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I’m flying off to the Windy City this afternoon to visit two schools, Thomas Middle School and Northbrook Junior High. This will be my first visits of the new school year, so I’m looking to kick out the cobwebs, blow the rust off my thumb drive, and hopefully make a positive impression. The idea for me is always to try to leave each school a little bit better than when I first arrive.
This is another example of my book, Bystander, opening new doors for me, as it was my first true middle school book, featuring 7th-grade characters. So many books fade away with barely a whimper (even the good ones!), it’s such a blessing that this one seems to have taken hold in schools across the country, places where they are eager to read, explore and perhaps illuminate some of the issues that center on the bully-target-bystander dynamic. But mostly I hope this is a book that keeps readers turning the pages, a book they’ll enjoy. If it inspires students to think, well, amen to that. We can use all the thinking we can get around here.
Tomorrow, my kids, Maggie (6th) and Gavin (8th), go off the Middle School together, so I’m pretty steeped in this age group. My oldest, Nick, is now a sophomore in college. Yikes.
One other really nice aspect of this trip is that I am finally going to meet two of my publishing pals, Julie Halpern and (the insanely prolific) Matthew Cordell. That’s right, I’m spending a night on their couch — and I’m keeping any change I find under the cushions. That money’s mine. And the Cheetos, too. Matthew and I first met, electronically, when we did a picture book together, Mighty Casey (speaking of books that fade away). We bonded over Arnold Lobel and William Steig, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt, and we’ve become true friends entirely through email. Now I guess we’re putting that notion to the test. I also share a publisher with Matt’s wife, Julie, who is a librarian and a terrific writer. She’s deep and funny and I’m a huge fan.
I am really looking forward to hanging out with those guys. They have a young daughter, too, Romy, who keeps asking, “When’s Preller coming?” That cracks me up.
June shrugged off school’s schedule—the drop offs and pick-ups and the packing of lunch. Summer seemed to stretch out like a wide open lawn. But the acreage quickly filled with the schedule of camps—with drop offs and pick-ups and the packing of lunch.
Right about now, there’s something in the air. Maybe it’s the lighting or a new scent. But you begin to feel that summer is nearing its end. Before the scaffolding of the school schedule is fitted again, there is another attempt to get rid of routine. This, I think, is the real heart of summer. An earnest attempt to be schedule-less, to open up to unpredictability, maybe even to lose the concept of time. How? Travel. People pack their bags and go. Somewhere. Anywhere. Stay-over-night camp, relatives in another state, another city, anywhere other than where you are, it really doesn’t matter, just as long as rhythms and routines are set aside.
In honor of the real heart of summer, here’s a list of books that send their main characters on a journey, a trip, somewhere new. (And if you and your family didn’t pack your bags this summer, here is the beauty of a book—the vicarious experience of travel.)
In Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic, by Gregory Mone, twelve-year-old Patrick Waters sneaks onboard the Titanic. Also on the ship are a book collector and a thief who plans to steal one of the collector’s prize editions. And, of course, the ship is going to sink. Mone has written a real page turner, but not at the sacrifice of language. His narrative world is rich with specific details, making it easy for the reader to imagine. “At Queen’s Road he spotted her looming in the distance. She was a mountain! A self-contained city of iron and steel: eight hundred and eighty feet long. Nearly two hundred feet tall. More than four hundred thousand rivets. How could she even float?”
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Roaring Book Press | March 13, 2012
Last week my 7-year-old's elementary school held a Scholastic book fair, and I managed to sneak away from work a few times to help out. I've finally come to terms with the fact that I don't have as much time for volunteering at the school as I'd like, but I've also realized that no matter how hard I try, I can't keep myself away from huge piles of fabulous children's books!
So I spent hours restocking shelves, helping kindergartners write wish lists, answering lots of questions, and counting coins to see if first and second graders had enough money to buy their favorite books. And whenever I had a few free minutes, I spent them browsing in my favorite section of the book fair...the picture books. Among the many treasures I discovered there was Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson (author) and Matthew Cordell (illustrator).
Throughout the book, a young frog explores the world around him by doing what all frogs do best--leaping! He leaps over daisies, over a creek, over a rocky hilltop, and even over some splashing beavers. The illustrations show him leaping enthusiastically (even upside down on one page) with joy and abandon.
Leap frog over the ladybug.
Leap frog over the bee.
Leap frog over the tickly clover,
Then leap back home to me!
Despite how much fun the little frog seems to be having, at the end of each stanza he always ends up leaping back home to his mother. And his mother is always there, ready to shower him with affection. In one spread, she is waiting with a table full of paper and crayons. In another, she is waiting with a book of "frog time stories" to read. And in still another, she is waiting with what looks to be a warm meal and a pitcher of milk. I know I would certainl
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In celebration of National Poetry Month, we’ve hand-picked ten many-splendored new books. Children are born loving poetry from the moment they form their first babbling words to when they begin to tackle more complex rhythms and tongue twisters. As they acquire language and enjoy how it rolls off their tongues, they also gain an appreciation for the beauty of creative expression. Nothing quite tops that moment when they learn to recite their first nursery rhyme. So leave a poem in your child’s pocket and help him discover the appeal of modern poetry.
If you’re like most of us, you may have grown up with Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, or The Giving Tree on your childhood bookshelf. Master wordsmith and doodler Shel Silverstein invented laugh-out-loud silly rhymes for us to endlessly ponder. Every Thing On It has been posthumously published as a new collection of his irreverent poems and characters drawn with his trademark squiggly offhand style. It’s a great joy to share his nonsense poems with a new generation to puzzle over and love for years to come.
Ages 8-11 | Publisher: HarperCollins | September 20, 2011
What a winning combination Pham’s playful illustrations and Singer’s amusing verse make in this lovely poetry collection. Bouncing rhyme and pictures of active children at play ensure even the most poetry-adverse child will warm to its magical delights. As Singer’s light-handed verse concludes, “A stick is an excellent thing if you find the perfect one.” We’ve certainly found the perfect book of poetry in this one. For more on LeUyen Pham, check out our interview with her.
Sometimes I read a picture book and there is an immediate desire to find EVERY book the illustrator has ever worked on. I think that's how I felt when I read Another Brother by Matthew Cordell. Lucky for me, he is one prolific dude.
The book is hilarious, fun to read, and full of heart. Here's a spread from my next pick to scope out - Trouble Gum
Go on. I know you want to go run out and find these books. Or tell me how I've been living under a rock and I should've already known his work. Then read his artist bio. Because one of my secret pet peeves (shhhh!) is a poorly written bio - and I thought his was just fabulous. As is the illustration on his home page.
I love the title of this book. The mental image of a pickle juice soaked cookie turns my stomach and puckers my lips. Yuck!
Eleanor is eight years old and her beloved babysitter Bibi is moving away to Florida. Bibi is having a horrible day! She can't believe Bibi is moving away. What will she do? Everything reminds her of Bibi. Her parents try and console Eleanor, but the fact is Bibi is gone.
This is a coming of age story. Eleanor is only eight years old, but this is a pivotal moment in her life. The person she's counted on the most has moved away and Eleanor must learn and new way, a new life without Bibi.
I loved this story. I want to be Eleanor's friend, and bake cookies with her.....without pickle juice.
It is an endearing story. It is a story a child can relate to (because we all have to say goodbye to someone.) She is a normal kid, not over the top in any way, just a normal kid (like most of us.)
Published by Abrams Books 2011 128 pages For ages 8-10 A Texas Bluebonnet Book 2012/2013
If you missed Part One of the Alan Silberberg Interview, it’s absurd for you to be here. I mean, really. Please follow the link to catch up.
Don’t worry, we’ll wait . . .
Late in the book, Milo gathers together a number of objects that remind him of his mother, that press the memory of her into his consciousness. Where’d you get the idea for that?
I think that comes from the fact that I really don’t have anything from my mother. Things did get thrown away or given away and it really was like she died and then she was erased. When I was writing the book I started to think hard about my mom and tried remembering objects that evoked her to me. That became a cartoon called “Memories Lost” which were all real objects from my childhood that connected me to her. After making that cartoon, it struck me that Milo would want to go out and replace those objects somehow and that’s why he and his friends hit up the yard sales.
There is a scene toward the end in one of my books, Six Innings (a book that similarly includes a biographical element of cancer), that I can’t read aloud to a group because I know I’ll start to slobber. It’s just too raw, too personal for me. And I suspect that might be true of you with certain parts of this book. I’m asking: Are there any moments that get to you every time?
I think there are two specific parts of the book that choke me up, though lots of little places make me reach for tissues. The chapter where Milo goes to the yard sale and finds a blanket that reminds him of the one his mom had will always get to me. My mom had that blanket, the “pea patch blanket” in the book — so as Milo wraps himself in it and remembers her getting sick — I am always transported to the image of my mom and her blanket. The second place in the book happens in cartoon form, when Milo remembers the last time he saw his mother, which was when she was already under anesthesia being prepped for surgery and she has had her head shaved and he can see the lines for the surgery drawn on her head like a tic tac toe board. That image is directly from my memory of my last time seeing my mother. It’s pretty heavy stuff.
And so powerfully authentic. Milo describes that period after his mother died as “the fog.” Was that your memory of it?
I think trauma at any age creates a disconnect inside us. I think the fog settled in for me slowly. As the initial shock of my
A very bad August. As bad as pickle juice on a cookie. As bad as a spider web on your leg.
As bad as the black parts on a banana. I hope your August was better. I really do.
When Eleanor's beloved babysitter, Bibi, has to move away to take care of her ailing father, Eleanor must try to bear the summer without Bibi and prepare for the upcoming school year. Her new, less-than-perfect babysitter just isn't up to snuff, and she doesn't take care of things like Bibi used to. But as the school year looms, it's time for new beginnings. Eleanor soon realizes that she will always have Bibi, no matter how far away she is.
Written in a lyrical style with thoughtful and charming illustrations throughout by Matthew Cordell.
Here are a few of Matthew Cordell's first round sketches.
As you might have guessed the title wasn't working for us. It worked for the story but was just to "quiet."
Great title! And an apt one, since it accurately describes the eight-year-old heroine's forlorn summer after her beloved babysitter moves away.
The story, told in free verse, starts with Eleanor hearing the terrible news that Bibi, her first and only babysitter, is moving to Florida to care for her aging father. How Eleanor copes with her grief at losing Bibi and how she comes to accept and like her new babysitter is the crux of this early chapter book.
Natalie, the new babysitter, has big shoes to fill. Bibi was just about perfect. Let Eleanor tell you herself:
"She is the best babysitter in the world. She makes me soup when I am sick. She holds my feet when I do handstands. She knows which of my teeth are loose and which ones I've lost. She rubs my back when I am tired. She takes a needle and thread and sews up my pants to make them fit right. And she knows not to tickle me. Because I hate to be tickled."
Who wouldn't miss someone like this! As the summer progresses, Eleanor slowly comes to terms with her loss. It helps that she has understanding parents and that Natalie doesn't pressure her to accept her. First-time author Sternberg realistically portrays Eleanor's transformation so that by the story's end we can see that she's ready to start third grade and get on with her life. Bibi hasn't been forgotten, though.
"Bibi will always be my first babysitter. My very special babysitter. And she will always be my Bibi. Even if she is waiting for the breeze in Florida, and I am far away."
This special book is for anyone who has had to grapple with loss--and that means just about everyone.
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg Illustrations by Matthew Cordell Amulet books, 128 pages Published: March 2011
2. Comics contain the same story elements and literary devicesas narrative stories.
3. Comics provide built-in context clues.
4. Reading a comic is a different process of reading using a lot of inference.
5. Readers need variety in their reading diet.
6. We’re a visual culture and the visual sequence makes sense to kids.
7. Reading comics may lead to drawing and writing comics.
8. The selection of graphic novels is bigger, better, and reaches a wider age-range than before.
Yeah, feh, okay. I get that. We have to establish that comics are credible resources, that it’s valid in the classroom, and there’s a perceived need to throw in a lot of pedagogical goobledygook. But I don’t care. Because one thing I know in my bones is that many (many!) professional authors began their childhood love of reading with comic books. Those authors are almost always men (read: ex-boys).
They read what they wanted to. They read what they liked. They read, period.
One of the critically important aspect of this issue of “boys reading junk” is that well-meaning adults — and in particular, women — need to become sensitized to our bias against certain types of reading. We have to become aware of the messages we send to boy readers, the disapproving, dismissive way we view personal choices.
By the way, and seriously, Matt is amazing — and so productive that I want to punch him in the face. (But in the nicest, sweetest way possible.) Just look at this list of titles — the guy doesn’t sleep! It’s especially great that Matt is now writing some of his own books. Here’s an upcoming one (January 2012) I’m particularly excited about.
The children’s picture book is not doing so well. People aren’t buying it like they should. I don’t have all the facts and numbers (I’m not that guy), but I know enough to tell you that. Maybe it’s because of tough economic times. Maybe it’s because of e-bookery or general gadget-y (short attention span) distractions. Maybe it’s because parents aren’t reading to their kids enough. Maybe it’s because education is accelerating young readers at a newer, faster pace, and rushing them over the picture book form. Maybe it’s because it’s been forgotten how important, irreplaceable, and (when stars align) how spiritual the picture book experience is to both children and adults.
A couple of paragraphs later, Matt issued this challenge (which is funny to me, because Matt is such not an in-your-face, “issue a challenge” kind of guy):
This is my challenge to you, dear readers. Go into a book store (not a website, but a store with a roof, walls, people, books you can hold and browse over) and spend some time in the children’s book section. Find something incredible (it ain’t hard). Then, when you’re all filled up, buy just one picture book. And in a week’s time, repeat. Buy one picture book a week for your kid(s), some other kid(s) you love, or for yourself or some other grown-up you love. I can identify th
I tend to run my bookgroup for kids between the ages of 9-12 like a gentle dictatorship. I choose the books, the kids vote on them, and so it goes. Now if the kids had their way we’d be reading fantasy novels day in and day out every single week. With that in mind, I like to try to make them read something a little different once in a while. For example, one week I might try to get them to read a Newbery winner. The next I would try to encourage them to dip into some nonfiction. One type of book I haven’t had the nerve to attempt for years, though, is poetry. Finding a really good, really interesting, really smart book of poetry for kids of that age is tricky stuff. Poetic tastes vary considerably, so it’s best to start with a book with a hook. And by hook or by crook, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It is basically the answer to my prayers I’ve been seeking all these long and lonely years. It has everything. Humor, engaging illustrations, a clever premise, potential (and very fun) applications, and a passive aggressive streak that’s nearly a mile long.
Do you know that old William Carlos Williams poem about the plums in the icebox? The one that calls itself “This is Just to Say”? When you think about that poem, I mean really think about it, it’s just the most self-satisfied little number you ever did see. Williams is clearly not sorry, though he included the words “forgive me” in there. With that as her inspiration, Gail Carson Levine has penned forty-five or so false apology poems modeled on Williams’. The rules are simple. “The first stanza states the horrible offense. The second stanza describes the effect of the offense. The last stanza begins with ‘Forgive me’ and continues with the false apology, because the writer is not sorry at all.” Mixing together fairy tales and silly situations, Levine’s poems span the gamut, from the cow in Jack and the Beanstalk taking issue with her monetary worth to a girl’s pets asking pseudo-forgiveness for enjoying her diary’s contents. Saying sorry without meaning it has never been this charming.
On the book’s dedication page read the words “To Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who led me down the poetry path.” I am currently in the process of putting in an order with FTD in the hopes of sending Ms. Bartoletti some flowers of my own. Whether intentionally or not, she has been at least partly responsible for helping to bring to this world a poet of undeniable talent. We all know Ms. Gail Carson Levine for her fantasy novels. Her Newbery Honor winning Ella Enchanted is probably her best known work. But when I saw that she had gone into the poetry business I couldn’t suppress a groan. Great. An author who thinks they can write. Whooptie-doo. Can’t wait to see what recycled trope makes its 100th appearance on the printed page yet again. Imagine my surprise then when I saw not only the idea behind the book (snarky in its mere conception, which is no easy task when you work in the world of juvenile literature) but the poems themselves. Ladies and gentlemen if I blame Ms. Levine for anything it is for denying the world her drop dead gorgeously twisted poin
I first learned of Matthew Cordell when he was hired to illustrate my picture book,MIGHTY CASEY. Despite Matt’s great artwork, the book never really found an audience, and I guess it sort of died on the vine, as they say. But there are two great things that came out of that book. First, my ongoing friendship with Matthew and his amazingly talented wife, Julie Halpern. Someday I hope we’re all in the same room! In my opinion, Matt is a hugely gifted illustrator, and a true artist, and an heir in his approach and dedication to Arnold Lobel, who is one of my all-time heroes. He’s also got a touch of William Steig.
Look, I’ll say it. A lot of children’s book illustration, while technically spectacular, isn’t very appealing to kids. Matt’s work, on the other hand, is loose and inviting and draws readers into the story. Like Lobel, and Steig, and James Marshall, and all the best. I really think Matt is that good, and he’s just scratching the surface.
Secondly, I’m gladdened by the consistent pleasure I experience when on odd times I pull out MIGHTY CASEY and read it aloud to large groups of students. I’m telling you, it works every time. We laugh, we have fun, and by the end these kids are right there, leaning in, eager for the play at the plate. Sales or not, those experiences tell me that Matt and I did good together — we made something, you know, put it out into the world. It’s all we can do.
Anyway, Matt created a homemade trailer for his new picture book, ANOTHER BROTHER. Now on sale on every street corner, car trunk, haberdashery — and independent bookstore, too!
Life for Davy was glorious as long as he had his mother and father to himself. But then he got a brother, Petey. When Davy sang, Petey cried. When Davy created a masterpiece, Petey spat up on it. And then he got another brother, Mike! And another, Stu! And another, Gil! Until he had TWELVE LITTLE BROTHERS! And that was only the beginning!
What's a sheep gotta do to get some time alone?
Another Brother just hit stores and the reviews clearly say you should go buy a copy. And another. And another....
“This is not just another new-baby book: Cordell’s humorous text and mischievously silly, expressive cartoon art will have readers bleating to read it again and again.” --Kirkus, Starred Review
"Cordell emphasizes the humor in the once only child’s whiplash of conflicting emotions. Baby brothers may be a pain, but the havoc they create can be painfully funny." --NYTimes.com
“Funny and touching in equal measure, this is a sheepish look at how imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even when it is super annoying.” --Booklist
“Cordell’s (Trouble Gum) goofy line drawings of Davy the sheep and his dozen copycat younger brothers provide an entertaining counterpoint to his poker-faced narrative.” --Publishers Weekly
Oh, and have you seen the trailer that Matthew Cordell did? Watch it and marvel at the music coming from Matt's one-man-band :)