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This column is part of a series of recommended board book roundups, formerly published twice a year, now published every season. You can find the previous installments here. Don’t miss Viki Ash’s primer “What Makes a Good Board Book?” from the March/April 2010 Horn Book Magazine.
by Keith Baker
Little Simon 36 pp.
5/14 978-1-4424-9928-7 $7.99
“Five peas painting— / brush, brush, brush, / Six peas traveling— / rush, rush, rush.” In this follow-up to Baker’s LMNO Peas, the peas row, splash, build, nap, and more, on and around large-size numerals from one to ten, then skip counting by tens to one hundred. The rhyming text bounces along as the spring-green peas frolic in the lively illustrations. The smaller trim size means much of the art’s amusing details are harder to see, but the colorful pages and fun-to-read-aloud rhymes will delight small listeners.
Time for Bed: Flip-Flap Fun
by Petr Horáček
Candlewick 16 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-6779-5 $7.99
First it’s “time to play.” Then, after putting “away my toys,” it’s “time for supper.” A little boy’s recognizable end-of-the-day routine plays out in Horáček’s simple, comforting text and boldly colored illustrations. The thick graduated pages make it easy for small hands to interact with the book. After a bath, teeth brushing, and a story, the final page-turn shows the narrator for the first time, tucked into bed and gently reminding listeners that it’s “time to say good night.”
by Nina Laden
Chronicle 24 pp.
3/14 978-1-4521-1175-9 $6.99
If a board book could be a considered a cult classic, Laden’s Peek-a Who? (2000) would be one. In this animal-themed follow-up (in a small format perfect for little hands), the pattern is the same. “Peek a” on the left-hand page faces what looks like a linocut design; a die-cut hole hints at what’s revealed on the following spread. “Mew!” accompanies a tiger; “Bamboo!” captions an image of a panda munching on its favorite food. A kangaroo and a cockatoo are also featured, as well as the cute creature reflected in the mirror on the final page: “You, too!” For babies and toddlers, this trick never grows old.
Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin Jr; illus. by Eric Carle
Holt 28 pp.
8/14 978-08050-9950-8 $12.99
This lap-size board book’s rhyming text follows the familiar pattern of the author/illustrator team’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear. A panda, water buffalo, spider monkey, whooping crane, and six other endangered species parade across the pages; at the end, a dreaming child sees all ten animals “wild and free.” Carle’s striking, brilliantly colored illustrations are as eye-catching as always, making this ideal for use with groups.
by David McKee
HarperFestival 32 pp.
8/14 978-0-06-232405-4 $7.99
Available in a board-book edition for the first time, Elmer has been everyone’s favorite patchwork elephant for twenty-five years. Though the other elephants in the herd love his jokes and games, Elmer wonders if they’re laughing at him because he looks different. He tries to blend in by covering up his colorful hide, but he can’t disguise what’s really special about him. The message about accepting yourself and celebrating differences isn’t likely to interest babies; older toddlers, however, will welcome Elmer into their herd.
Baby Pig Pig Talks
by David McPhail
Charlesbridge 14 pp.
8/14 978-1-58089-597-2 $6.95
Baby Pig Pig Walks
by David McPhail
Charlesbridge 14 pp.
8/14 978-1-58089-596-5 $6.95
Baby Pig Pig (Pig Pig Returns) reaches two developmental milestones in these original board books. In Talks, mother pig names everything they see during a stroller walk: “Snake. Taxi. Tricycle.” Baby Pig Pig repeats after her, sort of: “Hissa. Honka. Dinga.” An overly friendly dog gets him talking — “Mama!” In Walks, Baby Pig Pig wants to explore the world beyond his playpen. After some wobbly steps, he climbs out and heads off “…down the hallway…toward the kitchen” and right into his mother’s welcoming arms. The small adventures have just enough tension to keep little walkers and talkers enthralled.
Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant
by April Pulley Sayre
Little Simon 34 pp.
7/14 978-1-4424-9927-0 $7.99
“Oh boy, bok choy! / Brussels sprout. / Broccoli. Cauliflower. / Shout it out!” Kids may not want to eat their greens, but they’ll dig right in to this colorful feast for the eyes and ears. Sayre’s energetic rhymes are accompanied by appetizing photos of a variety of veggies, many of which may be unfamiliar to small children. Bring this book along on your next trip to the farmers’ market and see how many vegetables you can find. Who knows? Maybe it will inspire some taste testing!
Today I’m Going to Wear…
by Dan Stiles
POW! 18 pp.
10/14 978-1-57687-718-0 $9.95
“Today I think I’m going to wear a yellow ribbon in my hair.” In a pleasantly rhyming text, a little girl describes her hand-picked outfit, which includes a polka-dot cowboy hat, a too-small coat, “in case of sun, a parasol,” mittens, and rain boots. Stiles’s vibrant graphic illustrations are hard to resist; their hip, retro vibe will appeal to grownups and young kids alike.
A Visit to Dr. Duck
by Rosemary Wells
Candlewick 30 pp.
8/14 978-0-7636-7229-4 7.99
Little guinea pig Felix eats too many “chocolate blimpies” and doesn’t feel well the next day. His mama tries chamomile tea and fresh air; finally, she takes him to see Dr. Duck. Originally published in hardcover as Felix Feels Better (2000), this edition’s title change puts the focus on going to the doctor — and Felix’s nervousness about the experience will resonate with young listeners. Wells’s comforting tone and warm illustrations will reassure toddler and preschool patients.
The post Board Book Roundup: Fall 2014 Edition appeared first on The Horn Book.
Here it is! http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2014/10/30/books/review/2014-BEST-8.html?_r=1&
Usually this list matches up pretty well with our Calling Caldecott list with one or two big surprises. This year I am finding more surprises than matches. But you can be sure we will be locating the books that weren’t so much on our radar and will weigh in as we get our hands on them.
This list always seems to be a bit idiosyncratic. The team of three judges is comprised of one critic and two illustrators. This year they were Jennifer Brown (Bank Street College, Shelf Awareness), Brian Floca, and Jerry Pinkney. When Roger was on this committee, he said that rather than discussing the books together, each member added their favorites to the list, pretty much split evenly. I don’t know if this is how it always works, but the result is always an interesting list.
Please let us know in the comments which of these you love (or don’t) and why. Now I have to go look for some books…
The post New York Times Best Illustrated list announced appeared first on The Horn Book.
Blog: The Children's Book Review
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Here is a list of 11 books that address a wide range and variety of emotions that young readers may experience when faced with serious illness, loss, grief or trauma.
Blog: The Children's Book Review
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In Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, author Chris Grabenstein cleverly captures reader’s imaginations by combining the suspense of a thrilling game with the majestic nostalgia of great libraries, librarians, books and authors of past and present.
What will the Caldecott committee be talking about when it turns its scrutiny to Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole? Maybe the question should be, What WON’T the committee be talking about? Like Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida, this is one discussable book. Though, perhaps, for different reasons.
The art is certainly distinguished— excellent in execution and pictorial interpretation, appropriate in style for the story and mood, with plenty of child appeal. I don’t think the quality of the art will be in dispute here. Look how the palette gradually changes from soft and pale and airy in the beginning to dark and stark at the climax/nadir of the boys’ adventure and then back to soft and pale at the end. Look at how the considerable white space (well, actually, soft creamy space) at the beginning is gradually encroached upon as the horizon rises and the hole gets deeper. Look at how Klassen makes the earthen landscape so varied and textured and interesting without necessarily drawing our eye to it. Look at the contrast between the softness and texture of the art with the sparseness of the compositions and the clean edges of the white space/tunnel. Both the art and the book design use geometric shapes to great effect. The art, through the tunnel’s rectangles (echoed, often, in the upright figures of Sam and Dave) and the pentagons? of the gems; the book design through the consistently columnar arrangement of the type. (Sometimes the art is columnar, too. Near the end, particularly. The wide vertical tunnels in the center of the page. The figures falling through space, vertically arranged in the center of the page.)
The interplay between text and art is perfect; this is a true, interdependent picture book. The simplicity and mundaneness of the text (“On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole”; snacking on chocolate milk and animal cookies) contrasts humorously with the increasing wildness of the situation and exaggerated size of the gems the boys JUST miss as they dig. There’s also an implied contrast: between the boys’ limited perspective (ie, complete obliviousness) and the reader’s omniscient perspective. Not to mention the dog’s. That dog Knows All. Klassen’s ability to telegraph the dog’s bewildered awareness is brilliant: so simply, using just the eyes, whether it’s looking at the reader with a “what next?” appeal or directly at the buried, just-missed gems or, at book’s end, taking in the anomalies of the backyard in which they have just landed.
Ah, the ending. Yes, we’ve arrived at the discussable part. What happened?!? Where ARE they? The backyard looks the same, but the details are different: different tree, flowers, weathervane. (And either a different cat or a cat wearing a different collar.) Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes put forth a few theories, including It Was All a Dream and — my own favorite — They Have Entered an Alternate Reality. But whatever theory you subscribe to, there is no doubt that this is one open-ended story. (As Sam Bloom put it in his Horn Book Magazine review, “All that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way.”) The story has just begun, it seems. What happens after the last page?
And there’s the rub. Will this Caldecott committee be intrigued by the possibilities or frustrated by the lack of closure? I hope it’s the former. There’s so much to appreciate about this child-friendly, carefully conceived and constructed, funny, provocative book.
The post Sam and Dave Dig a Hole appeared first on The Horn Book.
By: Roger Sutton
Blog: Read Roger - The Horn Book editor's rants and raves
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When we look to the astonishing growth of children’s books — especially YA books — in the last twenty years, we like to credit individuals — J. K. Rowling, for instance. But while it’s a kind of national obligation in the United States to praise individuals over collectives, I want to argue tonight that making good books for teenagers is dependent upon a vast and fragile interconnected network that collectively functions as what I am going to call the YA genre. All of this is offered, by the way, with the caveat that I might be wrong. I am wrong all the time.
My colleagues at Booklist, where I worked from 2000–2005, will tell you two things about me: first, that I was just about the worst publishing assistant in the 110-year history of the magazine; and second, that I am a bit of a worrier. Like Wemberly in Kevin Henkes’s wonderful picture book Wemberly Worried, I worry about big things (like whether there is any meaning to human life), and I worry about little things (like which suit I should wear to the Zena Sutherland Lecture). More or less, any time people ask me, “How are you?” the true answer is not “fine” or “good” or “sad”; the true answer is: worried.
This suits me well as a writer, since a big part of the job is to think about all the things that might happen and try to choose the best one, which is very often the most worrisome one. It suits me somewhat less well as, like, a person living in the world, because there is so much to worry about that if you are going to be a seriously anxious person, you have to devote all your time to it. You have to become like Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk whose legs atrophied while he sat staring at a wall for nine years, except instead of meditating you have to worry. So tonight I’m going to share with you some of my worry, but I’m going to wait until toward the end in the hope that you’ll now have to spend the next thirty minutes worrying about why I’m so worried about the future of YA fiction.
Before that, I want to talk about what I think fiction does so well, and why I think it remains so relevant to the lives of children and teens.
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Ann Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club, a series of novels about enterprising girls who built a small business and also dealt with the everyday problems of being a kid and taking care of kids and dealing with adults and occasionally having boyfriends. I loved these books. I also loved Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books and many other books that were called “girl books,” and I think I loved them both because I saw myself in them — I worried like Anastasia; I felt socially uncomfortable like Ann Martin’s Claudia — but also because I could escape myself. This was the first big thing that fiction did for me as a kid: it allowed me to see myself but also to escape myself. For me, one of the big problems of being a person is that I am the only me I will ever get to be. I am not like the main character “A” in David Levithan’s Every Day; I wake up every day in this body, seeing the world out of these eyes, and because my consciousness is the only one whose reality and complexity I can directly attest to, the rest of you seem — pardon the unkindness here — sort of not real. Even the people I love the most I see in the context of me: my wife, my children. But Claudia in the Baby-Sitters Club is not my anything; she is Claudia, through whose eyes I can, in an admittedly limited way, see the world.
This phenomenon is often credited with leading to empathy: through escaping the prison of the self and being able to live inside fictional characters, we learn to imagine others more complexly. Through story, we can understand that others feel their own grief and joy and longing as intensely as we feel ours. And I think that’s probably true, but I also think it’s just nice to be outside yourself at times, so that you can pay attention to the world outside of you, which in the end is even more vast than the world inside of you.
Here’s the other thing: I think there is an omnipresent pain inside us, a constant and gnawing pain that we ceaselessly try to distract ourselves from feeling, a pain way down deep in what Robert Penn Warren called “the dark which is you.” For most people, almost all the time, we don’t even have to think about this pain, but then sometimes you’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room or riding on the train or eating a chicken caesar salad at your desk at work and the pain will come crawling out of the cave darkness inside of you and you’ll feel an awful echo of all the pain that has ever befallen you and glimpse all the horrors that might still befall you.
Maybe you don’t actually know this pain, but I do, and for me it is the pain of meaninglessness. I fear that our selves are without value, that our vast interior lives will die with us, and that our brief miraculous decades of consciousness will not have been for anything. For me there is a terrifying depravity to meaninglessness, because it calls into question not only why I should read or write or love but also why I should do anything, in fact whether I should do anything, and so grappling with that way-down-deep-in-the-darkness-which-is-you pain is not like some abstract philosophical exercise or whatever but a matter of actual existential importance.
The obvious thing to do about this deep-down pain is to try very hard to ignore it, because at least in my life, I find that it comes on mostly in undistracted and quiet moments. And, look, if you can distract yourself from pain, great. I don’t want to minimize the importance of pleasurable distraction, of what’s sometimes called “mere entertainment,” be it Flappy Bird or CSI. But we have plenty of it. To quote David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King,
Surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called “information society” is just about information.
It’s also, of course, about distraction. For some readers, books can still be read purely for distraction, but for contemporary children and teenagers, there are far more effective distractions. My four-year-old son does not ask for a book to relieve himself of the terror way down deep in the darkness. He asks for the iPad, so he can play Angry Birds.
For contemporary kids, who can find sufficient distractions in gaming and video, I think books must do something more than just divert attention in order to be successful. And this brings us to morality.
Once upon a time, I gave a speech at the ALA Annual convention in which I said that I believed in the old-fashioned idea that books should be moral. And afterwards, the publisher of Booklist, Bill Ott, a man I’ve always looked up to immensely, took me aside and said, “That was a good speech except for all that bullshit about morality.” Fair enough. It was, in retrospect, bullshit. Books are not in the business of imparting lessons. What I was trying to say, I think, was that books should be honest without being hopeless. It’s easy enough to write a hopeful story, one that proclaims that If you can dream it, you can do it, or that God has a plan, or that Everything happens for a reason. Be grateful for every day. I parodied these ideas a little in The Fault in Our Stars by having one of the characters’ houses plastered with such pithy sentiments: Without pain, how would we know joy, and so on. In the book they call them Encouragements.
But these Encouragements are unconvincing, at least to me. Sure, you can write a novel about how if you can dream it you can do it, but in actual nonfictional fact there are a bunch of things that you can dream that you cannot do. For instance, I recently had a dream in which I was a banana that had escaped the Earth’s orbit and was slowly floating farther and farther away from my home planet.
What we need, and what good stories provide, are better Encouragements. Encouragements that aren’t bullshit. This is not a question of books being moral; it’s a question of books being hopeful without being dishonest. This is what good YA novels do for teens that Angry Birds cannot: they offer light that can burn bright even in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. I know this is an old-fashioned way of imagining the making of art, but I believe it. I believe that fiction can help, that made-up stories can matter by helping us to feel unalone, by connecting us to others, and by giving shape to the world as we find it — a world that is broken and unjust and horrifying and not without hope.
So that is why I think books matter. Now I want to turn to genre and talk a bit about why I think it matters. Whenever a properly good writer — Michael Chabon, say, or Joyce Carol Oates — writes a mystery or a romance or whatever, reviewers sometimes say that the author is upending the conventions of the genre. I don’t really find that to be the case — I think Chabon just wrote a really good mystery in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Most conventions of the genre turn out to be really useful, I think, which is how they got to be conventions of the genre. At Booklist we used to joke about that old cliché that novels only have two plots: a stranger comes to town, and our hero goes on a journey. But that doesn’t mean we only have two stories; we have countless stories, each of them building upon and relying upon others. We often imagine the best stories as having arisen sui generis from the mind of a great genius. But, really, every good story is dependent upon millions that came before it, that incalculably vast network of influences that stand behind every novel.
In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell made a stir when he argued that Kaavya Viswanathan’s plagiarism of Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings wasn’t really plagiarism, because, and I’m quoting here, “This is teen-literature. It’s genre fiction. These are novels based on novels based on novels, in which every convention of character and plot has been trotted out a thousand times before.” Now, this was a ridiculous defense of plagiarism, and Gladwell later apologized, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. My novels are novels based on novels based on novels. Almost all novels are. But they change in the retelling. Novels change to stay relevant, so that their hope might be less flimsy, so that they remain honest and relevant. It’s a slow process — millions of writers and readers working together across generations to make stories that can be a light in the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. Writing and reading are not about a singular mind emerging from isolation to create unprecedented art. It’s a massive collaboration spanning millennia.
Let me explain how this works, at least for me. In my first novel, Looking for Alaska — in which, by the way, a stranger comes to town and our hero goes on a journey — I wanted to write a boarding-school novel — you know, like A Separate Peace or The War of Jenkins’ Ear or The Catcher in the Rye — but I was also interested in boarding-school fantasies like Harry Potter and A Great and Terrible Beauty. I liked the pranks, and the freaks at war with the cool kids. I liked the sneaking around campus in the middle of the night and breaking the rules and the omnipresence of one’s peers.
But there were conventions of the genre that were really problematic for me, like the one in which the boy — for the sake of simplicity, let’s call him Holden — flutters around, essentializing women, and the only person who ever gets hurt by his total failure to see women as actual humans is Holden himself, when in fact this habit boys have of imagining the girls they admire as flawless goddesses whose problems cannot possibly be as real or as important as Boy Problems…that habit turns out to be bad for women as well as the Holdens of the world. So, okay. You try to show that in your boarding-school novel. This is not upending a genre. It’s trying to make an honest, human story that isn’t bullshit. But lots of people are making YA boarding-school novels at the same time, and in a way we’re all working together. I think E. Lockhart, for instance, gave the genre its best book in recent years with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but she did it by writing a proper boarding-school novel that also happens to be a proper feminist novel and a proper postmodern novel and a proper romance.
Basically, I believe that genre is good. I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about being a genre writer. Like, you know how they always have those crazy concept cars at auto shows that look futuristic and exciting and entirely new, but then it turns out that this futuristic car seats 1.5 people and gets four miles to the gallon, and by the time the car actually gets to market…it looks like a car. That’s genre to me. It’s the thing that works. So, yeah, cars look different than they did fifty years ago. They’re safer and more efficient and cheaper to build. But we didn’t actually get there through radical change. We got there through incremental change, by drivers and engineers and designers all working together.
I was thinking a lot about genre while writing my most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a cancer book, but one that is very aware of cancer books. There’s a lot I like about cancer books, but here’s what bothers me: there is often a sick person who suffers nobly and bravely and in the process of dying so beautifully teaches the healthy people around him or her important lessons about how to be grateful for every day, or in the case of American literature’s most famous cancer novel, the lesson that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is ridiculous, of course: love means constantly having to say you’re sorry.
Anyway, I’m troubled by this convention because it imagines that sick people exist and suffer so that healthy people can learn lessons. This essentializes the lives of the sick, just as teenage boys essentialize girls when they imagine them as larger-than-life, when in fact the meaning of any life is a complicated and messy business that is about more than learning lessons. I wanted to write a cancer story that was about the sick people, not the lessons the healthy learn from them, about people who are disabled and human, who experience love and sex and longing and hurt and everything that any human does. I didn’t invent this idea, though; it’s the plot of many love stories. A stranger comes to town, and love blossoms, but an obstacle appears. Sometimes the obstacle is a basilisk. Sometimes it’s a jealous ex-husband. Sometimes it’s one’s own body.
And this brings me at last to worry. For genre to work best, I think, you must have basilisk stories and jealous ex-husband stories and cancer stories. Genre is not about individual geniuses; it’s a conversation that benefits from many voices.
The great strength of our children’s and YA genres is that we’re broad — we publish thousands of books a year, whereas Hollywood makes a few dozen movies aimed at kids and teens. Coe Booth, M. T. Anderson, Stephenie Meyer, Sarah Dessen, and Ellen Hopkins share the shelf. We’ve got poetry and sci-fi and romance and so-called literary fiction; we’ve got standalones and series and graphic novels and every subgenre imaginable. This year’s Printz winners included a romance, a futuristic fantasy, a violent fairy tale, a boarding-school novel, and a dystopian thriller. Nothing against the Pulitzer Prize, but it rarely offers such diversity. But I think there’s mounting evidence that our breadth is at risk. Consider the recent study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison saying that of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just ninety-three were about black people. That’s better than Hollywood is doing, but not that much better. Okay, so here’s my worry: we’ll see the breadth and diversity of our literature — at least the stuff that gets read — continue to decline, because there will be less institutional support for non-blockbuster books. There will be fewer review journals, fewer school libraries (and those with ever-shrinking book-buying budgets), and far fewer bookstores.
Imagine a world — and I don’t think this is hard to do — where almost all physical books bought offline are purchased at big box stores like Walmart and Costco and Target, which carry a couple of hundred titles a year. Anything that gets published that doesn’t end up in one of those stores doesn’t really get published, at least not in the sense that we understand the word now, because it won’t be widely available: it will only be available at the vast, flat e-marketplaces of Amazon and iTunes, where readers will choose from among a vast and undifferentiated sea of texts. Ultimately publishers will only be able to “add value” to the two hundred or so books a year that are sold at Walmart and Costco and Target, which will kind of mean that Walmart and Costco and Target will choose — or at least have a lot of say in — what gets published. Every now and again, a book will rise up out of the sea of the Kindle store and become so 50 Shades of Grey–popular that it will transition the author from online distribution to physical distribution, but most books that find readers will be franchises. In short, publishing will split: traditional publishing ends up looking a bit like Hollywood, focusing all its resources on a few stories a year that might make a lot of money. And then everything else will live on Amazon.
Amazon’s position is that in the future everyone will be on a level playing field because all authors will have access to all readers and the publishing business will be entirely disintermediated and books will succeed or fail based on whether actual readers actually like them. But of course that’s not actually what happens, as we’re already seeing.
What actually happens is that the richest and most challenging fiction of any category, particularly if it won’t appeal to a mass readership, struggles to find an audience in a world without critics and institutional support. Toni Morrison’s Beloved became a huge bestseller forty years ago. It’s hard to imagine that happening today, barring Oprah’s endorsement or something, and harder still to imagine it happening in the future.
The problem of discovery is complicated by the terribleness of Amazon’s recommendation engine. It is terrible for bestsellers — right now, it implies that if you enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars you might also enjoy Gone Girl, which is just — I mean, that is not good readers’ advisory. And it’s also terrible for books that aren’t bestsellers. For instance, there is a great nonfiction adult book called Ballad of the Whiskey Robber about an alcoholic Transylvanian semi-professional hockey goalie who becomes a bank robber, and right now if you go to that book’s Amazon page, it will recommend that if you like that book, you might also like A. S. King’s wonderful YA novel Ask the Passengers. These two books have exactly two things in common: they both contain text, and about a year ago, I recommended them both in a vlogbrothers video.
So what will it mean to write YA in a future where your work might be recommended alongside nonfiction books about bank robbers or adult mysteries about a very, very bad marriage? Well, we’ll keep writing and sharing stories for children and teens, of course. And lots of people — including kids themselves but also adult supporters such as other authors and librarians and teachers — will continue to recommend them. The genre will go on. But YA was weaker and less broad before it got its own physical sections in libraries and bookstores, and I worry that we will find it difficult to grow stronger and broader in the future.
These days, my career is often held up as a model for how YA novels will get to the next generation of teen readers: authors will build communities online around their work, and those communities will read and share their books. We won’t need gatekeepers or institutions to help us share books; we have Twitter for that now. But there are some problems with this idea. For one thing, there’s a massive advantage to being white and male on the internet; you experience less harassment and many privileges. And there’s also a massive advantage to speaking English on the internet. Furthermore, many people who are good at writing novels are bad at Twitter. I realize this advantage has long been with us — Twain owed much of his success to his crazy hair and hilarious lectures — but it’s a strange and dangerous business to judge a novel by its author, and stranger and more dangerous still to judge a novel by its author’s tweets.
But most importantly, it just doesn’t work. My books didn’t become successful because I was famous on the internet; at least initially, I became famous on the internet because I’d written successful books. My first novel, Looking for Alaska, sold a couple of thousand copies — many of them to libraries — before it won the Printz, an award chosen by a committee of librarians. When my brother Hank and I began our video blog series in January 2007, the few hundred people who watched us and helped to found the nerdfighter community were almost entirely fans of my books — including many YA librarians. Without institutional support, without librarians and teachers and critics and the rest of the human infrastructure of YA literature, my books would not have an audience. And neither would my video blog.
All of us together are making up what YA means as we go along. We are all creating the genre, by choosing what we read and write and lift up, by pushing ourselves and one another to think more complexly about teenagers as readers and as characters so that we might welcome them in to the great old conversations. This is no small thing. We are not in the widgets business, my friends. We are in the story business, the business of bringing light to the way-down-deep-darkness-which-is-you. And in that sense, at least, business is good, because that darkness ain’t going anywhere. Our need to turn scratches on a page into ideas that can live inside of our minds ain’t going anywhere. We’re not at risk of people losing interest in strangers coming to town or heroes going on journeys, and we will always need ways to escape the prison of consciousness and learn to imagine the Other complexly. And this is why, despite my ceaseless worry, I remain quite hopeful. We need to grow the breadth and diversity of YA literature. We need to get more books to more kids so that publishing doesn’t become a business driven entirely by blockbusters. And we need to preserve the roles — critics, librarians, professors, teachers — that contribute so much to the continual growth and change in our genre. None of this will be easy, of course, and it’s all intensely worrying.
But I also know that story will go on. That’s the great thing about genre, about novels based on novels based on novels. The stories go on. They find a way through budget cuts and new technologies, winding their way through the flawed vessels who write and review and share them, flowing past history and memory, a process that has been going on so long that our stories, and our readings of them, are shaped by ancient stories we will never know. Somehow, improbably, even long after they are forgotten, the stories endure. And through them, so do we.
From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Adapted from the author’s 2014 Zena Sutherland Lecture.
The post Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World – The Zena Sutherland Lecture appeared first on The Horn Book.
Blog: The Children's Book Review
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In Eric Carle’s What’s Your Favorite Animal, he collaborates with fourteen renowned children’s book artists to create mini storybooks about a favorite animal.
In a follow-up to the bestselling board book Peek-a-Who?, Nina Laden creates another must-have for parents.
Don’t stop the readin’…hold on to that read aloud feeling | Storytime Standouts
Some days I’m more “quirky” than others. This is one of those days. Instead of just telling you that your middle grade children (grades 4, 5, 6, 7) are not too old for you to keep up that nightly ritual of reading, I’ve made some alterations to a classic Journey song. You can laugh or roll your eyes, but the message will be the same. They’re getting older, but it doesn’t lessen their enthusiasm for books. Nor does it mean they don’t need us there to help them navigate some of the issues that their favourite characters are facing. Bottom line? Take fifteen minutes at the end of the night, curl up on someone’s bed, and keep reading.
Don’t Stop the Readin’ (adapted from Journey’s Don’t stop believin’– hardcore Journey fans…I’m sorry (ps: it helps if you listen to the song in the background softly so you can read with the beat)
Just a grade five girl
Readin’ bout’ a wizard world
She read the whole series
Loved the characters
Just a grade six boy
Thinks he doesn’t like to read
He found The Outsiders
Thinks he’s Ponyboy
His father comes into the room
The moon is out the day is done
For a while they can read tonight
It goes on and on and on and on
Learnin’ bout the Hunger Games,
Heroes like Percy
Quests and danger
Find out what your kids are lovin’
Read with them every night
Workin’ hard to pay the bills
One on one time is such a thrill
Read a story, talk about your day
It’s worth the time
Doesn’t matter what you read
Graphic novels, Patterson
The list can go on and on and on
They aren’t too old
Even in the middle grades
Let them read to you
Read to them
Make it matter
A great way to stay connected
Just fifteen minutes a night
Don’t stop the readin’
Hold on to that feelin’
With your children
Don’t stop the readin’
Sachar, Judy Blume
They keep you readin’
Keep on reading!
Don’t Stop Believin’ at Amazon.com
Don’t Stop Believin’: the Best of Journey at Amazon.ca
Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read Storytime Standouts shares ten great reasons to read aloud to...A Wonderful Read Aloud Chapter Book: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo The Tale of Despereaux written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated...A Quirky, Pleasant Read Aloud for 9-12 year olds – The Funeral Director’s Son The Funeral Director’s Son by Coleen Murtagh Paratore Chapter Book...
Is it possible for a guy who has won three BGHB Honors, four Coretta Scott King Honors, and one Caldecott Honor (in 1998, for Harlem) to be underrated? Why yes, yes it is. Christopher Myers continues to fly under the radar every year when it comes to Caldecott buzz, but I’m guessing the real committee will take a good look at this one.
Julie Danielson interviewed illustrator Myers and author/ballet dancer Misty Copeland at Kirkus a while back; it’s a great piece that is definitely worth a look. In it, Myers talks about how he decided on collage because it allowed him to “choreograph across the page,” using color and texture to reflect the juxtaposition of the “riotous energy” and “careful attention to detail” that constitutes the essence of dance. Keeping this in mind when reading Firebird, I would contend that Myers nailed the “appropriateness of style” criterion…but I would argue that he scores nearly as well with the other criteria, too.
Myers’s illustrations are like intricate puzzles for the reader to take apart and put back together, over and over again. For instance, look at the first full-page spread: the young, unnamed dancer gazes up from the bottom left corner as adult ballerina Misty leaps across a night skyline. In the background, buildings twinkle above a frothy-looking river spanned by a bridge. Misty’s white outfit makes a striking contrast against the lovely midnight blues and deep purples of the sky and river. But don’t stop there: look closer. Note first the texture of the collage, the overlapping pieces of cut paper used to make the night sky, the white-washed blues and blacks of the river below. Now zero in on that skyline. The building above Misty’s outstretched right calf…is that a picture of someone’s hand resting on a gray table, cut into a building shape? And the building above her right knee looks to be a shadowed photo of a brick wall… or is that a fence? All of this is barely noticeable when viewing the spread as a whole, but the bizarre (yet lovely) details become apparent when you lean in for a better look.
In Jules’s piece, Myers talks about how he focused mostly on color and texture to show emotion, and to my mind he succeeded completely. To give just one example, the endpapers are a fiery mix of reds, golds, and oranges, extending that Firebird motif from the front cover. This is some abstract stuff, but young readers will no doubt respond to the hot colors (forget that they are normally referred to as “warm”; these hues are habanero-smoking hot) and texture. To be sure, reading Firebird is an extremely tactile visual experience. Looking closer at the endpapers, I see feathers, the bumps of a diamond-studded (I think) strawberry, a fabric of some sort, and either a shag carpet close-up or a sea anemone. And here, as throughout the book, the reader can clearly see where each piece of cut paper ends and the next begins.
I hate to bring up the typography because I find the book to be practically perfect in every way, but the two fonts are not perfectly chosen. The text is a dialogue between the two characters, with the young girl’s words appearing in a bold italic font and Misty’s words appearing in a bold Roman font. I wish there was more differentiation between the two type styles, because I had to look twice on many occasions to see who was talking. It’s a lovely text, though, and Myers does a fabulous job with his interpretation.
Speaking of interpretation, my own interpretive skills aren’t terribly great, so I’m always curious to hear what others think. What do you all think is going on in some of those spreads? Especially intriguing to me is the final spread, where Misty and the young girl dance together wearing matching white tutus. Silhouetted dancers leap and twirl in front of multi-colored backgrounds, including what I believe is a male dancer to the extreme right. The spread itself is a stunner — it’s absolutely gorgeous — but I don’t completely understand it. Thoughts? And in more general terms, what does everyone think? Are you all high on Firebird, too?
The post Firebird: A Guest Post by Sam Bloom appeared first on The Horn Book.
Last weekend my friend Lori was in town and we took the dogs for a walk in the schoolyard across the street. Three tween girls were hanging out on the jungle gym and as we passed they started whispering ostentatiously in our direction and laughing meanly. ‘Girls that age” said Lori, a middle-school math teacher in the Bronx, “are the worst.”
That encounter stayed with me as I started exploring the saga of YA author Kathleen Hale and the Goodreads troll, which Hale described at great, great length in the Guardian. What did the editors think to let her go on for 5000 words? Perhaps they are part of the great catfishing* conspiracy erected to oppress Ms. Hale, because while you begin the essay thinking “poor her,” as Hale unravels you start to smile nervously and look for an exit. It’s far away.
Then I went to a blog that Hale cited as an ally in her fight against the Dark, Stop the GR [Goodreads] Bullies, which I thought would be, I don’t know, some kind of manifesto about maintaining decency in book discussion. Instead I soon felt like Jennifer Connelly discovering Russell Crowe’s crazypants chalkboard diagrams as pages of scans and proofs and links and trolls and catfish whirled about each other with manic glee. Here, as in Hale’s confessional, I saw no victims, just bullies on all sides.
I know it’s unlikely–or NOT, he adds, as the madness infects him–that any of the participants in this circus are twelve-year-old girls, but watching the accusations fly and the drama being whipped up reminded me of those kids at the school, a big helping of attention-seeking with a side of hostility. I’ve avoided Goodreads only because it was too much like work, but it always seemed like such a nice place. Now it looks to me like those spy novels I love, where the apparent placidity of daily life and ordinary citizens is completely at the mercy of the puppet masters. If you want me, I’m in hiding.
*as Liz Burns points out, that word does not mean what Hale thinks it does.
The post I don’t THINK anyone is trying to hunt me down appeared first on The Horn Book.
Lauren had her first adolescent lit class last night at HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education). For last night’s class we talked about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I love this part of a course when the students go from names and faces on a roster to real people with opinions about books. Lauren gave an excellent overview of literature for adolescents: the history, the jargon, the genres.
For next Monday’s class the theme is Windows & Mirrors and they will all read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For their second book, they have a choice between Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck. Tough choice!
Please join us as we discuss these books before Monday evening’s class. Things tend to pick up steam later in the week, but we like to put up the posts early for those who are reading ahead.
The post Windows and mirrors book discussion appeared first on The Horn Book.
In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie tells Junior’s story with a lot of humor, but pulls no punches in depicting the brutal truths of alcoholism, poverty, and bigotry both on and off the reservation. Does humor have a place in a realistic novel about tragic circumstances? If you’ve had classroom experience with this book, how have your students responded to Junior’s story?
We are also reading Alexie’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why the Best Kid’s Books are Written In Blood.” Go ahead an comment on that article here, too.
The post The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian appeared first on The Horn Book.
Please join me on Saturday the 25th at the Boston Book Festival for “Masters of Fantasy,” a panel discussion with Soman Chainani (A World Without Princes), Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (The Iron Trial), and Gregory Maguire (Egg & Spoon). We’ll be talking about–well, I guess I should get on that right quick, as I’m the moderator–but FANTASY. 1:00-2:00 PM, Emmanuel Church sanctuary, 15 Newbury Street, Boston. FREE.
The post It’s not on any chart / You must find it with your heart appeared first on The Horn Book.
Enter to win a set of The Code Busters Club series by Penny Warner!
Giveaway begins October 19, 2014, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends November 18, 2014, at 11:59 P.M. PST.
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Wonderful Picture Books
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By: Carolyn Hart,
A Look at the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal Award Winner and Honor Books | Storytime Standouts
The Watermelon Seed written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Picture book for beginning readers published by Disney Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group
When a charming and exuberant crocodile explains that he loves watermelon, we are utterly convinced,
Ever since I was a teeny, tiny baby cocodile, it’s been my favorite.
CHOMP! SLURP! CHOMP!
While enthusiastically devouring his favorite fruit, the crocodile accidentally ingests a seed, his imagination runs wild and he assumes a variety of terrible outcomes.
Repetitive text, limited use of long vowel words and very good supporting illustrations make this a great choice for beginning readers.
The Watermelon Seed at Amazon.com
The Watermelon Seed at Amazon.ca
Ball written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan
Picture book for beginning readers published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
There is little doubt that this dog loves his small, red ball. From the moment he wakes up, he is focused on only one thing: playing with the ball. He especially loves when the ball is thrown by a young girl but when she leaves for school there is no one available to throw it.
This is a terrific picture book that relies heavily on the illustrations for the narrative. Apart from one repeated word (ball) it could be classified as a wordless picture book.
It will be thoroughly enjoyed by dog lovers and young children – especially those who are eager for an opportunity to read independently.
Ball at Amazon.com
Ball at Amazon.ca
A Big Guy Took My Ball written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Series for beginning readers published by Hyperion Books for Children
This charming story will remind readers that appearances can be deceiving and perspective is everything! Gerald and Piggie’s friendship is solid and Gerald is more than willing to stand up for Piggie when her ball is taken by a big guy.
Delightful illustrations will appeal to young readers as they effectively portray a range of emotions. The text is perfect for children who are beginning to read – lots of repetition and very few long vowel words.
A Big Guy Took My Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) at Amazon.com
A Big Guy Took My Ball! at Amazon.ca
Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
Generously illustrated chapter book series for beginning readers published by Greenwillow Books An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
It truly is a treat to read such a beautifully-written chapter book for beginning readers. Kevin Henkes has created a new character: Penny. She is a young mouse with a sense of right and wrong. In this book, she is out with her sister when she “finds” a beautiful blue marble. She excitedly puts it into her pocket and later wonders if she did the right thing.
Lovely, full color illustrations and a thought-provoking dilemma make this a great choice for newly independent readers.
Penny and Her Marble at Amazon.com
Penny And Her Marble at Amazon.ca
Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read
Blog: The Children's Book Review
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There are so many books published this season that quickly made it on my To-Be-Read list and I’ve had the opportunity to read a couple of them already. Most of the authors represented here have written books focused on relationships—friendships, romantic, and familial—and how they develop or change as the characters do.
By: Carolyn Hart,
Classic Picture Book: Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes | Storytime Standouts
Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes created and illustrated by James Dean, story by Eric Litwin
Picture book published by Harper Collins Children’s Books
Light, breezy, rhythmic and upbeat, Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes shares a message of resilience that will appeal to children and adults. Pete begins his day with bright, white new shoes. When he steps onto a pile of strawberries, his shoes turn red and, when he encounters blueberries, his shoes turn blue. Regardless of what poor Pete has to walk through, he maintains his happy outlook. Very popular with young children who enjoy learning and singing about colors, Pete also has a message for older children and adults:
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Helen Keller
An excellent choice for young readers who will benefit from the repetitive and predictable text, Pete’s coolness is oh so groovy!
Harper Collins Publishers’ Pete the Cat downloads (including songs)
I Can Read Pete the Cat (free downloads)
School Library Journal’s Top 100 Picture Books
2013 Morning Calm Award Medal, International Schools of South Korea
2013 Best Picture Book, Colorado Children’s Book Award
2013 Best Picture Book, North Carolina Children’s Book Award
2012 Center for the Book at the New Hampshire State Library – Ladybug Picture Book Award
2011 ReadKiddoRead award for Best Illustrated Books
2011 Missouri Building Block Picture Book Award
2010 25 Books All Young Georgians Should Read
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes at Amazon.com
Pete The Cat: I Love My White Shoes at Amazon.ca
Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes on YouTube
Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes Pinterest Board
Follow Storytime Standouts’s board Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes created and illustrated by James Dean, story by Eric Litwin on Pinterest.
Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes -...Two Shoes, Blue Shoes, New Shoes – These Shoes Really Dance Two Shoes, Blue Shoes, New Shoes! -Written by Sally Fitz-Gibbon,...Classic Picture Book CLICK CLACK MOO Cows that Type When Farmer Brown's cows get their hooves on an old...
On October 2, the Harvard Book Store hosted B. J. Novak (from TV’s The Office, Saving Mr. Banks, and many others; also a Harvard University grad, thank you very much) reading his new picture book — The Book with No Pictures — at the Brattle Theatre. He invited kids on to the stage for a rollicking reading of his hilarious book. At least I thought that was rollicking, until I saw him read again the next day in front of about two hundred first-through-third-graders at a nearby elementary school. Pure kid bliss, complete with Q&A at the end (Kid: “Did you write books when you were little?” BJN: “Yes! Spooky books for Halloween, stories about the beach when it was summertime…”) and an invitation to send him story ideas (um… Uncle Shelby, anyone?! If you don’t get that reference, read on). We spoke afterward about standup comedy, childhood rebellion, and metafiction.
(BTW, as @RogerReads asked: “Is @bjnovak ‘s THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES still technically a picture book? I hope it makes the Caldecott committee squirm.”)
EG: How involved were you in designing The Book with No Pictures?
BJN: I was extremely hands on — I think I drove everyone crazy.
EG: Who were the editor and designer on this project?
BJN: I worked with two designers: Lily Malcom at Penguin and Kate Harmer, an independent designer I’ve worked with before, with Hum Creative in Seattle. The editor was Lauri Hornik. My approach is always to ask a million people for advice.
B.J. Novak at the Brattle Theatre.
EG: Were kids involved in that part?
BJN: Not knowingly, not wittingly. I would observe kids as they were read to, not just by me. I would ask parents to read so I could watch what they would naturally do. My original draft of what we call the “mayhem spread,” with all those crazy syllables, was very intimidating for a parent to read, I found. I mean, kids loved it. I showed my original black-and-white version to a two-year-old, and he started cracking up as soon as he saw the page. It had a lot of Hs in it, a lot of silent letters — I wanted it to look complicated. And while kids were delighted, I thought a parent would give up. So I simplified a lot of those syllables. That was a combined design/editorial decision.
EG: Who reined this book in? Because for all of its wackiness, it is very controlled and subtle. It could have gone crazy…
His head is made of blueberry pizza.
BJN: Yeah, controlled rebellion. That was my approach. I looked at the original copy I made — I bought an 8 ½ x 12 moleskin journal and printed out pages and paper-clipped them in, with the font the size that I pictured and typewriter font. I glue-sticked a cover onto the journal so that a little kid would think it was a real book, so I could get a real reaction. It took like fifteen minutes per book, so you can’t just give them away, but I would carry them around places. And when I looked at that original paper-clipped version recently, it is almost identical to the finished book. So when I first had the idea, the tone of it was part of the idea. It was something that’s very rebellious for a three-year-old but actually not that edgy. “I am a monkey who taught myself to read” is very unedgy. “BooBoo Butt” is about as borderline as we get. A kindergartner once asked if he could whisper something in my ear so the grownups couldn’t hear, and he whispered, “I liked when you said BooBoo Butt.” He thought it was extremely rebellious and transgressive that I had said that. Controlled rebellion is the key to enjoyment because it makes a kid feel safe. And I’ve noticed that since I was a kid, trying to make other kids laugh, which I did, that younger kids — and especially, I’ve found, younger girls — can be scared of a book that is too wild. And a way to combat that is to keep assuring a kid that this is silly. This is ridiculous, what’s going on here. So the book repeats many times, “This is so silly,” which is partly to make a kid feel safe. Nothing too crazy is going to happen.
EG: It’s not Sendak.
The mayhem spread, mid badoongy-face.
BJN: Yeah, who I loved, but whose work can be a little scary — you don’t know where it’s going. So with this book I wanted kids to feel safe in this rebelliously experimental environment.
EG: Was “preposterous” in your original draft?
BJN: No, “preposterous” I added later because I had said “silly” and “ridiculous” too many times. I was working on the movie Saving Mr. Banks, which was about the making of Mary Poppins, and I was enamored of the way kids learned certain words aspirationally. And I thought it’d be nice to have one word in this book that kids don’t recognize, that sounds funny, and it would be nice if they went around saying “preposterous” because they knew it from the book. So that was the one word I added to give a little… aspirational vocabulary.
EG: The Horn Book’s winter company outing last year was to see Saving Mr. Banks.
BJN: Well, I definitely identified with P. L. Travers, because I had written this book that I had intended to cause nothing but easy joy, and here I was being pretty much a monster the way P. L. Travers was. “No, no, that color is all wrong. This font is ridiculous. You can’t have pictures in the book.” I said no picture of me on the flap jacket. I even asked, at one point, if we could take off the little penguin logo on the spine of the book.
EG: They said no?
BJN: Well, I actually changed my mind on that. I think the brand is so wonderful and inviting that I decided technically the jacket isn’t the book, the jacket is the cover. But I was really a monster in the P. L. Travers mold.
EG: Had you read Mary Poppins?
BJN: I hadn’t, but then I read it when we started making the movie. What I was struck by is that the book is so sweet and clever, that I can only imagine how stunned the Sherman brothers must’ve been to meet this sour, negative person. You’d expect it to be a breeze. It’s not like she wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
EG: Or Where the Wild Things Are. Were you a reader as a kid?
BJN: Yes. My very favorite was Matt Christopher who wrote sort of wish-fulfillment sports books. The Kid Who Only Hit Homers I loved. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen.
EG: Do you know the story about how librarians used to pencil in little diapers on the kid?
BJN: I think they had a point! Reading it again recently I thought, “This is insane.” But at the time I thought it was spooky and exciting. I loved Amelia Bedelia, Harriet the Spy. I was caught under my covers reading Harriet the Spy with a flashlight. My mom was very angry because I had promised I’d go to bed. Danny, the Champion of the World. Roald Dahl in general but especially that. And Shel Silverstein I really liked. As I write both for kids and adults, he’s someone who comes up, for me, as a role model. Even the way he maintained his aesthetic, so deliberately, with black and white and a certain font.
EG: Do you read those books differently now than when you were a kid?
BJN: Actually, I probably read them the same. I flip through the Silverstein poems, I never read them in order. My book for adults, One More Thing, is influenced by that, too, the different lengths and playfulness, the black-and-white cover.
EG: The slightly transgressive nature… or more than slightly.
BJN: The important thing for me about The Book with No Pictures, and Shel Silverstein embodied it well, and Dr. Seuss embodied it extremely well too, is that it does encourage kids who will inevitably be rebellious to think of books as their allies. I was very lucky to grow up thinking that every time I was sort of angry and ambitious and didn’t fit in and wanted to do something cooler, I thought of books as the place where you’d find that. As a teenager it would be Jack Kerouac and Bukowski. And as a little kid it might be Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss was never on the side of your parent or the authority. He seemed completely anti-authority. And even though he’s so rightly accoladed for his educational books now, when you’re a kid you think: this is the opposite of learning. You think: this is freedom. And that, to me, is an extremely important decision that gets made in a kid’s mind, whether books are the ally or the enemy when they are feeling certain feelings. And I think that what excites me about something like The Book with No Pictures is making kids feel words are on their side, not their parents’ side. Words are this incredible code that can make people do things that they want them to do.
EG: It’s really a performance, reading this book, in a way that some picture books are not. You really have to, as a grownup, embody all of it.
BJN: On the one hand you do, on the other hand you don’t. Performers really take to this book, and I’ve especially found it to be good as a dad book. Dads often want to be a little more wild and rowdy with sons, and a lot of picture books are very gentle, so this is a rowdy book. But I’ve also found people who are not performers, who are shy about picking it up, get wonderful reactions, too. A shy or more quiet parent saying these things, even in a flat, straightforward voice, can be especially funny to a kid, because they’re not the type of parent who would normally say, “My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named BooBoo Butt.”
EG: Is the experience different reading to groups rather than one on one?
BJN: Well, I love groups because of all the years I spent as a standup comedian. You just want an audience. It’s a universal truth that comedy’s better with an audience. When I was growing up watching Seinfeld with my family we would all laugh, and now when people tell me they watch The Office on their laptop or on Netflix it’s a little sad. I think that’s why there’s so much activity on Twitter and Facebook about TV shows because you want to be watching this with everybody.
EG: You’ve really thought about all this.
EG: It seems like many projects you’re involved in have this sort of meta quality to them.
BJN: Yes! Nice observation. What else?
EG: Well, even Punk’d is kind of meta. The Office goes without saying. Saving Mr. Banks — a movie about a book about the making of a movie. It’s just that you’re really smart, right?
BJN: I think it’s taste. My friend Mindy Kaling, equally smart, has no patience for meta.
EG: Some of it is really poorly done.
BJN: There seems to be a really sort of clever-teenage-boy drive toward the meta. I loved Mr. Show because it was meta. I loved early Simpsons. And when I was a teenager I loved Borges for being meta. So, yes, that’s always been my taste. The Book with No Pictures — even that title is meta. It’s commenting on itself, its own existence as a funny idea. So I’m always drawn to that. The conceptual, the meta.
EG: Could you write an article for us on gender and meta?
BJN: Interesting. Well, it’s a very small sample set, but I’ve tended to find that equally smart, equally literate people of opposite genders — meta is a dividing line, often. That and Bob Dylan.
EG: You are not a typical celebrity author.
BJN: I think the crazy thing is that I’m a celebrity, not that I’m an author. I’m an author by nature. My father is an author. I went to Harvard and studied literature. I was an ambitious and successful television writer. And then I started doing stand-up and acting, and for years I think the quiet nudge from my friends was, “Are you sure about this acting thing? You’re so clearly meant to be a writer.” And so now I actually take it as a compliment when people are skeptical about celebrity books. I’m like, “Really? You think I’m a celebrity? Wow! No one ever thought I could do it.” No one ever doubted I could be an author growing up, they doubted that I could be a celebrity.
EG: Do you have both these introvert and extrovert sides to you?
BJN: I’m very much both, in the way that very many comedy performers are, famously. And really this is my ideal career. Most of the time I love being alone, writing, in my own mind, no one bothering me, dreaming up things, like a teenage boy in his basement laboratory. Plotting about how the world is going to crazy with excitement about what he’s writing.
EG: Sounds like your next middle-grade novel.
BJN: And then I want to go out and show it to the world and see people’s faces. So I really feel that what my real goal is, and always has been, is to be a public author. There was an era in which Mark Twain was America’s author. Everyone knew he was a writer. Dickens, too, performed live. All these guys performed their writing live and were public personas as writers. And in Europe there’s still something of a public persona as a writer. But it’s not really the case in America. You’re an author or a celebrity.
EG: Although now with Twitter, John Green and people like that…
BJN: Yes! I think it’s changing somewhat. And I would like to be that. What John Green is for his audience and his genre, I would like to be for mine. Which is meta comedy, I suppose. I would like to be the representative of it. Someone who is a hero of mine that I also want to be like is Rod Serling. He presented his writing, looked like his writing, embodied his writing. He wasn’t an actor, he was a public writer. So that’s what I want to be.
EG: So, picture book is your niche? Or are you going to come out with a YA — what was that toilet zombie book the kid suggested during the Q&A?
BJN: My first book, the short story book, is very personal expression. And this book is an expression of what I want to write for kids. Yeah, I would like to write YA as well, and middle-grade…
EG: See, you know what the words “middle-grade” mean. That’s great.
BJN: Well, again, I’m not a celebrity. That’s our secret.
Liz (the school’s hip librarian; cameo appearance): HA!
EG: He knows “middle-grade.” He used it in conversation! Oh, Shel Silverstein… Liz sending you all the kids’ story ideas… it makes me think of Silverstein’s ABZ book.
BJN: Yes! I loved it as a kid.
EG: As a kid you read it?
BJN: My father gently introduced me to it with the explanation that this is a fake kids’ book. I got the joke, I loved it…
EG: “L is for lye…”
BJN: I remember: “Steal your parents’ money and mail it to Uncle Shelby.”
EG: So there weren’t any books that you weren’t allowed to read as a kid? Was everything up for grabs?
BJN: Everything was up for grabs, in fact probably more than for most kids because my father had a library at home of all the books he would do for research. He had written a book on marijuana use. There were books on heroine in our house. There were books on Iran-Contra. Books on all kinds of things. And he never stopped me from reading any of that. I think he was secretly quite happy. Again, if your rebellion comes… look, rebellion’s going to come, for every kid. And if it comes in the form of literature, you’re much better off than if it comes in opposition to it.
The post B. J. Novak is not a celebrity author. (Oh, really?): An interview appeared first on The Horn Book.
So, as I cast my eyes across my shelf, I wonder: what in the world is the committee going to do with all the picture-book sequels that have been pouring in?! Now, picture books usually do not have sequels, and some of these are not officially sequels but are simply very similar in style or tone to earlier books…but they feel like sequels. I had to search through the Caldecott Manual to find the part that deals with this situation, at least a little bit.
The term, “only the books eligible for the award,” specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an artist or whether the artist has previously won the award. The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about books of the specified calendar year.
This is the sentence that many people think the committee skips over. I mean, it seems impossible — how do the very knowledgeable members of the committee manage to NOT talk about books that were honor winners just last year? And yet they do NOT talk about older books or who won or did not win in the past. They discuss JUST the books published during the current year. That’s why I get cranky when people talk about an illustrator being “due” or “it’s about time for so-and-so.” In the actual committee, it’s just the books on the table.
Another phrase from the criteria is “individually distinct.” How does that come into play when a book might look and read so much like its predecessor?
We may talk more in depth here about some of these books in the coming weeks and months, but I wanted to bring a few titles to your attention. Surely this has to be a particularly high number of books that will remind readers and committee members of other books that have either won stickers recently … or garnered a great deal of attention when they did not.
What do YOU think the committee will do? Which of these are strong enough to stand on their own? Are any stronger than its predecessor? Any remarkably weaker?
(To remind you: Quest/Journey…Blizzard/Blackout…Flashlight/Inside Outside…Flora and the Penguin/Flora and the Flamingo…Circle Square Moose/Z Is for Moose)
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This month's little peek at the current children's book trends on The Children's Book Review showcases Christmas books for kids, books on mindfulness and some best selling young adult books, as well as a wonderful literacy resource on where to find free ebooks for children.
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It's time to do the Halloween hustle and get books for Halloween into the hands of your ghouls and boys. Don't get spooked, all of these books are treats and not tricks!
The subtitle of Patricia Hruby Powell (author) and Christian Robinson (illustrator)’s fabulous picture-book biography of the early-twentieth-century African American dancer and iconoclast is “The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker” — and the book is truly as dazzling as its subject. So we can get that major, crucial criterion “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept” out of the way right off the bat; this book will be hard to beat in that category. Every adjective I can think of for the book’s art — vivid, bold, electric; essential; full of verve and pizzazz and razzmatazz — applies to the book’s subject as well. The saturated colors (a rainbow of them — and again, how appropriate); the visible brushstrokes — also brilliantly appropriate for a book about such an outsized and charismatic personality.
I used the word essential up above. I’m not exactly sure I’m using it correctly, but here is what I mean. On the spread where Josephine finally gets to join the chorus with the Dixie Steppers and immediately stands out from the crowd, all we see is four figures forefronted on a page of a rather neutral color — no background at all. The four figures — dancers in the chorus — are delineated about as simply as cartoons: circles for eyes, circles and lines for mouths and noses. Nobody has the correct number of fingers. This is pared-down, impressionistic painting — except that somehow artist Robinson makes Josephine Baker stand out so starkly from the others that you barely need to read the text (“The chorus kicked forward, / she kicked backward… / They strutted, / Josephine shimmied instead”). Where the other figures are basically vertical, Josephine is all curved kinetic motion — hips swinging to the side, arms outstretched. And with just a white crescent for her smile and a few lines for her rapturously closed eyes, Robinson captures her ecstatic joy in dancing.
More “appropriateness”: the book uses the framing device of a stage to tell the story of Josephine’s life. It opens with a double-page spread of a stage, red theatrical stage curtains pulled closed: the performance is about to begin. From then on each section (“The Beginning”; “Leavin’ with the Show”; “My Face Isn’t Made for Sleeping”; etc.) opens with a spread of that stage with curtains pulled to the side, a few props or pieces of scenery in place, ready for the action to begin. (I particularly appreciate “The Beginning” ‘s center-stage spotlight; we are clearly expecting a star to enter.) This framing device is a brilliant choice for a woman who made such an impact on performance art and who felt most alive when dancing onstage. And notice that the book’s final double-page spread, after all the text has been presented, including the account of Baker’s death, is an echo of the first closed-curtain one, this time with flowers strewn all over the stage floor in tribute. It’s a poignant and appropriately dramatic end to a dramatic story.
There is so much more to talk about in Josephine, and I hope you’ll join in the conversation about this exceptional book. I’d like to hear all the ways YOU think it’s excellent in terms of the ”execution in the artistic technique employed;
Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.”
P.S. Josephine, which was published in February, is the winner of a 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award for Nonfiction, and the awards ceremony is tomorrow night at Simmons College, with a colloquium the next day. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I will say that Josephine fans who attend the colloquium will be very happy with one of the treats in their goody bags.
P.P.S. I am sure I will be much more informed after listening to the illustrator and author of Josephine this weekend, and I will be sure to share all insights gleaned in the comments below.
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Ellen Prager, PhD, ocean scientist and author, brings ocean science to the young fiction audience with her Tristan Hunt and the Sea guardian series.
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A Middle Grade Teacher’s To Be Read List | Storytime Standouts
It’s been a while since I did a top ten list of….well, anything. So, here’s what is on my To be Read list this year. Mostly for school, but I love reading middle grade and young adult fiction even if it’s just for me. So here it goes:
Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz
Middle grade fiction published by Disney-Hyperion
I’ve already started this funny tale about the Captain Hook’s thirteen year old daughter, Jocelyn. She’s sent away to boarding school by her grandfather so she can learn to be a lady. All she really wants is to be a swash-buckling, sword-wielding pirate. When she learns of her father’s death, she sets off on a quest to avenge it.
I have started this book in my classroom and I love it. The kids laugh out loud and so do I. Jocelyn is a great character, as is her ally, Roger. It’s a pleasure to read a book with a girl main character that the boys enjoy as well. It’s got great pirate speak, a longing for adventure that kids will connect with, and memorable characters.
Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 Hook’s Revenge at Amazon.com
Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 Hook’s Revenge at Amazon.ca
Swindle by Gordon Korman
Middle grade fiction published by Scholastic Press
Korman is always on my recommendation list during our library visits. When my eight year old brought Swindle home, I told her that I’d like to read it with her because I know a lot of kids who enjoyed it. During a sick day last week, she found the movie on Netflix. First, I didn’t know there was a movie. Second, normally we would read the book first. But, we were feeling lazy so we decided to watch. The movie was very well done– it made my daughter laugh and it made me want to read the book even more.
When the character finds a vintage baseball card, he doesn’t know the value and gets swindled by a pawn shop owner. The quest to get his card back is entertaining and funny. This book is on my list as a possible read aloud.
Swindle at Amazon.com
Swindle at Amazon.ca
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Middle grade fiction published by Nancy Paulsen Books
There are several things that make me want to read this book. The author wrote one of my favourite books that I read last year: One for the Murphys. That alone makes me want to read more by her. When checking out the title on Goodreads, one of my favourite quotes was included in the write up: “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”
Then, when I read the summary, I thought: YES. Great topic. Ally has hidden the fact that she can’t read from the people in her life and has successfully moved from one school to the next without anyone knowing. But when her newest teacher looks closer, past the trouble making side she presents, he finds her secret and helps her. We all learn in different ways and it’s essential that we have books that show kids that it is okay to be different. It’s okay to need help and not everyone learns in the same fashion. It’s up to us, as the adults in their lives, to help them find their own road to success. I can’t wait to read this one.
Fish in a Tree at Amazon.com
Fish In A Tree at Amazon.ca
Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Middle grade fiction published by Graphix
I can’t read every single book I see my students or daughters enjoy, though I try to read a good portion of them. I’ve seen enough students go through Smile to know that it hooks readers. When one student saw Sisters in my TBR pile, she was thrilled because she was re-reading Smile for the third time. I told her she could read Sisters and she said, “Just let me finish re-reading Smile first.” She started Sisters later that day and finished it the next. That’s enough of a recommendation for me.
Smile‘s main character (Raina) wants to fit in, like any other grade six girl. An accident that leads to fake teeth makes that harder than she thought. A variety of other game changing issues present themselves while she’s dealing with full headgear. It sounds like exactly the kind of book that pre-teens would connect with.
Sisters offers another connectable theme for kids: sibling rivalry and confrontation. Raina isn’t close to her sister Amara, even though she wanted to be, but when family strife and a new baby brother enter the picture, they have to learn how to depend on each other.
I often recommend Telgemeier to students who are unsure about what to read. She offers real issues that kids can relate to and the graphic novel aspect takes away some of the fear or uncertainty for reluctant readers. She also does the Baby Sitters Club graphics, which students love.
Smile at Amazon.com
Smile at Amazon.ca
Escape from Mr. Lemoncellos’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Middle grade fiction published by Yearling
This book has been on my list for a while and I already started it twice. It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Night at the Museum. The first time I started it was in class but there was a hold on the book and it didn’t seem fair to hang onto it when a kid was waiting for it (I’m exceptionally fair like that). The second time was the same thing, only at home with my own kids. I loved the beginning both times but often start too many books at once and am forced to choose. Since last year was the year of Jaron and Sage because I was addicted to the Jennifer Nielsen’s trilogy, I had to put this one aside. But it’s remained on my list because I know it is going to be fantastic.
Kyle, surprisingly, wins a chance to spend the night in a brand new library, unlike any library ever known. Mr. Lemoncello is a game maker who develops a number of twists and turns in a real life game that Kyle must find a way to escape.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library at Amazon.com
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library at Amazon.ca
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Middle grade fiction published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
If Adrienne Gear recommends it, I’m likely going to read it at some point. I warn my students every year that you are never too old for picture books. They offer some of the best morals and insights we can find. Picture books also offer students a chance to really utilize the strategies we teach them such as connecting, making pictures in their head, and predicting. The fact that it is a picture book sometimes lessens the anxiety during reading lessons, allowing them to learn and connect in greater ways.
Brian is a boy that no one notices. He never gets included in games, birthday invites, or activities. When Justin comes to his school, Brian is noticed for the first time. Even if the story didn’t sound so wonderful and so connectable, the beautiful pictures would pull me in.
The Invisible Boy at Amazon.com
The Invisible Boy at Amazon.ca
Grimmtastic Girls by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Middle grade fiction published by Scholastic
Two more authors that I love (the write the Goddess Girl Series and Heroes in Training) have another series, The Grimmtastic Girls. I might be bias because my eleven year old loves these two authors so much and the Goddess Girl series is one of her (and my) absolute favourites. They have a great writing style and their characters are loveable, even when flawed. Obviously, I’m a little behind because when I saw one in Scholastic, I found out there are four so far.
Grimmtastic Girls #1: Cinderella Stays Late at Amazon.com
Grimmtastic Girls #1: Cinderella Stays Late at Amazon.ca
Middle grade fiction published by Little, Brown and Company
A few things make me want to read this one: James Patterson. Chris Grabenstein. And my enjoyment of Hook. Patterson has several books for kids that I see being enjoyed in the classroom. His middle school series is entertaining and my recent venture into the world of swaggering pirates makes me want to take a look at this book.
Diving is part of the Kidd siblings lives. But when their parents going missing, they face the biggest treasure hunt ever: finding them.
Treasure Hunters at Amazon.com
Treasure Hunters at Amazon.ca
Stranded by Jeff Probst
Middle grade fiction published by Puffin
Another one that I ordered long ago, I need to finally read this one. I try to find books for the classroom that both the boys and girls will be drawn toward. I want them to see the fun in reading, to see that it just takes one book, the right book, to pull you in and make you a reader. The fact that students know who Jeff Probst is and watch Survivor, intrigues them. We need to find ways to invest them in reading and all it has to offer.
When four new siblings (blended family) get stranded on an island, they must get to know each other, and trust each other, fast. If they want to get home, they need to find a way to work together.
Stranded at Amazon.com
So there you have my TBR pile for the 2014-2015 school year. I should probably get off of the computer and get started. I’m certain I will get distracted by other books that peak my interest, but my goal is to get all of these done by June. What is on your to be read list this year?
Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read