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1. Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

DoryFantasmagory1 362x500 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonDory Fantasmagory
By Abby Hanlon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$14.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4088-4
Ages 6-8
On shelves October 9th

Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.

She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.

DoryFantasmagory2 300x192 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonThis is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.

For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.

DoryFantasmagory3 219x300 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonIt would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.

Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.

On shelves October 9th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

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2. Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Maybe it’s Common Core.  Maybe not.  I’m not always quite certain how far to place the blame in these cases.  However you look at it, children’s nonfiction bios are getting weird these days.  In some ways it’s quite remarkable.  I’m the first one to say that nonfiction for kids is better now than it has ever been.  I mean, when I was a young ‘un the only nonfiction I ever enjoyed was the Childhood of Famous Americans series.  Not that it was actually nonfiction.  I mean, it made these interesting suppositions about the youth of various famous people, complete with fake dialogue (I am the strictest anti-fake dialogue person you’ll ever meet).  I enjoyed them the way I enjoyed fiction because, for the most part, they were fiction.  Boy, you just couldn’t get away with that kind of thing today, right?

Right?

Meet three new “nonfiction” series of varying degrees of fictionalization and authenticity that caught my eye recently.  I can’t exactly call them a trend.  Rather, they’re simply interesting examples of how publishers are struggling to figure out how to tackle the notion of “nonfiction” and “high-interest” for kids.  And it’s now our job to determine how successful they’ve become.

First up, let’s go back old Childhood of Famous Americans.  They remain beloved, but they’re problematic.  So what do you do when you have a product that slots into that category?  You rebrand, baby!

Introducing History’s All-Stars from Aladdin (an imprint of Simon & Schuster).  Observe the following covers:

Sacagawea Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

JackieRobinson Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Look vaguely familiar?  Pick up the book and you may find the words “Childhood of Famous American” in there individually, but never strung together in that particular order. The publication page only mentions that the books were previously published as far back as the 1950s (little wonder I’m worried about that Sacagawea title, yes).  Yet the design, as you can see, isn’t far off so we had to wonder.  Is it just the same series?  A side-by-side comparison:

BetsyRoss2 Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?BetsyRoss Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

The publisher description calls this “a narrative biography” which is technically the accepted term for this kind of book.  But there is no way you could use this for a report.  They’re fiction, baby.  A kind of fiction that doesn’t really have a designated place in a library collection at this time, though that could change.  Which brings us to . . .

Ordinary People Change the World – A series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

AmeliaEarhart Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

AbrahamLincoln Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

It’s the series bound to wreck havoc with catalogers everywhere!  They look like Charles Schulz characters.  They read like nonfiction . . . sorta?  Kinda?  Kirkus said of I Am Rosa Parks that it was, “A barely serviceable introduction with far more child appeal than substance.”  Yet they’re bestsellers and visually incredibly appealing.  Published by Dial (a Penguin imprint), the books were a risk that appears to have paid off in terms of dollars.  In terms of sparking interest in these historical figures it’s also a success.  But is it factual?  Is it accurate?  Does it stand up to scrutiny?  Does it matter?  Why shouldn’t it matter?  You see the conundrum.

Finally, there’s a series coming out from Scholastic that looks like it might be along similar lines to these, but that I haven’t seen firsthand quite yet:

BenjaminFranklin Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

SallyRide Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Called the When I Grow Up series, again we’re seeing historical figures as children.  But maybe these are entirely accurate in their retellings?  They’re Scholastic Readers, made to meet the needs of early readers.  It’s the title “When I Grow Up” that raises the red flag for me.  Because, you see, they’re written in the first person.  And as a librarian who has had to field reference questions from first graders asking for “autobiographies”, this is problematic.  If a book is entirely accurate but seems to come from the lips of its biographical subject, what is it worth in the pantheon of nonfiction?

People will always say that worrying along these lines is ridiculous.  If the books are good and spark an interest, isn’t that enough?  Why do you have to require strict accuracy at all times?  My argument would be that when biographies are written for adults, people are meticulous (hopefully) about maintaining authenticity.  Why should we hold our kids to different standards?

It’s a debate.  These books just crack it open wide.

Along the same lines (WARNING: Shameless plug looming on the horizon!) I’ve gotten out the jumper cables and restarted the old Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL.  Babies have been born and it is time to get back in the swing of things.  On that note, on Saturday, September 6th I’ll be hosting one of children’s nonfiction all-stars in a conversation that might very well touch on this topic.  Behold!

Personal Passions and Changes in Nonfiction for Children and Teens: A Conversation with Marc Aronson

Author, professor, speaker, editor and publisher by turns, Marc Aronson’s love of nonfiction and his conviction that young people can read carefully, examine evidence, and engage with new and challenging ideas informs everything he does.  Join us for a conversation about the changing role of nonfiction for youth, and the special challenges and advantages of this one-of-a-kind genre.

See you there, yes?

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3. Samples: Cutesy Animals

Something on the drawing board. It’s fun to take a pic and distort it!

h5-leaping-2geth1 fl1

0 Comments on Samples: Cutesy Animals as of 7/28/2014 9:30:00 PM
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4. Penguin Random House Has Formed a Consumer Marketing Group

Penguin Random House has formed a division dedicated to marketing directly to consumers called the Consumer Marketing Development and Operations Group. The department will help market specific titles, individual authors and even specific genres within each of its U.S. publishing groups. The entity will also be tasked with developing company-wide digital programs, platforms and partnerships. Amanda Close will lead the new group as Senior V.P. and Director. "By approaching marketing development this way," stated Madeline McIntosh, U.S. President and Chief Operating Officer, "both from within publishing and from a broader corporate standpoint, we will be able to most effectively expand our consumer-focused capabilities, and deliver value for our publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers."

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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5. George R.R. Martin’s Editor to Do Live Interview on Suvudu Universe

Penguin Random House's sci-fi community Suvudu Universe is planning to host its first live interview and the interviewee will be Anne Lesley Groell, George R.R. Martin's book Editor, as well as an Executive Editor at Penguin Random House. The event will take place online on May 29th from 3pm to 4pm EST. Fans can submit questions here, as well as vote on suggested questions. Groell will answer the questions that receive the most votes during the live event. You can follow this link to sign up for Suvudu Universe. The members that submit the top three highest-voted questions will get a prize pack of books.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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6. The Baby Tree

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackallby Sophie Blackall

published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books, at Penguin KidsThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallAbout a year ago, I heard Sophie Blackall give a keynote at SCBWI Western Washington. She wears great tights and shoes and is a total riot. She had this effervescent spirit that had the whole room in stitches. It felt like watching one of her illustrations bounce right off the page and into the room.

See, I’m a big fan. Ivy and Bean are soul sisters. I gushed about The Crows of Pearblossom and The Mighty Lalouche over at Design Mom, and still stand by this tweet from the end of 2013.

Her work has sprinkles of fairy dust or something in it – something enchanting and mysterious and compelling and darn beautiful.

And this, her latest offering, is both calming and humorous, sweet and sassy. It’s a bound and beautiful answer to the dreaded where do babies come from?

breakerShe’s so in tune with the vast (and sometimes creepy!) imagination of a youngster, and look at how that plays out in this art. Real life is a spot illustration, surrounded by white space and unknowns. But the what if bleeds to the edge of the page, filling every millimeter with color and wonder and possibility. Not only is it stunning to see, it’s intentional storytelling.The Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallHat tip, always, to Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for the interview that revealed that delicious tidbit. Check out her interview (and more art!) with Sophie here.

Sophie works in Brooklyn with other illustrators Brian Floca, Ed Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Sergio Ruzzier. Can you even imagine spending an hour in that studio, soaking it all up and trying not to faint and fall in it? Dream field trip, for sure. Their kinship and support of one another has always been so apparent. Look here, and here, and here to see what I mean.

But also, look inside The Baby Tree for a glimpse at their love and support of one another. What’s our pajama-clad wonderer reading with Mom and Dad, all cozied up in bed? I won’t spoil it for you, cause it was a gasp-moment for me. If you’ll bust without knowing, check out Danielle’s post over at This Picture Book Life about allusions in picture books. (And stay there a while even once you see what I’m talking about, cause how brilliant is that?!)

You’d like a copy, right? Penguin has two to give away to you! (And you!) Just leave a comment on this post by Monday at noon PST, June 2nd. I’ll pick two, and have the stork deliver The Baby Tree right to your doorstep. Good luck!

ch

Review copy provided by the publisher, all thoughts and love my own.

 


Tagged: book trailer, composition, full bleed, giveaway, nancy paulsen books, penguin, sophie blackall, spot illustrations, the baby tree, white space

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7. Is it worth it?



Any writer who has been through the launch of a new book will tell you, the process can be all-consuming. Sometimes it feels as though it's impossible to write and market your writing at the same time. Whether you're a well-known author on book tour with a top tier release, or a newly published writer managing the logistics of marketing mostly on your own, it takes tremendous effort and energy to send a new book out into the world.

For my first two picture books, I didn't really do much for the launches. Both times I had small children at home—for the second book I was pregnant and my mom was very sick—so, beyond a book signing at my local bookstore attended by mostly close friends and family, the books went into the world quietly, despite some lovely reviews.

This time around is different. While I do still have little kids at home, the youngest of whom is only three, I am a more experienced parent, far better at multitasking and juggling work tasks with mom tasks. And with the help of my publicist at Penguin, and the incomparable marketing guru Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, I have a plan. A full-fledged marketing plan complete with book trailer, blog tour, giveaways, story hour kits, social media campaign, launch party, holiday tie-ins... heck, I even started my own hashtag (#BakingDay).

I explained this to a family member recently, who very candidly (and not unkindly) asked, "Do you think it's worth it?" Translated, this person was asking, will all the work and investment amount to significantly more book sales? And the honest answer to that question is, "I don't know, yet." I believe it will. But I can't say for sure until the book is out there and our promotions get rolling. And even then, some books pick up steam over time vs. having breakthrough sales out of the gate.

The question made me ponder the small miracle of getting a book published—one picture book's path to publication. Books have hurdles (many!) before they reach store and library shelves. First, you, author-person, must get an inspired idea. That idea then needs to morph to paper in first draft form. You re-read it, revise it, put it aside and re-read and revise again (multiple times). Perhaps at this point, you share it with your critique group. You absorb their feedback and revise again.

Then, if you have an agent and feel it's in good shape to share, you send it along. (You wait, wait, wait.) Your agent likes it! (Huzzah!) She sends it to a handful of editors. (You wait, wait, wait some more.) The editor likes it! (Huzzah, again!) But hold on, the editor must take into an editorial meeting.

And here's where it really gets perilous.

Your little manuscript is read aloud and discussed at a roundtable of editors, editorial assistants, art directors, marketing and sales. (Eeeps!) If the group doesn't like it, or it's too similar to something they've already acquired, it gets passed over.

(Insert more waiting, here.) They like it! Eureka!

Think your story is home free? Not necessarily. It then goes to an acquisitions meeting (yet more waiting) where the final vote is made to acquire your book and offer you a contract. (Shoo.)

The good news is, books surmount these hurdles every day at publishing houses all over the world. But it's still a miraculous moment when someone offers to publish your story.

Think of all the hard work your little book did to get here!

That's what I've been doing as I approach the launch of Baking Day At Grandma's. It's like a baby—my book baby—and I want to give it the very best chance to thrive in the marketplace, and all the love and support it deserves.

So, is it worth it?

Definitely.

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8. Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

AbsolutelyAlmost Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa GraffAbsolutely Almost
By Lisa Graff
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-16405-7
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

In the stage musical of Matilda, lyricist Tim Minchin begins the show with the following lines about the state of children today: “Specialness is de rigueur. / Above average is average. Go fig-ueur! / Is it some modern miracle of calculus / That such frequent miracles don’t render each one un-miraculous?” This song ran on a bit of a loop through my cranium as I read Lisa Graff latest middle grade novel Absolutely Almost. For parents, how well your child does reflects right back on you. Your child is a genius? Congratulations! You must be a genius for raising a genius. Your child is above average? Kudos to you. Wait, your child is average? Uh-oh. For some parents nothing in the world could be more embarrassing. We all want our kids to do well in school, but where do you distinguish between their happiness and how hard you’re allowed to push them to do their best? Do you take kindness into account when you’re adding up all their other sterling qualities? Maybe the wonder of Absolutely Almost is that it’s willing to give us an almost unheard of hero. Albie is not extraordinary in any possible way and he would like you to be okay with that. The question then is whether or not child readers will let him.

Things aren’t easy for Albie. He’s not what you’d call much of a natural at anything. Reading and writing is tough. Math’s a headache. He’s not the world’s greatest artist and he’s not going to win any awards for his wit. That said, Albie’s a great kid. If you want someone kind and compassionate, he’s your man. When he finds himself with a new babysitter, a girl named Calista who loves art, he’s initially skeptical. She soon wins him over, though, and good thing too since there are a lot of confusing things going on in his life. One day he’s popular and another he’s not. He’s been kicked out of his old school thanks to his grades. Then there’s the fact that his best friend is part of a reality show . . . well, things aren’t easy for Albie. But sometimes, when you’re not the best at anything, you can make it up to people by simply being the best kind of person.

Average people are tough. They don’t naturally lend themselves to great works of literature generally unless they’re a villain or the butt of a joke. Lots of heroes are billed as “average heroes” but how average are they really? Put another way, would they ever miscalculate a tip? Our fantasy books are full to overflowing of average kids finding out that they’re extraordinary (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Meg Murry, etc.). Now imagine that the book kept them ordinary. Where do you go from there? Credit where credit is due to Lisa Graff then. The literary challenge of retaining a protagonist’s everyday humdrum status is intimidating. Graff wrestles with the idea and works it to her advantage. For example, the big momentous moment in this book is when it turns out that Albie doesn’t have dyslexia and just isn’t good at reading. I’ve never seen that in a book for kids before, and it was welcome. It made it clear what kind of book we’re dealing with.

As a librarian who has read a LOT of children’s books starring “average” kids, I kept waiting for that moment when Albie discovered he had a ridiculously strong talent for, say, ukulele or poker or something. It never came. It never came and I was left realizing that it was possible that it never would. Kids are told all the time that someday they’ll find that thing that’ll make them unique. Well what if they don’t? What happens then? Absolutely Almost is willing to tell them the truth. There’s a wonderful passage where Calista and Albie are discussing the fact that he may never find something he’s good at. Calista advises, “Find something you’d want to keep doing forever… even if you stink at it. And then, if you’re lucky, with lots of practice, then one day you won’t stink so much.” Albie points out, correctly, that he might still stink at it and what then? Says Calista, “Then won’t you be glad you found something you love?”

Mind you, average heroes run a big risk. Absolutely Almost places the reader in a difficult position. More than one kid is going to find themselves angry with Albie for being dense. But the whole point of the book is that he’s just not the sharpest pencil in the box. Does that make the reader sympathetic then to his plight or a bully by proxy? It’s the age-old problem of handing the reader the same information as the hero but allowing them to understand more than that hero. If you’re smarter than the person you’re reading about, does that make you angry or understanding? I suppose it depends on the reader and the extent to which they can relate to Albie’s problem. Still, I would love to sit in on a kid book discussion group as they talked about Albie. Seems to me there will be a couple children who find their frustration with his averageness infuriating. The phrase “Choose Kind” has been used to encourage kids not to bully kids that look different than you. I’d be interested in a campaign that gave as much credence to encouraging kids not to bully those other children that aren’t as smart as they are.

I’ve followed the literary career of Lisa Graff for years and have always enjoyed her books. But with Absolutely Almost I really feel like she’s done her best work. The book does an excellent job of showing without telling. For example, Albie discusses at one point how good he is at noticing things then relates a teacher’s comment that, “if you had any skill at language, you might’ve made a very fine writer.” Graff then simply has Albie follow up that statement with a simple “That’s what she said.” You’re left wondering if he picked up on the inherent insult (or was it just a truth?) in that. Almost in direct contrast, in a rare moment of insight, his dad says something about Albie that’s surprising in its accuracy. “I think the hard thing for you, Albie… is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is.” I love a book that has the wherewithal to present these different sides of a single person. Such writing belies the idea that what Graff is doing here is simple.

Reading the book as a parent, I could see how my experience with Absolutely Almost was different from that of a kid reader. Take the character of Calista, for example. She’s a very sympathetic babysitter for Albie who does a lot of good for him, offering support when no one else understands. Yet she’s also just a college kid with a poorly defined sense of when to make the right and wrong choice. Spoiler Alert on the rest of this paragraph. When Albie’s suffering terribly she takes him out of school to go to the zoo and then fails to tell his parents about this executive decision on her part. A couple chapters later Albie’s mom finds out about the outing and Calista’s gone from their lives. The mom concludes that she can’t have a babysitter who lies to her and that is 100% correct. A kid reader is going to be angry with the mom, but parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be aware that this is one of those unpopular but necessary moves a parent has to face all the time. It’s part of being an adult. Sorry, kids. Calista was great, but she was also way too close to being a manic pixie dream babysitter. And trust me when I say you don’t want to have a manic pixie dream babysitter watching your children.

Remember the picture book Leo the Late Bloomer where a little tiger cub is no good at anything and then one day, somewhat magically, he’s good at EVERYTHING? Absolutely Almost is the anti-Leo the Late Bloomer. In a sense, the point of Graff’s novel is that oftentimes kindness outweighs intelligence. I remember a friend of mine in college once commenting that he would much rather that people be kind than witty. At the time this struck me as an incredible idea. I’d always gravitated towards people with a quick wit, so the idea of preferring kindness seemed revolutionary. I’m older now, but the idea hasn’t gone away. Nor is it unique to adulthood. Albie’s journey doesn’t reach some neat and tidy little conclusion by this story’s end, but it does reach a satisfying finish. Life is not going to be easy for Albie, but thanks to the lessons learned here, you’re confident that he’s gonna make it through. Let’s hope other average kids out there at least take heart from that. A hard book to write. An easy book to read.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: BookPage

Interviews:

  • Lisa speaks with BookPage about the creation of the book.

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9. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory Turns 50

Roald Dahl‘s classic children’s book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory turns 50 this year. To commemorate the occasion, Penguin Young Readers has released a new paperback edition of the novel and is running its own golden ticket sweepstakes.

Five young readers will win a trip to New York City and a VIP experience at Dylan’s Candy Bar. In addition, winners will get a year’s supply of chocolate, a library of Dahl books and tickets to see Matilda the Musical. Follow this link to enter the contest. Penguin Young Readers will donate money and a book to the nonprofit First Book for every entry they receive.

To help build up enthusiasm, the publisher  hosted a party at Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York back in April. The springtime fete brought out the likes of Roald Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and  Joseph Schindelman, the original illustrator of the book.

 

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10. Jonathan W. Stokes Inks 3-Book Deal

stokes

Filmmaker Jonathan W. Stokes has landed a six-figure deal with Penguin Young Readers Group’s Philomel imprint.

This middle-grade trilogy project marks Stokes’ debut as a novelist. Philomel president Michael Green will edit the manuscripts.

According to Deadline, the story “has a globe-trotting Goonies vibe and follows a sixth-grader and his pals as he tries to save his archaeologist parents after they’ve been kidnapped by fortune hunters.”

 

continued…

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11. Actions I'm Taking After Reading the New Read-Aloud Handbook

I've included some general responses to my recent reading of the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook in a separate post. Here, I'm sharing the bits that motivated me to want to take a specific action, and/or change something that I'm doing, in terms of my daughter's reading experience.

Mind you, I'm already reading to my daughter (now 3 1/2) regularly. She visits the library, and chooses her own books. We have books in the car, and we take books with us when we go on trips. We read mostly picture books, but are dabbling in early readers, and even dipping our toes into chapter books. I've read at least two earlier editions of The Read-Aloud Handbook, as well as various other titles on this subject, and I'm confident that we're doing a reasonable job already. 

Still, I found some useful take home messages, places where I think we can do a little bit better. Like these:

Perform Repeat Reads of the Same Book

"Research shows that even when children reach primary grades, repeated picture book reading of the same book (at least three times) increases vocabulary acquisition by 15 to 40 percent, and the learning is relatively permanent." (Page 10, Chapter 1)

The immediate take-home message for me on this is to make sure that we do read new picture books at least three times (unless we dislike them, of course). This isn't much of a problem with books that we own, but sometimes the big stack of library books goes back with books that were only read once or twice. I guess mostly this is a reminder of being patient about re-reads. 

Fill More Book Baskets

Another thing that Trelease advocates is the placement of book baskets in strategic locations throughout the house. I did this when my daughter was younger, but I haven't updated the baskets and locations recently. I need to stock a basket for the bathroom, and figure out a way to keep books closer to the kitchen table. This is going to tie in with another project that we're just starting - putting aside some of the board books (sob!), which currently fill the baskets. 

Get A Bedside Lamp

A related idea, Trelease also suggests buying your child a bed lamp, and letting them stay up 15 minutes later if they are reading in bed. We're not quite ready for this idea in my house yet (we tend to read to her until she falls asleep), but a bed lamp is clearly something that we're going to need soon.  

Read More Poetry

Trelease also talks about the need to read aloud stories that rhyme (Chapter Two). I haven't been as good about reading my daughter poetry as I would like. She's now starting to play with rhyming herself (and has just discovered tongue-twisters), and I think it's time for us to add more poetry to our repertoire. 

Always Say the Title and Name of the Author

In Chapter 4: The Dos and Don'ts of Read-Aloud, Trelease says:

"Before you begin to read, always say the name of the book, the author, and the illustrator--no matter how many times you have read the book." (Page 74)

I used to be very good about this, and had been letting it go a bit lately. This reminder has already gotten me back on track with attribution. I also like to say where the book came from, if it was a gift. 

Read More Slowly

Another reminder from Chapter 4, always good to hear again:

"The most common mistake in reading aloud--whether the reader is a seven-year-old or a forty-year-old--is reading too fast. Read slowly enough for the child to build mental pictures of what he just heard you read. Slow down enough for the children to see the pictures in the book without feeling hurried. Reading quickly allows no time for the reader to use vocal expression." (Page 75)

I think it's always tempting for adults to read quickly, and get through more books. There's a feeling of accomplishment if we read five books tonight before bed. But reading them better, more slowly, with more expression and discussion, is clearly better in the long run. I'm going to work on this.

Chart Reading Progress

My daughter loves to look at her growth chart, and see how much she's grown. Trelease advocates creating a home or school wall chart so that kids can see how much they've read. He says that:

"images of caterpillars, snakes, worms, and trains work well for this purpose, with each section representing a book. Similarly, post a world or U.S. wall map, on which small stickers can be attached to locations where your books have been set." (Page 76)

I especially like the map idea, because we LOVE maps in my house. I'll have to think about the best way to do this. US map? World map? Both? 

Initiate Home Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Time

Trelease suggests setting aside time each day for the child to read by herself (even if she is just flipping through books that she can't yet read). He adds: "All your read-aloud motivation goes for naught if time is not available to put that motivation into practice." (Page 77)

We've done this informally, especially in the car. But I like the idea of having a designated quiet self-reading time. I'm happy to also use the time to model reading, by reading my own book. I'll have to think about how this could be integrated into our schedule. 

Spend Less Time Pecking Away on My Phone

I don't have one quote for this, but a number of references in The Read-Aloud Handbook have affirmed something that I've been concerned about for a while. I spend too much time looking at things on my phone, in my daughter's presence. I'd rather either be present with her, or have her see me reading books (or newspapers or magazines). If I am going to read electronically, I prefer to do it on the Kindle Paperwhite, which is only for reading books. I always call this my "Kindle Book", to reinforce the idea that when she sees me with it, I am reading.  

Continue Limiting TV Time, and Turn On the Closed Captioning

Trelease has a whole chapter on the impact of television and audio on kids and reading. I've been determined since before she was born that my daughter will not have a television set in her bedroom (and I won't have one in mine, either). We currently only allow her to watch television on weekends (though she does sneak in a bit of extra time on the iPad during the week sometimes). But she's like an addict, constantly asking if it's the weekend, and then binging on movies when it is. 

I'm particularly struck by the results of a study that found looked at children's schooling level by age twenty-six vs. the amount of television watched in childhood. "Children who viewed less than one hour a day were the most likely to achieve a college degree." (Page 147) Another study suggested "no detrimental effects on learning (and some positive effects) from TV viewing up to ten hours per week; however, after that, the scores begin to decline. The average student today watches three times the recommended dosage." (Page 148)

I'm not going to make any changes right now, besides turning on the closed captioning (something that Trelease has recommended for years, so that kids SEE the words). But I'm going to keep an eye on how many hours of TV watching creep in over the weekends. Just as soon as the baseball playoffs are over, anyway. 

Limit iPad Time When Traveling

We don't have a portable DVD player, or a DVD player in the car, and I don't see much need for one. But we have downloaded a few select movies onto the iPad. We've found this useful for long car trips, or other times when we need a break. (Most recently, when we brought our daughter along on a wine tasting trip to Napa.) I'm not prepared to give this up - it's been awfully handy on long flights. But I do take this point by Trelease into account:

"The recent addition of the DVD player to family transportation does nothing but deprive the child of yet another classroom: conversation with parents or the shared intellectual experience of listening to an audiobook communally." (Page 154)

I don't think that  my daughter is quite ready to follow along with an audiobook, but I do plan to use them for car trips when I think that she's ready. In the meantime, I'm going to work on talking more, and resorting to the iPad less, especially in the car (though I won't give it up entirely). 

Conclusion

A pretty fine list of actions to take, considering that this is at least the third edition I've read of The Read-Aloud Handbook (out of 7 published editions). Trelease has said that this will be the last edition that he writes, which makes me sad. But I'm very happy to have this one. 

How about you all? Have you read The Read-Aloud Handbook? Has it affected your efforts to grow bookworms in your own household? I'd love it if you would share. 

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

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12. Reading Aloud to Kids Builds Background Knowledge

I recently read the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook (more details here). The section (in Chapter 1) on Background Knowledge stood out for me. Trelease says: 

"Background knowledge is one reason children who read the most bring the largest amount of information to the learning table and thus understand more of what the teacher of the textbook is teaching... For the impoverished child lacking the travel portfolio of affluence, the best way to accumulate background knowledge is by either reading or being read to." (Page 13-14)

There is no question that my daughter has acquired background knowledge from books. Recently we were in the parking lot at the grocery store, and a taxi cab passed by. My daughter said: "Look! A taxi cab! I've never seen one in real life before." (Forgetting various airport trips, I guess.) She had, however, seen a taxi cab in Night Light by Nicholas Blechman. And despite the one in the book having been somewhat stylized, the rendition was accurate enough for my Baby Bookworm to know one when she saw it. 

Do you have examples of ways that your child has used books to build background knowledge? Or is this so pervasive that you don't even notice? 

See also my related post about making connections between books and day-to-day life, from this year's Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. 

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

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13. Merry Christmas!!!

I want you all to know that I really appreciate your visits and comments on my little blog. Thank you!!!

If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen my #HoHoDooDa sketches. Here are a few of them for your viewing pleasure.

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14. Review of the Day: Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

NightingalesNest Review of the Day: Nightingales Nest by Nikki LoftinNightingale’s Nest
By Nikki Loftin
Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin)
$16.99
ISNB: 978-1-59514-546-8
Ages 10-14
On shelves now.

Magical realism in children’s novels is a rarity. It’s not unheard of, but when children’s authors want fantasy, they write fantasy. When they want reality, they write reality. A potentially uncomfortable mix of the two is harder to pull off. Ambiguity is not unheard of in books for youth, but it’s darned hard to write. Why go through all that trouble? For that reason alone we don’t tend to see it in children’s books. Kids like concrete concepts. Good guys vs. bad guys. This is real vs. this is a dream. But a clever author, one who respects the intelligence of their young audience, can upset expectations without sacrificing their story. When author Nikki Loftin decided to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Nightingale into a middle grade contemporary novel, she made a conscious decision to make the book a work of magical realism. A calculated risk, Loftin’s gambit pays off. Nightingale’s Nest is a painful but ultimately emotionally resonant tale of sacrifice and song. A remarkably competent book, stronger for its one-of-a-kind choices.

It doesn’t seem right that a twelve-year-old boy would carry around a guilt as deep and profound as Little John’s. But when you feel personally responsible for the death of your little sister, it’s hard to let go of those feelings. It doesn’t help matters any that John has to spend the summer helping his dad clear brush for the richest man in town, a guy so extravagant, the local residents just call him The Emperor. It’s on one of these jobs that John comes to meet and get to know The Emperor’s next door neighbor, Gayle. About the age of his own sister when she died, Gayle’s a foster kid who prefers sitting in trees in her own self-made nest to any other activity. But as the two become close friends, John notices odd things about the girl. When she sings it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before, and she even appears to possibly have the ability to heal people with her voice. It doesn’t take long before The Emperor becomes aware of the treasure in his midst. He wants Gayle’s one of a kind voice, and he’ll do anything to have it. The question is, what does John think is more important: His family’s livelihood or the full-throated song of one little girl?

How long did it take me to realize I was reading a middle grade adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen short story? Let me first tell you that when I read a book I try not to read even so much as a plot description beforehand so that the novel will stay fresh and clear in my mind. With that understanding, it’s probably not the worst thing in the world that it took a 35-year-old woman thirty-nine pages before she caught on to what she was reading. Still, I have the nasty suspicion that many a savvy kid would have picked up on the theme before I did. As it stands, we’ve seen Andersen adapted into middle grade novels for kids before. Breadcrumbs, for example, is a take on his story The Snow Queen as well as some of his other, stranger tales. They say that he wrote The Nightingale for the singer Jenny Lind, with whom he was in love. All I know is that in the original tale the story concentrates on the wonders of the natural world vs. the mechanical one. In this book, Loftin goes in a slightly different direction. It isn’t an over-reliance on technology that’s the problem here. It’s an inability to view our fellow human beings as just that. Human beings. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what Andersen was going for in the first place.

It was the writing, of course, that struck my attention first. Loftin gives the book beautiful sequences filled with equally beautiful sentences. There’s a section near the end that tells a tale of a tree that fails to keep hold of a downy chick, but is redeemed by saving another bird in a storm. This section says succinctly everything you need to know about this book. I can already see the children’s book and discussion groups around the country that will get a kick out of picking apart this parable. It’s not a hard one to interpret, but you wouldn’t want it to be.

As for the characters, there wasn’t a person here that I couldn’t recognize as real. I was quite taken with the fact that Loftin continually sidesteps a lot of the usual middle grade tropes. Gayle’s nasty foster brother Jeb, for example, could easily have been labeled the typical bully type character for this book. Bullies in children’s books, after all, have a tendency to be one-note characters. Jeb, in contrast, is capable of talking like a normal human being from time to time. He’s a horrible human being at other times, but at least you get the sense that he’s not just a walking two-dimensional caricature. It makes a difference.

The ending is going to be problematic for some folks. It is not, I should say, unsatisfying. I think even people who don’t have a problem with what it says will only have a problem with HOW it goes about saying it. But the end of the book goes so far as to make it clear that this story really doesn’t take place in the real world in which we live. The characters face real world problems, but that doesn’t preclude the presence of something magical. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .” and all that jazz. For some readers, this may feel like a kind of betrayal. As if the author didn’t have the guts to stay in the real world from start to finish, but instead had to rely on something otherworldly for her climax. I don’t see it that way. Loftin’s choices seem very deliberate here, from page one onward. Just because something is magical, that doesn’t mean you can’t interpret the book in other ways. Don’t like the supernatural element at the end? Then why are you assuming it’s real? After all, we’re getting this whole story through Little John’s perspective. Who’s to say he’s the world’s most reliable narrator? Just because a book is written for children, that doesn’t mean you have to take it at face value.

In any case, I don’t believe the magic detracts in the least from what Loftin is saying here about the banality of poverty. This isn’t a book that romanticizes what it’s like to be poor. It’s just Little John’s everyday existence, to a certain extent. And with the introduction of The Emperor, readers get to see firsthand how money, or the lack thereof, has a lot to do with self-worth and what you have to do with your pride and sense of self-worth when you’re indebted to another person. Little John witnesses firsthand his own father’s humiliation at the hands of the Emperor, and then finds himself in possession (in a sense) of something The Emperor wants. But rather than give him power, this just focuses the rich man’s attention on the boy, making him easy prey. Better that you never have something the wealthy think that they need. And as Little John says at one point, “What was right didn’t have a thing to do with what was.”

Reading the book, I found it enormously painful. But I at least had the wherewithal to realize that it was uniquely painful to me as a mother. Any parent reading this is going to instantly fret and worry and think about Gayle’s position in her foster home. But for kids reading this book they’re going to identify with Little John and Gayle as children, not as parents. This is a book about terrible decisions made, for the most part, by good people. This can, at times, make the story emotionally hard to follow, but I like to think Ms. Loftin had things well in hand when she came up with her tale. There’s a great comfort in knowing that even when you screw up royally, you can still find forgiveness. If kids take nothing else away from this book, I hope that they understand that much. Smart and beautiful by turns, The Nightingale’s Nest does one thing that few will contest. Once you’ve read it, you’ll have a hard time getting it out of your head.

On shelves now.

Notes on the Cover: It was indeed the cover that I noticed first about this book. Unfortunately the name of the artist has been difficult to find, but it’s lovely isn’t it? The girl, clearly Gayle, could be floating or flying or just lying on the ground, depending on how you look at it. Of course, most notable is the fact that she appears to be African-American. There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about showing black faces on our book jackets, so I applaud Razorbill for having the guts to do a cover that isn’t a silhouette. That said, I did notice that at no point in the novel does the book specifically say that Gayle is dark-skinned. In fact, it doesn’t really describe her skin at all. We get a sense of how soft her hair is and how beautiful her voice, but nothing much more beyond that. Could this be one of the very few cases in which a kid’s race isn’t mentioned in a book and yet that kid isn’t just assumed to be white? If so it’s a big step forward in the world of book jackets. Someone should conduct an interview with Razorbill’s art director about the decision to go with this cover. I’d love to know if this is indicative of books in the future. If so, it’s a trend I’ll be watching with great interest.

Source: Galley sent from the publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Interviews:

Misc: Finally, you can read an excerpt over at I Read Banned Books.

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15. Review of the Day: Curiosity by Gary Blackwood

Curiosity Review of the Day: Curiosity by Gary BlackwoodCuriosity
By Gary Blackwood
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3924-6
Ages 9-12
On shelves April 10th

Blackwood’s back, baby! And not a minute too soon. Back in 1998, the author released The Shakespeare Stealer which would soon thereafter become his best-known work. A clever blending of historical fiction and adventure, the book allowed teachers the chance to hone Shakespeare down to a kid-friendly level. Since its publication Mr. Blackwood has kept busy, writing speculative fiction and, most recently, works of nonfiction for kids. Then there was a bit of a lull in his writing and the foolish amongst us (myself included) forgot about him. There will be no forgetting Mr. Blackwood anytime now though. Not after you read his latest work Curiosity. Throwing in everything from P.T. Barnum and phrenology to hunchbacks, Edgar Allan Poe, automatons, chess prodigies, murder, terrible fires, and legless men, Blackwood produces a tour de force to be reckoned with. In the press materials for this book, Penguin calls it “Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle grade fiction.” They’re not wrong. The man’s about to acquire a whole new generation of fans and enthusiasts.

Fear for the children of novels that describe their childhoods as pampered or coddled. No good can come of that. Born weak with a slight deformity of the spine, Rufus lives a lovely life with his father, a well-respected Methodist minister in early 19th century Philadelphia. That’s all before his father writes a kind of predecessor to The Origin of the Species and through a series of misadventures is thrown into debtor’s prison. Fortunately (perhaps) Rufus is a bit of a chess prodigy and his talents get him a job with a man by the name of Johann Nepomuk Maelzel. Maelzel owns an automaton called The Turk that is supposed to be able to play chess against anyone and win. With Rufus safely ensconced inside, The Turk is poised to become a massive moneymaker. But forces are at work to reveal The Turk’s secrets and if that information gets out, Rufus’s life might not be worth that of the pawns he plays.

Making the past seem relevant and accessible is hard enough when you’re writing a book for adults. Imagine the additional difficulty children’s authors find themselves in. Your word count is limited else you lose your audience. That means you need to engage in some serious (not to mention judicious and meticulous) wordplay. Blackwood’s a pro, though. His 1835 world is capable of capturing you with its life and vitality without boring you in the process. At one point Rufus describes seeing Richmond, VA for the first time and you are THERE, man. From the Flying Gigs to the mockingbirds to the James River itself. I was also relieved to find that Blackwood does make mention of the African-Americans living in Richmond and Philly at the time this novel takes place. Many are the works of historical fiction by white people about white people that conveniently forget this little fact.

Add onto that the difficulty that comes with making the past interesting and accurate and relevant all at once. I read more historical fiction for kids than a human being should, and while it’s all often very well meaning, interesting? Not usually an option. I’m certain folks will look at how Blackwood piles on the crazy elements here (see: previous statement about the book containing everything from phrenology to P.T. Barnum) and will assume that this is just a cheap play for thrills. Not so. It’s the man’s writing that actually holds your focus. I mean, look at that first line: “Out of all the books in the world, I wonder what made you choose this one.” Heck, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Check out these little gems:

“If my cosseted childhood hadn’t taught me how to relate to other people, neither had it taught em to fear them.”

“I was like some perverse species of prisoner who felt free only when he was locked inside a tiny cell.”

“Maelzel was not the sort of creator imagined by the Deists, who fashions a sort of clockwork universe and winds it up, then sits back and watches it go and never interferes. He was more like my father’s idea of the creator: constantly tinkering with his creations, looking for ways to make them run more smoothly and perform more cleverly – the kind who makes it possible for new species to develop.”

As for the writing of the story itself, Blackwood keeps the reader guessing and then fills the tale with loads of historical details. The historical accuracy is such that Blackwood even allows himself little throwaway references, confident that confused kids will look them up themselves. For example, at one point Rufus compares himself to “Varney the Vampire climbing into his coffin.” This would be a penny dreadful that circulated roundabout this time (is there any more terrifying name than “Varney” after all?). In another instance a blazing fire is met with two “rival hose” companies battling one another “for the right to hook up to the nearest fireplug.” There is a feeling that for a book to be literary it has to be dull. Blackwood dispels the notion, and one has to stand amazed when they realize that somehow he managed to make a story about a kid trapped in a small dark space for hours at a time riveting.

Another one of the more remarkable accomplishments of the book is that it honestly makes you want to learn more about the game of chess. A good author can get a kid interested in any subject, of course. I think back on The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, which dared to talk up the game of Bridge. And honestly, chess isn’t a hard sell. The #1 nonfiction request I get from my fellow children’s librarians (and the request I simply cannot fulfill fast enough) is for more chess books for kids. At least in the big cities, chess is a way of life for some children. One hopes that we’ll be able to extend their interest beyond the immediate game itself and onto a book where a kid like themselves has all the markings of true genius.

It isn’t perfect, of course. In terms of characterization, of all the people in this book Rufus is perhaps the least interesting. You willingly follow him, of course. Just because he doesn’t sparkle on the page like some of the other characters doesn’t mean you don’t respond to the little guy. One such example might be when his first crush doesn’t go as planned. But he’s a touchstone for the other characters around him. Then there’s the other problem of Rufus being continually rescued by the same person in the same manner (I won’t go into the details) more than once. It makes for a weird repeated beat. The shock of the first incident is actually watered down by the non-surprise of the second. Rufus becomes oddly passive in his own life, rarely doing anything to change the course of his fate (he falls unconscious and wakes up rescued more than once,) a fact that may contribute to the fact that he’s so unmemorable on the page.

But that aside, it’s hard not to be entranced by what Blackwood has come up with here. Automatons sort of came to the public’s attention when Brian Selznick wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Blackwood takes it all a step further merging man and machine, questioning what we owe to one another and, to a certain extent, where the power really lies. Rufus finds his sense of self and bravery by becoming invisible. At the same time, he’s so innocent to the ways of the world that becoming visible comes with the danger of having your heart broken in a multitude of different ways. In an era where kids spend untold gobs of time in front of the screens of computers, finding themselves through a newer technology, Blackwood’s story has never been timelier. Smart and interesting, fun and strange, this is one piece of little known history worthy of your attention. Check and mate.

On shelves April 10th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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First Line: “Out of all the books in the world, I wonder what made you choose this one.”

Notes on the Cover: And now let us praise fabulous cover artists. Particularly those creating covers that make more sense after you’ve finished the book. The glimpse of Rufus’s eye in the “O” of the title didn’t do much more than vaguely remind me of the spine of the The Invention of Hugo Cabret at first (an apt comparison in more than one way). After closer examination, however, I realized that it was Rufus in the cabinet below. The unnerving view of The Turk and the shadowy Mr. Hyde-ish man in the far back all combine to give this book a look of both historical fervor and intrigue. And look how that single red (red?) pawn is lit. It’s probably not actually a red pawn but a white one, but something about the image looks reddish. Blood red, if you will. Boy, that’s a good jacket.

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

Misc:

  • Care to read Edgar Allan Poe’s actual article for The Messenger about The Turk?  Do so here.
  • A fun BBC piece on the implication of The Turk then, now, and for our children.  It appears to have been written by one “Adam Gopnik”.  We’ll just assume it’s a different Adam than the one behind A Tale Dark & Grimm.

Videos: Want to see the real Turk in action?  This video makes for fascinating watching.

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16. Penguin to Close My Artist’s Way Toolkit Site

myartistswayPenguin is shutting down the website My Artist’s Way Toolkit on May 15th 2014. The site was based on Julia Cameron‘s book and supplied interactive tools designed to encourage creativity.

The site, which has been available to readers through subscription, included writing exercises, creative affirmations and a toolset for organizing a user’s own work.

Here is more from the website: “Before the site shuts down, you should export all of the great content you’ve built within the site. You will find explicit instructions on how to do just that here. And don’t worry, all charges from February 1st on will be refunded, which you will see reflected on your next credit card statement. If you have any questions, please reach out to us atappsupport@us.penguingroup.com.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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17. Oliver’s Tree

Olivers Tree by Kit Chasewritten and illustrated by Kit Chase

published 2014, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of PenguinOliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’ve always had a soft spot for elephants, ever since I had a sweet stuffed one as a kid. He played ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ so of course, Sunshine was his name. And I don’t know who I’m kidding with the kid thing, cause Sunshine still lives with me. He’s a dear.

And lately, I’ve had a tender thing towards trees and how much they give us. Some are big enough to hug, and some snap at the landing of a songbird. All are homes.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseAdd a little Beatrix Potter-esque art, and a story that stays endearing without dipping into the saccharine side, and I’m completely charmed. The dust jacket says it best: ‘there’s a reason we don’t see elephants in trees.’

I love this elephant, Oliver. I love that when all he sees is despair, he takes a nap. Spectacular coping skill, Oliver! Thank goodness that his friends aren’t defeated, and they get to work searching and gathering.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’m adding the spread below to my inner rolodex of perfect picture book spreads. The words and the illustrations balance each other and don’t compete for attention. It slows down the action, builds suspense, and gives the reader a chance to predict what happens on the other side of the page turn. And the twig frames are just plain lovely. So: pretty perfect.Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI hope this isn’t the only story Kit Chase is brewing with Oliver, Charlie, and Lulu. I feel like they have a lot to say and share.

Want to see more of her art? A dash of dear and a pinch of perfect? All of the pieces below are in her Etsy shop, trafalgar’s square. Huge thanks to Kit for sharing these with us!https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare

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Review copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.


Tagged: etsy, kit chase, oliver's tree, penguin

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18. Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

penguinlogo 243x300 Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)There is a certain element of mystery that accompanies each and every librarian preview here in New York City.  When the larger publishers gather the librarians to their proverbial bosom, those same librarians walk in with just one question in your mind: How long is this going to take?  If you’re lucky you’ll be out by lunchtime.  But with Penguin beginning their preview by providing lunch, the day was rendered simply more mysterious.  Fortunately the answer to the puzzle lay on our seats.  Each librarian was given a 48-page collection of PowerPoint slides for the event.  48 pages!  The length of a slightly long picture book.  That’s entirely doable!  And indeed, for this particular preview I was pleased to discover that we’d only be covering a sampling of the books from each imprint.  Bonus!

During the course of the event a photo was taken of the librarians and posted to Twitter that day.  See if you can spot me in this shot:

Penguin14libpreview 500x375 Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

If you said, “Why Betsy is the woman in white imitating a small ocean liner” you would have earned yourself a cookie.  There is very little photographic evidence of my pregnancy this second time around.  As such, this is one of the very rare shots in existence.  Credit due to @VikingChildrens.

But enough of this silliness.  Onward to the previews!  As per usual I’ll just be reporting on the children’s fare, with the exception of the rare YA novel here and there.  And, naturally, we begin with . . .

Philomel

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

AbsolutelyAlmost Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

To be slightly more specific, we begin with Lisa Graff.  Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff has, as of this blog post, earned itself four starred reviews thus far, unless I am much mistaken.  Like all her other books out there, it’s a standalone.  There’s something infinitely comforting about authors that aren’t afraid to write standalone novels.  Heck, in this era of ubiquitous sequels it’s a downright relief, it is.  In Absolutely Almost our main character goes by the name of Albie.  He’s a good kid but he thinks of himself as an “almost”.  You know.  He does a lot of things . . . almost well.  So what do you do when you’re just almost everything?  Aye.  There’s the rub.  Set in NYC the book is apparently for fans of Wonder, Rules, Joey Pigza books, and Liar & Spy.  An interesting assortment of connections, to say the least!

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton

ChasingMilky Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Next up?  A little Moulton.  Editor Jill Santopolo called her a “gorgeous under the radar” author.  One must assume she is referring to her books, though I’m sure she’s quite cute.  In this particular title two sisters try to take care of their mentally ill mom.  A common theme this year, what with the near simultaneous release of books like Under the Egg.  Lucy the eldest, however, can’t keep everyone safe.  Ms. Moulton’s own mother is a social worker and took her daughter along on the job often enough that it made a significant impression.  Authors Moulton was compared to included Jerry Spinelli, Katherine Paterson, and Sharon Creech.  But no pressure or anything!

Brotherband: Slaves of Socorro by John Flanagan

SlavesSocorro Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

If your library system is anything like mine then you have a devil of a time figuring out where to catalog John Flanagan.  Is he Juv?  YA?  Well don’t expect the answers to come any easier.  Penguin is planning on repackaging the first four books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series as well as the Brotherband books.  Speaking of which, in this latest little novel, the Slaves of Socorro, editor Michael Green called it a “crossover episode” of sorts.  Characters from the Rangers books and the Brotherband books are now banding together.  It’s a fictional literary character supergroup!  Expect already existing fans to be pretty stoked over the idea.

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

SecretSky Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Ah.  The first of the true YA novels to be mentioned here today.  I might not have even mentioned it except that Jill, its editor, got so existed.  “This is THE most important book I’ve ever edited”, said she.  Hard to ignore enthusiasm like that.  A love story set in the time of the Taliban, the book is by ABC Bureau Chief, Atia Abawi.  Raised in Germany and the American south after her mother escaped Afghanistan during the Russian invasion, Ms. Abawi’s book has been getting blurbs from authors (Daphne Benedis-Grab, Trent Reedy, etc.) as well as folks in her own business (Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondant of NBC Andrea Mitchell, for example).

Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

OnceUponAlphabet Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Now to switch gears as far as those gears will go.  Oliver Jeffers is a tricky fellow to judge.  I’ve loved some of his stuff (I maintain that Stuck is a modern classic for our times) and loathed others.  I think it’s fair to say that Once Upon an Alphabet is going to fall a little more squarely on the love side of the equation.  Jeffers tackles the alphabet on his own this time and isn’t afraid to break out the fancy words.  Calling this, “Oliver’s magnum opus” the book contains little stories for each storyline.  Here’s one example: “C: Cup in the cupboard. Cup lived in the cupboard. It was dark and cold in there when the door was closed. He dreamed of living over by the window so he’d have a clear view. One afternoon he decided to go for it.” I won’t spoil the ending of that one for you.  Regardless, think of this as a lighter companion to books like The Gashlycrumb Tinies and the like.

Nancy Paulsen Books

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall

BabyTree Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Then we’re off to the Nancy Paulsen Books side of the equation.  And can I tell you how goofy crazy my librarians are about The Baby Tree right now?  I tell you, the cover of this book came up onto the screen and there were universal coos from the librarians in attendance.  And why not?  The whole where-do-babies-come-from niche is still fairly wide open.  In this story a boy asks for some straightforward explanations of where babies come from, only to be met with a flurry of ridiculous answers from a variety of elders.  It’s a pretty darn good second sibling book for the older set (the 4, 5, and 6-year-olds) out there.  Definitely a keeper and one to watch.

Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear by Monica Carnesi

SleepoverBeatrice Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

And speaking of keepers covering well-worn topics, let us now discuss hibernation.  Or not.  Totally up to you.  Now you may think every possible hibernation book out there has already been published but that’s just because you didn’t realize that Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear was on the horizon.  Carnesi was best known to me as the woman behind that rather lovely early chapter book Little Dog Lost a year or two ago.  Nancy Paulsen calls her “our librarian author” so, y’know, right there.  Occupational pride.  In this story a bear and rabbit are buddies but soon it’s time for the bear to hibernate.  Beatrice, the aforementioned bunny, decides she will hibernate too, though she’s not entirely certain what that would entail.  As it turns out, bunnies are no good at hibernation but rather than turn this into one of those books where the bear wakes up in the winter and has a spiffing good time (those storylines always bug me for some reason) the solution to Beatrice’s problem is far more charming.  Good stuff.

Putnam

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

SecretHumDaisy Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Onward to Putnam and a book that I’m just going to have to read for myself if I’m going to figure it out at all.  As you can see, it has one of those non-covers and poetic titles that publishers give books when they’re super excited about their literary award possibilities.  And when they start bandying about the phrase “lyrical”, you know something’s up.  In very brief terms it’s a girl with a dead mom story.  Elaborated upon a bit, the girl in question is ripped from what she knows and is placed with a grandma she never knew well.  In time she goes on a treasure hunt, believing that her mother, in whatever form, is behind it in some way.  Basically, all she wants is for her mom to be the treasure at the end.  Rife with clues, it reminded me of Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur or Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass.  I’ll give it a go!

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Dreamwood Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

This year carnivorous trees are quite hot.  We’ve seen four different middle grade novels thus far with trees that have dark desires/appetites, and Dreamwood falls into that category.  Don’t write it off as a mere example of hungry wood, though.  No no, this one’s supposed to be pretty good.  Set during the turn of the century in the Pacific Northwest, a girl’s father goes missing in the forest.  So what else can she do but set off with a boy to find her missing father and maybe along the way find a cure for tree blight?  One of my librarians who loves fantasy read it and gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up.  For my part, I was just grateful that the words “eco-fantasy” were never used when describing it.  Oo, I dislike that term!

Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat

NinjaRedRidingHood Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

I got name checked with this next book, which had me just knocking my brain try to remember the context.  Perhaps it was another librarian preview in the recent past?  Could have been.  In any case, apparently when I saw the version of The Three Little Pigs by duo Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat I wondered out loud for all to hear why no one had ever done the same for Little Red Riding Hood.  Enter the answer to my prayers (though I’ve no doubt they had the idea long before I did).  Basically, this is the book for you if you ever wanted to see the wolf get the ever-loving-crap kicked out of him by a girl in a red cape.

Oh, and here’s a non-workplace safe fun activity for you: Google Image the term “ninja red riding hood” sometime and see what comes up.  I was looking for a copy of the jacket of this book.  What I initially found . . . wasn’t that.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

AllFourStars Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Finally, something light and frothy and VERY New York.  I have witnessed firsthand the existence of the foodie child.  They exist, often raised by foodie adults, so that they know the difference between flavors and can go so far as to distinguish between them for you.  This, however, is not the life our heroine leads.  She’s a foodie kid, sure, but her parents are fast food lovers.  Still, the kiddo has prodigious talents so she gets hired to review a restaurant professionally.  The catch?  Her new bosses don’t know that she’s a kid, so she basically has to sneak to NYC and the restaurant in question on her own.  Ms. Dairman is a bit of a foodie herself, though alas the book will not include any recipes.  Ah well.  The sequel is due out in 2015.

Viking

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney

NellyGnuDaddyToo Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

There was a time when I wouldn’t have understood the lure of the Llama Llama Red Pajama world.  But have a small child and your view of things changes.  Say what you will about Anna Dewdney, the woman scans.  Consistently and without fail.  You can read a book of hers cold and come out looking like a pro every time.  Since Llama Llama is the unofficial poster child of the single mama household, it was only a matter of time before the masses demanded a book along similar lines with but a daddy.  Llama Llama’s best friend Nelly Gnu now gets her chance to shine in the sun with this latest title.  Daddy Gnu, I should note, is a pretty darn good feller.  He takes care of his kiddo and makes dinner to boot.  This is hardly a novel idea, but it’s not like we see it in picture books as often as we might.  Well played.

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock

StarbirdMurphy Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

It’s a toss-up as to what I like more: The title of the book, or the name of the author?  On the one hand, “Starbird Murphy” just feels right.  On the other hand, who can resist a last name like “Finneyfrock”?  The plot of the actual book is nice too.  It stars a commune kid who lives entirely off the grid.  This world is entirely normal to her, but eventually she must leave normal and travel into the city.  Think of it as a girl version of Alabama Moon.

Brave Chicken Little by Robert Byrd

BraveChickenLittle Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Now here’s a real beauty that deserves some of your time and attention.  For the most part, big publishers eschew folk and fairytales.  You want the latest version of Snow White and Rose Red?  Get thee to a smaller company!  But once in a great while a biggie will take a chance.  Mind you, after reading this book I don’t think there’s anything the least bit chancey about Robert Byrd’s work.  The ultimate cautionary fable gets a leg up in this updated look at the chick that went for the most extreme of explanations.  It follows the usual storyline to a point, then diverges and allows the hero to come out triumphant.  The moral of the old story was probably something along the lines of “don’t believe everything you hear”.  The moral of the new story?  “Don’t get eaten. Get even.”  [This phrase, by the way, when you Google it appears to be the tagline of a popular Bear Pepper Spray.  Just thought you'd like to know.]

Puffin/Speak

Follow Your Heart: Summer Love by Jill Santopolo

FollowYourHeart Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

One of these days, my children, my prayers will be answered and someone will republish those old Sunfire Romances where the historical girl had to choose between two hunky men.  Them’s my youth!  Until then, however, we have the next best thing.  Something that sounds so obvious when I say it that I’m shocked SHOCKED that no one until now came up with the idea.  Meet the Follow Your Heart series by Jill Santopolo (she edits AND writes because she is a Renaissance woman).  Basically we’re talking Choose Your Own A Romance here.  A girl has to choose between two boys and you help make that choice.  I wonder if they’ll allow you to plug your fingers into the pages where you make the choices so that you can backtrack when things don’t start going your way (anyone else do that back in the day?).  “The Bachelorette in book form” someone said.  There you go.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (50th Anniversary Edition) by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

CharlieChocolate Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Sweepstakes time.  And really, was there ever a book better suited to a sweepstakes than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?  Because it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary, you’ve probably heard the rumors about the current Golden Ticket Sweepstakes.  Well, it’s all pretty standard stuff.  Before August 8th kids ages 6 and up can apply for this pretty cool prize.  According to the site:

FIVE lucky winners will receive a Golden Ticket trip of a lifetime to New York City that includes:

  • A VIP experience at Dylan’s Candy Bar
  • Tickets to Matilda the Musical
  • A year’s supply of chocolate
  • A visit to the Empire State building
  • A library of Roald Dahl books
  • And MORE!

I love that they get to work in Dylan’s Candy Bar for a day.  But how does one determine what a “year’s supply of chocolate” really consists of, I wonder.  Hm.

In other Dahlian news, copies of Charlie are about to be published with golden tickets in the back of the paperbacks.  Aw.  There was also some mention made of the Miss Honey Social Justice Award which, “recognizes collaboration between school librarians and teachers in the instruction of social justice using school library resources.” Awesome.  In my own life, I recently finished reading Danny, the Champion of the World for the first time in my life.  I’m feeling pretty good about filling that gap in my knowledge now.

Grosset & Dunlap

The Whodunit Detective Agency: The Diamond Mystery by Martin Widmark, illustrated by Helena Willis

Whodunit Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

A good early chapter book is hard to find.  And a good early chapter book from Sweden?  Much easier to find now that Martin Widmark is being brought over to the States in book form.  As a librarian of my acquaintance put it recently, this book apparently contains “A snappy little narrative that will have young readers saying, ‘I know who did it!’ right out loud.”  Little wonder since the original books sold two million copies worldwide and the author is sometimes referred to as the “Children’s Agatha Christie”.  Are you curious yet?

Dial

Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George

IceWhale Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

There are some authors that pass away and their posthumous novels go on and on and on until you begin to doubt that they ever died in the first place.  Tupac Syndrome would be a good description of this.  It tends to hit children’s authors quite often (see: Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones, etc.) and was even mocked in a rather brilliant College Humor piece called I Think They’re Running Out of Material for New Shel Silverstein Books back in 2011.  All that aside, we were assured that this final Jean Craighead George novel really will be her last.  Two of her children finished it and I like that it has a kind of a Heart of a Samurai book jacket going on.  Set in Northern Alaska (the same location as Julie of the Wolves, for the record) the book follows an Inuit boy who learns to bond with a whale.  From the description it sounded like it would pair particularly well with Rosanne Parry’s Written in Stone from last year.  And as Travis Jonker pointed out in his recent post 2014: The Year of the Whale, this book is just a drop in the ocean of a much larger trend.

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

ThreeBearsBoat Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Speaking of whales, here’s a book that gives them some full credit.  I was so blown away by this title when I first read it that I immediately had to rush out and review it without considering how long it would be before it actually reached publication.  Really, this is the book of the year for me.  If you read no other picture book, read this one.  It’s a stunner in the purest sense of the word.  Really remarkable.

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Raul Colon

PortraitsHispanic Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

And finally, a book that I would like right now please.  Please.  Right now.  What’s that you say?  It’s not coming out until August?!  Well who made up THAT crazy rule?  Look, I don’t care when it’s coming out, I would like to see this book in my lap pronto.  I mean, first of all, it’s art by Raul Colon.  I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention but the man’s been on fire this year.  Have you seen his work on Baseball Is . . . by Louise Borden?  Or how about the pictures in Abuelo by Arthur Dorros?  Now we have 24 of his portraits in, what Penguin described as, “tawny golden tones”.  Penned by 2012 California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, it covers the well known folks and the lesser know folks in equal degrees.  Admit it.  You haven’t seen anything like this before that came close to this level of quality.  It’s going to be for the middle grade crowd too, so bonus!

And that, as they say, is that.  There were plenty of other YA titles mentioned and even a guest or too, but I’ll quite while I’m ahead.  Thanks to Penguin for the preview.  Thanks to all of you for reading!

 

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19. Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles (2014)

Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. Douglas Florian. 2014. Penguin. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved Douglas Florian's Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. I just LOVED it. After finding five or six poems that I loved, I thought this one would be well worth recommending. But as I kept reading, I kept finding more and more poems to LOVE. This isn't a "good" collection with a handful of poems to love. Generally, that is how I think of poetry books: find one with a handful of poems to LOVE, really LOVE, and you've got yourself a good book worth reading and rereading. To find a poetry book with so very many poems that you love and enjoy--poems with the potential to turn children of all ages into POETRY LOVERS--and you've got something magical, something worth GUSHING about!!! Poem Depot is worth gushing about!!!

Poems I Loved: "Insect Asides," "Driven," "More," "My Closet," "I Hate Broccoli," "Mean Meat Loaf," "Soup of the Day," "Water Water," "What A Monster Ate," "Hair Scare," "This Chair," "Where My Cat Sleeps," "Hold Your Horses," "I Am A Robot," "The Computers Are Down," "Zero," "Alphabetter," and "My Mother Has Two Voices."

Poems I Really Loved: "Train to Nowhere," "Exercise," "Appetite," "Alligator Calculator," "Rome and Room," "The Greatest Invention," and "Windshield Wipers."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. File-Sharing Site WeTransfer to Showcase Penguin Book Covers

zadiesmithPenguin Books has teamed up with WeTransfer, a free file-transfering service, to showcase a series of Penguin book covers WeTransfer’s full-screen backgrounds.

The site , which counts 20 million monthly active users, will exhibit the covers of five of Penguin’s limited edition Street Art series. Titles in this series include:  Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End (Cover: 45RPM); Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel (Cover: ROA); Zoë Heller’s The Believers (Cover: Sickboy); Iain Sinclair’s American Smoke (Cover: Nathan Burton); and Zadie Smith’s Embassy of Cambodia (Cover: gray318).

Here is more about the designs from the press release:

The book covers, designed by leading artists including Sickboy, ROA, Nathan Burton and 45RPM,  will take over WeTransfer’s full-screen backgrounds in the form of multiple still life photographs displaying a range of Penguin authors. When people click on each of the photographs, they will be taken through to Penguin’s online store for further information.

 

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21. The Secret Hum of a Daisy Blog Tour and Giveaway


Thanks to Tracy Holczer for including us on The Secret Hum of a Daisy Blog Tour! 

Blog Tour Schedule

May 9: AuthorOf


We have something a little different for you -- a guide to planning your own book club, literacy cafe, or party centered around her debut middle grade novel. I recently had the privilege of attending Tracy's launch party and her friend threw her a beautiful, daisy-filled one. Your own event might not be as star-studded (a ton of our friendly neighborhood YA and MG authors were there) but that doesn't mean it can't be just as fun! Read on for our ideas, info about the book and author, as well as a giveaway!




About The Secret Hum of a Daisy

After the sudden death of her mother, twelve-year-old Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met in a small town she's never heard of. A town Mama left years before--with Grace in her belly and a bus ticket in her pocket--and never looked back. It doesn't take long before Grace desperately wants to leave, too.

Until she finds the first crane.

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, takes Grace on a journey to find home. And it might just be closer than she thinks.

The Literacy Cafe

My good friend Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy and I are in an adult YA book club that meets every month. Sure, we get together because we love discussing books, but we also get together because we love to hang out with friends and eat delicious food. Usually we theme the menu around the book we have read. You can do that with this book, too! You would be surprised how often food helps spark discussion and recall of what happened in the book. This is part of what makes a literacy cafe such an interesting event to host and to attend.

Alyson usually does literacy cafes at schools, and to help students engage with the books they are reading and discussing, they sometimes do a writing exercise or craft activity related to the book. This helps make it not just memorable, but also creative and fun. (Note: I was planning to have photos of all the examples I was going to give, but this week just got away from me! I will add them into the post when I can get around to it.)

For resources, I have linked to websites I think might be helpful in case you want to find out more, or actually want to make my suggestion happen for yourself. If I wrote out all of the info here, this would be a very long post! 

Menu

There are lots of foods mentioned in The Secret Hum of a Daisy. Part of Grace's search for home involves some basic needs: food and shelter. (This would be a great lead-in to a discussion of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.) Here are just a few:


  • Soup (p. 119) - The Spoons Souperie is the diner in the town where Grace's mother grew up. Grace meets and gets to know various people here. Their menu has the usual: corn chowder, matzo ball, and split pea, but you can serve your favorite soup. Mine is beef and cabbage, with lots of pepper! You could also make it a potluck and have everyone bring their own soup to share. Just make sure someone brings some fresh-baked, crusty bread for dipping.
  • Brownies (p. 146) Grace and her neighbor Jo have to bake brownies in the book, but they're not allowed to eat any! You can, though. Here is a basic recipe for brownies, but you can make them how you like: out of the box, with nuts or without, cakelike or fudgy. Blondies instead? I'm an edges kind of girl, myself. Once you know why they bake brownies in the book, you can talk about the choices Grace makes and how they lead up to brownies!
  • Chocolate Toast (p. 210) I know the other one already has chocolate, but someone makes this for Grace. It has something chocolatey (Nutella? Cookie Butter Swirl? It's up to you to choose) and slices of banana on top. This is definitely a "Live to Eat" moment rather than an "Eat to Live" one. While you eat it, you might want to discuss what your favorite comfort food is. Does it remind you of a certain place where you are from, or where you felt at home? Does it remind you of a person who used to make it for you? 
Activities

Poetry and writing figure quite centrally in the story. There are lots of different things you can do depending on the interests your students/guests/group members have.
  • Snippets Guessing Game - Have everyone bring in snippets of their favorite poetry to read out loud, and see if anyone else recognizes the poem or poet.
  • Unsent Letters - Not everyone might want to share this with the group, and that's ok. Bring pens or pencils, paper, and envelopes to the event and have everyone write a short letter to someone else that they have wanted to write, but couldn't write before now. They can choose to share the letter, or keep it to themselves. They can choose to send the letter -- though it won't be unsent anymore!
  • Answer Jars - Late in the story, someone shows Grace their answer jars -- Mason or canning jars filled with bits of words and phrases. When they can't decide on something, they reach into the jars for some answers. You can recycle jars or containers and use magazines or small pieces of paper to add your own answers. 
Art and sculpture also are pivotal to the story. You don't need a lot of fancy equipment, just found objects, scratch paper, and the usual materials (scissors, Mod Podge or Gorilla glue depending on what you're working on, writing/painting utensils).

  • Origami Cranes - The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a story about grief, but it is also about hope. Grace sees origami cranes as clues in a scavenger hunt like the ones her mom used to put together for her. You can learn to fold origami cranes with some patience and some perfectly square paper. While you're folding, discuss: where do you hope your cranes would lead you? (link to instructions
  • Found Objects - Grace's mom sculpts birds out of odds and ends. Maybe birds are not your thing, but what is? What's your power animal? Collect some bits and pieces, odds and ends, things that look interesting but maybe incomplete on their own. Get some Gorilla Glue if you're gluing smooth objects like plastic or metal and sculpt your penguin, bear, meerkat, or whatever you come up with.
  • Self-Portrait - Grace isn't just searching for home, she's searching for her identity. She's trying to define the people around her, and trying to define herself now that her mother is gone. There are some great self-portrait ideas in the book. Try composing a shadow box: what would you put inside? 
  • Another Self-Portrait - Alternatively, start with a sturdy cardboard or masonite surface, then draw an outline or silhouette of your head. Now brainstorm some words that describe you... write, letter, or paste them onto the back half of your head (um, the illustration of it, not your actual head). Now go back to your stash of found objects and compose your face out of items that might fit. Glue them on, then stand back and admire your handiwork. It doesn't have to be perfect, but hopefully it's thoughtful and expressive, which is sometimes the most we can get out of life :)


I hope you enjoyed my ideas for hosting a literacy cafe or book club meeting with The Secret Hum of a Daisy. If you've read the book and would like to share more ideas, please leave a comment. Don't post any spoilers, please! I left out some of my ideas since they might give away some later plot points in the story that are better discovered by the reader on their own.

If you do host one, please take photos and share them! I'm sure Tracy would love to see them, too.




About The Author

Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up so she writes them into her stories.

A 2014 ABA Indies Introduce New Voices pick, her debut middle grade, The Secret Hum of a Daisy, was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found if you're willing to hunt for treasure. It will be also be published by Konigskinder/Carlsen in Germany, fall 2015.

Find out more:
Follow @tracyholczer on Twitter
Blogging on the 30th of each month at http://smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com

Buy the book:
Autographed copies (note request on the order or they won't know it needs to be autographed!) available at Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA

Giveaway
US only, ends May 20

a Rafflecopter giveaway

0 Comments on The Secret Hum of a Daisy Blog Tour and Giveaway as of 5/10/2014 8:00:00 AM
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22. “Speak the language.” Children’s book illustrator E.B. Lewis shares his emotional work and words

“Art is a language,” Children’s book illustrator E.B. Lewis told a roomful of illustrators, aspiring and professional. What is a language, Lewis asked. “Letters of the alphabet that join together to form words, then paragraphs. And finally stories and jokes,” he answered his own question. And the mark of fluency? Maybe not what you think. “Telling [...]

7 Comments on “Speak the language.” Children’s book illustrator E.B. Lewis shares his emotional work and words, last added: 4/12/2013
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23. European Commission Approves Penguin Random House Merger

The European Commission has approved the merger of Penguin and Random.

The Commission ruled that they were not concerned with unfair competition, “because the merged entity will continue to face several strong competitors.” This was one of the major hurdles facing the merger of the publishing companies owned by Bertelsmann and Pearson. Here’s more from the release

The Commission assessed the impact of the transaction on the upstream markets for the acquisition of authors’ rights for English language books in the European Economic Area (EEA) and worldwide, and on the downstream markets for the sale of English language books to dealers in the EEA, in particular in the UK and Ireland. The Commission found that on both types of markets the new entity Penguin Random House will continue to face competition from several large and numerous small and medium sized publishers. As regards the sale of English language books, the merged entity will furthermore face a concentrated retail base, such as supermarkets for print books and large online retailers for e-books, like Amazon. In addition, the Commission’s investigation revealed no evidence that the transaction would lead to risks of coordination among publishers in relation to the acquisition of authors’ rights and the sale of English language books to dealers.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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24. Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah Ohora

Nilson1 237x300 Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OhoraNo Fits, Nilson!
By Zachariah Ohora
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3852-2
Ages 3-7
On shelves June 13th

The small child is a frightening beast. A truly terrifying creature that can level the most powerful adult with the mere pitch of their fury laden screams. As a children’s librarian I used to tell my husband that mine was one of the few jobs I knew where an average day was punctuated by human sobs and screams of terror, misery, and fury. What then is the reasoning behind the idea that you should read a child a book about a fellow kiddo having a meltdown? Well, kids can get a lot out of that kind of identification. They can put themselves into the role of the parent, to a certain extent. Or maybe it’s just good old schadenfreude. Better her than me, eh? Whatever the reasoning, meltdowns make for good picture book fodder. Add in a giant blue gorilla with a penchant for wristwear and you’ve got yourself a picture book as fine as fish hair. A treat to eye and ear alike, Ohora is truly coming into his own with a book that truly has universal appeal. And a gorilla. But I repeat myself.

Amelia and Nilson are inseparable. They play together, eat together, and with some exceptions (Nilson is afraid of water so no baths) they’re never out of one another’s sight. The fact that Amelia is a little girl and Nilson a gigantic blue gorilla? Not an issue. What is an issue is the fact that Nilson has a terribly short fuse. Good thing Amelia knows exactly what to do to calm him down. Don’t want to go with mom to do chores? Amelia calls them adventures instead. Nilson’s getting testy waiting in line at the post office? Amelia hands him her froggy purse. It’s the moment that Nilson gets the the last banana ice cream that Amelia’s composure finally breaks down. Now she’s the one who’s upset. Fortunately, Nilson knows the perfect way to make everything right again.

Nilson2 300x184 Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OhoraWhen we think of the great tantrum picture books out there, the mind immediately leaps to the be all and end all of fits, When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry by Molly Bang. That book sort of set the standards for meltdown lit. It’s simple, it gets to the point, it teaches colors (though that’s more a nice bonus rather than anything else). After Sophie authors tried to come up with different unique takes on a common occurrence. Rosemary Wells came up with Miracle Melts Down, Robie Harris dared to discuss the unmentionable in The Day Leo Said “I Hate You “. And who could forget David Elliott’s truly terrifying Finn Throws a Fit? In the end, this book is almost an older version of Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (it involves preschooler fits rather than toddler fits, which as any parent will tell you are a different beast entirely). But part of what I like most about No Fits, Nilson! is that it sort of harkens back to the early days of Sophie. Ohora makes a metaphor out of the familiar and in doing so makes it even more understandable than it would be if his gorilla was nowhere in sight.

Ohora’s previous picture book, Stop Snoring, Bernard! was a lovely book to look upon. As an artist, the man has cultivated a kind of acrylic mastery that really does a wonderful job of bringing out the personalities of his characters within a limited color palette. However, while the art in Bernard was at times beyond stunning, his storytelling wasn’t quite there yet. It was all show without the benefit of substance. So it was a great deal of relief that I discovered that No Fits, Nilson! had remedied this little problem. Story wise, Ohora is within his element. He knows that there is no better way of describing a kid’s tantrums than a 400-pound (or so) gorilla. Most important of all, the metaphor works. Nilson is a marvelous stand-in for Amelia, until that moment of spot-on role reversal.

Nilson3 300x184 Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OhoraAs I mentioned before, the acrylics threaten to become the stars of the show more than once in this book. Limiting himself to blue, red, pink, yellow/beige and green, Ohora’s is a very specific color scheme. Neo-21st century hipster. Indeed the book appears to be set in Brooklyn (though a map on one of the subways manages to crop out most of the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and half of Brooklyn, so maybe I’m reading too much into the setting). As I also mentioned before, painting beautifully is one thing, but coming up with delightful, memorable characters is what separates the RISD grads from the true picture book masters. Nilson is the one that’s going to get the kids the most excited to read this book so it was important for Ohora to make him a unique blue gorilla. Not the kind of guy you’d run into on the street. To do this, Ohora chooses to accessorize. Note the three watches Nilson wears on his left arm and the three on his right. Note his snappy black beret with the yellow trim, and yellow and black sneakers. Next, the artist has to make Nilson a gorilla prone to the grumps but that is essentially lovable in spite of them. For this, Amelia is a very good counterpoint. Her sweetness counteracts Nilson’s barely contained rage. Finally, Ohora throws in some tiny details to make the reading experience enjoyable for adults as well. The typography at work when the tiny words “banana ice cream” move from Amelia’s mouth and eyes to Nilson’s mouth and eyes is a sight to behold. Ditto the funny in-jokes on the subway (New Yorkers may be the only folks who get Ohora’s “Dr. Fuzzmore” ads, and the one for the zoo is a clear cut reference to Stop Snoring, Bernard!).

Yeah, I’m a fan. Kids may be the intended audience for books like this one, but it’s parents that are shelling out the cash to buy. That means you have to appeal to grown-up sensibilities as well as children’s. What Ohora does so well is that he knows how to tap into an appreciation for his material on both a child and adult level. This is no mean feat. Clearly the man knows where to find the picture book sweet spot. A visual feast as well as a treat to the ear, this is a book that’s going to find an audience no matter where it goes. At least it better. Otherwise I might have to sick my own 400-pound gorilla on someone, and believe me . . . you do NOT want to get him angry.

On shelves June 13th

Source: Review from f&g sent from publisher.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews:

Misc:

  • Whence the inspiration for the book?  This comparison chart should clear everything up (WARNING: CONTAINS SOME SWEET KICKS).

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0 Comments on Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah Ohora as of 4/17/2013 12:58:00 AM
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25. The Grimm Legacy (2010)

The Grimm Legacy. Polly Shulman. 2010. Penguin. 325 pages.

 The Grimm Legacy has an intriguing premise. Wouldn't it be fun if fairy tales were true and there were magical artifacts gathered together in a library collection in New York? Wouldn't it be fun to work in such a library, such a collection? To be able to 'try' some of these artifacts yourself. But it isn't all fun as our heroine, Elizabeth Rew, and her fellow pages (Marc Merrit, Anjali Rao, Aaron Rosendom) learn. For someone is attempting to steal the real magical objects and replace them with fakes. And the attempt is succeeding. These four teens (Elizabeth, Marc, Anjali, and Aaron) must learn to work together--despite great personality conflict--to solve the mystery of WHO is stealing from the Grimm Collection. This fantasy novel has mystery and drama for it's a dangerous task before them.

While I liked the book well enough to keep reading, I didn't love it. I just didn't make a good connection with the characters. Some of the characters were interesting; for example, Anjali has a very spirited sister that plays an important role in the novel. But I wasn't satisfied with their development; the characters just didn't feel believable enough.

Read The Grimm Legacy
  • If you enjoy YA fantasy
  • If you enjoy fantasy 
  • If you are interested in the second novel in the series which involves time travel! It's called The Wells Bequest!
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 Comments on The Grimm Legacy (2010), last added: 4/20/2013
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