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1. Cause to celebrate?

stormcenter Cause to celebrate?If it’s time for Banned Books Week it’s also time for my annual bucket ‘o scorn for ALA’s  cynical exercise in spin. Like Bette Davis in Storm Center, “I’m tired. I’m tired and beaten. There’s no use pretending.” Now Davis, playing a beleaguered librarian trying to uphold the freedom to read in McCarthy’s America, was truly fighting the good fight (too bad she didn’t have a good script, though; the young boy driven mad by Red-baiters and setting fire to the library was a Bit Much). ALA, on the other hand, has simply set up its usual straw men in the form of its dramatic list of “top ten most frequently challenged books.” (The Association recorded 307 challenges in all but does not say how many challenges each book had.)

What bothers me most is the conflation of “banned” and “challenged.” Banned means the book has been removed from a library (or restricted therein), or–and less definitively to my mind–from a required or suggested reading list. Challenged means a citizen or group has ASKED a library in a “formal, written complaint” to restrict or remove a book from a library (or from a required or suggested reading list). There’s a big difference. Wouldn’t you like to know how many of these challenges resulted in banning? Beyond anecdotal evidence about some of them, ALA doesn’t tell us.

These “formal, written complaints” are generally done at the library’s behest on a form issued by that library as directed by its collection policy. Why do we get so bent out of shape when people actually use it? The answer is–and here’s the cynical part–that we don’t get bent out of shape at all, instead using these challenges to revel in our sense of cultural superiority and to raise a fund-raising alarum. No wonder ALA finds book banning something to “celebrate.”

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2. The kid-friendly, kid-maintainable classroom library

If you’re a teacher reading this blog, you likely devote significant attention to carefully selecting literature to add to your classroom library. And, if you’re like me, you want your students to have access to these books, but also to not spend hours after school reorganizing and looking for titles that have mysteriously disappeared. Last year, I found a solution to keeping my classroom library well-stocked and maintainable, but before I share it, let me explain the rationale behind it.

When I was in elementary school, there were always books out on display in my classrooms, but there were also many, many titles hidden away in cupboards and closets that my teachers would search through after exclaiming, “Have I got just the book for you!” This practice always struck me as odd and restrictive — I loved going to the library precisely because the number of titles was overwhelming and it seemed that there were treasures to discover as I explored the shelves.

In my own classroom, I am committed to making sure that my students have constant access to as many titles as possible. However, it is essential to me that the books can remain organized without much effort from me — which is something of a challenge when you work with second graders.

The solution that I’ve come up with for my own classroom library is pretty simple. I started by drawing up a list of categories into which I could sort all of the books in my classroom library. Current categories include biographies, world cultures, biology and chemistry, and, my favorite, “Books Miss Hewes loves.” Next, I assigned each category a specific color-code, using dot and star stickers. For example, biographies have a yellow dot with a green star, while easy readers have just a silver star. Then, I bought bins and clearly labeled them with the proper codes and category names.

photo 1 e1409716191871 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

photo 2 e1409716078349 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

The next step was the most labor-intensive — putting the proper labels on each and every book in my library. While I was doing this, I also used the free tools available at Book Source to create a digital catalog of my library, which came in handy during the year as I wondered whether or not I actually had a certain book. (You can check out the organizer at  http://classroom.booksource.com/). Finally, after labeling the books, I put them into the appropriate bins and then put all of the bins on display in my classroom.

photo 3 e1409715975770 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

photo 4 e1409716039837 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

This system proved to be an overwhelming success last year. It allowed me to saturate my students in books without needing to go find a perfect book that I have tucked away somewhere in my room. Additionally, when I looked through the bins over the summer to check on them — something I faced with trepidation after having seen my students’ cubby area — I only found four books out of place. Most importantly, I am confident that my students found books to treasure as they independently navigated the bins — something I hope helped steer them towards becoming lifelong readers.

photo5 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

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3. Strong Female Characters in Dystopian Worlds

I want to talk about strong female characters in dystopian worlds, but right off the bat, I’m going to be difficult and say, “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What do we mean by strong exactly?”

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4. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems

Before we start chatting about specific 2014 picture books, take a moment to read the Caldecott criteria. They’re posted over there on the right, but I will help you find the important parts. Here they are, in part:

In identifying a “distinguished American picture book for children,” defined as illustration, committee members need to consider:
  1. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
  2. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
  3. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
  4. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
  5. Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

Tattoo those categories onto the inside of your eyelids so you will understand why, when we talk about books, we stick to the same points over and over. We have to. The committee discusses all books in light of the published criteria, and the chair keeps everyone close to these five main ideas. 

janeczko firefly july2 Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems It’s tricky to start our discussion this year with a collection of poems, because it brings up the age-old question of whether this is a picture book or an illustrated book. I refer you to the definitions. Let’s just agree (for the moment, at least) that this fits the definition of a picture book as it is essentially a visual experience. Feel free to say otherwise in the comments. That’s just not where I want to go at the moment.

This handsome volume presents 8 to 10 poems per season and, just as the subtitle says (“A Year of Very Short Poems”), each poem is very short. This gives the volume a clear arc and allows the illustrations to gently explore how color and line might change over the course of a year, as the seasons unfold. The paper cover and the case cover are the same, and the endpapers are a lovely muted blue. Though I am generally a fan of flashy endpapers, it makes sense that these are calm, given the energy that illustrator Melissa Sweet brings to each spread.

Spring is the first season, and the first page is a celebration of spring things, including a robin, which I love. There are also daffodils and other early-spring bulbs blooming. The small poems march on, but it is the illustrations that hold them together. As we move to summer, the Langston Hughes poem “Subway Rush Hour” is made summery by the bouquet of daisies that accompanies it. Summer moves on and the colors change as the leaves fall. The transition is seamless; indeed, the divisions between the seasons are subtle and easy to miss, much like the artificial dates on the calendar that mark the change. By wintertime, the hues have completely changed–darkened by the lack of sun, yet whitened by the presence of snow.

Sweet’s art, a joyous combination of watercolor, gouache, and mixed-media collage, tells each poem’s story while allowing the young reader to consider each poem for herself. Her use of color and line build each illustration, sometimes joining two poems (such as” Fog” and “Uses for Fog”) together on a double-page spread, other times allowing the gutter to divide the scenes. The art is completely appropriate to the collection; indeed, it’s her illustrations that make these poems accessible to the child audience (and here the audience could be as young as 3 and as old as an appreciative adult). The mood is set by the illustrations, and Sweet does not bore the reader with trite homages to each season–she requires the reader to look deeper at each spread and think about the connection to the words.

I just looked up the part of the definitions about the term “distinguished,” and here that is:

  1. “Distinguished” is defined as:
    1. Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
    2. Marked by excellence in quality.
    3. Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
    4. Individually distinct.

Most of the books we will talk about this fall and winter are distinguished, and this one certainly is. Each spread is filled with emotion and care, with design meshing seamlessly with color and line. There are many places to look, but it never looks busy or overdone, as each page turn creates its own little world.

Though the real committee can (and will) compare this book to Sweet’s other 2014 title (The Right Word), I have found it difficult to do that in a single blog post. So, feel free to compare if you wish, but know that Martha will be talking about that one soon. For me, I cannot choose between these two very special books. Perhaps Sweet will “pull a Klassen” and receive two phone calls from Chicago in January.

 

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5. Twelve Dancing Unicorns, by Alissa Heyman | Book Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Twelve Dancing Unicorns, written by Alissa Heyman and illustrated by Justin Gerard. Giveaway begins September 21, 2014, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends October 20, 2014, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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6. Fantasy League, by Mike Lupica | Book Spotlight

Twelve-year-old Charlie is a fantasy football guru. He may be just a bench warmer for his school's football team, but when it comes to knowing and loving the game, he's first-string.

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7. If I Stay movie review

if i stay movie poster If I Stay movie reviewSo, I saw that movie based on a YA novel about teens in love who are faced with questions of life and death. No, not that one, at least not most recently. I’m talking about the New Line Cinema/MGM adaptation of Gayle Forman’s 2009 novel If I Stay, directed by R. J. Cutler and released August 22, 2014. (Warning: If you stay with this post, you’ll find some major spoilers.)

When I went looking for a viewing companion, the premise produced shudders from more than one friend. For the uninitiated, the title refers to seventeen-year-old Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz)’s wrenching decision to go on living — or not — as she observes her comatose body after a car accident that left her critically injured and the rest of her family even worse.

In case you haven’t noticed, YA movies are hot these days, and studios seem to get that the books are hot, too. Like The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and other recent movies based on YA novels, this one keeps its story very close to the original text. Mia’s cello playing is important in the book, and so it’s important in the movie, too, even though it’s not as “Hollywood” as her boyfriend Adam’s (Jamie Blackley) rock band.

If I Stay is a cinematically paced book, which helps. Forman alternates between scenes of Mia’s pre-accident life and the post-accident drama. This structure saves both the book and the movie from long strings of hospital scenes and breaks up the emotional intensity with happier moments that increase our emotional investment in these characters. Mia’s rocker parents, affably performed by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard, and little brother Teddy, played by a sincere Jakob Davies, are simply fun and lovable characters; we want to spend time with them and understand why Mia does, too.

Though the movie mostly adopts the book’s pacing, it does make a few significant tweaks. In the book, Mia and the reader find out very quickly (and slightly more graphically) that both parents have died. The movie ratchets up tension by revealing her mother’s death later and having her father live long enough to arrive at the hospital. The change creates more reasons to keep watching the hospital scenes: Mia has hope for her family early on, and viewers who haven’t read the book (or, well, seen the trailer) might be on the edge of their seats. Teddy’s death comes later in both the book and the movie — but as movie-Mia stays in the same hospital instead of being helicoptered out, she finds out much more directly and it’s more of a defining moment.

If you thought Mia and Adam’s undying-unless-she-goes-to-Julliard love was a little cheesy in the book, you’ll find the same goops of cheddar in the movie. But neither book nor movie pretends their relationship is perfect, and the movie makes their conflict harsher but bases it on the same issues. Although the ending is essentially the same, Adam’s promises leading up to it manage to make the love story more sentimental. (These changes in Mia and Adam’s relationship also make it seem less likely that the studio plans to film the 2011 book sequel, Where She Went.)

Just like that other tear-jerking YA movie about love and mortality, this one emphasizes the choices its characters get to make. Even before Mia must decide whether to live, she’s deciding what to do with her life. Maybe that’s what so many teens like about these kinds of stories. Teens are at a time in their lives when even ordinary decisions start to have higher stakes. There’s something validating about stories that acknowledge that, in some cases, a teenage life is an entire life, and maybe something reassuring about seeing teens confronted with questions so big that choices about school and relationships seem lighter.

Yes, these tragic tales show that some things are beyond teens’ control, but they also make it clear that some things aren’t.

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8. The Thing About Being a Debut Author

JENNIFER LONGO holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Theater from Humboldt State University. She credits her lifelong flair for drama to parents who did things like buy the town graveyard and put their kids to work in it-because how hilarious would that be?

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9. Blasting the canon

As a new English department chair, I’ve already been faced with decisions about book orders. Our high school opened in 2007, but our middle school just opened with a sixth grade class last year. This means it was time for us to create a seventh grade curriculum.

I believe in leadership through structured freedom, so I decided that I would create a list of texts and let the seventh grade English teacher select the books she wanted to use for her class. My instinct, like usual, was to turn to Google. I searched terms such as “books all middle schoolers should read,” “classic literature for middle school,” and “best seventh grade texts.” I scoured random syllabi and reading lists from all over the country.

Though there was variation, by and large the books I kept coming across could be considered part of the literary canon. You could probably guess several of them, and chances are you read many of them if you attended middle school in this country over the last century.

I know I have a habit of blogging about old questions, but here I am with another: how important is it that our students read canonical works?

Do our West Philly middle and high schoolers really need to study Red Badge of Courage or Call of the Wild? Why not The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, or Copper Sun by Sharon Draper?

crane redbadgecourage2 225x300 120x160 Blasting the canon     london callofwild 197x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

graveyard book 107x160 Blasting the canon     yang americanbornchinese 204x300 108x160 Blasting the canon     draper coppersun 198x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

I’m not saying that the newer texts are better. Some are. Some aren’t. However, I do think that many of us—especially those of us in the position to put books in front of kids—need to question our unquestioning allegiance to the “classics.”

I suppose there are two arguments in their defense: 1. These books represent the very best writing in the English language; 2. Students will gain cultural capital from familiarity with these stories.

Yet, neither of these sway me.

I think it’s more accurate to say the canonical works used to represent some the best writing, but times change. Great books are published every year, whether or not they end up on some school’s curriculum or a bestseller list.

As for the cultural capital argument, that seems to me just a straight fallacy. The true value of a book comes not from the power to impress others but from whatever that book impresses upon its reader.

So instead of automatically turning to the canon because of faulty assumptions, let’s trust ourselves to find stories that will speak to our children.

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10. Marla Frazee, wipe that smile off your face!

The story below is one reason we love Marla Frazee. Find out many more by reading her Talks with Roger interview.

I was once a clown, in high school. A bunch of us were nominated to be on the homecoming court — twenty-five or thirty people — and I did not want to be one of those. Not interested in that at all. There was this assembly — we were supposed to appear before the entire student body — so I wore this head-to-toe clown costume. Full-on, with the ruffle and the big shoes and the red nose. I worked on the makeup for a really long time. I drove to school in my ’67 Mustang, smoking a cigarette, and then I had to hide before the assembly because we weren’t allowed to wear costumes to school. So the curtains opened and we were all there, introduced to the students, and then as I was walking off the stage in the dark, I felt this hand grip my upper arm. It was the girls’ vice principal, who hauled me outside, walking me to her office. I’m slapping in my clown shoes, you know. She’s saying to me, as we’re walking side by side, “How dare you disrespect the school this way? How dare you disrespect” the whole homecoming-whatever-it-was. And then she wheels me around and stares at me and goes, “Wipe that smile off your face.” I’m laughing behind this smile. It took me about forty years — I don’t know if there’s something in this book [The Farmer and the Clown] about that, the “Wipe that smile off your face” line, but it definitely has stayed with me my whole life.

Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.

talkswithroger header Marla Frazee, wipe that smile off your face!

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11. #we need diverse (picture) books

little melba 300x248 #we need diverse (picture) booksOf course we do. Last year’s amazing crop of picture books included those illustrated by artists of color such as Yuyi Morales, Brian Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Angela Dominguez, Bryan Collier, Don Tate, and Kadir Nelson. This year we will see picture books illustrated by Christian Robinson (two of ‘em), Yuyi Morales, Raul Colon, Duncan Tonatiuh, Jason Chin, Susan Guevara, E.B. Lewis, Kadir Nelson, John Holyfield, Pat Cummings, James Ransome….and Christopher Myers and Frank Morrison….and more? I’m not even counting the many international artists who aren’t eligible for the Caldecott. (And my off-the-cuff list also doesn’t take into consideration books like Grandfather Gandhi, not illustrated by a person of color, but featuring diverse characters.)

I don’t know if it’s the raised awareness surrounding last spring’s #weneeddiversebooks campaign or whether in truth the numbers are growing, but it feels like there is a tiny bit more representation this year, at least among the books I’ve seen, and certainly among the ones that are currently rising toward the top of my admire-it pile: Josephine; Draw!; Viva Frida; Separate Is Never Equal; Little Roja Riding Hood. More women, more illustrators of color — although the numbers for that particular overlap are still insupportably low. And although, of course, we still have a lonnnng way to go.

It somehow feels too tentative to make any pronouncements. I think Sam Bloom summed up my cautious optimism in his comment on Robin’s Monday post:

“Of course, this brings me to the single biggest issue I see in the picture book world, which has definitely been publicized well of late: the need for more diverse characters. Of course, there are comparatively few authors/illustrators of color to begin with, another well-known fact. It seems to be getting a bit better – I’ve noticed quite a few REALLY strong books by or about people of color this year – but I wonder if it truly IS better, or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m paying close attention to the situation so it seems like more.”

What are you seeing? Are you sensing some movement toward more diversity in this year’s picture books? Does anyone have any numbers to back up (or refute) my admittedly highly anecdotal experience? Equally crucially — is the actual Caldecott committee noticing the strength and award-worthiness of these titles?

 

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12. Does one size fit all?

Stephenson t CA0 popup1 Does one size fit all?

illus. by André da Loba from the New York Times

Leonard Marcus gave a swell talk about Robert McCloskey last night, but what’s really sticking with me is a response he gave to a question at the end about ebooks. Size matters, he essentially said, when it comes to picture books and other books for young children. Of course, we all know this, but I hadn’t thought about the point in the context where Leonard was placing it, that the size and shape of whatever ebook you’re reading is subsumed by the size and shape of whatever screen you’re reading it on. The difference between the board book, picture book and big book editions of Goodnight, Gorilla disappears in your e-reader edition (which–I just tried it–is a disappointing experience indeed). I’m thinking I may need to gin up a jeremiad for our Cleveland presentation on Friday.

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13. Books that inspire community

Lately — and by accident — I’ve been reading Spanish versions of many French-authored children’s picture books. For some reason, most of the books I’ve recently bought from bookstores in Lima and Buenos Aires to use for storytelling in Spanish were translated from French authors. I didn’t realize it at the time, but once I started to read them together I realized that they shared a strong message about the “we” instead of the “me.”

pedro y la luna Books that inspire communityThis prompted an informal search for other books that would have the same underlining message. For example, Pedro y la Luna by Alice Brière-Hacquet and Célia Chauffrey is about a boy who wants to bring the moon to his mom. To do so, he has to involve his entire community and beyond. Then there is the Portuguese story O Grande Rabanete by Tatiana Belinky. In it, a grandfather decides to plant radishes and progressively needs help with the harvest because of the radishes’ large size.

 Books that inspire communityI then tried to think about other books that send the message of doing things together for a common cause and couldn’t think of many other than the classic stories “The Pied piper of Hamelin” and “The Little Red Hen.” In the 1990s there was The Rainbow Fish by Swiss author-illustrator Marcus Pfister. A fish with the shiniest scales in the sea refuses to share his wealth and then becomes lonely. He rediscovers community only once he shares his scales. And of course, there is also The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, a book published in 1971 that depicts what happens to a verdant land when the “Once-ler” chops down all the truffula trees and drives the (Seussian) animals away. The last hope to rebuild the environment — and the community — is for a boy to plant the last remaining truffula tree seed.

shannon nodavid 224x300 Books that inspire communitySo much of children’s literature, especially today, is about common things that happen to kids, such as the boy a lost his bear and found it swapped in the forest in Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough, or the boy who misbehaves with his mom in No, David! by David Shannon, or the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, no Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. The list is endless.

All this made me think about the often repeated phrase, “literature is life.” So, are these books a reflection of our society? Are children’s books in other societies a reflection of a more “communal” (we) society instead of a more self-centered (me) society? Or is it that younger children relate better to stories that have more of a personal narrative tone? Can anybody think about books that transmit this message in their original languages?

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14. Five Family Favorites with Salina Yoon, Author of Penguin and Pumpkin

SALINA YOON is the award-winning author/illustrator of nearly 200 books for children. Check out which picture books are her family's favorites!

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15. Illustration Inspiration: Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey’s Darth Vader series was originally geared towards adults as it was about the experience of being a parent; however, parents shared it with their kids and now both adults & kids love the series. Goodnight Darth Vader was created with both audiences in mind.

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16. Here we go again!

backtoschool 300x296 Here we go again!By now, I’m guessing all the teachers out there are fully back in school — not just in meetings, but standing in a classroom in front of new students. Those of you in southern US states have been back for nearly a month while here in Boston students had their first day last week.

I’d like to thank our diligent bloggers who kept writing all summer, as well as everyone who is reading and sharing this blog. The way I see it, commenting is what breathes life into a blog and allows it to live up to its full potential. In the same way that we want picture books to make full use of their medium — trim size, dust jackets, page turns — blog posts ought to start an online conversation. Since we started in February, we have accumulated 90+ posts and 400+ comments. Excelsior!

I’ll keep putting up posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a few more weeks, but if Calling Caldecott changes to a T-Th schedule, I might move us over to M-W-F.

Lauren Adams, my colleague at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, will be using this blog for her adolescent lit class book discussions just as I did for my children’s lit class last spring. We hope you will stick with us during that time (Oct. 20 to Dec. 1) adding your opinions in the comments and making our class discussions that much richer.

I’d like to ask all of you to spread the word about the Lolly’s Classroom blog to all your teacher friends. And when you use the blog, be sure to explore the “tags” found at the bottom of each post. Clicking on one of the tags will take you to more posts covering the same ages — e.g. middle school, grade 2 — or topics — common core, ELLs, picture books. (Actually, this post won’t have any tags because it’s not about anything useful. But trust me, all the other posts have them!)

Finally, all of us here wish all teachers everywhere a successful year full of exciting connections between books and children.

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17. Writing Multiple Points of View | Writing Tips

The main challenge in writing multiple points of view is helping the reader keep everybody sorted out.

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18. Children’s Book Trends | September 2014

Winning an iPod touch from author Michael Phillip Cash would be awesome, right? That's why the Darracia Saga giveaway is trending on The Children's Book Review this month—check out the details for your chance to enter.

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19. Television Animation vs. Picture-Book Illustration

In my opinion, neither animation nor illustration is better than the other, and as with all things, each has its own assets and liabilities.

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20. Best Selling Picture Books | September 2014

Our best selling picture book for the past month is Herve Tullet's completely awesome Press Here (Chronicle Books, 2011). As per usual, we've shared our hand selected list of the most popular picture books from the nationwide best selling picture books, as listed by The New York Times

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21. Best Selling Middle Grade Books | September 2014

This month, The Children's Book Review's best selling middle grade book is the imaginative and adventurous Copper from Kazu Kibushi.

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22. Party down

party down Party downChildren’s Books Boston invites you to our second annual fall get-together on Thursday, September 11 from 5:30PM to 8PM in the Paresky Center at Simmons College. We perhaps wisely decided against trust falls as an ice-breaking activity; instead, all attendees are invited to bring a children’s book for exchange. A five dollar donation (cash only) is requested for snacks and a drink; if you’d like to attend RSVP at this link and I’ll see you there.

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23. Best Selling Young Adult Books | September 2014

If you're looking for a novel that will linger with you for days, The Children's Book Review's number one best selling young adult book is Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. Our hand selected titles from the nationwide best selling young adult books, as listed by The New York Times, features titles by super-talents John Green, Ransom Riggs, and Markus Zusak.

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24. Marcus and McCloskey

ducks boston Marcus and McCloskey

Make Way for Ducklings, by Nancy Schön

Leonard S. Marcus, whose look at Robert McCloskey’s emergence as an illustrator appears in our current issue, will be speaking on the occasion of the illustrator’s hundredth  anniversary at the Cambridge Public Library on Monday, September 15th at 7:00PM. The Horn Book is happy to co-sponsor this event, and Porter Square Books will be on hand to sell, I presume, books by both distinguished gentlemen.

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25. Best Selling Kids Series | September 2014

Wow! This month is proof of good reads, everything remains the same on our best selling kids series list; including the blast from the past ... the Mr. Men and Little Miss books.

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