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1. Zodiac, by Romina Russell | Book Review

Readers looking for tension, angst, fantastical myths, well-rounded characters, and a very human tale of survival will delight in this quick and engrossing page-turner of a story, sure to inspire the inner-Zodiac in everyone.

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2. Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Bandits Peak

[As an experiment last fall, I invited self-publishers to submit their best new titles for review. About a dozen heeded the call, and I am reviewing their books in this space.]

bandits_peak_500x800-210Bandits Peak; by Chris Eboch. Pig River Press, 2015. 173pp. ISBN 0-978-0692346006. Paper ed. $9.99

Jesse is out for a wander in the wilderness he loves near his small Washington State town when he comes across some strangers, two men and a pretty young woman. Fifteen-year-old Jesse’s insta-crush on the slightly-older Maria is believable and touching, and gives the subsequent boy-detective plot some emotional resonance. That the strangers are Up to No Good will be instantly apparent to readers, but an unrealistic degree of naivete on Jesse’s part, and the unrealistic lengths the story goes to in reinforcing that cluelessness, make the novel less credible than it needs to be. But what keeps it grounded–so to speak–are the wilderness-survival details (tracking, fire-making, fishing) that are Jesse’s best weapons for getting these varmints behind bars where they belong.   R.S.

 

[This review may be distributed freely and excerpted fairly; credit to “Read Roger, The Horn Book Inc., www.hbook.com.]

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3. Re-Imaging Shakespeare or Creating a Shakespeare Re-Mix

To make re-mixed Shakespeare exciting for young readers as well as older readers, get your hands dirty and have a field day in that Shakespeare toolbox.

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4. Public School Superhero: James Patterson Reads Prize Pack

Make it through middle school with James Patterson! Enter for a chance to win a James Patterson Reads prize pack. Giveaway begins March 23, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends April 22, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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5. A Lovely Night

CINDERELLAWe saw the new Cinderella last night and you should see it too. What I loved most was that it was genuinely a children’s movie. While Cate Blanchette as the stepmother and Helena Bonham-Carter as the fairy godmother were on hand to provide some camp (and there was a PG-pushing plethora of men in tights), neither they nor the movie ever winked over the head of the intended audience. Cinderella herself was given just enough spirit (or “agency,” as our reviewers keep trying to say) to rescue her from stereotype without tipping into anachronism, and plot complications to the tale’s essentials were mercifully few. Rightfully, the high point of the movie was The Dress, first as HBC enchants it around Ella and then again when it whirls about the dance floor at the ball. Look for it on October trick-or-treaters–and maybe some June brides?

P.S. Stick around for the credits to hear Lily James (Cinderella) and HBC sing two of the classics from the original Disney film.

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6. Guess How Much I Love You Celebrates 20 Years

This year, Sam McBratney’s timeless, endearing story of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare, Guess How Much I Love You, turns 20!

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7. Gallery Nucleus Presents Children’s Book Illustrator Adam Rex

From the book that inspired the movie H​OME,​ creator of T​he True Meaning of Smekday,​ Artist Adam Rex will be flying in for his solo exhibition as well as the artist panel for The Art of Home.

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8. Best Non-Fiction Picture Books of 2014

The best non-fiction picture books of 2014, as picked by the editors and contributors of The Children’s Book Review.

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9. Synthia Saint James at Simmons

(Say *that* three times fast!)

Next week, visual artist, author, and illustrator Dr. Synthia Saint James will be on the Simmons College campus as the Eileen Friars Leader-in-Residence. Right now some of her art is being installed along the hallway outside the Horn Book office. It’s lovely and thought-provoking — lucky us!

stjamesart2

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10. My Writing and Reading Life: Jen Calonita, Author of Flunked

JEN CALONITA has interviewed everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Justin Timberlake, but the only person she's ever wanted to trade places with is Disney's Cinderella. She's the award-winning author of the My Secrets of My Hollywood Life series.

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11. Win a Fire HD 6 Tablet | 7th Anniversary Giveaway

Celebrate with us as The Children's Book Review turns 7! To thank our loyal readers, we are giving away a Fire HD 6 Tablet. Be sure to enter daily to maximize your chance of winning. Giveaway begins March 18, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends April 17, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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12. Song of the Sea movie review

song of the sea posterI’m a sucker for fairy-tale and folklore retellings, and a major sucker for selkie lore…so I had very high hopes for animated film Song of the Sea (Cartoon Saloon, December 2014), directed by Tomm Moore (whose The Secret of Kells was a 2009 Best Animated Feature Academy Award nominee) and cowritten by Moore and William Collins. I wasn’t disappointed — in fact, my expectations were far surpassed. And I’m not alone in my enthusiasm: Song of the Sea has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 98% and was nominated for this year’s Best Animated Feature Award.

Set in contemporary Ireland, the film begins on a craggy island with a lighthouse. The lighthouse-keeper Conor’s wife Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) is expecting a baby, and their young son Ben is excited to meet his new sibling. Bronagh assures Ben that he will be “the best brother ever” and tells him a bedtime story about the god Mac Lir — myth and legend are clearly a comfortable part of their everyday lives. That night, Bronagh’s labor begins, and in distress, she runs into the sea and does not return. Conor discovers the baby girl, wrapped in a white selkie skin, on the beach.

On Saoirse’s (pronounced “Seer-sha”) sixth birthday, she sneaks out of bed and discovers the child-sized selkie’s coat. She dons her coat and — now with the ability to assume a seal’s form — goes for a joyful midnight swim, scaring the wits out of her family in the process. The children’s overbearing Granny insists that the island is not safe for Saoirse, and dad Conor regretfully agrees; Granny takes them to her home in the city.

Ben (David Rawle) is determined to get back to the island and to his endearingly goofy sheepdog Cú; Saoirse longs to return to the sea. The siblings set out for home, soon encountering some (also endearingly goofy) fairies who tell them that the goddess Macha is turning supernatural beings into stone, and only Saoirse can undo Macha’s magic with her selkie’s song. But since Saoirse is growing weak far from the ocean — not to mention that she doesn’t talk yet, let alone sing — this is a tall order. Now with added urgency, Ben and Saoirse (eventually reunited with Cú) continue their quest. They come across many figures from Celtic mythology, including the not-so-bad-after-all Macha, along the way.

In both story line and its execution, the movie does a remarkable job of intertwining specific threads of Celtic mythology and folklore with universal human themes. The relationship between dad Conor — still very much mourning the loss of Brongah and afraid he will lose Saoirse to the sea as well — and Granny, for instance, parallels that between the grieving god Mac Lir and his mother Macha; the similarities of their dynamics are echoed in the characters’ appearances, personality traits, and voices (Conor and Mac Lir are both voiced by Brendan Gleeson, Granny/Macha by Fionnula Flanagan).

And the film is just gorgeous. The animation is lush, inviting, and masterful — fans of Miyazaki’s work will find plenty to love here — with many traditional Celtic visual motifs subtly worked in. Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) does not speak for the majority of the film, but she doesn’t need to: her small face and big eyes are incredibly expressive. Rounding out the lovely presentation is an original score by composer Bruno Coulais and Irish folk band Kíla.

Song of the Sea has a very limited theatrical release, so it may be difficult to find at a theater near you (although I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen if you can). Happily, it’s out on DVD and iTunes today! And if you’re lucky enough to be close to The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, you can check out the exhibit “Songs and Secrets” — featuring concept art from Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells — through June 21.

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13. Seven Wonders: Book 3: The Tomb of Shadows, by Peter Lerangis | Book Review

Seven Wonders: Book 3: The Tomb of Shadows, by Peter Lerangis will appeal to tweens and teens who like lots of action and danger in their stories and who are curious about ancient history.

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14. Five Family Favorites with Todd Tarpley, Author of My Grandma’s a Ninja!

My sweet little boys somehow grew into teenagers, so we have to take a trip back in time to talk about the five books that are special to my family ... Read the rest of this post

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15. Illustration Inspiration: Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator of Peace is an Offering

Stephanie Graegin spent her childhood drawing and collecting fauna. These days, she lives in Brooklyn, is still drawing, and has managed to keep her animal collection down to one orange cat.

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16. Caveman, ABC Story, by Janee Trasler

A funny, one-word-at-a-time story, about cavemen, dinosaurs, and the alphabet.

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17. The Art of Writing and Reading the Verse Novel

The verse novel is a condensed blend of poetry and story that flows from one word to the next. It shows the reader how to listen, how to see more sharply, how to emotionally connect. And somewhere in the journey we are changed.

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18. Book Titles: Creating a Good Book Name | Rachel Hartman, Author of Seraphina

Shadow Scale jumped out at me. It was more complex than it first appeared, I realized in that moment, because “scale” could mean several different things.

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19. Five Gay Picture-Book Prodigies and the Difference They’ve Made

depaola cover art

From the March/April 2015 cover by Tomie dePaola.

Andy Manley, a Scottish theater artist, travels the world putting on shows for children. In 2014, he was in New York doing My House, a “mostly wordless solo piece co-starring a cardboard box and a wayward melon,” according to the New York Times. That one was designed for youngsters eighteen months to three years old.

“Do you have kids?” the Times reporter asked. “No,” Manley replied, “I’m gay.”

Two thoughts occur. First, being gay is less and less a barrier to fatherhood. But in any case it’s a rare father who, qua father, has Manley’s playful imagination, his creative reach: in sum, his ability to think big on a small child’s level.

That’s what a number of gay picture-book creators — distinctively, perhaps — have been doing for the past sixty years or so. Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Remy Charlip, and Tomie dePaola differ in just about every outward way, from the look and content of their books to the course of their lives and careers. But open the covers of those books and you’ll find tenderness, wit, and imagination as a common bond — qualities that they have in common with the unfettered young.

 

Maurice Sendak (1928–2012)

Sendak drew feelings — first and last, the feelings of small children. Over the years his subjects ranged from nursery-rhyme characters to life in a Polish shtetl to heroic nudes and portrait heads, but his work is grounded in 
the life force of the young, girls and boys alike.

AHoleIsToDig_straightenedUnisexism, or gender equivalence, showed its face — maybe for the first time on record — in A Hole Is to Dig (1952), where Sendak’s drawings illustrate Ruth Krauss’s collection of kids’ off-the-cuff definitions. Along with “A hole is to dig,” in multiple embodiments, we find the indelible “Eyebrows are to go over your eyes” and “The world is to have something to stand on.”

Think of that! On his first try, Sendak had girls and boys doing what each was “supposed” to do. Krauss, a progressive thinker, pointed out that young kids didn’t behave that way and, according to Sendak, he made a few changes to eliminate the stereotypes. Altogether, he did more than that: there are no sex roles whatever in the pair-ups or group scenes, and no pat tableaux as a consequence. In an independent jacket drawing, moreover, one little boy holds a bouquet of flowers for another to sniff.

A Hole Is to Dig, small but mighty, liberated little girls from dolls-and-doilies more than ten years before Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique touched off the second wave of American feminism — and, along the way, freed little boys from being he-men.

very far awayNow, a small boy could be desolate, feel rejected. In Very Far Away (1957), the second book Sendak himself wrote, Martin heads away from home, in an outsize cowboy hat, when his mother is too busy with the baby to answer his questions. His encounters with an old horse, an English sparrow, and a cat are fanciful, whimsical — and unrewarding. Martin heads home: maybe now Mama has time for him. Or he’ll count cars, and wait.

Martin, a timorous tyke depicted in a scratchy line and a light, almost neutral wash, is the first of the M-named Sendak surrogates.

His successor, the fierce and unrepentant Max of Where the Wild Things Are (1963), returns home after working his will over the Wild Things and finds his supper awaiting him, reassuringly, “still hot.” The illustration is at once vintage Neverland and, in the play of emotions across Max’s face, high cartoon drama.

Coming next: cartoons as an extension of child life.

in-the-night-kitchenMickey, the dream-traveler of In the Night Kitchen (1970), flies off, out of his nightclothes, into a graphic panorama of Sendak’s 1930s New York City childhood. Oliver Hardy triplets appear as the Sunshine Bakers and mix Mickey into the cake they’re baking; he pops out, molds the dough into a plane, plunges to the bottom of the milk bottle…and rises to the top where (in homage to King Kong atop the Empire State), he cries “COCK-A-DOODLE DOO,” his own little penis proudly on display. Time to return to bed, more than satisfied: sated.

Power trip, wet dream, whatever: Sendak had something to crow about, however he chose. By that time, he had illustrated the endearing Little Bear books and created the larky Nutshell Library. He’d become a world celebrity and won just about every possible award. On the domestic front, he was settled in with Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst, who would be his life partner.

The AIDS epidemic, in the early 1980s, was painful for Sendak, as it was for other gay men, and like many of them, he became more open about his sexuality. Those agonizing times, emotional and political, had creative issue in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993), a virtual mural of social protest, panel by panel. An echo of Dickens in the backwash of Ronald Reagan.

No age range is indicated on the jacket, nor should there be. Sendak was no longer making the “kiddie books” that, he often grumbled, got no respect. But early childhood was still home ground. In a late press photo, the grizzled Sendak is seen snuggling up to a Wild Thing, his protector now.

 

Arnold Lobel (1933–1987)

With Lobel, less and less became more and more.

His first assignment, as an aspiring illustrator, was to draw a salmon for a Science I Can Read Book — the editor had spotted a realistic drawing of a cricket in his art-school portfolio.

That salmon swam, and Lobel’s career was launched. Science and history easy readers came to his hand; he took on stories of everyday childhood rigors by Charlotte Zolotow and Judith Viorst. But factual or fancy-free, his work had an identity of its own.

giant john photoBooks of his own came almost perforce. First, cartoonish stories: happy-go-lucky blends of the lovable and the ridiculous. Giant John (1964) sets out into the world to earn some money after he and his mother eat their last two potato chips. At a friendly castle, he’s a BIG help…until fairy music sets him a-dancing and the castle walls come tumbling down. Never fear: John rebuilds, after his fashion, and departs with gold and glory. He “promised to visit often and kissed the king and queen and princess and dog good-bye.” A GIANT display of affection, indeed.

With the success of his work, Lobel had less need to illustrate books by others, and more time to spend on books of his own, which quickly became more diverse and substantial, even traditional, in nature. Cartooning wouldn’t do: the illustration had to have the resonance of art.

You’d think Lobel would have taken to folklore, in high demand at the time, but he didn’t — with one exception, Hansel and Gretel (1971). In the galaxy of H & Gs, Lobel’s stands as the modest, intimate one: more the tale of two babes abandoned in the woods than the story of a brother and sister victimized by an evil stepmother.

It’s a motif that turns up repeatedly in Lobel’s work. A pair of children appears, for example, in many of his illustrations for Jack Prelutsky’s collection of monitory verses, Nightmares (1976) — a pair of small, imperiled children, helplessness incarnate, the nonsexist embodiment of Hansel and Gretel. Sometimes the boy is larger and leading, sometimes the roles are reversed.

frogandtoad1Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970): is there a more satisfying, more puzzling title in children’s lit? Friends pal around, have misunderstandings, make up; but a frog and a toad — strange. Lobel had watched frogs and toads and noticed their differences. He’d also learned that toads will overwinter in the city without ill effects; but you can’t coop up a frog. So we have energetic, adventurous Frog and his best friend and opposite number Toad, something of a sluggard and a bumbler. All told, an odd, appealing couple.

At a later, savvier time, a gay couple. Through a wide lens, the designation fits: Frog and Toad jousting, in what are essentially two-character skits, could be two old loving, teasing, mutually indulgent mates. Or they could simply be humanized animals in the tradition of Beatrix Potter et al., mimicking human behavior. Lobel may have thought of them as gay, or they may have developed as they did because he was gay.

Does it matter? Besides four additional Frog and Toad books, Lobel produced five other I Can Reads during the same years — individual books with no less individuality, perhaps more. The character studies Owl at Home (1975), Grasshopper on the Road (1978), and Uncle Elephant (1981) also reflect Lobel’s sensitivity to animal ways, and are also aptly titled. Those three idiosyncratic bachelors might well be gay, too.

One thing we know for certain: the more identities — ethnic, religious, racial, sexual — the richer life is for all.

 

James Marshall (1942–1992) & Remy Charlip (1929–2012)

No two author-illustrators could be more different than James Marshall and Remy Charlip. That’s just the point.

Marshall was an accidental illustrator. Texas born and bred, he was on track to be a professional violist, then injured his hand, took up teaching…and, as the origin story goes, lucked into picture books. Lying in a hammock one summer day, sketchpad in hand, he overheard the battling George and Martha, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on his sister’s TV, and — voilà! — conjured up the fondly parrying hippo couple of that name.

georgemartha_larger_colorfixedThe seven George and Martha books owe their acclaim to many factors. The spare illustration is flat-out brilliant, as the delicate line delineating the hippos’ bulk, a funny thing in itself, morphs into one sharp-witted, space-teasing composition after another. Take “Split Pea Soup,” the very first story. Martha keeps serving it to George, George keeps eating it reluctantly…until he doesn’t, and pours the remains of his bowl into his loafers under the dining table. The scene is tricky to picture, and a hoot as done: wit distilled to a pea-green pour.

Overleaf, George and Martha are sitting together at the table, close together, over a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Martha has caught him out: why didn’t he tell her he hated the split pea soup? “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Back and forth, that’s the theme of the stories as a whole. The delicacy of the hippos’ feelings accords with the delicacy of the line, and it, too, contrasts with their bulk. Just any old animals, conventionally drawn, wouldn’t have done at all.

Once started, Marshall cultivated his talents and spread wicked glee in one high-colored, high-energy series after another. Top grades go, though, to the kindly camp of Miss Nelson and class.

Remy Charlip, on the other hand, was a serial initiator; an adventurer.

The son of immigrant New Yorkers, he studied art at Cooper Union, helped found the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and — before filling his resume with performing, choreographing, and teaching stints — produced a picture book, Dress Up and Let’s Have a Party (1956), that’s also a performance, an improvisation.

Decked out in his mother’s pots and pans while she bakes a cake, John is inspired to ask his friends to come to his party in costume — and we wait with him to see what they’ll be wearing when, at the turn of the page, they come through the door. No dullards here: a carton on the street turns Hans into a special delivery package; a ball of string makes Vera a meatball covered with spaghetti. The final surprise comes when John carries in the cake, with the single word happy visible. In Charlip territory, nothing is all spelled out.

With Dress Up in his pocket, he got deeply into theater for young children — and for the rest of his life picture books and children’s theater figured in his career as corresponding “narrative forms.”

Every picture book was different from the others, its style chosen — 
conceived — to suit the subject matter. For The Dead Bird (1958), a brief text Charlip had plucked from a Margaret Wise Brown collection, he painted deep-toned primitivist tableaux. 
Fortunately (1964), the exuberant 
tale that seesaws between good and bad fortune, joggles accordingly between hot carnival colors and stark black-and-white. Each turn of the page — theater, to Charlip — brings a startling new composition, a new storytelling move.

charlip_arm in armArm in Arm (1969) brought Charlip’s genius for verbal play and pictorial invention to a peak. Verbal play and pictorial invention conjoined: “Two octopuses got married and walked down the aisle arm in arm in arm in arm in arm…” is exemplified by a fluorescent couple, long tentacles entwined, who could have come out of the Beatles flick Yellow Submarine.

Among the equivocal cartoons, visual puns, and other antic embodiments of the endless tales and other echolalia is many a rainbow — this, more than ten years before the AIDS epidemic and the gay community’s adoption of the rainbow flag as its emblem. Was Charlip a prophet, a visionary, a herald? When Arm in Arm was reissued in 1997, in a partially re-designed edition, it was out-and-proud: the white cover and endpapers became rainbow-hued all over, and Charlip himself appears on the last page in a rainbow-striped sweater.

 

Tomie dePaola (b. 1934)

Tomie dePaola, that most mild-
mannered of creative personalities, took the bull by the horns — gently, of course.

nana upstairs first ed_fixed2First, there was lots of freelance illustration; dePaola was a thoroughgoing pro. And there’d always be, along with the imperishable Strega Nona (1975), many other books of a folkish or religious nature. But dePaola was not long in addressing childhood joys and woes — foremost, the joys and woes of his own childhood.

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs (1973), about his feeble great-grandmother and his bustling grandmother, came out at a time when the decline and death of a grandparent was a going topic in picture books, and endures when others have long vanished. For one, it’s not a demonstration model, it’s life — you couldn’t make this stuff up.

For Tommy, at four, Nana Upstairs, largely confined to her bed, is a fine companion, even a playmate and co-conspirator. On his visits they share candy mints from her sewing box and talk away about the Little People in the room’s shadowy recesses — sitting side-by-side, Nana Upstairs tied for safety into a big Morris chair, Tommy tied in his chair, too, at his own insistence. How, then, will he cope with her death? In a still, echoing picture, Tommy, who’s been told, rushes upstairs to Nana Upstairs’s room: “The bed was empty.” You may cry, too.

Oliver Button Is a Sissy (1979) is a spunky book about a spunky little boy with gay signifiers, Tommy/Tomie by another name. Oliver, in short, likes to do things that boys aren’t supposed to do — like reading and drawing pictures, even playing with paper dolls and dressing up, singing and dancing. No baseball for him, no kind of ball. So he’s sent to dancing school “for exercise,” and he thrives. Even when he’s tormented by the other boys for his tap shoes (and has to be rescued by the girls), he persists — and at the local talent show, he’s a star.

Not long before, kids might have gotten a very different message from another reputable book. In William’s Doll (1972), written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by William Pène du Bois, William is taunted by the other boys for wanting a baby doll to take care of. His father, like Oliver’s, is ready with a basketball, and William, unlike Oliver, has nothing against playing ball; he just wants a baby doll too. Leave it to grandmother: he needs the doll, which she gets him, “so that he can practice being a father.”

Not, in 1972, a gay father.

26 fairmount 1DePaola was a brand, and beloved, before he returned to the story of that budding song-and-dance man, in 26 Fairmount Avenue (1999), and, in Tomie’s childhood voice, carried it forward. The ensuing series is partly a documentary, taking in the 1939 World’s Fair, the March of Dimes, Pearl Harbor…It’s partly a family sitcom, with cameos for a host of Irish and Italian relatives. But in its naive, confiding way, it’s also an object lesson: Tomie, a born performer and artistic wunderkind, is encouraged at home and at school; on holidays and other occasions, he dresses as Mae West and the Farmer’s Wife; at five, he puts on his mother’s makeup. Never does a child tease him or an adult look askance. It’s OK.

He’s OK. You are, too.

But all is not hunky-dory. In the last book of the series, For the Duration (2009), dePaola revisits Oliver Button Is a Sissy, with a less sanguine, more realistic outcome. A group of older boys, his brother Buddy’s friends, call him a sissy and seize his beloved tap shoes — and Buddy does nothing to help him. It may even be Buddy, Tommy/Tomie comes to realize, who has egged them on. (Resentment? Envy?) The sympathetic principal will tackle the problem (discreetly), but, she suggests to Tommy, it would be better if he brought the tap shoes to school “in a paper bag or something…”

Complexity: addressed by dePaola with tenderness, wit, and imagination — as Sendak, Lobel, Marshall, and Charlip themselves did time and again. They were gay, talented, and gifted also with insight.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Drawbridges Open and Close

DrawbridgesDrawbridges Open and Close; by Patrick T. McBriarty; illus. by Johanna H. Kim. Curly Press, 2014. 40pp. ISBN 978-1-941216-02-6. $15.95

Gr. K-3. I was glad I had read this book prior to my recent visit to Ft. Lauderdale, where everybody gets around by car, negotiating a host of drawbridges back and forth across the Intracoastal Waterway. Although the book opens (heh) confusingly with “Next to the drawbridge is a bridge house,” it then settles into a clear and nicely-patterned account of the six steps taken (by the Scarryesque Bridge Tender Todd, a fox) to open the bridge for passing boats and then the six to close it so that street traffic may resume. Coloring is vibrant without being over-lavish; the drawing of the all-animal cast is a little awkward but that of the bridge and boats and vehicles is neatly-lined, and the cutaway diagrams that show how the bridge works are excellently informative. One terrific spread shows the open bridge, the passing boats and the impatient cars from an amazing bird’s-eye-view. Perhaps the focus is a bit narrow, and it’s not said how generalizable the information is (do all drawbridges work this way?) but children with an eye for the way things work will be happy with this picture book. R.S.

 

[This review may be distributed freely and excerpted fairly; credit to “Read Roger, The Horn Book Inc., www.hbook.com.]

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21. Tag Galaxy Weather Studies

At this time of year, weather is the perfect multidisciplinary study. Weather is on everyone’s minds, whether you’re facing winter storms or signs of spring. There are perfect literature options like mythology about weather gods or parables and poems about the wind, plenty of science topics connect with weather and each one brings in math, and weather phenomena have inspired music, too.

Here’s a lesson that makes a great introduction to any unit on weather.

Visit Tag Galaxy to begin. You’ll have a place to type in your first word: weather.

tag-galaxy1

Soon you’ll see a swirling collection of planets labeled with related words.

tag-galaxy4

Click on the “sun” to see images from FlickR brought together to create an amazing graphic.

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You can bring in more images, and you can also explore each of the “planets” in this way, discovering more words and more images. You can click on any picture to see it more closely — here’s a beautiful image from “rain”:

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Tag Galaxy can be mesmerizing, and it rewards exploration. Show it first on your class projector and let everyone ooh and ahh for a while. Then let students explore the tool on their own computers.

Here are some ideas of what to do next:

  • Have students list the words they find that relate to weather. Let students write individual words on cards or cut outs and hang them from the ceiling or post them on a bulletin board.
  • Ask students to choose a word and then an image to use as a writing prompt. There are thousands of choices, so everyone should be able to find something inspiring.
  • Making a globe from photos in real life would be a big job, but you can make a smaller version easily. Have students print out, draw, and/or cut out pictures of weather. Use a round template to make circles from the pictures, and then a triangular template to fold in the edges. Connect the edges to form a sphere, as shown for the “Disco Ball” ornament at this paper craft page.

At this point, your class should be excited about weather and ready for some learning!

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22. Chapter books | Class #3, 2015

julian_joey_omakayas

This week we are reading three chapter books — The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, and The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. Each is the first book in a series and each has a strong central character, an element that I think is essential in early chapter books.

We’re also reading two articles to go along with these books. One is Robin Smith’s “Teaching New Readers to Love Books,” where, among other things, she describes reading The Birchbark House aloud to her second graders every year. The other article is an interview with Jack Gantos from the Embracing the Child website. I find that teachers tend to have a lot of questions about Gantos’s credentials for writing about ADHD, and he addresses them especially well here.

I hope you will join our discussions of these readings in the comments to the individual posts linked above.

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23. I’ll show you WINTER.

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by Watie White, http://watiewhite.com

Seasonally enough, last night I attended Blizzard of Voices, an oratorio by Paul Moravec (husband to your friend and mine Wendy Lamb). While you might have thought the warm and woody Jordan Hall would have been an oasis in Boston’s horrible weather, Moravec’s commemoration of the 1888 Schoolhouse Blizzard was terrible–in the exactest sense–in its evocation of the wind and cold and terror and death that swept over the Great Plains and killed more than two hundred people.

Taken from Ted Kooser‘s book of the same name, the work’s texts were beautifully shared shared among a chorus and six soloists:

We finally had to dig
Down into a drift, wrapping
the blanket around us. Billy
died in the night. I thought he
was only asleep. At dawn,
I dug out, finding that we
Were in the sight of the homeplace.

And with the orchestra thundering–and more ominously, insinuating–away, it really felt like voices from a storm, meteorological and otherwise.

Am I the only person who thought this was, historically, the same storm the Ingalls family endured in The Long Winter? Nope–Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book covers events of eight years earlier. Debbie Reese and I got into it a bit  a couple of weeks ago about that book, and while I take her point about the objectionable stereotyping of American Indians therein, I’m not ready to give The Long Winter up. The way it turns winter-wonderland fantasy into nightmare is unparalleled and as keenly evoked as what I heard last night.

After the concert was over, I discovered that my bus, which is supposed to show up every ten minutes, wasn’t due to arrive for at least half an hour. I started to think that the Boston winter of 2015 was Just Like Back Then, but then I slapped myself hard.

 

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24. Just B: Baby’s First Book of Objects | Dedicated Review

Just B: Baby’s First Book of Objects is an ideal board book to share with babies and toddlers who are learning to identify colors, sounds, and words.

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25. Seraphina Series, by Rachel Hartman | Book Series Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Seraphina, written by Rachel Hartman, and the newest release, Shadow Scale (Seraphina: Book Two). Giveaway begins March 9, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends April 8, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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