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1. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: December 11

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1769 subscribers. I send out the newsletter once every two weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews, ranging from picture book through young adult. I also have one post with a literacy milestone from my daughter, and another sharing our latest literacy-themed game. I have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently.

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read one early reader, one young adult title, and two adult mysteries. I read:

  • Kallie George (ill. Geneviève Côté). Spark. Simply Read Books. Early Reader. My review.
  • Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando: Roomies. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed December 9, 2013, on digital ARC. Review to come. 
  • Janet Evanovich: Takedown Twenty (A Stephanie Plum Novel). Bantam. Adult Mystery. Completed December 2, 2013, on MP3.
  • Elizabeth George: Just One Evil Act (Inspector Lynley). Dutton. Adult Mystery. Completed December 4, 2013, on Kindle. I must say that this novel utterly consumed my thoughts for days. It's not exactly action-filled - there's a lot of description - but I kept thinking about the motivations of the characters, and wondering what they would do, or had done. Quite satisfying (though long and not for everyone).

I'm currently listening to Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy and have just started my annual holiday season re-read of Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle. The first story, by Maureen Johnson, is my favorite of the three, so I may or may not actually read the entire book. 

Baby Bookworm has been continuing to enjoy the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans. We're also reading Christmas books, like The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska and The Berenstain Bears Old-Fashioned Christmas by Jan and Mike Berenstain. We're also enjoying A Very Fuddles Christmas by Frans Vischer (my review of the first Fuddles book). 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season. I'll be back after Christmas with the next newsletter. Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. Enjoy your holiday!

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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2. The Shepherd Girl of Bethlehem: A Nativity Story by Carey Morning

5 Stars The Shepherd Girl of Bethlehem: A Nativity Story Carey Morning Alan Marks 32 Pages     Ages: 4 + …………………….. Inside Jacket:  The shepherd’s young daughter helped with the sheep every single day. How she longed to help through the night as well; but her father said it was too dark and she needed sleep. [...]

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3. Books for Valentines Day

Valentine’s Day is... Valentine's Day is tomorrow, and I have reviewed some wonderful titles for younger readers that explain what this special day is all about and how it came into being. There are also some stories that have a Valentine's Day theme. You can view my reviews of these books on the Valentine's Day Feature Page.

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4. Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Celebrate the Holidays

by Josalyn Moran

On Saturday November 19 we had the opportunity to visit the Swedish American Museum in the Chicago Andersonville neighborhood and to participate in their first Flick, Ricka, Dicka celebration.

The event was keynoted by readings throughout the day from the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr series by Swedish author Maj Lindman.

Children delighted in having their pictures taken behind or with a life-size cut out of the literary triplets.

Delicious hot drinks were served from a hot chocolate bar complete with a tempting array of toppings.  Swedish holiday cookies were provided by the Swedish Bakery.

The craft room was abuzz with decoration making including felt ice skates and cone shaped Christmas trees.

Attendance at the event was free and open to the public.  Several merchants in the area, including Women and Children First Bookstore, Swedish American Museum Gift Store, The Wooden Spoon, and The Red Balloon Co. generously supported a raffle by donating delightful gifts.

Copies of the newly reissued Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka and The New Skates (complete with paper dolls) sold briskly at the gift shop.

A splendid time was had by all and we look forward to partnering with the museum on future events. A special thanks goes to Jessie Aucoin, education manager for the museum, for all her efforts in making the day so wonderful.


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5. Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Saint Francis of Assisi's
Canticle of the Creatures
Reimagined by Katherine Paterson
Illustrated by Pamela Dalton
Chronicle, 2011
$17.99, ages 4-8, 36 pages

A two-time Newbery Award winner adapts a beloved hymn into a children's prayer in this stunning book of paper-cut tapestries.

Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia) rephrases the blessings of Saint Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures as children today might recite them.

The changes are subtle, just enough to draw children closer to the spirit of the song, and reflect Paterson's deference to the original work. 

When Paterson writes of Sister Moon and her stars, she draws off Assisi's description of them as "precious and beautiful," and writes to God that the heavens "clothe the night with their beauty and, like you, watch over us while we sleep."

Sweet and spare, the verses echo familiar ways children describe nature: water "wells up" and a storm sounds like a lion.

"We praise you for our Brother Wind and every kind of weather, stormy or mild," she writes. "For when he roars he reminds us of your might, and when he comes as a cooling breeze, he tells us of your gentleness."

Paper-cut artist Dalton illustrates using a technique of Scherenschnitte or scissor cuts, cutting each spread from a continuous piece of paper, an amazing process detailed in a video below.

The paper cuts are then painted in earthy watercolors and set against a black backdrop. Like needlework samplers, each is a country scene with gently shaded layers of activity, in this case filled with children and animals living Assisi's message.

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6. From the Archives: The Scariest Children’s Book We’ve Ever Published

Oh, we’ve done plenty of Halloween books over the years, and we have a fine selection of them out this season and on our backlist. But the creepiest and most terrifying book our company has ever published isn’t a Halloween book at all.

It’s this book:

Published in 1945 with an exclusively black-and-white pallette, Time to Eat presents “correct ideas on a proper, balanced diet for children,” according to the flap copy. Clearly, though, the book does far more than kill all the fun of mealtimes, and must have been used as an instrument of terror.

Scroll down, and brace yourself. What follows are some of the most haunting images ever produced for children.

Yes, just “stew.”

I think the use of shadow in this one is especially effective.

Oh, no.

And now, the worst one of all:

THE HORROR.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


3 Comments on From the Archives: The Scariest Children’s Book We’ve Ever Published, last added: 10/31/2011

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7. The New Issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review is online

Good morning everyone. I just wanted to let you know that the new issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review is now online. This month, because of the holiday season, I decided to do something different. Rather than have my ususal Special Feature I reviewed books in the various different genres that I thought would make great gifts for the holidays. There are board books, pop-up books, craft kits, picture books, books for young readers and books for teens - all of which would make a great gift for someone.

Of course there are lots of Christmas titles as well. I always have a bit of a struggle choosing the ones I like best. Then I find myself reviewing late into the night to get them all done in time - because there are so many of them! Though most of the Christmas titles are picture books there are some like Grimble at Christmas and The Dog who thought he was Santa that are for older readers.

In addition there are some wonderful Hanukkah stories to enjoy as well.

As usual I have the monthly Bookish Calendar full of links to interesting books of all kinds. Here you will find books about Ludwig van Beethoven, Rosa Parks, and much more.

For this December issue I chose a deliciously funny teen vampire book as my Editor's Choice of the month. Sucks to be me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe) by Kimberly Pauley would make a great gift for a teen who has an appreciation for vampire tales. You can see my interview with the author of this entertaining book on the November 13th, 2008 blog entry.


I hope you enjoy this new issue and that you are able to use it to buy lots of splendid books!

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8. A SMALL MIRACLE, by Peter Collington

A SMALL MIRACLE
by Peter Collington

(Knopf)

From the Ingram wholesale website:
"Back in print by booksellers' popular demand, this wonderfully satisfying contemporary parable features the wooden figures in a church's Christmas Nativity scene that miraculously come to life to save a starving old woman who has done a good turn for them."

Back at Halfway Down the Stairs, we liked to claim credit for bringing this sweetheart back into print a few years ago. Ok, probably we weren't the only booksellers who adored it enough to beg for a reprint in Publisher's Weekly's Cuffie awards year after year, but still. Like Mo Willems's Pigeon, we have dreams, you know.

Anyhow, I could hardly walk a customer through this story without stifling snivels and snurps. Once the nativity figures come peeping out of the church to help the gypsy lady, I was mostly reduced to pointing and grunts. Which actually works remarkably well as a sales pitch, because this is a wordless picturebook. COMPLETELY wordless. Go on and see if you can make your way to the end without letting it slay you. I triple-dog-dare you.

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9. Favorite Holiday Titles


Every year I coordinate School Library Journal's round-up of December holiday book reviews, and I'm telling you, it's hard to concentrate on Santa, latkes, and kinara candles when it's a perfect beach day in July.
There have been some awful years when all the publishers seemed hellbent on publishing whatever hideous holiday manuscripts were submitted to them, but 2008 was not so bad.

Here is the entire list of our holiday reviews (written by me and lots of colleagues and friends), and here are my favorites:





Millie in the Snow by Alexander Steffensmeier (Walker, 2008) - funny and sweet, with Millie the cow!








Harvest of Light by Alison Ofanansky (Kar-Ben, 2008) - different take on the holiday - a family gathers olive oil from an orchard in Israel.





Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard? by Laura Krauss Melmed and ill. by Jane Dyer (Chronicle, 2008) - anachronistic and slightly puzzling, but little kids will adore the illustrations of cute animals.

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10. Celebrate Earth Day with these children's books

Happy Earth Day! Did you know Earth Day is a Birthday? Just as we celebrate birthdays for people, Earth day is a day to celebrate the Earth. Earth Day was born on April 22, 1970, in San Francisco, California. Every year, America and over 100 different countries join together in the celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd. Earth Day is the largest, most celebrated environmental event worldwide. What better time to teach kids about our planet and how to care for it? It's important to teach children good habits, now, so they'll maintain them as they get older. Here are some Earth Day Children's Books for ages 4-8 you can read to encourage your kids to go green during Earth Day.

50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earthby Earth Works Group



The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling (Little Green Books) by Alison Inches, Pete Whitehead

The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales (One World, One Planet) by Dawn Casey

A Clean Sky: The Global Warming Story by Robyn C. Friend: Judith L. Cohen, Lee Rathbone, David A. Katz



Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon

The Earth and I by Frank Asch

Earth Book for Kids: Activities to Help Heal the Environment by Linda Schwartz



Earth Day: An Alphabet Book by Gary Kowalski

Earth Day Birthday (Sharing Nature With Children Book) by Pattie L. Schnetzler

Earth Day--Hooray! (MathStart 3)by Stuart J. Murphy, Renee Andriani

Easy to Be Green: Simple Activities You Can Do to Save the Earth (Little Green Books) by Ellie O'Ryan, Ivanke & Lola

The Garbage Monster by Joni Sensel




The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry

I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (Little Green Books) by Alison Inches, Viviana Garofoli

It's Earth Day! (Little Critter) by Mercer Mayer

Lets Celebrate Earth Day by Peter Roop

The Lorax (Classic Seuss) by Dr. Seuss

Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel, Alexandra Colombo

Michael Recycle Meets Litterbug Doug by Ellie Bethel

The Polar Bears' Home: A Story About Global Warming (Little Green Books) by Lara Bergen, Vincent Nguyen



Recycle!: A Handbook for Kids by Gail Gibbons

This Is My Planet: The Kids' Guide to Global Warming by Jan Thornhill

The Three R's: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle (What Do You Know About? Books) by Nuria Roca, Rosa M. Curto



Uno's Garden by Graeme Base

Water by Frank Asch

What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?: A Green Activity Book About Reuse by Ann Alter

Why Are the Ice Caps Melting?: The Dangers of Global Warming (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Anne Rockwell, Paul Meisel

Where Does the Garbage Go?: Revised Edition (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Paul Showers, Randy Chewning

Why Should I Protect Nature? (Why Should I?) by Jen Green, Mike Gordon

Why Should I Recycle? (Why Should I?) by Jen Green, Mike Gordon

Why Should I Save Energy? (Why Should I?) by Jen Green, Mike Gordon

Why Should I Save Water? (Why Should I?) by Jen Green, Mike Gordon



Winston of Churchill: One Bear's Battle Against Global Warmingby Jean Davies Okimoto

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10 Ways to celebrate Earth Day with kids...

1. Plant a Tree: purchase trees through the National Arbor Day Foundation to be planted in honor of each child in your class. Print up a letter/document for each child telling them about the tree that was purchased on their behalf and how it will help our earth.

2. Clean Up and Beautify: Organize a project to clean up or beautify some area in your town. It could be at your school, or some other place.

3. Visit a local zoo or aquarium.

4. De-clutter your house and bring your old items to a donation center.

5. Go on a nature scavenger hunt.

6. Take a trip to your local farmer's market.

7. Reuse items for a craft project.

8. Feed the birds.

9. Garden.

10. Go car-free: walk or bike to school.

Visit these websites for great Earth Day ideas, crafts, games, etc...:

Kaboose-Find Earth day crafts, games, and fun of all types.

Earth Hour - A world-wide initiative to have households, businesses, and schools turn off their electricity for at least one hour to reduce the impact on global climate changes on Earth.

Earth's Birthday Project - Butterfly and Moth Activity teaching kit, adopt and acre of rainforest, and read about Earth's Birthday with the Zwibble Dibbles.

Earth Day Groceries Project - Increase awareness of Earth Day by making special Earth Day grocery bags for your supermarket. Good school project.

Teachers.net has an Earth Day discussion board where folks are posting ideas.

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11. Religious Diversity in relation to End-of-Year Celebrations

religious_diversityThe new issue of PaperTigers, focusing on Religious Diversity in relation to End-of-Year Celebrations, is now live.

The end of the year, when so many holy and secular days are observed and celebrated, reminds us of the importance of understanding and being respectful of how others in our communities engage with and
express their beliefs. Books play an essential role in helping children learn about differences (for instance, why some people celebrate different holidays, or the same holidays in different ways, while others don’t celebrate anything): but more than anything, books can help them realize that, while our individualities do matter, our common humanity matters even more.

We hope you will enjoy our new features, which focus on celebrating diversity while striving for a more encompassing and tolerant world for all our children, families and communities.

We will also be talking about religious diversity and end-of-year celebrations here on the blog this month, so we hope you will share your favorite books and experiences with us!

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12. Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou

Amazing Peace: A Christmas PoemContinuing our exploration of respect in relation to end-of-year celebrations and inspired by Marjorie’s beautiful post on The Christmas Menorahs, today I highlight Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem (Schwartz & Wade, 2008).

Although written in a Christmas spirit, the poem’s resonance is far more broad, as it encourages one and all to “Come away from rancor. Come the way of friendship.” A sound piece of advice to humanity in this day and age when wars and conflicts still happen in the name of religion.

As seen in the excerpted verses below, her poem is a call for peace and unity:

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

These words go straight into the heart, don’t they?

Do you know of other books for children that speak of people from different faiths coming together during the holidays? Would you recommend them? Please do share so we can all learn about how others have “come the way of friendship.”

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13. Saint Patrick's Day Books

I grew up on an island in the Mediterranean where there were very few Irish people, or people of Irish decent for that matter, so (alas and alack) I did not really get to enjoy a St. Patrick's Day while I was growing up. After I left university I spent a summer in Dublin and grew very fond of the Irish people, their beautiful country, and their interesting history. I did not grow to love the damp Irish weather however. Then, when I moved to the U.S. I finally got to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, getting into the swing of things by donning green clothes, drinking green beer, and even baking Irish soda bread.

Since I started reviewing books I have come across a wonderful variety of children's books about Ireland and about St. Patrick's Day. You can look at the books I have reviewed in the Through the Looking Glass Saint Patrick's Day feature.  There are a variety of books in the collection for readers of all kinds. One in particular that I enjoyed was S is for Shamrock: An Ireland Alphabet. This is one of several alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press. It is the kind of book readers of almost any age - except the very young perhaps - can enjoy. Children (and adults) who read this book will find out many things about Ireland and about the Irish people.

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14. Happy Passover



Happy Passover and best wishes from Through the Looking Glass Book Review

You can view the books I have reviewed about Passover on the Through the Looking Glass Passover feature page.

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15. Guest Post: How Gabi Greenberg Came To Be

by Michelle Edwards

My three daughters, Meera, Flory, and Lelia, are close in age. Often during their early years, we snuggled together on our old beige corduroy couch and worked our way through piles of picture books. Before they went to sleep, my husband, Rody, and I read to them. And sometimes, when they were a bit older and he was away, I read aloud in the hall between all their rooms, camp style.

In those happy golden years of our shared reading, we would inevitably hit upon a part of a book that made us collectively take pause—later I dubbed this the “aha” moment. That’s when we discovered Madeline, Babar, and even Harry Potter celebrated Christmas. And being Jewish, we didn’t.

This started me writing about a character who later became Gabi Greenberg. In my book The Hanukkah Trike, Gabi lights the menorah, eats latkes, and helps tell the story of the Maccabee army’s miraculous victory. The next day, after falling off her new trike—a Hanukkah gift—her spunk and determination get her back in the saddle again. Remembering the story of the Maccabees, Gabi musters her courage, and with a skinned knee and a pebble-studded hand, she pushes those pedals again and again, until she takes off down the street.

The Hanukkah Trike is a quiet little story for young children. It could be any child’s story of perseverance.

Each one of my daughters helped me create Gabi. Each one gave me reason to write The Hanukkah Trike. And our years of reading together made me want a spirited character like them. Presenting Gabi Greenberg, lover of latkes and all things Hanukkah. Brave like the Maccabees.


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16. 2010 Holiday Book Recommendations for Children


Buy children books for the holidays!


HOLIDAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
2010 Holiday High Notes (The Horn Book)
2009 Holiday High Notes (The Horn Book)
2008 Holiday High Notes (The Horn Book)
2010 December Holiday Books (School Library Journal)
2010 Holiday Roundup (Kids Reads)
2009 Holiday Roundup (Kids Reads)
2008 Holiday Roundup (Kids Reads)
Kids’ Christmas Books, 2010: For the Naughty & Nice (The Children’s Book Review)
Christmas Picture Books (Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews)
Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights (KidsReads)


HOLIDAY BOOK REVIEWS FROM WILD ROSE READER AND BLUE ROSE GIRLS
Winter Trees, Christmas Trees (WRR, December 2008)
Poetry Book Reviews: Under the Kisseltoe & Hanukkah Haiku (WRR, December 2008)
Poetry for Christmas (WRR, December 2007)
Picture Book Review: The Best Christmas Ever (WRR, December 2007)
Christmas Books in Verse (WRR, December 2007)
Picture Book Review: Christmas Magic (WRR, December 2007)
More Poetry for Christmas from Wild Rose Reader (WRR, December 2007)
Magic & Monsters: Picture Books for Hanukkah (WRR, November 2007)
Poetry for Hanukkah (WRR, November 2007)
Hanukkah Lights, Hanukkah Books (WRR, November 2007)
Winter Lights & Christmas Trees (BRG, December 2006)
Christmas Stories in Verse (BRG, December 2006)
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17. The 12 Days of Christmas Book Blog


My new book blog is finally ready... after waiting for the appropriate holiday shopping weather to arrive. The book is titled 'The 12 Days of Christmas in Washington' and it's from Sterling Books.

Residents of Washington state will recognize many of the local landmarks right off. This colorful book is full of fun scenes in Pike Place Market, Mt. Rainier, Downtown Seattle, Puget Sound, Leavenworth and Spokane.


Although I myself have never been to the Space Needle, I understand it's quite a popular destination. I have often looked up at it from Seattle Center to marvel at it's modern character, alongside the EMP.  These Seattle landmarks are richly featured on several spreads of this new book. I did learn in making this book that the Space Needle is way more difficult to draw than the Eiffel Tower. (I haven't been there either.)


Other familiar sights are listed in the 'The places visited' tab of my new book blog. I have been to ALL the above mentioned locations and happily can testify to the authenticity and delights that they hold.


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18. Guest Post: Inside The Zombie Project!

by Anastasia Suen

Whenever I visit schools the children always ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s one of my most frequently asked questions. They always seem surprised when I say that ideas are everywhere. I find ideas at home, in school, and in books, magazines, and newspapers. I also find them on the television and the internet. There is always something interesting that can be used in a story. So what did I use in this story? The clues are on the cover….

I love how the cover of my first Boxcar Children Mystery tells the story at a glance. You see the four Aldens working together. It’s a classic Boxcar Children moment! That’s why I loved these books as a child. The Aldens don’t sit around worrying – they make things happen! What are they up to this time? The title is our first clue…this book is called The Zombie Project.

Zombies?

Why did I choose a zombie for this book? Zombies are scary, but not too scary. After all they walk slowly, so you can get away…usually! It’s the chance that you might not escape that makes it interesting. Furthermore, zombies are dead, but they’re not. They’re “undead.” Zombies used to be people like us, but now they’re trapped between life and death because of voodoo or some sort of nasty virus. So they look like us, but not quite. Instead, they’re all gory and disgusting, making them the perfect bad guy for a mystery. If you look closely at the cover, you can see the zombie walking past the river.

Things that go bump in the night

You can see a cabin in the woods on the book cover, too. It’s right behind the zombie. I’ve never seen a zombie up close, thank goodness, but I do know about camping and staying in cabins in the woods. It’s so nice to get away from the lights of the city and see all the stars at night. Oh, but those noises…those strange noises in the woods…they can keep you awake at night. Who is really out there?

Our family has had some interesting experiences camping in the woods. One night in the middle of a thunderstorm, we heard a loud cracking sound. It was a massive lightning strike, one that shut off the cabin’s power for hours. As Snoopy would say, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Another night we heard a noise outside the cabin and when we looked out the window, it was a bear! A young bear was wandering around knocking over trash cans looking for something to eat. There was nothing to eat in our trash can, so it moved on.

Fishing

On the book cover you can also see Henry holding a fishing pole and a bucket. The Aldens aren’t just fishing for clues; they’re fishing in the water. This is something that our family always does whenever we go camping in the woods. Fishing is a must.

My father taught me to fish when I was Benny’s age. I learned how to fish in the river, just like the Alden children do in this book. When my children were young, we taught them how to fish, too. It can be hard to sit there quietly and wait, but when you feel that tug on your pole, ah, sweet reward.

A campfire

There’s nothing like eating a freshly caught fish cooked over a campfire. Yum! Cooking over an open flame makes the food so tasty. Later, as the fire dwindles down, it’s time for campfire stories. The sun has set, so the woods all around you are dark…and then someone tells a scary story. It’s a campfire tradition.

It is by the campfire that Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny find out more about the Legend of the Winding River Zombie. They know the story isn’t true, it can’t be. Everyone knows that zombies aren’t real.

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19. Review: Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria


These days I've been reviewing picture books over at Book Buds or at The Edge of the Forest. But once and awhile a picture book I really want to mention has already been reviewed on both sites. Such is the case with Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria.

Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria is the story of one woman's dream--a dream she held dear despite ridicule and the dismissal of her family and friends. Based on a true account, Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria also chronicles this dream within the context of what can only be called a difficult life.

Martha Ann was born a slave in Tennessee. Her father began saving to buy the family's freedom and move to Liberia, where Martha Ann and her siblings could not only live as free people, but also attend school. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving to Liberia, African fever killed Martha Ann's parents and her sisters, leaving her with only her brothers. The small family survived and Martha Ann married. One day, Martha Ann read about Queen Victoria in the newspaper: "She admired Queen Victoria for trying to save her and others from slavery by sending the navy." Martha Ann resolves to meet Queen Victoria and thank her in person.

Martha Ann began saving coins in the same red box her father used to collect monies for the move to Liberia. She also begins to make a gift for the queen--a beautiful quilt with a coffee tree design. Martha Ann survives gunfire at the hands of local tribesmen, the death of two husbands, and the taunts of local children: "Auntie Martha gonna see the Queen,/Stitching a quilt of coffee beans./How man stitches will it take?/Two-four-six-eight!"

Finally, when Martha Ann was in her 70s, the wife of Liberia's first president, Mrs. Jane Roberts, helps Martha Ann make the trip to present her quilt to Queen Victoria.

Martha Ann's life and dream comprise quite a story in and of themselves. But author Kyra E. Hicks lends a majesty to the tale, with simple, heartfelt prose and a focus on the dream above all. Lee Edward Fodi's illustrations perfectly accent this text--while realistic, they also have a childlike quality that emphasizes the prominence of the dream in the story.

Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria is best suited for children ages six to ten. Read it aloud to a second- to fourth-grade class: this story will change the way they think about the world and inspire them to hold on to their dreams.
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Review copy received by the author.

Martha Ann resources:

A photo of Martha Ann Ricks in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The portrait was commissioned by Queen Victoria.

Kyra E. Hicks website, which includes a teaching guide for Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria and information on African-American quilting.

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20. And now, Day of the Dead


Slushpile of the Dead

One of the editors here keeps this slightly modified Día de los Muertos diorama near her desk to remind herself that the slush pile of the dead is even more eternal than the one in her office.

We’re showing it to remind you that with this fall’s new release, I Remember Abuelito / Yo recuerdo a Abuelito by Janice Levy and illustrated by Loretta Lopez, we now have two Day of the Dead picture books available, and both books are bilingual editions. Abuelito was recently featured in School Library Journal’s Curriculum Connections newsletter, which is a great collection of resources about the holiday.

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21. Robert’s Snow profile: Tim Coffey


Tim Coffey is the latest Albert Whitman illustrator to be featured online for the annual Robert’s Snow art fundraiser. Tim illustrated the award-winning books Red Berry Wool, by Robyn Eversole, and Mabela the Clever, by Margaret Read MacDonald. He also wrote and illustrated Christmas at the Top of the World, and if something about his style looks familiar, it’s because he also has a line of scrapbooking products. Today he’s being profiled by Pam Calvert at her blog The Silver Lining.

Once again, the Robert’s Snow auctions begin November 19th, and we’ll let you know when you can bid on snowflakes by your favorite Albert Whitman illustrators to raise money for cancer research.

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22. Eat your lucky peas!


How many black-eyed peas?

We’d wanted to try Hoppin’ John—the black-eyed pea dish served on January 1st for good luck—ever since Uncle Albert published New Year be Coming!: A Gullah Year in 2002. So this time last year, when we were in the middle of production on the book Shanté Keys and the New Year’s Peas, we were sure to cook up a pot of black-eyed peas at home on New Year’s Day. Not just for the good luck (though editors could always use some, you know, to make up for bad rejection-letter karma) but for research purposes. We picked a recipe and fixed it for dinner.

It was some tasty stuff, and we like to think that we were pretty lucky in 2007. Good things are happening with our current and upcoming titles, which we’ll continue to tell you about here. And for this new batch of peas on Monday, we’ll be serving it with greens (for money), cornbread (for gold), and tomatoes (for health). Also, celery for starred reviews, and ham for getting our books on state master reading lists. Okay, we made those last two up. Still, we’re going to try!

If you’d like to make your own batch of Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, try author Gail Piernas-Davenport’s recipe, which appears in the back of  Shanté KeysClick below for more, and have a Happy New Year!

Hoppin’ John 

3/4 cup chopped onion; 3/4 cup chopped celery; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 2 teaspoons canola oil; 1 12-ounce package fresh black-eyed peas, rinsed*; 2 2/3 cups chicken broth; 1/2 pound cubed ham; 1 bay leaf; cooked rice.

Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté onions, celery, and garlic until tender, about 3 minutes. Add peas, chicken broth, ham, and bay leaf. Boil for 3 minutes, then lower heat, cover and simmer until peas are tender, about 45 minutes. Check the pot occasionally and add water if needed. Remove bay leaf and serve over cooked rice. Season to suit taste.

* This recipe uses fresh black-eyed peas, which can be found in the produce section of your supermarket, but you can also use canned peas or dried peas (follow instructions).

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23. The slush season


We’ve found this time of year we get more manuscript submissions in our slush pile than usual. We think this might be because 1.) plenty of people—especially teachers and school librarians—are on holiday break in late December and have extra time to stamp all those SASEs and 2.) “Write and publish a children’s book” sounds like a fabulous New Year’s resolution, doesn’t it?

We don’t mind the extra mail—and yes, we do read ALL the submissions, every last one. And with all these new aspiring authors, there are bound to be questions. One we hear a lot is: When’s the best time of year to submit a manuscript? It depends on the publisher: some places receive unsolicited submissions for only a few months out of the year (and some don’t at all). But we’re always open to submissions—for us, the slush season is year-round. We read all the time, and when we’ve found enough book projects to fill our next list, we look for books for the list after that!

We publish books twice a year: our Fall list comes out in September, and it’s when we publish books about fall and winter holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Groundhog Day, and so on), while books about spring and summer holidays (Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.) are published in March on our Spring list. Plenty of our other titles have seasonal considerations as well—we make sure we publish our books in time for African-American History Month, the start of the school year, or even the apple harvest. Sometimes, it’s all in the timing.

But if you’re a writer wondering when you should send your holiday or seasonal book manuscript—well, “anytime” still applies. (One thing we editors learn early on is to have flexible imaginations. We’ll read stories about Santa Claus even during a heat wave in August.) Keep in mind that it always takes time to consider a submission, and even longer to publish it—this is especially true of picture books: an illustrator will need several months to produce the artwork. So if you sent us a Christmas story last week, it isn’t likely to be published in time for next Christmas. (Alas, your friends and family won’t get your book in their stockings, and you’ll have to give them all Chia Pets again.) And if you have a picture book idea about, say, the winter Olympics, you’ll need to get it into a publisher’s hands ASAP for it to be out in time for 2010—and at some publishers, you’ll be too late already.

What this all means, of course, is that your New Year’s “publish a children’s book” resolution for 2008 will probably take until at least 2009 to accomplish. So what are you waiting for? Read our guidelines!

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24. The 2008 Cybils Award Nominations are in!

Though the winners of the Cybils Awards will not be announced for a few months, the final nominations are in. If you are not familiar with this award here is a little information as written by editor of the Cybils blog, Anne Levy:


"One of the most innovative aspects of the Cybils--something that differentiates it from other children's and YA book awards--is the fact that it's a grassroots effort to find the best in kids' books. Our nominations are drawn from the internet public, and our nominating and judging panelists comprise a broad cross-section of bloggers with a common interest in recognizing quality literature for children and young adults."

So, you, the reading public, made these nominations. Now it will be up to a panel of blogger judges to decide which of the splendid books nominated will be chosen to win awards. If you are looking for new books to buy for children this Holiday Season you might like to look at the nomination lists. You will find the best of the best here. For more information about this award please visit the Cybils Awards blog.

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25. GIFT OF THE MAGI, illus. by P.J. Lynch

Oh man. If I didn't already own the Lisbeth Zwerger edition of The Gift of the Magi, I'd be sorely tempted by this:



THE GIFT OF THE MAGI
illus. by P.J. Lynch
(Candlewick Press)

Innards:


What am I talking about - I'm already sorely tempted. And it's not like I don't have a long-standing habit of acquiring multiple editions of my holiday favorites. So far the count stands at:

A Christmas Carol - 5 (7 if you count audios and spin-offs)
The Night Before Christmas - 3
A Christmas Memory - 2
Plus 8 various nativity-themed picture books

Cripe, I think I'm crumbling. Besides, that $20 credit at Powells.com is still smoldering in my virtual pocket....

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