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Each of author/illustrator Barbara McClintock’s picture books provides a glimpse into a jewel-box of a world, from bustling early-twentieth-century Paris (Adèle & Simon; Farrar, 4–7 years) to a cozy 1970s mouse-house (Where’s Mommy?, written by Beverly Donofrio; Schwartz & Wade, 4–7 years). Her latest, Emma and Julia Love Ballet(Scholastic, 4–7 years), does the same for the vibrant world of ballet, giving readers a look at the daily routines of two dancers: one a student just starting out, the other a professional in her prime. A dancer myself, I jumped at the chance to talk to Barbara about how she translates movement to the page.
1. How did you decide on this day-in-the-life, compare-and-contrast format for showcasing a dancer’s reality?
BM: I blame two of my favorite books for putting the idea in my head: The Borrowers by Mary Norton and The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont. The parallel world of The Borrowers fascinated me as a child. And I fell in love — hard! — with the behind-the-scenes showering, sock-pulling-on, hair-combing, and beard-trimming preparations of orchestral musicians before their evening performance in The Philharmonic Gets Dressed.
My older sister Kathleen lived, breathed, ate, and slept ballet when she was little, and I’d wanted to make a book honoring her for a long time. She took me to my first professional dance performance, which proved to have a profound influence on my creative life. Her passion for dance inspired me to believe in myself as an artist.
2. Many of your books are set in bygone eras, with richly evoked historical settings full of texture and detail. How does your process differ when you’re portraying a contemporary setting rather than recreating a historical one?
BM: I tend to use slightly bolder, brushlike line work, little or no crosshatching, and brighter colors when working with a contemporary setting. Modern surfaces are shinier, glossier, brighter, harder. Metal and glass predominate. I find it’s easier to depict those hard, shiny surfaces with gradated watercolor washes. Textural ink crosshatching seems appropriate for older stone, wood, and plaster surfaces.
Modern forms call for fluid lines, less encumbered by lots of line work. There’s detail in contemporary buildings and clothing, but forms are more nuanced, freer, with open patterns and simplified shapes compared to historical structures and fashion.
Shapes of contemporary things that move — cars, airplanes, trains — are smooth and somewhat egg-shaped, reflecting aerodynamic design considerations. Carriages, carts, and buggies are boxy, with lots of angles, which makes for different compositional elements in pictures.
3. The format of Emma and Julia Love Ballet is almost graphic novel–like, with the illustrations changing sizes and shapes to accelerate the pacing. How do you know what size illustration to use when?
BM: The size and shape of the illustrations is all about creating a sense of time, movement, emotion, and place.
Vignettes isolate characters to form a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character, like a spotlighted actor on stage. There can be a powerful emotional component to vignettes. Toward the end of the book as Emma prepares to go to the ballet performance, we see her in her fancy coat, with no background, nothing else in the image. Her facial expression alone tells us this is an important time for her. Anything else in the scene would impede the immediacy of her excitement.
Vignettes can also signify rapid movement and the passage of time. Several small vignettes on a page require only short amounts of time to look at. This visual device works well to depict Emma and Julia stretching, jumping, and spinning. Viewing several small images in quick succession can be like looking at a flip-book that gives the impression of fast, fluid motion.
Broad, dramatic scenes create a sense of mood and establish place; and fuller, detailed pictures slow the reader down at significant moments by creating an environment that invites investigation. That lingering pause can give majesty to a scene or narrative concept.
At the very end of the book, I wanted to go back to a vignette approach. We see Emma and Julia connected by their shared love of ballet. I wanted Emma and Julia to dominate and fill up the entire page with no external stuff to clutter up their emotional connection. This is their story, and they tell us absolutely and directly how they feel about ballet and each other.
4. You observed the Connecticut Concert Ballet as models for the illustrations, and took some ballet classes yourself for research. How did your perspective — or your illustrations — change after these experiences?
BM: I have a much better idea of just how hard a plié in fifth position is on your inner thighs!
Watching people in motion is a much different experience than simply studying photographs. Semi-realistic drawing has so much to do with gesture, and the best way to understand how an arm or leg really moves through space is to observe someone in the act of moving. As I draw the sweep of an arm, I get inside that motion. I’m not entirely sure how to express this, but I feel the movement in my head as a physical motion and visualize where that arm is going, then translate that motion as well as I can in a two-dimensional way on paper.
Ballet has its own regimented structure of movement. I just dipped into the surface of knowledge of ballet training, but hopefully enough to give some authenticity to the way the dancers in my book move.
Barbara in the ballet studio
5. The book is dedicated in part to the wonderful Judith Jamison, dancer and Artistic Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Is there a particular role of Ms. Jamison’s that resonates most with you?
BM: In the early 1970s my sister took me to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Minneapolis. Judith Jamison was the featured soloist. This was the first professional dance performance I’d ever seen. I had no idea what to expect, and was almost afraid to go. Any hesitation vanished the moment Judith stepped on stage. She dominated space and time, creating vivid shapes and patterns.
Judith performed Cry, a sixteen-minute solo homage to black women, choreographed by Alvin Ailey for his mother with Judith in mind. Judith expressed grief, depression, loss, redemption, and joy as eloquently as any novelist. I loved dance from that evening on.
Judith’s presence, authority, and grace inspired me in my work. I admired her, and looked up to Judith as a role model — a woman who was in command of her talent and a force almost bigger than life.
Shelf Awareness children’s editor Jennifer M. Brown, Caldecott Medal-winning artist Brian Floca, and Caldecott Medal recipient Jerry Pinkney sat on this year’s judging panel. See the complete list below.
Here’s more from the press release: “Since 1952, the Book Review has convened an independent panel of three judges from the world of children’s literature to select picture books on the basis of artistic merit. Each year, judges choose from among thousands of picture books for what is the only annual award of its kind. Lists of past winners of the Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award can be found on NYTimes.com/Books, along with a slide show of this year’s winners.”
Finding videos of the Voldemort vs. Mary Poppins nuttiness online was surprisingly difficult. Finally I found a sort of recap of the Olympic 2012 opening ceremonies with reference to the rise of the great children’s literature villains (The Queen of Hearts, a Disney-esque Cruella de Ville, Captain Hook, and Voldemort) and their destruction at the hands of 30 Mary Poppins. “A sweeping rambling narrative” is as accurate an interpretation of what happened as any I could come up with. You’ll see the references at 1:00 in this video.
And since we’re already on the topic of Harry Potter (admittedly we are almost always on that topic) I sure hope you guys had a chance to see the first installment of Harry Potter and the Ten Years Later. I thought it was rather well done. Sort of makes me want to see the whole series now.
And now for a bloody effective book trailer. If the point of such trailers is to cause the reader an immediate and almost impossible to resist urge to pick up the book and read it, Leave Your Sleep as edited by Natalie Merchant (yes, that Natalie Merchant) now has that hold on me. It does not hurt that the songs featured here, paired with Barbara McClintock’s illustrations, are a delight. A sheer, as they say, delight.
Resist it if you can. And, might I say, this is one of the more logical uses of a celebrity getting involved in children’s literature that I’ve seen. I was seated next to Ms. Merchant at a BEA lunch and to my delight she turned out to be a huge Barbara McClintock fan long before this book. She said this, so I decided to quiz her by asking what she knew. Without missing a beat she rattled off everything from The Gingerbread Man to Adele and Simon to the Aesop’s Fables Ms. McClintock did years ago. Woman knows her stuff.
Okay, gear switch. Obviously if I’m showing a Louis CK video then this is not going to be workplace friendly, though honestly aside from one off-white phrase this is downright pure for Louis. When I read in a recent Entertainment Weekly article that he hated Clifford the Big Red Dog with a passion that eclipses the white hot sun I knew I had to find video proof. Proof I found, and I love how he pairs Clifford with Narnia. If Louis put out a CD that was just children’s book rants . . . okay, that’s a ridiculous dream. But a dream I now have!
And now Louise Yates interviews Quentin Blake. Because I can.
Books that are small enough to slip into stockings and charming enough to belong there! (See Note for Santa at the end of each review.)
Bear Despair (Stories Without Words), by Gaetan Doremus, Enchanted Lion, $14.95, ages 4 and up, 32 pages, 2012. Never play keep-away from a bear. But if you dare, just beware. He has a big belly and he might stuff you in there -- until he's good and ready to let you out. In this hilarious sixth title in the wordless series, a bear chases down animals who've taken his teddy bear, then swallow them whole when they decide to be mean and toss the toy away.
One night, Bear wakes up to find that Wolf has snatched Teddy right from under his arm. In despair, Bear gives chase, but just as he catches up to Wolf, Wolf snickers and flings poor Teddy up and over the trees. Bear is furious, goes in for a tackle and stuffs Wolf into his mouth. As Wolf howls from inside Bear's belly, Bear races off to find Teddy. There! Teddy's on the ground. Up ahead! But why is Lion grabbing him? Jeering at Bear? Holding Teddy out his reach? Now Lion is running away and Bear is after him. But as Lion reaches a cliff, he hurls Teddy into the air. Bear can't believe his eyes and in a rage, gobbles down Lion. Now, Wolf and Lion are hunkered in Bear's belly, heads in hands, bored stiff.
And Bear? Well, he's spotted Teddy again -- this time, in a mountain-top nest. Hey, what's Bird doing flying away with Teddy? Bear's heart feels like it'll explode and with a roar, he gets back at Bird and swallows her eggs. But revenge isn't sweet for long and with heavy paws, Bear trudges up a hill, plunks down under a rain cloud, and lets out a mournful roar. It helps, though, to vent and soon Bear has perked up, and with arms swaying, resumes his search. As you might guess, Bear doesn't like what he finds: this time it's Elephant who has absconded with Teddy. As Bear tries to tug Teddy free of Elephant's trunk, Elephant growls and tosses Teddy up once more. So of course, Bear eats Elephant. And since he has, Bear's body stretches into an enormous pear shape. But now, Wolf, Lion and Elephant have had time to think and, as it so happens, learn about loving something: As Wolf and Lion kneel on Elephant's back (it's pretty crowded inside Bear's belly), they watch two little birds hatch from the eggs and begin to coo. But will Bear ever recover Teddy? And if he does, will these silly animals ever be free again? A delight from start to finish. Doremus' premise is hysterical and his cross hatch-style illustrations are so expressive, readers may forget there aren't words to go with them. A gem for any a child whose ever loved a stuffed toy. Best Part: A drawing of Bear pull out all of the animal from his stomach, with each linked to the others by tails, arms or a trunk. Note for Santa: This book measures 10 1/4 inches by 6 1/8 inches. Pair it with a little purple teddy bear.
Twelve Kinds of Ice, by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrations by Barbara McClintock, Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, ages 7 and up, 64 pages. As the air grows crisp and hats and mittens go on, a girl savors each stage of ice that comes to her family's farm and the promise it brings, in this toasty, magical tale. With spare, sweet prose, Obed reminisces about playing on ice as a child and dreaming of it when it was gone.
Obed, who grew up on a six-acre farm in Maine, goes chapter by chapter through each phase of ice that she and her brothers and sister would watch for and describes each of them so tenderly that readers will wish for those memories too. Every stage of ice feels more grand than the last and ultimately leads Obed's family to transform their vegetable garden (with "boards and snow, a garden hose, and hours of work") into a neighborhood skating rink. The book begins with the children watching ice thicken in pails -- from "a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it" to an unbreakable ice that brought them what they were waiting for -- an ice hard enough to skate on. Their first skating ice was always field ice, a short-lived strip of frozen water in a hay field. Then came stream ice, a frozen meander of ice "where the stream smalled to a brook of bent alders." After that was black ice, when their pond was "shocked still by the cold" and for a brief time, the children skated to the middle of it, carved out circles and listened to ice "cracking and groaning as it stretched itself in the cold." Then, it was time to prepare their rink for ice, a cozy family affair of nailing in boards, packing in snow with feet, skis and a toboggan, then spraying the snow with layers of water. When they were done, word would spread through the neighborhood that "Bryan Gardens" was open and boys would leap onto the ice "like steers out of a pen" and girls would glide out and carve figure eights.
But of course, ice doesn't last forever, and as the weather slowly warms, Obed also describes the phases of thawing and how even after winter was gone, she'd continue to skate (in her dreams). Obed's memories are idyllic and contagious in nostalgic way. They have a comforting familiarity, even if readers have never put on skates, made all he richer by McClintock's pen-and-ink drawings. Readers will want to linger on the words and pictures, and may even feel tempted, as I did, to carry the book around with them, as if it were a pocket book of poems. Note for Santa: This book measures 5 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches long. Pair it with an ice skating ornament made of felt or one made to look like a little winter coat.
The Game Ofboard book series, by Herve Tullet, Phaidon, $9.95-$12.95, ages 2 and up, 14 pages, 2012. Known in his native France as the "Prince of Pre-School Books," author-illustrator Tullet is acclaimed for many books that children touch and explore, including last year's gemPress Here. Here are three of his latest game books:
The Game of Red, Yellow and Blue: Little shapes of blended color go searching for their mums and dads, in this joyful exploration of the color wheel. First, a small purple square calls out to three big squares (Red, Yellow and Blue) and asks which of them are his mother and father. Red and Blue reply, "Red and Blue are the Only Parents for You!," then stretch over the fold and overlap onto the little square as if in a hug. Next it's Green Circle's turn, then Orange Triangle's. Finally, all three complementary colors know where they belong. Now it's time to swirl together and create new (tertiary) colors. It's a rainbow carnival and every color is invited. A charming introduction to color that could also be used to celebrate diversity.
The Game in the Dark: Turn out the lights and follow a rocket ship as it journeys through a glow-in-the-dark galaxy on its way to the moon. For this charming wordless adventure, readers hold their book up to a light to charge up greenish white paint on the cover and pages, then slip into a dark room (or closet) and watch a rocket soar and swerve through space. Little fingers can trace's the rocket's path (a dotted line of paint) around planets, through concentric circles of orbiting satellites, past a five-pointed star, and over a giant planet before its makes a lunar landing. A perfect way to help little ones sleep without a light.
The Game of Sculpture: In this tactile delight, readers unfold accordian-like pages, and use notches, slots, holes and shapes to reconstruct a book into 3-D art. Every page is an art panel, and has unique, ready-made slits (at the top, middle and sides of the page) and holes, and is perforated with assorted shapes for readers to punch out. As readers position the pages in different ways, they insert the triangles, ovals or rectangles into slots to hold the sculpture in place and build their designs. Readers are also encouraged to paint their own shapes (such as an empty toilet paper roll) and work them into their design. Every page is painted in shades of a single pigment and looks as if it were glazed with finger paints. The book unfolds into 16 panels (eight on each side), and has seven parallel folds. An exciting way to encourage creativity.
Note for Santa:Each book measures 5 3/4 inches by 8 1/4 inches.Pair these games with tickets to an art museum.
3D Keepsake Cityscapes and Expanding Pocket Guides (London, New York, Paris, Washington, D.C., and The Metropolitan Museum of Art), by Sarah McMenemy, Candlewick, $8.99, ages 5 and up, 30 pages, 2012. Readers go sight seeing right in the palm of their hands, in these charming little guides to the world's greatest cities and museums. McMenemy's innovative guides are about the size of coasters and open like accordions to reveal about a dozen sights.
The first fold-out gives an overview of the place they're visiting, either a city or museum, while the rest of them feature famous landmarks or exhibits they would see there. Many of these places are architectural -- towers, churches, bridges or sculptures -- and are depicted in water colors in 3-D. Beside each landmark or exhibit is a short description of the sight and the experience of being there: for instance, in the Paris guide, readers are told they ascend the Eiffel Tower through a glass elevator and see a glorious panorama. When guides are stretched to their maximum size, five feet, readers flip them over and continue the tour on the opposite side, with the last two pages reserved for a map of all the places they saw.
Then when not in use, the book is folded up and stored in an illustrated cardboard sleeve. The books have the feel of miniature maps, but are much easier to fold and far more charming. Diminutive, painterly scenes and hand-lettering make them feel artsy and handmade, and give readers a lovely taste for what the world has to offer. Learn more about McMenemy here. Note for Santa: Each measures almost 4 inches by 4 inches. Pair a guide with a favorite children's novel set in the same location for a fun gift.
This is the kind of book that sends librarians over the moon. The precise, poetic language, the creation of an evocative setting, the charmingly detailed black and white illustrations, all work their magic as readers sink into one family's celebration of winter and its number one glory, ice.
The book is composed of a series of vignettes. From the very first ice "that came on the sheep pails in the barn--a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it" to the final "dream ice that came in our sleep," ice serves one primary purpose, to create a surface firm enough for the family and their friends to skate on. And skate they do. On fields, streams, ponds, and their own homemade skating rink, they twirl and dart and glide.
Based on the Obed's memories of growing up on a six-acre farm in Maine, the book has an old-fashioned quality to it, one that McClintock's illustrations reinforce, as do the figure-skating girls and hockey-playing boys. Twelve Kinds of Ice appears on many folks' best-of-the-year lists and there are whispers that it might be nominated for a Newbery. While I can clearly see its many charms, I haven't quite fallen under the book's spell. It's just too quiet for me. I kept waiting for a nasty spill on the ice to happen. I know, I know, but that's me. Other, less bloodthirsty readers should curl up beside a fire and read this low-key yet ultimately appealing book.
Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed illustrations by Barbara McClintock Houghton Mifflin, 64 pages Published: 2012
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CIP (“pronounced “sip”) is book publishing jargon for the Library of Congress Publishing Cataloging-in-Publication Data. This is found within the copyright page text of every book. It features a well-constructed one-phrase synopsis of the book’s theme.
Here is an example. One student, Aijung Kim, selected the following CIP summary from Chalkby Bill Thompson. While she didn’t read the book, she knew from its cover that it featured a dinosaur. . .
“Book Summary: A wordless picture book about three children who go to a park on a rainy day, find some chalk, and draw pictures that come to life.”
Here’s what she came up with:
Aijung Kim’s 8-panel wordless story, created during Joy Chu’s class, Illustrating Books for Children, at UCSD Extension (right-click image to enlarge)
Many thanks to Zachariah OHora and Julie Danielson for sharing the above image.
Creating a 3D model for your story setting can also serve as an invaluable reference in plotting out your narrative, as well as a guide in drawing scenes from a variety of perspectives. Note how illustrator Sophie Blackall created a diorama for her work-in-progress. She can view her characters from above!
With the release of the Where the Wild Things Are movie, this video has been all over the internet. It reminded me of last year's Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature because one of my favorite illustrators, Barbara McClintock, told a wonderful story about being a young artist living in North Dakota and just beginning her career. She picked up the phone and called Maurice Sendak all the way in New York City. She wanted to ask his advice about becoming a children's book illustrator. Apparently he was very nice and gave her some good tips. Wow!
By the way, the 2009 Rabbit Hill Festival takes place all this weekend if you're in the area.
“Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognized. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines, whatever they do.” -- Ada Lovelace Day website
Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) wrote the first computer programs, which were used by the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage.
Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the legacy of a lone woman scientist in a field of men. -- and does so, in part, through across-the-board blogging about women in the sciences.
The first Ada Lovelace Day, March 24, 2009, generated hundreds of blogs worldwide, as well as attention on Facebook and in the media.
I decided to sign up on behalf of I.N.K. to blog about women scientists on this day and soon found out that 1,110 other bloggers signed up, as well.
It’s Monday morning, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my Ada Lovelace blog when I find this article in the New York Times: “Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences”. Tamar Lewin describes the American Association of University Women’s report, "Why So Few?" on the gains that women have made in the sciences, and the issues that still get in their way. Thirty years ago, among high schoolers scoring 700 or more on their math SATs, boys outnumbered girls 13 to 1. The ratio has dropped to 3 to 1, but that’s still proof of chopped sides.
Despite increasing numbers of women receiving doctorates in science, math, and computer science, women don’t represent a parallel percentage of workers or tenured faculty in those fields. The AAUW report focused more on factors that can make a difference in the accomplishments of women and girls -- such as learning that ability can grow with effort -- than on differences in innate ability between the sexes. Researchers found that cultural bias -- an underlying impression that women can’t cut the mustard -- had considerable impact. This bias takes root in any who feel themselves to be on shaky ground, as evidenced by a dramatic difference in performance between groups told that men and women have equal abilities in math and science and those told that men are stronger in these areas.
The littlest ones should not miss out on any fun Christmas reading. There are plenty of sturdy-paged board books for babies and toddlers to get their hands on. Getting the full sensory experience is the beginning step of reading; so let him grab, drag, chew, and flip through these fun holiday stories.
Publisher’s synopsis: The beloved characters from Smee’s Clip-Clop are off on a wild and wintry ride. Mr. Horse has invited all the barnyard animals into his sleigh, and Cat, Dog, Pig, and Duck couldn’t be more excited. Soon, they’re holding on tight and dashing through the snow with bells jingle-jingling all the way. Over the fields they fly-but when they reach the hill, everyone wants to slide down even Mr. Horse, of course. Is there room for them all? Like the happy Mr. Horse, toddlers will think “THAT WAS SO COOL!”
Publisher’s synopsis: This irresistible retelling of the Gingerbread Man by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock is now in board book format for the first time, and it’s a perfect treat for cookie lovers everywhere. Children enjoy chiming in with Aylesworth’s charming, rollicking refrains, accompanied by whimsical animal images and a delicious recipe for gingerbread men. (Note: the text has been adapted to fit board book format)
Kimmel, Eric A. When Mindy Saved Hanukkah. Illus. by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic, 1998.
Can children ever get enough of stories with small heroes? Of Kimmel’s many finely crafted picture books, this is one of his best. Mindy and the rest of the Klein family live behind the walls of the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York. When resourceful Papa goes on his quest for a candle they can melt into tiny candles for their menorah, he meets with near-disaster. “A fierce Antiochus of a cat” pounces on him. Leave it to brave little Mindy to save the day! A huge part of the fun of this exciting story is Barbara McClintock’s humorous, detailed ink and watercolor paintings, evoking century-old styles and interesting aspects of this historic synagogue. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable way for children to discover the reasons for Hanukkah.
More Great Hanukkah Read-alouds
da Costa, Deborah. Hanukkah Moon. Kar-Ben, 2007. “At Aunt Luisa’s you ll get to celebrate the Hanukkah Moon,” Isobel’s father promises. This likable picture book centers on Hanukkah customs with a Latina twist.
Kimmel, Eric. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Holiday House, 1994. Hershel of Ostropol arrives at a village where the people can’t celebrate Hanukkah because their synagogue has been overtaken by goblins. Hershel is brave and bright enough to outwit those goblins, though, in this thrilling story brought to life by Trina Schart Hyman’s spooky illustrations, which won a Caldecott Honor.
Krensky, Stephen. Hanukkah at Valley Forge. Dutton, 2006. This engaging story features a young Jewish soldier explaining Hanukkah to George Washington. Atmospheric watercolor paintings evoke the contrast between the cold Pennsylvania winter and the soldier’s glowing candlelight.
Kroll, Stephen. The Hanukkah Mice. Marshall Cavendish, 2008. A girl’s new dollhouse is the perfect place for a family of mice to celebrate Hanukkah.
Manushkin, Fran. Hooray for Hanukkah! Random House, 2001. “I am bright, but I could be brighter!” Hear the story of Hanukkah from the perspective of the menorah in this charming book for young children.
Polacco, Patricia. Trees of the Dancing Goats. Simon & Schuster, 1996. Based on the author’s childhood, Polacco shows how Trisha and her family prepare to celebrate Hanukkah. When Trisha visits her neighbors, she finds them bedridden with scarlet fever instead of decorating for Christmas. Then Grampa comes up with a surprising way to cheer up their neighbors. The plan involves a lot of work and even sacrifice, but it will make for a holiday for all to cherish.
Rosen, Michael J. Elijah’s Angel: A Story of Chanukah and Christmas. Harcourt, 1992. Touching story of a friendship between nine-year-old Michael and the elderly African-American Elijah, who gives the boy one of his carved wooden angels. Should a Jewish child keep such a gift?
Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Power of Light: Eight Stories for
Blackaby, Susan. Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox. Illus. by Carmen Segovia. Sterling, 2011. Ages 4-7.
If you’re seeking a whimsical read-aloud for Groundhog’s Day, you’ve found it. Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox sparkles with wit and sly charm. Brownie is a clever groundhog that meets a hungry would-be predator on a cloudy February 2nd. The fox tells her, “Hold still…. I’m trying to eat you for breakfast.” Brownie’s flip response is that it’ s simply too late for breakfast. The two find they both hate to wait. Brownie suggests the fox work up an appetite by clearing the snow off the pond. Segovia’s humorous image shows the fox putting his fluffy tail to good use. Alas, after all that effort, it’s too late for lunch, says Brownie. Then the tricky groundhog leads the fox to a tree and winds her scarf around and around the fox, binding him to the trunk.
Brownie’s little heart is touched, though, as she hears the fox’s plaintive cries. She decides it’s time to share what’s in her basket: cocoa and cinnamon toast. The crumbs attract a robin — the first sign of spring! The two new friends leave for home, pondering their next adventure. The illustrator’s note describes how Segovia first conceived of this engaging character one winter as she sketched a groundhog. Her wintry palette, splashed with the fox’s red, is as refreshing as that impromptu picnic.
Enhance a snowy story with the cold facts, perfectly described and displayed in
Cassino, Mark and Jon Nelson. The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder.. Chronicle, 2009. Ages 4-9. You’ll be singing songs of snow, glorious snow after reading this snappy little informative book. Cassino and Nelson reveal the scientific nature of snow by using an accessible format featuring a brief fact in a large type size, then giving details in smaller text. Readers will learn of the three major types of crystals (star-shaped, plate and columnar), as well as other interesting facts. (It’s the molecular structure of water that creates the six-sided crystals, for instance.) The superb illustrations include both spectacular photographs that beg to be shared and Aoyagi’s ink and watercolor diagrams that show how a crystal develops from a speck of soil, pollen, or other substance, and then develops into an intricate six-sided beauty. Also noteworthy are the clear instructions on catching and examining snow crystals — just the trick for getting readers to venture outside to explore wintry wonders.
More and More Snow …
Alarcon, Francisco X. Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems. illus. by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Children’s Book Press, 2001. Fresh poems, often written with an unusual perspective, grace bright and beautiful pages showcasing poems in both Spanish and in English.
Andersen, Hans Christian. The Snow Queen. Trans. and retold by Naomi Lewis. Illus. by Christian Birmingham. Candlewick, 2008. Ages 8-10. Don’t miss Andersen’s most beautiful fairy tale, a source of inspiration for C.S. Lewis and other fantasy writers. Of the many versions available, Lewis’s is the one you want. This memorable wintry tale begs to be read aloud: “The cloak and cap were made of snow, and the driver ah, she was a lad
The auction features pieces created by twelve celebrated children’s illustrators: Norman Bridwell, Bruce Degen, Edwin Fotheringham, Mary GrandPré, Barbara McClintock, Jon J. Muth, Sean Qualls, Stephen Savage, David Shannon, Jeff Smith, Mark Teague, and Raina Telgemeier.
Maybe half a year ago I mentioned that Ms. Lucy Knisley had created a cartoon poster for the first four Harry Potter books. Now with the final Potter movie coming out, the posters are at long last complete. They follow the plots of the books, not the films, but the look of the characters can be amusingly cinematic at times. And for the record, if I were a tattoo-minded dame, I would adore getting this image of Luna Lovegood and her pop.
But that’s not really my top news story of the day. How could it be? No the top news story is that it is once again time for the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Twice a year a cadre of bloggers for child and teen books gather together to interview some of the luminaries in the field. Chasing Ray has the round-up, so seek ‘em out and read ‘em up. I know I will.
When I lived in London for a time (it was like a little Intro to New York) I would periodically buy the newest issue of Time Out London and find interesting places to visit. One day the mag highlighted a toy museum. It was called The Museum of Childhood and it was fascinating. I was too intimidated to take any pictures, though, so I sort of forgot that I even went. Years have passed and I see that author/illustrator David Lucas has also been to that same museum and he has written about it in the post What do TOYS Think of Us? Stick around for the moment when he starts talking about panpsychism. Looking at all those ragamuffin bits of much loved cloth and felt reminds me of my library’s own original Winnie-the-Pooh. He is, after all, of the British persuasion.
Yay, Sunday Brunch! Over at Collecting Children’s Books my partner in writing crime (we’re doing a Candlewick book with Jules from 7-Imp) has a delightful post that is well worth your time. My favorite parts include the childhood of a future Brat Packer, a reason why Erin E. Moulton’s Flutter is unique, and a vote for “The Year’s Creepiest YA Novel.” Hooked yet?
Marci, this is for you. Remember how we were trying to figure out how one would go about creating Quidditch croquet? Well . . .
Every year the children’s librarians of the New York Public Library system come together and create a list of 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing. The list, now entering its 101st year, originally had a dual purpose. On the one hand it was meant to highlight the best children’s books at a time when finding books written specifically for kids was difficult in and of itself (the “100” number idea came later). On the other hand, when printed out the list was intended to serve as a Christmas shopping guide for parents looking to give away quality works of children’s literature with the potential to someday be considered “classics”. These days, that idea of using the list as a shopping guide has become less important, but the search for books that aim for “classic” ranks never ceases. Such books are difficult to find, partly because the ones that try to feel that way utilize this sickening faux nostalgia that, in particularly egregious examples, can make your hair curl. That’s why a book like Twelve Kinds of Ice strikes me as such a rarity. Here we have something that feels like something your grandmother might have read you, yet is as fresh and fun and original as you could hope for. Original and difficult to categorize, the one thing you can say about it is that it defies you to sum it up neatly. And that it’s delightful, of course. That too.
In this family there are twelve kinds of ice. All the kids know this fact. “The First Ice” is that thin sheen you find in pails. “The Second Ice” can be pulled out like panes of glass. As the winter comes on, the days grow colder and colder and the kids wait in anticipation. Finally, after the appearance of “Black Ice” it’s time to turn the vegetable garden into a skating rink that will last the whole winter. The whole family creates the sides and uses the hose to create the perfect space. With crisp prose designed to make you feel excited and cozy all at once, the author goes through a full winter with this family. There are sibling rivalries for ice time, skating parties, comic routines, an ice show, and then finally those spring days where you can only skate an hour before the sun starts making puddles. Fortunately for all the kids there’s one kind of ice left and that is dream ice. The ice where you can skate everything from telephone wires to slanting roofs and it will last you all the year until the first ice comes again.
My instinct here is to just start quoting large sections of the text out of context so that you can listen to the wordplay. The trouble is that much of this book works precisely because those very words, when read as part of the story, simply feel like there was no other way to say that exact thing at that exact moment. So, for example, when we read “Black Ice” section where the ice has arrived before the snow, we have to know that the kids are skating on a Great Pond. We read that “We sped to silver speeds at which lungs and legs, clouds and sun, wind and cold, race together. Our blades spit out silver. Our lungs breathed out silver. Our minds burst with silver while the winter sun danced silver down our bending backs.” It helps to know that until now the kids have been limited to Field Ice (narrow strips) and Stream Ice (uneven and broken by rocks). This is the moment when they’
Because I have amotivational syndrome (that’s a fancy way of saying that I’m lazy), I‘m going to link here to Stacy Mozer’s nice notes about a fantastic event that I attended yesterday. (Thank you, Stacy.)
by Barbara McClintockFrancis Foster Books / FSG 2008I'm not generally a huge fan of an excellent stand-alone picture book gaining a sequel but I'm going to give this one a pass because I love McClintock's illustrations.Adele and Simon, those two early 20th century Parisian children, have traveled to America to see the country by train with their aunt. As with their previous outing, Simon is
My friend Pamela Curtis Swallow is writing a biography of her relative Ellen Swallow Richards. This is how our conversations go lately:
Me: Pam, could you please pass the salt? Pam: Salt comes from mines, Deb, and did you know that Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman member of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers?” Me: Really? Pam: Also Ellen was the first woman admitted to M.I.T. and did you know that she founded the first health food take-out restaurant and was the founder of Home Economics? Me: Pam? Pam: Deb, it all comes down to Ellen.
Pam is besotted. She talks about Ellen all the time. Did I mention she also giggles when she talks about Ellen sometimes? She is completely obsessed. And this is how it should be.
I have written four biographies and each time I fell in love. It wasn’t always love at first sight, and sometimes I had to fight to stay in love. But love it was. And being in love with your subject serves an author very well. Because when the road gets bumpy, love keeps you going.
My first love affair was with Barbara McClintock. I had heard of Barbara back when I was an editor at Scholastic News (See Karen Romano Young’s post of March 5, 2009). McClintock won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of jumping genes and we ran a photo of her holding up an ear of maize, the plant she worked with. A few years later, I was thinking about how much I loved biographies as a kid and I decided I wanted to write one about Barbara McClintock. She had won the Nobel Prize for work she had done three decades earlier and when she finally won, interviewers asked her, "Wasn’t it hard that nobody believed you for all these years?" She answered she knew she was right, and “it would all come out in the wash.” What kind of person believes in herself so much that she keeps on working despite the fact that nobody believes her? I had to write about her so I could find out what made her tick.
I read the first chapter of an adult biography of her, called A Feeling For the Organism by Evelyn Fox Keller, which gave some insight into McClintock as a person, and I was hooked. I wrote a proposal, got a contract, and then read the next chapters of Keller’s book and realized I couldn’t understand the science AT ALL. The short arm of chromosome number 9? What is a chromosome? Jumping genes? What is a gene? How do they work? I had barely taken any science since 9th grade biology. I wanted to give my advance money back. But of course I had already spent it on diapers and cheerios and printer ink. I had to write the book.
Besides, I was already in love, which was a very good thing because I stayed up late many nights giving myself a crash a crash course in genetics so I could write the book.
Love makes you do crazy things. Love made a telemarketer give me her rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” when I told her I was on a deadline writing a biography of John F. Kennedy. Love made me write a first draft of said book, High Hopes, in six weeks, as my editor begged me to. Love made me, the only girl who didn’t get into the sixth grade chorus, sing the lyrics to J.F.K.'s campaign song “High Hopes” with Tita Cahn (“Sing it with me, Deborah!”), widow of Sammy Cahn, so I could get permission to use the lyrics in the book. And love made me agree to write the book in the first place even though I knew I would find out things about John F. Kennedy I did not like. (O.K., love and a decent advance.)
So what do you do when you find out things about your person you don’t like? You take a deep breath and say, I am a biographer. I am not, actually, marrying the person. (Not that the people we marry are perfect, either.) You tell yourself that you are obliged to give a full portrait of your subject. And you want to. Within limits, when you are writing for kids.
Writing is all about choices. Did I write about J.F.K.'s extramarital affairs? No. Not only was it not relevant for kids, it was not an integral part of the story I was telling. Did I write about the fact that he and his family covered up his poor health so he could win the election? Yes, absolutely. It was an integral part of the story: his illness and the decision to cover it up shows who John F. Kennedy was. When kids read the book I hope they come away with a sense of the real person – a boy who grew up in a large family in the shadow of his older brother, and overcame illness to become President of the United States. I must admit I was glad I couldn’t write about the affairs.
Love can be hard. Love is hard when your subject dies. I spent many years thinking about, researching, and writing about Charles and Emma Darwin for Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith. And every time I read or wrote about Charles or Emma dying, I cried. As time went on my tears did not lessen. Because as time went on I was more deeply in love. By the time I was writing what would be my almost final draft, I started sobbing uncontrollably when Charles died. This moment coincided with our younger son packing to go to college. Everyone in my family knows I do not deal well with separation. Benjamin was only moving 13 blocks uptown, but he was moving out and we all knew things would change. So Benjamin assumed I was crying about him. He came into my office, patted me on the back, and said, “There, there, Mom, I’ll see you soon,” and I said, between sobs, “It’s not you. Charles Darwin died.” Benjamin has not yet forgiven me, and he’s a sophomore. My husband likes to tell the story that months later, when I got to Charles’s death again, this time in galleys (of my OWN book), I whispered to myself, “Maybe this time Charles won’t die.”
I wasn’t always in love with Charles Darwin, and I barely knew he had a wife. My husband sort of owned Darwin in our family. But one day he (husband, not Charles) said to me, “Did you know that Charles Darwin’s wife was religious? And they loved each other very much. She was upset that he would go to hell and they would be separated for eternity.” I fell in love with the subject immediately: marriage, science and religion, God, devotion, death… I knew I had a book to write. Now I just had to fall in love with Charles and Emma themselves. Primary sources were the way in. I read (and as the research went on, read and read again) a two-volume book called Emma Darwin: A Century of Family Letters. There is no surer way to love than through someone’s personal correspondence—assuming, of course, that person is wonderful and articulate and funny and kind and spunky and true and (oh, dear, stop me). I was in love with Emma.
Next I read Charles Darwin’s autobiography and then his journals, and letters, and the same thing happened. I fell in love with him, too. Irrevocably. How can you not love a man who writes in a private notebook, “But why does joy, & OTHER EMOTION make grown up people cry.—What is emotion?” while he’s thinking about the theory of evolution? And writes to Emma around the same time, “I long for the day when we shall enter the house together. How glorious it will be to see you seated by the fire of our own house.”
Darwin was “one of the true Good Guys of history,” as the woman who helped put together the Darwin show at the American Museum of Natural History said to me after my book was published. He was a terrific husband (and Emma deserved that!) and an attentive and loving father. Charles and Emma had a wonderful marriage, which was a profound influence on his work. When he finally wrote The Origin of Species, it was a different book than it would have been had he not been married to Emma. Although Charles Darwin saw wars in nature he also saw the beauty and--