ecological footprint is the amount of space required for all the needs of each person on average. The idea that the planet can safely support only two to three billion people overlooks the circumstance that the global economy is evolving during the digital revolution, and at a fast rate. The trend is overwhelmingly toward manufacture of products that use less materials and energy, and require less to use and repair. Information technology is improving at almost warp speed. The result is a shrinkage of the ecological footprint. We need an analysis of the trend and its impact. If economists have thought of analyzing this effect and its meaning for the environment, instead of stumbling around in the fever-swamp parameters of the early 21st century, I haven’t seen it.
The fourth unintended consequence is the easing of demand on the natural environment inherent in the evolutionary shift now occurring from an extensive economy to an intensive economy, one that focuses—in the manner of Moore’s law—on improvements of existing classes of products instead of acquisition of new and bigger projects, expanding physical development, and promotion of capital growth based on land acquisition. Humanity may be shifting toward a nongrowth economy focused on quality of life instead of capital and economic power as the premier measure of success.
This brings me to the focal issue of the conference. Inevitably, biodiversity and ecosystem science will move toward parity with molecular, cell, and brain science among the biological disciplines. They have equal challenges. They have equal importance to our daily lives. As this expansion occurs, national parks and other reserves will be the logical centers for fundamental research. They are our ready-made laboratories, in which the experiments have been largely performed. They will also be among the best places to introduce students at all levels to science. We already know that is the case for geology, earth chemistry, and water systems studies. Soon it will be obviously true also for studies of the living environment. Students and teachers alike will have the advantage of hands-on science at all levels. Even at the most elementary level, they are soon caught up in original discoveries of citizen science. After 42 years of teaching experience at Harvard, I believe that natural ecosystems are by far the most open and effective door to science education.
What’s that called? That image up there… yes, I know this is a blog for artists but humor me.
It’s the periodic table, right? Right. To be even more precise it’s the Periodic Table of the Elements.
What are elements? Elements are things that help you build other things. The elements on the periodic table build pretty much everything. We can’t break them down smaller, and when you put them together, they make new things. For example, when the elements of hydrogen and oxygen combine they make water.
Ok, I’m done talking about science, but there is a point. Just like elements make the world around us, We also use elements to make pictures. They are the Elements of design.
The Elements of Design Are:
Line, Shape, Value, Texture, and Color.
Take a moment to think about any art you’ve ever seen. If you can think of a piece that doesn’t use one or more of these elements, I would think you were crazy. Because as far as I know, it’s not possible to make art without the Elements of Design.
Let’s talk about them now.
Leonardo Da Vinci used line to create this sketch.
I’m pretty sure you know what a line is. We use them all the time. Lots of times we use lines to make shapes. Lines can be hesitant, beautiful, bold, straight, curved, sketchy, and much more. Read more about line by clicking here.
As I said, lines can make shapes, but you can make them in other ways. Take a paint brush and blob it on your paper. You’ve just made a shape. Lots of times we think the shapes with names, triangle, circle, square, oval, etc. But there are also shapes that don’t have names. These shapes are part of the elements of design too.
The way you choose to design your shapes can have a huge impact on how your art looks. Let’s face it; some shapes are just more interesting than others.
Value is how light or dark something is. Think of a black and white movie or a grayscale image. The reason you can still tell what is going on is because of the values. Values tell us a lot of stuff, where the light is coming from, where forms change direction, if it’s a sunny or overcast day, and lots of other things.
When I see paintings that aren’t working, it’s usually because there is a problem with the values. I’ve written some other articles about value. Read this one, or this one.
Monet used Heavy Brush Strokes created paintings with Real Texture.
Texture is how something feels, rough, smooth, furry, slimy, etc. and texture can be real, or implied.
Real texture is really there. Like the texture of the paper, or the ridges and bumps created from brush strokes.
Implied texture is texture you only show in your picture. For example, if you paint a tree trunk, and it looks rough but actually isn’t if you touch it, that is implied texture.
By now you I hope you see how the Elements of Design make up the pictures, sculptures, and other art we see. If you want to work more with them, I’ve created a downloadable worksheet so you can get to know them a little better. You know, make friends and stuff. I hope you enjoy it.
Last year, we gave our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. One reason being that we live in a diverse world, so why not the books that we read? Books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, and in the case of bilingual books, through another language.
Here are our ten favorite reasons to read bilingual books!
Teach us how to read in two languages.
Celebrate the 22% of students who speak a language other than English at home.
Develop strong critical thinking skills
Keep our brains young, healthy, and sharp.
Expose us to new ways of communicating.
Make reading an inclusive activity for all students.
Highlight the achievement of knowing more than one language.
Encourage interest in other cultures and languages.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating First Day in Grapes, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. Chico’s story of personal triumph and bravery in the face of bullying is a testament to the inner strength in us all.
Synopsis: All year long Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September they pick grapes and Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him — maybe because he is always new or maybe because he speaks Spanish sometimes.
Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different. His teacher likes him right away, and she and his classmates are quick to recognize his excellent math skills. He may even get to go to the math fair! When the fourth-grade bullies confront Chico in the lunchroom, he responds wisely with strengths of his own.
Awards and Honors:
Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Honor, ALSC/REFORMA
Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
From the Illustrator:
“Stories that help kids become familiar with kids of other cultures or others in different situations are books that I like to illustrate. I appreciate the way the author put the main character in situations that kids deal with daily in real life and how the boy used his wits to get out of tough situations.
I related to the kid in this story in a wacky way when it came to avoiding bullies. When I was about nine years old there was a boy who picked on me daily, until one day I came up with an idea. I thought that if I walked by him making a face that he wouldn’t recognize me and leave me alone. The plan worked, but now that I think of it, I doubt it was because he didn’t recognize me.”
This summer I was walking about the Printer’s Row Book Festival in lovely Chicago, IL, passing a group of about twelve 16-year-old girls. All of whom were singing “Satisfied” from the musical Hamilton. It reminded me of similar past experiences walking by large groups of 8-year-olds singing Frozen two years ago. Now Hamilton is slated to open in Chicago in November and I’ve been putting together various booklists for my adult library patrons. And that’s when it hit me. I know 6-year-olds who have Hamilton memorized. I know 10-year-olds who can explain what the Federalist Papers are in minute detail. So why not make a booklist for the #Hamilkids as well?
But surely it had been done before and done well. To the internets! I did a quick search of anyone who might have put together a Hamilton booklist for kids before and lo and behold the site The Card Catalog did exactly that back in October of 2015. Their post Books for Kids Who Love Hamilton is good, but it occurred to me that since there are only four books there, it could be expanded a tad.
Today then, let’s look at some great books. How many books, you ask? A Hamil-TON!
I wonder at the timing of this one. This book published in October of 2015, just as Hamilton: The Musical started to peak in popularity. Did Brown get the idea for the book prior to the musical’s creation? Was he already working on it and, when it became clear that this was A Very Big Deal did his publisher (Roaring Brook) encourage him to put all other projects on the backburner and get this one done faster? No idea. What I do know is that it’s one of the finer depictions of the duel and the events leading up to it in picture book form.
While this book doesn’t speak about Hamilton directly to the best of my knowledge, if you’re looking for rhyming Colonial fare, you’ve come to the right place. It takes place on the day of the Boston Tea Party and is told through a variety of voices and professions in the city. It’s also one of those rare books to acknowledge and give voice to slaves in Boston at that time.
Out-of-print (Walker Books, you’ve got a gold mine here!) so better mosey on over to your nearest public library if you want to read it. A lot of hometown pride with this title, since both Fradin and Day were in the Evanston, IL area when this was written. Larry Day, by the way, is also the fellow who illustrated that Kay Winters book I mentioned earlier, so clearly he taps into Colonial America books better than most.
Truthfully I couldn’t remember whether or not Hamilton was in this book, so I had to look it up. Turns out, he is! Like all the other guys here, he gets his own page with his “statistics” and notable qualities, baseball card style. My favorite quote? Alexander Hamilton’s “Stance on France: Not a fan.”
So long, Johnny Tremain. You had a good run, but the days of depicting Colonial America and the American Revolution as affecting only white colonists are long gone. Hamilton mentions slavery repeatedly and this book (which is out in October) goes further to follow thirteen black men and women alive during the war.
Back in the day (by which I mean the 80s and early 90s) if you wanted a picture book about a Founding Father, Fritz was your best bet. She was one-stop shopping in that respect. Still, she never did a book on Hamilton during that time. Then, in 2011 (which makes one suspect that she might be a bit on the clairvoyant side of things) she wrote this book for kids 10 and up. As extensive biographies for kids go, it’s almost the only game in town.
This one came out in 2009 and was written with a YA audience in mind. In this book you’ll see the similarities between Burr and Hamilton, over and over again. I was particularly interested in the part of the Kirkus review that said, “The author’s ability to lucidly explain the political intricacies of the time is impressive, revealing to readers that politics were as ugly, if not uglier, in the nation’s earliest days as they are now.” Oh, sweet Kirkus. Clearly you failed to fortell 2016.
Which is not to say there aren’t lots more books out there that would fit this topic. Be sure to also check out the similar young Hamil-fan blog posts Hamilton and the Children’s Library from ALSC (which contains more books about Hamilton’s close contemporaries like Washington) and Six Picture Books for #Hamilkids from NYPL (which has the additional bonus of books about hip-hop for young people). Also take a gander at the SLJ article Teaching with “Hamilton”, with a particular eye to the resources at the end.
And there are more books on the horizon! In a recent press release from Random House we learned the following:
“Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, has announced plans to publish a picture book biography on the wife of Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. Margaret McNamara will serve as the writer for Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.
Phillipa Soo, the actress who played Eliza Hamilton in the Broadway production of Hamilton: An American Musical, has agreed to write a foreword for this project. The release date has been set for Fall 2017. (Playbill)”
By the way, those of you curious about the little felted Lin-Manuel Miranda at the beginning of this post, it’s by Jack and Holman Wang. You can get more info about it at the Chronicle Books post here.
As authors, we’re constantly looking for more and better ways to gain visibility for our books. This is why I was so excited when Andy Peloquin contacted us about a review possibility that I didn’t know existed. Because it might be news for you, too, I’ve asked him to our blog today to give us the particulars.
For most authors, the majority of our time is spent trying to find ways to sell more books. Author interviews, promo blitzes, and Facebook Party takeovers—there are so many ways to get the word out. But we all know that when it comes to gaining new readers and getting them to buy our books, one of the most important factors is the reviews.
Courtesy: Thad Zajdowicz @ Creative Commons
Book reviews are key because they tell readers and potential buyers what to expect. They’re the unofficial rating that serves as the thumbs up or down. Because of their importance, there are literally THOUSANDS of book review websites, directories, and blogs out there—many of which are flooded with requests from authors. Reviewers often can’t keep up with all the requests they receive, so they’re stuck choosing only books that grab their interest, meaning other books (possibly YOUR book) are going to be sent to the “hopefully sometime in the future” or the “I just don’t have time” piles.
But I’m here to tell you about a review resource that few authors know exists: YouTube. Here are some stats you might not know:
1 billion people use YouTube
There are 4 billion video views on YouTube per day
6 billion hours of video are watched every month
300 new hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
People will spend an average of 40 minutes on YouTube
But here’s the real kicker: less than 9% of small businesses (yes, authors fall into that mix) use this platform for marketing. Which is sad, since YouTube has a great marketing tool for authors that most aren’t aware of in the form of Book Reviewers.
YouTube book reviewers aren’t as common as book bloggers or review websites; the reason for this is that it’s hard to make book reviews interesting when they’re being filmed on video, so it takes a special type of person to do this well. There are a handful of YouTube channels dedicated specifically to book reviews, and while they receive plenty of requests, they get nowhere near as many as the more popular review sites. This means your book has a much higher chance of getting accepted for review.
How do you pick a book review channel? The best option is to visit the channels (see the list at the end of this post) and scroll through each reviewer’s videos to see if they read books like yours; this will narrow down your options to the most likely candidates. You also should check out their submission guidelines to make sure they accept your type of book. You can submit to as many review sites as possible, but if your time is limited and you only want to try the higher profile channels, check out their subscription stats and number of views; this data is often listed on the About page.
How should you submit your books for review? Each channel has its own guidelines on the kinds of books they accept, how to submit, etc. For example, Mercy at Mercy’s Bookish Musingsasks you to simply email her with your book details. You can do this for Ariel Bissett, too, but only if your book is traditionally published.
To find out how to submit and what is/isn’t accepted for a given reviewer, simply visit that YouTube channel’s About page. There, you’ll find the submission email address and other necessary information—similar to the way you’d submit to any website or book blog.
What if your book is accepted? How can you capitalize on a good YouTube review?You can tell the world about it. Link to it on all your social media sites, blog about the review, embed it on your personal bookstore page, post it on your Goodreads author profile or Amazon Author Central page—there are so many ways to let existing and potential buyers know that your book has been well received. And the good news is that nearly every site is compatible with YouTube, so the process is fairly simple.
Where do I find these channels?I’m so glad you asked! Here’s a sample listing of book review channels that can be found on YouTube:
These are just 20 of the channels that do reviews, but there are many more (I’ve found close to 50). You can find them for yourself by searching for “Book Reviews” on YouTube, or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to send over the rest of my list. Best of luck!
Andy Peloquin–a third culture kid to the core–has loved to read since before he could remember. Sherlock Holmes, the Phantom of the Opera, and Father Brown are just a few of the books that ensnared his imagination as a child. When he discovered science fiction and fantasy through the pages of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R Tolkien, and Orson Scott Card, he was immediately hooked and hasn’t looked back since. Reading—and now writing—is his favorite escape, and it provides him an outlet for his innate creativity. He is an artist; words are his palette.
His website is a second home for him, a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings–along with reviews of books he finds laying around the internet. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
I was sitting in artist alley at salt lake comic con fanX surrounded by fan art when I had the idea for this painting. Well, not this painting exactly but it was the beginning of an idea that led to this painting. Let me tell you how it happened.
I’ve never been able to pull off fan art. When I try to draw an established character, it always ends up looking exactly like the character already looked. So, you know, what was the point? For some reason, I thought of fan art only as an established character drawn in a different style or turned into a cat, which made it hard for me to want to create my own.
At conventions like Salt Lake Comic Con, I do alright. People like my stuff and they buy it, but not as much as people like and buy fan art.
Another Way To Draw Fan Art
But as I sat there behind my little table last March I realized that was silly. I needed to forget about drawing characters in my own way, and think in stories. I like stories and although I’ve tried to branch out recently, drawing narrative illustrations is my favorite thing.
So, in my head, I made up a story about what Rey and BB8 did the morning after they met. I sketched, and sketched and eventually got this. I think the image could have told the story better, but overall I feel good about it.
Like many children of the 80s I’ve been just delighted by the Netflix 8-part horror fest Stranger Things. I may not get most of the Stephen King and John Carpenter references but the E.T., Aliens, and Akira stuff hits home hard. For work I decided to put up a Stranger Things recommended book display for adult type folks. When I looked online I could only find about two or three such lists already in existence. Odd. But of course, then I started thinking about children’s books. Creeeeeepy children’s books.
When I was a kid, lots of children saw Gremlins, Nightmare on Elm Street, and any number of other horror films. Kids today would get a huge kick out of Stranger Things if they managed to see it. So for those kids who like their books a little eerie, a little creepy, and chock full of monsters and evil scientists, here’s a Stranger Things reading list. Hold onto it for Halloween if you so choose. Just don’t read it if you don’t want things spoiled for you. I may give a couple things away.
Seems appropriate to start with this one. There’s something creepy in the forests stealing the children. Enterprising kids have to outsmart an otherworldly being. Plants and nature play a big part in everything. And it has this nice off-putting vibe to it as well. It would make excellent children’s horror film, if it came to that.
The Inn Between by Marina Cohen
Have you read this one yet? It came out in March and was advertised as “The Shining meets Hotel California” which is one of the more enticing blurbs I’ve come across in a long time. I finished it recently and was quite taken with it. Like Stranger Things, family members disappear unexpectedly and other family members’ voices are heard without being seen. Add in the monster in the basement (monsters?) and you’ve got yourself a VERY misleadingly cutesy cover for what turns out to be a good frightening read. Think of it as Wait Till Helen Comes for the 21st century.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
Grab this one if the thing you liked about Stranger Things was the group of boys uncovering an insidious plot created by evil (local) scientists. Granted, there are more zombie cows in this book than there were in Stranger Things, but there are also good jump-out-of-your-seat scare moments too.
The Flinkwater Factor by Pete Hautman
Of course, when I remembered the evil scientists in Bacigalupi’s books, that naturally led to a reminder about the evil scientists in Hautman’s. And as an extra added bonus, Hautman’s book has someone of superior abilities escaping from the scientists’ lab. In this case it’s a dog, not a girl, but it probably says a lot more words in one page than El does in the whole series.
The monster of this piece is a bit more talkative (not to mention seductive) than the monster of Stranger Things. But we’ve got creepy messages through telephones, blurred lines between fantasy and reality, and that horrific moment when you open a door in your house and discover a horror show waiting just for you.
Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
Again with the crazy local scientists. This one’s effective at making you want to wash your hands repeatedly as you read it. It also reminds me of that moment when Eleven finds out what happened to Barb. The fuzzy mud here would be right at home in that setting.
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, Emma Trevayne
Your kids may never sleep again. Lots of similarities in these stories with some of the Stranger Things tales. People getting sucked into plants. People getting trapped in other dimensions. And worse.
The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberly Griffiths Little
What is it with books about girls always getting cutesy covers, even when the content is on the darker side? Since this is more of a time travel book, it doesn’t have that many similarities to Stranger Things . . . except at the beginning with the disconnected phones that ring and the creepy messages spoken on the other end. *shiver*
Dreamwood by Heather Mackey
I was trying to find a bad guy equivalent to the tentacled plantlike THING that haunts Stranger Things. Not the monster, but the more insidious system the monster feeds. I considered The Lie Tree, but that doesn’t quite do it. That’s when I remembered Dreamwood and its hellish forest landscape. Oh yeah. Try getting to sleep after reading some of these passages. It’ll definitely curb your desire to hug a tree.
Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner
None of the scientists in these other books really did it for me in terms of the coy friendliness of “Papa”. That is, until I met the scientists in Messner’s book. It’s all happy happy joy joy until you start to dig a little deeper and see what’s really going on. Nature plays a big part in this one too.
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill
I really enjoyed this one when it came out. Very mysterious. Very eerie. You have a house that isn’t all that it seems, something trying to escape, creepy plants (always with the creepy plants), and a big bad villain. Oh. And children go missing. That’s important.
The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth
A boy goes missing in a small town. Plants are out of control in the woods. Your greatest enemy might be yourself (or is that more of a Season Two plotline for Stranger Things, do you think?). Kids have to face down terrifying monsters to uncover the truth. Oh yeah. This graphic novel is right at home on this list.
What would you add? Extra bonus points if the book you recommend was published between 1980-89.
Blog tours. Generally speaking I don’t really do them. Nothing against them personally, they just don’t always speak to the tenor and distinctive tone of individual blogs. It takes a particularly keen one to get me out of my hidey-hole so that I’ll participate. It takes, in short, Aaron Zenz.
But first . . . BACKSTORY!!!!
It was at least 10 years ago. I was a young struggling blogger (“struggling” in this case meaning doing just fine with a nice steady job). A fellow by the name of Aaron Zenz contacted me not long after I’d started and asked if I’d take a gander at his book, The Hiccupotamus. It was coming out with a very small publisher, but there was something to it. It was nice looking. Nicer than the average fare, so I took a gamble and said I’d give it a gander. Not only was it nice, but it held together beautifully. It also seems to be one of the longest lived books I’ve ever encountered, traveling as it has from Dogs in Hats Children’s Publishing to Marshall Cavendish to Two Lions. If you look on Amazon you’ll see my May 16, 2006 review of the book there.
And I remembered that Zenz guy. How could I not? First off, his name was “Zenz”. That’s just cool. Second, he had this crazy cool blog he did with his kids called Bookie Woogie (not to be confused with the also amazing but different kid art site Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty). For years I’d recommend it as what may be the most successful kids book review site written in large part by kids. He’d also come up with these crazy amazing blog posts . And in the interest of complete and utter honesty, they even reviewed Giant Dance Party and made fan art. Like so:
But wait. That’s not all. Because on top of his art, his blog with his kids, and his kids’ kinda of freakishly good art (seriously, they should Pinterest this stuff) they also are responsible for a slew of some of the best 90-Second Newbery videos you’ve ever seen in your life. I think if you keep watching this, the first four are by the Zenzes (Zenzi?).
None of this even touches on all the other stuff Aaron’s done over the years. Nor, you will note, have I even gotten to his books. As you can see, I save the best for last.
Starting with Hiccupotamus, I just kept on enjoying Aaron’s books for years. From his art for Five Little Puppies Jumping on the Bed to Chuckling Ducklings to Hug a Bull, the man makes good literature for the small fry. And now, the best one of all.
Now as I mentioned before, I don’t tend to do blog tours, and part of the reason why is because more than half the time I’m completely impartial (or worse) to the book that author is promoting. Monsters Go Night-Night is different. In one book you get the following:
A good bedtime book.
A story that is great for a range of ages (my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old get different things out of the book but both think it’s hilarious)
Writing that is actually funny for adults too (it may have one of the greatest potty gags I’ve seen in a long time)
Art that pops
The ability to be read to a large group (hard for any book to do, let alone well)
The whole premise is based on setting up expectations and then knocking them to the floor in a way that’s completely appropriate for very young ages. Example:
Perfect for pajama storytimes everywhere.
But where did Aaron get the idea for this book? Well, if you’re still up for some video viewing today, this completely adorable video (could someone PLEASE publish a book of Aaron’s literary monsters since I want to see his Gurgi?) explains all:
So here’s where it gets crazy good. Did you see how Aaron turned his son’s art into monsters? Well, he’s been doing the same for other people as well. Aaron asked if my daughter (who is the five-year-old I mentioned earlier) would like to make a monster. He, in turn, would turn it into a piece of art. And the results? Behold:
This was my daughter’s . . . .
. . . and this was Aaron’s.
Side by side . . .
Absolutely love that.
Long story short, this book good. Get book. Read book.
Still don’t believe me? Then check out everyone else on this blog tour. Lotta heavy hitters there. Maybe if you don’t believe me you’ll believe them:
Here is how I imagine how the process usually goes.
Big publisher with lots of money sits down with the people of big famous celebrity singer. Big publishers offers to get a top notch illustrator (who really needs the cash) to illustrate it. Celebrity singer is keen on the idea, a deal is struck, and the book is made. This happens time and again and usually the results are very normal.
But then . . . once in a very great while . . . the impossible happens. The artist is allowed to be . . . artistic.
What do I mean like that? Okay. Let’s start with the pop novelty song turned picture book. And in keeping with the sheer number of foxes in picture books these days (Travis! You need to add the new version of The Dead Bird by Zolotow & Robinson to your list!) I am showing you this:
Remember that little post-Gangnam Style hit on the interwebs? Currently cresting at 616 million views on YouTube (nope, I’m not kidding) someone at Simon & Schuster decided it could be worth it to give the lyrics book form. After all, it sounds like a children’s song in a lot of ways (right down to the elephant going “toot”). And usually when a YouTube sensation gets turned into a picture book you get something like a Golden Book Grumpy Cat or a Tiny Hamster or a talking shell, and that’s fine.
And if you’re saying to yourself, “Fine and all, but clearly this is an aberration” you’d be half right. Certainly it would take an act of God for another Svein Nyhus picture book to appear on our shores (our Norwegian picture book illustrators available here in the States are a bit, uh, lacking, shall we say). But odd adaptations of songs into picture book formats don’t stop there. Consider this:
Yep. That’s a Sting song. Now note the name of the illustrator: Sven Völker. We’re with a German this time around. Of course, the interiors might have given that away . . .
I’m sorry but I kind of love this. Obviously the song isn’t really meant to be for kids, but at least they didn’t cutesy it up. It would have been easy to go the Shel Silverstein route and follow the adventures of a chipper little spot as he traverses the world. Instead we get . . . actually, I’m not sure what we get. Something weird, that’s for sure.
These first two books I’ve mentioned work because the publishers decided to get European artists to do the interiors. So how often do you find a song adaptation that’s a bit on the peculiar side and that’s illustrated by an American? Hardly ever. Of course there are some exceptions:
Dylan gets adapted into picture books on a frequent basis. And he usually gets some perfectly good artists like Paul Rogers or David Walker or Jim Arnosky (that one was a surprise). One time he got Jon J. Muth and I got really excited. But the art was pretty standard stuff. There was a paper airplane motif. Ho hum.
But Scott Campbell? He’s different. This guy has a whole life dedicated to his adult cartoons, which are delightful. Ever see this book?
If not, I think I’m helping you out with your holiday gift giving already. That book is a hoot.
In the case of the Dylan book, Campbell appears at first glance to be doing everything straight. Dogs are running free. That’s really all there is to it. But there’s this undercurrent that’s hard to ignore. See if you feel it too:
It just doesn’t feel like other celebrity song books. There’s a wildness reigned in here. The song isn’t one of Dylan’s better ones, so there’s that as well, but at least the pictures are interesting to look at. The downside is that I haven’t seen Mr. Campbell do any picture books since this and Hug Machine. Boo-urns, sez I. More Campbell, please.
I welcome any other suggestions of odd song-adaptation picture books, though I know they’re not easy to come up with. A goodly chunk of them are dull as dishwater. Very straightforward. Artists doing something rote for a nice sized check. But if you do hear of a case where the artist was allowed to be, y’know, artistic, you just let me know. This is the kind of stuff I really dig. And if you can’t think of anything then just sit back and enjoy this fake picture book adaptation of David Bowie’s Major Tom.