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Folks, if you’re anything like me then you probably live in a lovely little mental bubble, unaware that this week is Computer Science Education Week. Why should you care? Well, I’m part of a little Gene Luen Yang blog tour right now, and the folks at First Second just put out these fast facts.
The majority of schools don’t teach computer science – 90% of parents want their kids to study computer science, but only 40% of schools teach it.
15% of households in the US don’t have a computer. So if the kids in those households overlap with the 60% of schools around the country that don’t teach computer science, they won’t have any access to computers or learn about them in school.
There are fewer students in the US graduating with a degree in computer science than there were ten years ago – and half as many women.
Computer science majors can earn 40% more than the average college graduate.
Computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the US; there are more than 500,000 open jobs in computers right now (in every state around the country), and these jobs are projected to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs.
Computer science only counts towards graduating in 32 states.
To celebrate the week properly I’m showing off a quote from our distinguished National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang.
Want more? Check out all the other folks on the tour this week. They are:
Young & Laramore teamed up with artist Michael Cina to brand Upland Brewing’s wood-aged sour ales. Cina crafted abstract compositions that represent the brewery’s careful blending of different batches to create complex flavors. This collaboration resulted in a vibrant packaging and advertising campaign that signifies the craft and artistry that is put into every bottle.
With November coming to a close and the end of the year fast approaching, we are nearing the announcement of the 2017 Newbery / Caldecott Awards with every passing minute. This may be the perfect time to take a step back and think about those winners from years past. Some of them remain in our collective unconscious but a number of them have been unjustifiably forgotten. Today I am pleased to introduce a guest post from Fred Guida. He was kind enough to allow me the chance to feature his piece on one of the more prolific award winners of the past. Yet as the writer (not the illustrator) of numerous Caldecott Award winners, his is a too little lauded name.
Rediscovering Alvin Tresselt
by Fred Guida
As is the case in all branches of literature, good books, and even some great ones, go out of print all the time. And some authors, both good and great, have a way of receding into the background; not exactly forgotten, but no longer as prominent as they once were or deserve to be. In the context of children’s literature, the work of Alvin Tresselt is a glaring case in point, and, as such, his books cry out for rediscovery.
Over the course of a career that spanned six decades, he wrote and/or adapted fifty-four books, primarily picture books, for children. Many won awards and high praise. His White Snow, Bright Snow (1947) is a Caldecott Medal winner, and Rain Drop Splash (1946) and Hide and Seek Fog (1965) are Caldecott Honor books. Numerous titles were translated into a wide range of foreign languages, and several were developed into audiovisual productions.
It is also interesting to note that over the course of his prolific career he usually held down a “day job” related to children’s literature. He was the first managing editor of Humpty Dumpty’s Magazine, and eventually became vice president of Parents’ Magazine Press and editor-in-chief of its children’s publications. He also worked as an instructor, and ultimately Dean of Faculty, at the Institute of Children’s Literature.
Tresselt was born in 1916, in Passaic, New Jersey and, as a child, spent a short time on a farm, an experience that may well have planted a seed that eventually blossomed in his writing about nature for children. He later moved to New York City and worked in several design firms and department stores, including B. Altman & Co., where he was involved in display and copywriting. In 1949 he married artist and educator Blossom Budney, herself the author of several books for children. After living for many years in Connecticut, he retired to Vermont where he died in 2000.
His writing career began in the mid-1940s under the mentorship of the legendary Margaret Wise Brown, and under the influence of New York’s progressive Bureau of Educational Experiments, the forerunner of today’s Bank Street College of Education, which staunchly advocated for creative realism in children’s literature. He was also influenced by Brown’s close friend, illustrator Leonard Weisgard. He was in heady company and was, in a very real sense, a witness to the early years of the modern era of American picture book publishing. He was, in fact, part of it.
So what kind of books did Alvin Tresselt write? To begin with, there are a few interesting one-shots like The World in the Candy Egg (1967), a rare excursion into fantasy, and the delightfully cartoon-like The Smallest Elephant in the World (1959). However, the majority of his work can be divided into two main groups of roughly equal size.
The first group is comprised of picture books that explain and celebrate various aspects of the world in which children live. In this context, he is often a “nature specialist,” ultimately a realist, and a pioneer in that genre alternately known as creative, narrative, or literary nonfiction. These are books that are heavily influenced by Bank Street’s famous here-and-now philosophy – i.e., books that are rooted in the real world, as opposed to the more traditional children’s world of fairy tales and fantasy.
And within this group, there is an overlapping subgroup of what might be termed philosophical forays into the heart of childhood. Timothy Robbins Climbs the Mountain (1960), The Wind and Peter (1948), What Did You Leave Behind? (1978), and How Far is Far? (1964) are such books. And I Saw the Sea Come In (1954), a book that is ostensibly about a day at the beach, celebrates the fact that all a child really needs to find enjoyment is a sense of wonder and an imagination.
One can also add another subgroup in which, primarily at the end of his career, he returned to six of his earlier books and released them with revised text and new illustrations. His goal was to freshen each title and make it more accessible and relevant to a new generation of readers. For example, in Wake Up, City! (1990), an admittedly dated cop on the beat is replaced by a pair of modern police officers, one of whom is an African-American woman.
The second main group is comprised of his adaptations, primarily of stories and folk tales, most of which were published by Parents’ Magazine Press. A few, like Stories from the Bible (1971), originated in English. However, most were originally published in book form outside the United States: Germany, Ukraine, and Switzerland, but primarily Japan. Working with copy that had been translated into English, he adapted them for American children. And while they do not necessarily employ the kind of poetic prose found in his original books, they are nevertheless rich in atmosphere – and they tell wonderful tales, and tell them well. The most famous and successful of these books is his 1964 version of The Mitten, the first American picture book edition of this perennially popular tale.
It is largely on the here-and-now picture books that Tresselt’s reputation rests. In short, they are noted for their gently poetic and lyrical prose, their rich atmosphere, emotion, and evocation of mood, and the almost subliminal manner in which they convey information – including factual information. As the biographical blurb in the revised edition of Wake Up, City! notes, “his books have awakened thousands of readers and listeners to the many small miracles of life.” And, to put a finer point on it, consider the promotional dust jacket blurb in the original edition of Sun Up (1949) which states that “children will linger over the pages and return to this book again and again – for it has transformed an incident of everyday life into a pastoral poem.” The same basic sentiment applies to many titles, whether rural or urban in setting.
Consider the very first words of his first book, Rain Drop Splash, written in 1946, which initiated a fruitful, nearly fifty-year publishing relationship with Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. These words clearly indicate an author who is acutely attuned to the sounds and rhythms of language:
Drip drop splash,
drip drop splash,
drip drop splash
went the rain all day.
(The book also reveals an author who is in touch with the rhythm and pulse of nature as it follows the progress of rain drops from puddle to pond to brook to lake to river and finally to the open sea. And along the way we are shown the effects of the water on all the living things that are touched by it.)
Indeed, his is a world rich in aural imagery, a world in which chipmunks chatter, snowflakes whisper quietly, the laughter of children sparkles, catbirds scold, and hay balers go gunka ka CHUNG, gunka ka CHUNG, gunka ka CHUNG.
And it is a world equally rich in visual imagery. For example, there is White Snow, Bright Snow, the first of eighteen highly successful collaborations with illustrator Roger Duvoisin. In it we enter a world in which automobiles “looked like big fat raisins buried in snowdrifts,” and in which houses “crouched together, their windows peeking out from under great white eyebrows.”
And as an indication of his genius for synthesizing aural and visual imagery into pure poetry, consider the closing words of Johnny Maple-Leaf (1948), a stunningly beautiful book that depicts the cycle of the seasons as told from the perspective of a maple leaf:
The bare branches whistled as the wind blew harder. He was cold and lonely. Where were the birds and the rabbits, the flowers and leaves that had lived with him all summer? Still the wind blew, and Johnny let go, sailing down, down, down …
The other leaves seemed to make room for him, and he wiggled his way in. Here it was warm and he wasn’t lonely. Gentle little snow flakes fell softly over him, and Johnny Maple-Leaf decided this was the best place in the whole world for him to be, and he went off to sleep.
And as a not insignificant aside, it is interesting to note that several of his books contain an undercurrent of poignant meditation on the passage of time, and in so doing exhibit a wistful quality that cannot escape the attention of any reasonably sensitive adult. This is particularly true of Johnny Maple-Leaf, and also of Bonnie Bess the Weathervane Horse (1949).
Alvin Tresselt was effectively a pioneer of poetic, lyrical, evocative, mood-rich prose for children. (His style has in fact been described as what might be termed “mood writing.”) Nevertheless, when one looks at the past sixty years or so of American picture book publishing, he has certainly had his share of competitors and imitators. However, one thing is certain: he perfected this style and took it further than anyone else. Simply put, and notwithstanding a debt in this area to Margaret Wise Brown, no one has ever done it better.
And as for the content, the “meat,” of his books, it has been observed that many appear to be simply a series of plotless and characterless vignettes or impressions that may be peppered with factual information. On the surface, there is a grain of truth here – and yet only up to a point. The real truth is that they are rich in atmosphere and emotion. And there is always underlying action, always a subtle story, always something to learn, always movement toward some quiet destination.
In a sense, many of his books are indeed abstractions – and yet they are, once again, always rooted in reality. And they do not simply parrot Bank Street dogma; they are original. Their language is simple yet not simplistic, and there is always a highly individual voice that speaks clearly and directly to readers and listeners of all ages. Even in books about rabbits and robins, they are never cloying or cute. They are honest. Never didactic or preachy. And while they do frequently educate and inform, they do not teach in the conventional sense of the word.
All of this suggests a very interesting body of work. However, the sad fact is that all but four of his books are out of print.* This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that, as a practical matter, many of them can be broadly grouped under the umbrella of nonfiction. In this regard, as a way of addressing the current call for more nonfiction in schools and libraries, particularly within the context of the Common Core State Standards, it has been suggested that schools and libraries adopt more creative or narrative nonfiction. As such, is there not room for books that can, once again, introduce young children to the cycles of water and the seasons? Or to the realities of life in the country or in a big city? Or to how a rabbit lives? Or to the power of the wind? Or to the effects of a heavy fog. Or to the impact of beavers and decaying trees on ecosystems? And it must be noted once again that this dissemination of information is always handled in a very subtle, non-didactic manner. (It is also worth mentioning here that some of these titles may be relevant within the context of the life sciences component of the STEM initiative which stresses education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.)
And what about his retelling of those foreign stories and folk tales? To put the matter bluntly, multiculturalism is an important part of the discussion concerning today’s children’s literature. Yet, with the obvious exception of The Mitten, these books are essentially forgotten.
So where do we go from here? Thankfully, most libraries usually have a few well-worn copies of various titles; occasionally, a particular library will have more. And while one can always turn gratefully to the treasures that are available through the interlibrary loan system, many titles are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find in any given geographic area.
It is a most unfortunate situation. In response – and notwithstanding the realities and vicissitudes of the business of publishing books – one can only cry out that surely there must be a market for the work of an author with an almost fifty-year track record of success.
The process of bringing an out-of-print book back to life can be very difficult. The Lothrop, Lee & Shepard titles have made their way to Harper Collins. And Scholastic acquired Parents’ Magazine Press some time ago; this backlist includes some excellent originals as well as the foreign adaptations. Hopefully, some of these books will one day be given a chance to speak to a new generation. There’s not a bad book among them, and many are simply brilliant.
And so, toward this end, how about it lovers of great children’s literature? (A group which, of course, includes librarians, teachers, parents, and booksellers.) How about making a little noise? Can’t we all use a little more poetry in our lives? And, more importantly, don’t our children deserve it?
Fred Guida is a retired film studies instructor, and the author of A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations: Dickens’s Story on Screen and Television. He also moonlighted for six years in the children’s department of his local Barnes & Noble.
*As of this writing, four Alvin Tresselt books are in print: White Snow, Bright Snow (1947); The Mitten (1964); Hide and Seek Fog (1965); and The Gift of the Tree (1992). The latter is a revised edition of The Dead Tree (1972).
Thank you, Fred, for this great piece. And thank you to the readers out there, that wanted to know more.
Kids who love books sometimes find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to determining their future career. For some, the choice boils down to librarian or a publisher. Librarianship lacks the sophistication and potential glory of publishing, but feeds very well into a certain type of person’s need to work on a grounded level with members of the immediate public. We don’t make the big bucks but we have our own levels of influence, often directly, with our patrons. Publishers, in contrast, often don’t make a lot of money for a very long time, yet they have the potential to shape the hopes and fears and dreams of children through the products they produce. They get to return home on Thanksgiving and answer questions about what they do by saying, “Oh. I’m in publishing.” It just sounds cool.
But there is one aspect of publishing that I no longer envy. I did once, when I was young. Foolishly, I would dream of someday digging through one on my own. It would be like panning for gold, right? One conveniently forgets how rarely those who pan actually find said gold, of course.
I am referring of course to the infamous “slush pile”. For publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts, the slush pile is where those manuscripts sit for a while. It looks a little something like this:
My librarian instincts make me think about how satisfying it would be to cut that pile down, but realistically I know that there’s a reason that the job is often given to new hires and interns.
Still and all, there is a myth that circulates about the children’s book that is plucked from the pile and subsequently reaches hitherto untold levels of success. I know of only three instances where this happened, and I wanted to just give them a quick glance today. On a percentage basis, when you compare the number of manuscripts that become hits vs. those that don’t get published at all, the likelihood of a book finding a home in the hearts and minds of children everywhere is akin to that of winning the lottery. And yet . . . and yet . . .
Here are the three successful slush pile stories:
Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site! by Sherri Duskey Rinker
This book has been on my mind a lot lately. Not just because my son absolutely adores it, but also because the sequel, Mighty Mighty Construction Site, will be coming out in 2017 (and it’s a proper sequel with lots and lots of female construction equipment characters in it too, I’ll add). I was at dinner with a friend the other day when she mentioned off-handedly that the original book had been a slush pile find. What? Really? That sounded like a lovely rumor more than anything else. So I did a tiny bit of internet digging and lo and behold found this Author Spotlight interview with Ms. Rinker. In it she says the following:
“I guess the great thing about my submission to the infamous ‘slush pile’ at that time was that I honestly didn’t know any better. I made a long (VERY long) list of publishers who accepted slush and just started working down the line.”
Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site would go on to become a hugely successful New York Times bestselling picture book. All the more impressive when you learn that she submitted the manuscript to only one publisher.
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
One forgets that occasionally Newbery Award winners are slush pile finds. Yet if I’m going to be completely honest, this is the only case I know of personally. Before you go about assuming that the book was plucked from obscurity and then immediately won its author the honor that was her due (and rightly!), please remember that, as BookPage reported, it, “was plucked out of a slush pile by an assistant at Candlewick Press in 2000 and finally published seven years after the author submitted it.” Clever assistant, that. Between its discovery and its publication Ms. Schlitz would publish other books with Candlewick, like The Hero Schliemann (still one of the more delightful and underrated biographies out there for kids).
And finally, one of the most famous slush stories:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
In this case we actually know the name of the woman who found Rowling’s manuscript in the pile at the Christopher Little Literary Agency. Bryony Evens (a name that sounds like it would fit in at Hogwarts rather well) conducted an interview once where she said the manuscript originally caught her eye because it had an unusual “clamp binding”.
This actually doesn’t really fit our trends here, since Rowling was applying for an agent and not sending directly to a publisher, but that’s neither here nor there.
The thing about these stories is that often when they’re reported not much is made of the editors’ contributions prior to publication. The bones of a great book might have been there, but it was how the book was shaped by multiple hands prior to publication that’s of particular note. I think it’s safe to say that none of these books would be the classics we know today without that invaluable editorial input.
Any other slush pile stories come to mind? I’m sure there are some famous books out there I’m just not thinking of. Lay them on me!
I love lists. They make me happy. I enjoy few things quite as much as debating the relative merits of one book or another with colleagues. But since I left NYPL I’ve just been making my own little lists. It’s fun but a little lonely. To keep myself in the game I also decided to read every single picture book in 2016 and I think I came pretty close. But what should I do with all this knowledge? I’m not going to review every single amazing book I saw, that’s for sure.
That when this crazy idea slapped me upside the head with a rubber chicken.
What if I were to do not one list for 2016. Not two lists. Not three. What if I were to do one list for every single day in December? A list every day! It would have to be called . . . .
31 Days, 31 Lists!!
Oh yes!! And here’s how it’ll go. Each day in December this site will produce one list. Sometimes it’ll be a list you’d be able to find elsewhere (best picture books, nonfiction, etc.). Sometimes it’ll be a list you might need but wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere (picture book readalouds, picture books with photography, etc.). And sometimes it’ll just be a trend I’ve noticed. All these books will be 2016 publications.
Sound like fun? Here’s the schedule:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
I don’t pretend that these lists will be complete or that they won’t miss some great publications out there. However, I will at least be able to highlight all those amazing books I’ve seen this year that I wasn’t able to review. And believe me when I say that 2016 was a doozy of a year when it came to fine and fabulous publications.
So I sat down with my husband and James Kennedy last night over ice cream to hash out the problem. James mentioned off-handedly the picture book Duck for President, which is a notable title partly because it’s so old it contained outdated Bill-Clinton-playing-the-saxophone references. I mentioned I liked that book and we got to talking about whether or not all these books for small children about elections are new or not. Are there older ones out there? Classic ones? Books like . . .
Wait. That’s not a book. That’s a music score. But surely SURELY there are older election titles out there. Books that weren’t published in the last 10 years or so.
Well, I found a couple. Actually I found a lot, but not that many with book jacket images online. In respect of the day, then, enjoy this smattering of older children’s books on the topic of elections:
Let’s Go to Vote by Agnes McCarthy (1962)
A red book from the 60s on voting by someone named McCarthy? Will wonders never cease? Also . . . is that policeman encouraging that girl to vote? Oh dearie dear.
Right On, Dellums! My Dad Goes to Congress by Bob and Lynn Fitch (1971)
There is nothing I don’t love about this boy. His hat. The fact he’s supposedly saying “right on”. The power salute. I know his dad’s the one running, but I’d vote for that kid any day of the week. The dad, by the way, was Ron Dellums, and the salute was sort of his thing. Google him and you’ll see him doing it quite a bit. The description of the book reads, “After a long campaign, eight-year-old Brandy Dellums’ father is elected as the first black Congressman from Berkeley, California, and the family moves to Washington, D.C.”
Maggie Marmelstein for President by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, ill. Ben Shecter (1975)
Alas, poor Maggie. She had quite the series in the 70s, with all sorts of editions. Too much time has passed, however, and though I’ve no doubt that there are libraries all over the country that still carry her books, for the most part they’re forgotten. I sort of love the vitriol in this description too: “Maggie Marmelstein thought that her friend Thad would be a good class president. But when he refuses her offer to manage his campaign, she decides to run against him with a vengeance.” Rowr! VENGEANCE SHALL BE MAGGIE’S!
It’s a Free Country! A Young Person’s Guide to Politics & Elections by Cynthia K. Samuels (1988)
Are they singing? Clearly they’re singing. But what, I ask of you, would they have been singing in 1988?
Electing J.J. by James VanOosting (1990)
Best I could do in terms of finding an image. The plot reads, “In Framburg, a small farming community, lots of families face the loss of their farms. Three boys, one of them politically aware J.J. Ellison, decide to organize a campaign against the corrupt mayor of Framburg who is profiting from everyone’s misfortune.”
NEATE to the Rescue by Deborah Chocolate (1992)
I found this one through the Chicago Public Library. Apparently it was a Chicago-based series in the 90s and this is the first one Ms. Chocolate wrote. The plot is about a, “campaign for the reelection of Naimah’s mother to the city council. It’s a bitter struggle between the respected woman and her white male opponent, an unabashed racist who advocates the re-zoning of community districts to quash African American voting power.” Yep. A whole book for kids on re-zoning. Um . . . can we get this republished with a new cover, please? On second thought, I love this cover. Can we make it historical fiction then?
Those are the best I could find. I didn’t want to go much further than The Boy Who Ran for President, due to its recent popularity and all. Instead, let’s finish with a bang. I give you . . .
Ladies and gentlemen . . . the moment I’ve been waiting for.
Wait! Wait! Background information first!
So for years I worked as a children’s librarian and I’d get girl after girl after girl coming up to my desk asking for funny books. I credit some of this to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The boys and the girls loved that series and wanted more of the same. Sometimes they wanted it in a notebook novel format, like Kinney’s book. Sometimes they just wanted something hilarious, and they seriously didn’t care who wrote it. So I’d grab books for them and then it slowly began to dawn on me. Huh. For all that I could find some pretty fantastic and hilarious books out there for kids, where were the funny story collections written by women? Turns out, there weren’t any.
I would like you to join me in applauding the following authors and author/illustrators . . . .
Behold! The cover by the aforementioned Charise Mericle Harper:
And here’s the full jacket in its entirety:
A portion of the proceeds of this book go to Write Girl, a Los Angeles-based creative writing and mentoring organization that matches girls with women writers who mentor them in creative writing.
When’s it out? May 9th, 2017! Feel free to pre-order it.
Oh! And while I’m thinking of it, there’s this other really fun thing that just started that I have to let you know about. As I may have mentioned before, my husband’s first book The Secrets of Story just came out recently and I could be prouder. He’s already put up a couple great videos alongside it (the latest is here and is about those little moments of humanity that make you like a character). But fun upon fun upon fun, he’s created a podcast with YA author and 90-Second Newbery Film Festival creator James Kennedy and it may well be my favorite thing of all time. I love it when James and Matt get together because they agree on NOTHING! And now they’ve a podcast together where they can extol the beauty of that nothing together. It’s huge fun for me, and it ends with a little feature where they mention a story idea they had that they decided wouldn’t work and give it away (as it were) to the masses for use. So if you like the process of writing or you just like banter, I’ve your new favorite podcast. The Secrets of Storytelling podcast is available through iTunes. Subscribe today!
Unless you missed it, recently the New York Times Best Illustrated list was released. And amongst the ten books listed was a very lovely title illustrated by Ms. Sophie Blackall and called A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785. Written by Matthew Olshan it has it all. Jealousy. Foul play. Public urination. The works!
To celebrate the book’s inclusion on the list, we’re doing a bit of a giveaway. A giveaway where you can actually win a piece of Sophie Blackall art of your very own. THIS art:
What do you need to do? It’s easy! Sophie had an idea to get out the vote in a small way of her own. Just share here in the comment section of this post your preferred mode of transportation you will use to get to the polls on Tuesday. By air, by land, by sea, you name it. The sillier, the better
Submit your suggestions by the end of Tuesday. You’ll be getting out the vote and potentially winning gorgeous art. It’s win-win!
I don’t know if it’s the state of the world today, the upcoming election, or just the fact that I live in a house with a two-year-old and a five-year-old, but in this atmosphere a woman’s thoughts turn to the power of complete and utter anarchy. That’s been on my mind thanks, in large part, to some classic book rereleases I’ve been enjoying this year. Older picture books. Classic picture books. Picture books that give no outward indication of the fine kerfuffles enclosed within. So today, we pay homage to those titles that most successfully tap into the heart of the proper fiasco in all its wild, untamed, unapologetic glory.
On October 4th, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released the 75th Anniversary edition of The Complete Adventures of Curious George. This isn’t the most groundbreaking bit of news. Five years ago they issued the 70th Anniversary edition, and the odds are good that five years from now we’ll have in our hands the 80th Anniversary edition. Still, I was very pleased to get my hands on a copy. I’d never read ALL the original Rey Georges to my offspring, though I was pretty sure I knew all the elements that wouldn’t fly in a picture book today. Sniffing ether? Check. Smoking pipes? Check. Getting kidnapped out of colonial Africa by an unapologetic white guy in a big hat? Check check and check (makes you really appreciate Furious George Goes Bananas sometimes, don’t it?). Yep, I was pretty sure I knew all the ins and outs. Nothing could surprise me.
Then I read Curious George Gets a Medal.
If you are unfamiliar with this particular George adventure, it reads a lot like an older episode of The Simpsons. The first part of the book is all about wacky hijinks and the second part is more staid and serious. The two storylines also have absolutely nothing to do with one another, and it was this first part of the book that really hooked my attention.
Written in 1957, the book begins with George receiving a letter while The Man With the Yellow Hat takes off for that unnamed job of his. Inspired to write his own missive, the ape locates a fountain pen and attempts to fill it directly with ink using a funnel. It looks something like this:
So far so good . . .
Did I mention the book was written in 1957? There are few pleasures in this life quite as magnificent as watching a 21st century child act superior to George, as if they (or for that matter, their parents) had any idea how to fill a fountain pen themselves. George tries to clean up the ink with a blotter (again, a bit on the dated side there) and when that doesn’t work he goes and gets some soap powder. Soap powder, I tell you! Then he gets a hose and begins the process of slowly drowning his own house. To get the water out he attempts to purloin a local pump belonging to a farm, but in doing so manages to let loose all the farm’s pigs before taking off with a cow as well.
It’s the escalation of a fiasco that is part of its pleasure. George has always traditionally stood in for the young reader, and I’d go so far as to say that this is his most impressive bit of chaos in any of his books. Larceny, vandalism, criminal mischief, and he gets a medal by the book’s end (the title needs a spoiler alert). Reading this book, I began to wonder what the earliest examples might be of picture book authors and illustrators going hog wild on the chaotic front. Interestingly The Cat in the Hat, himself a walking id, was also published in 1957. If you like, you might choose to read something into what was happening in America during that time.
Another collection of picture books, this time released as recently as on September 6th, is Richard Scarry’s Busytown Treasury. Since we Birds run more of a Cars and Truck and Things That Go household over here, I was interested in looking at some of these very different Scarry tales. Happily, I was not ready for Scarry’s own particular brand of chaotic humor. Nothing, and I mean nothing, properly prepared me for A Day at the Fire Station.
Now to properly appreciate this book, it is best to watch how Scarry builds and builds and builds the frenetic energy of the piece. Two little raccoons named Drippy and Sticky enter a fire station. For whatever reason, they start to paint the place with the firetrucks and firefighters still in it. Mild paint splatter ensues. This is topped a few pages later by the scene of an accident that the firefighters must attend. It is, and here you begin to get a glimpse of Scarry really getting into this, a crash between a cement mixer, a honey truck, and a haywagon. BUT WAIT! There’s more. The firefighters return to the station, slip on the paint job (seriously, who paints a floor?), and we get this rather glorious scene.
But do not for one moment THINK we are even close to done. Scarry’s just warming up, folks.
The firefighters immediately get another call, so even though they’ve just potentially wrecked millions of dollars’ worth of equipment they roll their firetrucks out the door AGAIN (which, for the record, are still covered in cement/honey/hay) and go put out a pizza fire. When they return everything seems calm. Like the eye of a storm.
And that’s when the strawberry jam truck gets hit by Roger Rhino’s wrecking crane.
Please enjoy what has to be the most sarcastic sentence in any Richard Scarry book ever:
I will leave you now with the last image. It’s like Carrie‘s prom or something.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create a fiasco.
There are other, more recent books, that follow in this wacked out tradition, of course. I have a particular fondness for the paint-based insanity to be found in I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow (extra points for the nude full-body painting).
But what are your favorites? What books work as a kind of catharsis in this age of televised insanity? Because as strange as it may sound, we need picture books that tap into our most extreme natures. They tell us that even if the world around you is falling apart at the seams, isn’t it nice to know that after all is said and done, every mess will get cleaned up eventually?
So often a cover reveal is just that. A reveal. Here’s your cover, batta bing, badda boom.
Today is different.
Today, we’re shaking things up a tad. But a little backstory first.
About half a year ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the MD/DE/WV SCBWI Conference in Frederick, Maryland. I like doing SCBWI Conferences. The people there are open and fun and often have these great ideas I don’t see elsewhere. I do about one a year, and this one was particularly lovely. In the course of things I met a woman with a debut middle grade coming out in 2017. She asked if I would do a cover reveal for her, and I said sure thing. Why not? Then she sent me the book jacket.
Friends, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but some people are born with book jacket luck. If you’re an author, you have no control over the jackets your well-meaning publishers plaster on your books. Sometimes you luck out but all too often you just have to grin and bear whatever cover they slap on your baby (and God help you if it’s sepia-toned). But this young woman, Leah Henderson, need not worry. Surely, she was tapped upon the noggin at her christening by some good book jacket fairy because the artist of her cover is none other than John Jay Cabuay, the artist behind this year’s jacket for As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson. Baby, remember her name.
But it doesn’t stop there. Leah was nice enough to also share the full wrap jacket both without the text:
And with the text:
Beautiful. Now here’s the description:
An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father in this captivating debut novel laced with magical realism.
Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?
One Shadow on the Wall is about love and loss, family and friendship, and creating your own future—even if it’s hard to do.
Now if you know me then you know that I don’t go in for giveaways. I don’t have anything against them. They’re just not a tool in my belt, as it were. But Leah came to me with an interesting proposition. She has a Twitter giveaway going on with this book, and it’s been done with the specific purpose of promoting her cover artist. She’s not giving away her galley (the book comes out June 6, 2017 and they haven’t made the ARCs yet). She has something else in mind. As she puts it,
“I wanted to find a way to give a nod to the illustrator and his work. And since fellow Atheneum author, Jason Reynolds’ MG debut AS BRAVE AS YOU is also by John Jay Cabuay, I thought it might be a perfect way to highlight both of them and my love of MG, since my ARCs won’t be ready.
So I thought:
For a chance to win a signed copy of fellow Atheneum author, Jason Reynolds’ MG debut AS BRAVE AS YOU and a few pieces of ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL swag, simply share this post on Twitter mentioning why you love/read middle grade using the hashtag: #whyMGlit.
I’ll pick my favorite response around noon EST on Nov. 10th.”
That’s a pretty good deal. Reynolds’ book has been getting a lot of Newbery buzz, so you’d be getting a great book of 2016, and a leg up on what may well be the most beautifully jacketed book of 2017.
Some background information on Leah herself:
About the author
Leah has always loved getting lost in stories. When she is not scribbling down her characters’ adventures, she is off on her own, exploring new spaces and places around the world. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University and currently calls Washington D.C. home.
You can find Leah on Twitter at @LeahsMark. And, if interested, can add her book to your Goodreads bookshelf.
So the other day, I got to thinking that my kids have had an insufficient dosage of Tomi Ungerer in their daily diets. Ungerer, if you are unfamiliar with him, has always been the enfant terrible of children’s literature. Having dared to publish children’s books for kids at the same time as his wildly erotic adult art for (obviously) adults, he was run out on a rail from the States, though he continued to make his books. The only story of his I’d ever read the children is Crictor, and I was toying with the notion of showing them No Kiss for Mother (which I don’t think I’m emotionally cohesive enough to tackle at this time) or The Beast of Monsieur Racine. In the end I took the easy route out and borrowed The Three Robbers from the library (partially inspired by that Salon post about the kid who only like to read about “bad guys”).
But even better than that is what they’re planning for Tomi’s 85th birthday. On November 28th (and they’re announcing this widely so I guess it won’t be a surprise) Phaidon will hand to the man a virtual birthday tribute “filled with drawing and written messages from friends and fans. The birthday greetings will be displayed on a dedicated page on the Phaidon website — www.phaidon.com/CelebrateTomi — and then printed and presented to Tomi for his birthday.”
They’re accepting entries for this right now, librarians, artists, writers, and fans. Do you want to submit? Submit! [looking at you, Sergio Ruzzier] Definitely check out some of the submissions so far. I like the Eric Carle, the Milton Glaser, and the suggestive one from Sarah Illenberger, but the Jean Jullien is my favorite by far.
I’ve grown a bit fond of the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe lately. Coming to it a bit late (I believe we’re on season 4 now, yes?) it took a Pop Culture Happy Hour episode to explain to me why the series was as groundbreaking and important as it was. This is advantage of having a five-year-old. When something like this comes up you can pretend you’re watching a new series for them when, in fact, you’re just curious for yourself. If you’re unfamiliar with Steven Universe I’ll try to sum it up quickly: In this world there are superhero female characters called “Gems”. Steven, our hero, is half-Gem, half-human, which is unique. The show then proceeds to upset stereotypical notions of gender and love.
If you pay any attention to the New York Times bestseller list, you might have noticed this book on the Children’s Chapter Books list a week or two ago:
It’s a Steven Universe book. There are a couple of them out there, written for kids to wildly varying degrees of competency. This one I intend to read soon. It got me to thinking, when I discovered it. After all, children’s literature and Steven Universe fuel one another in a more direct manner. The world of SU has television shows, movies, and bands that are unique and often very funny. They also have their own literature. For example, a common romance/scifi novel might look like this:
And children’s books are particularly interesting. When Steven is banned from television for 1,000 years he finds that he really likes reading. Two series in particular catch his attention: The No Home Boys and The Spirit Morph Saga. I just want to take a look at these books because I’m always interested in how children’s books are portrayed in works of pop culture.
The No Home Boys series is written by Dustylegs Jefferson. The original series apparently came out in the 1930s and was about two boys on the run, solving mysteries along the way. Sounds a bit like The Boxcar Children meets Hardy Boys. You might throw The Black Stallion in there as well, though, since there was also apparently a “disastrous graphic novel adaptation” of the book as well. One of the characters on the show writes this review of it:
“Some fans turned up their noses at the new adventures of the No Home Boys. The old series was a down to earth travelogue – a gritty portrayal of growing up during the Great Depression. The new series was full of magic demons, talking animals and ninjas. Sure it didn’t have the same campfire charm, but the expanded “Hoboverse” had much more character development and backstory for readers to sink their teeth into.”
To me this sounds like what happened with more recent Black Stallion books, though the graphic novel adaptation throws it squarely into the Hardy Boys camp as well. Whatever the case, I love the thought put into the series.
The Spirit Morph Saga is a bit different. It’s a multi-book series about a girl who discovers that she is a witch, gains a familiar (a talking falcon named Archimicarus), and attempts to rescue her father, who was kidnapped by a one-eyed man. Though some folks online compare the book to His Dark Materials, it bears far more similarities to Harry Potter and, in a strange way, Twilight. An entire episode of Steven Universe is based on the fact that at the end of the series the falcon turns into a man and marries Lisa in a big multi-chapter sequence. Connie, Steven’s best friend, is incensed by this. It’s rather delightful to watch.
Alas, Steven was granted his television rights again (though the set seems to be destroyed on a regular basis) so no new book series beyond these two have come up recently. There was, however, a trip to the local library. It was pretty standard stuff. A librarian was shushing the kids all the time. Computers were minimal. It looks like nothing so much as a library that has failed to get additional funding (which, considering the economy of Beach City, is not unbelievable). Ah well.
Here’s hoping for more faux children’s books series in the future. In the end, they say more about perceptions of children’s literature than anything else. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Folks ask me to reveal middle grade covers from time to time. Sometimes I say yes. Sometimes I say no. If you ever happen to be interested in my doing so then the following elements should ideally be combined:
A smarmy man with a mustache (handlebar preferred but not required)
An unnerved woman staring at the smarmy man with the aforementioned mustache
Admittedly, it’s only once in a blue moon when I can find such a book jacket to premiere, but when I can . . . magic!!
Aww. Just look at that. All the pieces are in place. And check out this description:
Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor’s home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.
Ruby believes that she’s the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn’t always mean going back to where you came from. This is a big-hearted novel about trust, belonging, and the struggles and joys of loving one another.
Never heard of author Corabel Shofner? She’s new! She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature and was on Law Review at Vanderbilt University School of Law. Her shorter (adult) work has appeared or is forthcoming in Willow Review, Word Riot, Habersham Review, Hawai’i Review, Sou’wester, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and Xavier Review. And yes indeed, AlmostParadise is her first novel. The book will also be illustrated by Kristin Radwilowicz as well.
In Hammer of Witches fourteen-year-old bookmaker’s apprentice Baltasar, pursued by a secret witch-hunting arm of the Inquisition, joins Columbus’s expedition to escape and discovers secrets about his own past that his family had tried to keep hidden. In this BookTalk, Shana Mlawski shares her views on Christopher Columbus, working with students and what she’d wish for if she had three wishes.
Hammer of Witches deals with some hard topics (rape, abandonment, war, and torture). What do you hope readers take away from Hammer of Witches?
Shana Mlawski: When I was first outlining Hammer of Witches, I knew I wanted it to be an epic adventure about sorcerers in 1492 Spain, and that’s what it is. I didn’t go in thinking, “Oh, boy! I can’t wait to write about rape and torture!” It was more like, “Okay, it’s going to be about this wisecracking kid and a girl genie and a dragon and a golem and…”
But history is history. I’m not going to whitewash it. We have plenty of people doing that already. In the year of 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue—and Spain conquered Moorish Granada, the Inquisition tortured people, the decimation of Taíno civilization began, and the world’s largest Jewish population was sent into exile. It’s a complex, fascinating era, but it’s a tragic era, as well. Ultimately, though, Hammer of Witches is an optimistic book. It’s about that moment when you accept that the world is more complicated than you were led to believe, and it’s at that moment you can start trying to make a difference.
Do you feel like schools glorify Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World? Do you think schools need to paint a more accurate portrayal of his journey to students?
SM: The fact that we use the word “discovery” shows how skewed our view of the voyages can be. I prefer “contact” and “conquest,” words that remind us we’re talking about two groups: the European explorers and the Taíno living in the Caribbean at the time. If you ask me, the Taíno side of the story needs to get much more play in classrooms and in the media.
I’d also prefer if teachers stopped asking whether Columbus is a hero or a monster, as if those are the only two options. When we answer “hero,” we disappear the Taíno from history or write off their struggle as unimportant. To argue the “monster” side, we often pretend the Taíno were passive (if noble and pure) victims. The story is so much more complicated than that, and so much more interesting. History is only useful to us when we remember it’s about humans like us, not cartoons.
Baltasar befriends a genie in Hammer of Witches, who, unfortunately, can’t grant wishes. If you met a genie who could grant you three wishes, what would you wish for and why?
SM: Oh, I’m not going to fall for this one. I’ve seen and read enough “Monkey’s Paw”-type stories to get involved with a genie. Next thing I know I’ll be sitting in a post-apocalyptic library with my glasses broken and no one left alive to fix them.
How has working directly with middle and high school students impacted the kind of stories you want to share with YA readers?
SM: My teaching experience has definitely sharpened my desire to tell stories about characters from different backgrounds. When I was a young nerd-in-training, most of the available fantasy books were about white, Christian kids in the U.S., Britain, or U.K.-inspired settings (the big exception being Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series). Although I’m white, those monochrome stories never reflected my experience as a child growing up in the New York Metro area. When I started teaching and tried to recommend books to my students, I saw how little things had changed. A black boy wanting to read about a kid who looked like him usually had to go for a “problem” book about drug use or gang violence, even if he wanted a sword-and-sorcery adventure. A girl looking for a Latina protagonist could find a book about the immigrant experience but not one about, say, sexy vampires. That’s why I’m not sucking up when I say I love that Lee & Low and Tu Books exist, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of the gang.
Did you have a favorite hero or heroine in a fantasy/sci-fi novel that inspires your writing?
SM: I don’t actively model my characters on heroes or heroines from other books, but that doesn’t mean inspiration doesn’t slip in from time to time. It does, but I usually don’t notice until long after I’ve finished writing the story. This time around, it occurred to me that the relationship between Baltasar and Catalina has a lot in common with the Taran/Eilonwy relationship in Lloyd Alexander’sChronicles of Prydain (although Bal has some Fflewddur Fflam in him, too). In any event, I’m cool with the connection, because Hammer of Witches is meant to be a play on Prydain-like stories. It’s what happens when you take that old quest story, brush off the dust, and stick it in the real world in 1492.
Shana Mlawski is a native New Yorker who writes educational materials and tutors middle and high school students. She has written more than a hundred articles for the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com, some of which have been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Ms. magazine. She graduated cum laude from Yale with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing, and received a master’s in education from Columbia University Teachers College. Hammer of Witches is her first novel.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.
Synopsis: Born in 1905, Anna May Wong spent her childhood working in her family’s laundry in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Whenever she could afford it, Anna May slipped off to the movies, escaping to a world of adventure, glamour, and excitement. After seeing a movie being filmed in her neighborhood, young Anna May was hooked. She decided she would become a movie star!
Anna May struggled to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were very few roles for Asian Americans, and many were demeaning and stereotypical. Anna May made the most of each limited part. She worked hard and always gave her best performance. Finally, after years of unfulfilling roles, Anna May began crusading for more meaningful roles for herself and other Asian American actors.
Anna May Wong—the first Chinese American movie star—was a pioneer of the cinema. Her spirited determination in the face of discrimination is an inspiration to all who must overcome obstacles so that their dreams may come true.
Awards and Honors:
Carter G. Woodson Award, NCSS
Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wondering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
It seemed such an attainable goal. All I wanted to do was read every single picture book published in America in 2016. Was that too much to ask? I even had a system. I’d create a Google spreadsheet and write down every single title and rate it. That way I’d have an easy way of remembering what I liked and didn’t like later.
But I didn’t count on the patterns. Oh no. No, I did not.
You see, I’ve read a lot picture books this year. Not all of them yet. I still have a long shelf at work that’s creaking under the weight of the books I have yet to read. But since it’s October, the 2016 books have been replaced in the mail by 2017s. That means I could conceivably finish the remaining books soon. But before I do, I want to share with you some of the amusing things I’ve noticed about the titles I’ve read this year. Proof positive that if you do something for too long, the brain rebels by creating hitherto unseen connections.
Enjoy the following lists:
The Most Popular Titular Name of the Year: Lucy
Lucy by Randy Cecil
Lucy and Company by Marianne Dubuc
Lucy and Lila by Alison Fletcher, ill. Christopher Lyles
Lucy Ladybug by Sharon King-Chai
Lucy’s Lovey by Betsy Devany, ill. Christopher Denise
The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara, ill. Sara Kahn
Books With Definite Demands
Bring Me a Rock by Daniel Miyares
Choose Your Days by Paula S. Wallace
Come and Dance, Wicked Witch by Hanna Kraan, ill. Annemarie van Haeringen
Come Home, Angus by Patrick Downes, ill. Boris Kulikov
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, ill. By Charlotte Pardi
Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman, ill. Andy Elkerton
Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, ill. Elizabeth Zunon
Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh! by Sean Taylor, ill. Kate Hindley
Don’t Cross the Line! by Bernardo P. Caravalho, ill. Isavel Martins
Don’t Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup
Follow Me! by Ellie Sandall
Follow the Moon Home by Philippe Cousteau & Deborah Hopkinson, ill. Meilo So
Kiss It Better by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, ill. Sarah Massini
Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol
Let Me Finish by Minh Le, ill. Isabel Roxas
Look Up by Jung Jin-Ho
Never Follow a Dinosaur by Alex Latimer
Never Insult a Killer Zucchini! by Elana Azone & Brandon Amancio, ill. David Clark
Open Up, Please! by Silvia Borando, ill. Lorenzo Clerici
Please Say Please! by Kyle T. Webster
Push! Dig! Scoop! by Rhonda Gowler Greene, ill. Daniel Kirk
Quick, Little Monkey! by Sarah L. Thomson, ill. Lita Judge
Quit Calling Me a Monster! by Jory John, ill. Bob Shea
Stop Following Me, Moon! by Darren Farrell]
Wake Up, City! by Erica Silverman, ill. Laure Fournier
Warning! Do Not Touch by Tim Warnes
(All these demands could have been created by either the Bossier Baby by Marla Frazee or Bossy Flossy by Paulette Bogan)
Good Morning, Good Evening, and Good Night
Good Morning Yoga by Mariam Gates, ill. Sarah Jane Hinder
Good Night, Baddies by Deborah Underwood, ill. Juli Kangas
Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli
Good Night Tiger by Timothy Knapman, ill. Laura Hughes
Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak
Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton
Little By Little
Little Bo Peep and Her Bad, Bad Sheep by A.L. Wegwerth, ill. Luke Flowers
Little Bot and Sparrow by Jake Parker
Little Brother Pumpkin Head by Lucia Panzieri, ill. Samantha Enria
Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike Curato
Little Fox, Lost by Nicole Snitselaar, ill. Alicia Padron
Little Mouse’s Big Book of Beasts by Emily Gravett
Little Night Cat by Sonja Danowski
Little One by Jo Weaver
Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant, ill. Christian Robinson
Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith
The Little Tree That Would Not Share by Nicoletta Costa
The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin
My Favorite Series: The “Bear Who” books
The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep by Caroline Nastro, ill. Vanya Nastanlieva
The Bear Who Wasn’t There by LeUyen Pham
The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest by Oren Lavie, ill. Wolf Erlbruch
Best of the “How To” Books
How to Be a Hero by Florence Parry Heide, ill. Chuck Groenink
How to Be Famous by Michal Shalev
How to Build a Snow Bear by Eric Pinder, ill. Stephanie Graegin
How to Catch a Leprechaun by Adam Wallace, ill. Andy Elkerton
How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder
How to Track a Truck by Jason Carter Eaton, ill. John Rocco
When In Rome
When a Dragon Moves in Again by Jodi Moore, ill. Howard McWilliam
When an Elephant Falls in Love by David Cali, ill. Alice Lotti
When I Am With Dad by Kimball Crossley, ill. Katie Gamb
When the World Is Dreaming by Rita Gray, ill. Kenard Pak
When Your Elephant Comes to Play by Ale Barba
As It Turns Out, “I” Have a Lot of Thoughts on the Matter
I Am a Baby by Kathryn Madeline Allen, photos by Rebecca Gizicki
I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino
I Am the Mountain Mouse by Gianna Marino
I Have Cerebral Palsy by Mary Beth Springer
I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!) by Rachel Isadora
I Heart You by Meg Fleming, ill. Sarah Jane Wright
I Love Cake by Tammi Sauer, ill. Angie Rozelaar
I Love Lemonade by Mark and Rowan Sommerset
I Love You Always by Astrid Desbordes, ill. Pauline Martin
I Love You Americanly by Lynn Parrish Sutton, ill. Melanie Hope Greenberg
I Promise by David McPhail
I See and See by Ted Lewin
I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur
I Want a Monster by Elise Grave
I Will Love You Anyway by Mick and Chloe Inkpen
I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt, ill. Scott Magoon
I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work by Doyin Richards
I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
I’ll Catch You If You Fall by Mark Sperring, ill. Layn Marlow
I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail
I’m Lucky I Found You by Guido van Genechten
Too Many Questions!!!
Are You Sure, Mother Bear? by Amy Hest, ill. Lauren Tobia
Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein, ill. Julia Rothman
Can One Balloon Make an Elephant Fly? by Dan Richards, ill. Jeff Newman
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow
Have You Seen My Trumpet? by Michael Escoffier, ill. Kris Di Giacomo
How Will You Change the World? by Linda Laudone and S. Jane Scheyder, ill. Jacob Scheyder
Is That Wise Pig? by Jan Thomas
Playtime? by Jeff Mack
A Toucan Can, Can You? by Danny Adlerman, ill. Various
What Can I Be? by Ann Rand, ill. Ingrid Fiksdahl King
What Color Is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts
What Could It Be? by Sally Fawcett
What Do You Love About You? by Karen Lechelt
What’s a Banana? by Marilyn Singer, ill. Greg Pizzoli
What’s an Apple? by Marilyn Singer, ill. Greg Pizzoli
Where Did They Go? A Spotting Book by Emily Bornoff
Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night? by Brianna Caplan Sayres, ill. Christian Slade
Where Do They Go? by Julia Alvarez, ill. Sabra Field
Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie’s Chick? by Pat Hutchins
Where’s the Elephant? by Barroux
Where’s the Party? by Ruth Chan
Who Broke the Teapot? by Bill Slavin
Who Wants a Tortoise? by Dave Keane, ill. K.G. Campbell
Why? by Nikolai Popov
Why Do Cats Have Tails? by David Ling, ill. Stephanie Thatcher
Will You Be My Friend? by Susan Lurie, ill. Murray Head
Would You Rather Be a Princess or a Dragon? by Barney Saltzberg
If you’re a new writer, looking for ways to publish a book can be daunting. It’s great that we live in a time where there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips, but a simple Google search may not get you the results that you’re looking for. So where should a writer go to find resources on how to get published as well as resources on craft?
Below we’ve compiled a list of websites, interviews, and blog posts from our very own editors that discuss writing and the publishing industry. We hope these resources serve as a starting point for any budding writer embarking on their very first writing journey.
Advice for New Writers
In this blog post, editor Stacy Whitman answers questions with author Joseph Bruchac about writing, query letters, and publishing. You can also read the full AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit here.
We’ve chosen the following sites as useful places to gain knowledge about the publishing industry and writing. We’ve even added a few links for illustrators. Click here for a list of recommended books for writers.
The Children’s Book Council (CBC)
CBC offers an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names, as well as a diverse range of resources for writers and illustrators.
The online resource for children’s illustrators, publishers and book lovers.
Write for Kids
This site is dedicated to writing children’s books, with message boards and other helpful articles for published and aspiring writers. Recommended by Andrea Huelsenbeck.
Poets & Writers
A more adult-oriented site, but there are listings of calls for submissions for writers, a listserv for people to discuss writing issues, and other resources particularly for writers. They also have a news section where they keep people updated on the most recent happenings in publishing.
Pubishers Weekly (PW)
The electronic version of the print magazine. PW serves as a resource for following the publishing industry.
As we all know one of the best ways to catch an editor’s eye is to submit a grammatically correct manuscript. These should help:
The Elements of Style (online)
Believe it or not, this little manual which is required reading for every writing course is on-line. As far as convenience, I think the paper edition is more portable, but if you’re writing at your computer anyway and need to look something up you’re just a mouse click away.
The Society of Illustrators
Mission: To promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future, and to give impetus generally toward high ideals in the art by means of exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, social intercourse, and in such other ways as may seem advisable.
We hope these websites, blog posts, and interviews serve as great resources for any writer preparing their work for publication.
Is there anything that we missed? Please share in the comments below!
Two years ago I wrote a piece called The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting in which I raged unto the heavens against picture books where the artists put little work into bothering to figure out if knitting needles should be held up or down. Well, it’s time for me to apologize to those illustrators. If depicting knitting needles with the ends to the sky is irresistible to you, you’re in good company. Seems that every picture book illustrator of the past put you on the wrong path early.
Today, we rank the great illustrators history and see how precisely they’ve chosen to portray knitters. As a refresher, here is how you hold knitting needles:
The method of holding them with the ends up is not unheard of, but it is rare. For example, I tried to find a Google Image of that particular style for the piece and failed utterly.
From Worst to Best: Knitting in Children’s Literature
To be fair, I know very little about the fibers of Truffula Trees. It is possible that one has to . . . um . . . Okay, I’m not entirely certain what the Onceler’s family is doing here. They appear to be stabbing the fibers in a downward manner with their needles, miraculously producing thneeds. This exact image isn’t exactly from the book (I think it’s wallpaper) but it’s an accurate depiction of what Seuss drew. Whatever floats your boats, guys. Just don’t call it knitting.
Et tu, Eastman? I was merrily reading Robert the Rose Horse when I saw this image. I may have to give Eastman points for the inherent humor of it, though. Knitting without digits. Think about it for a moment.
I’m with you, kitten. Shocked SHOCKED that the great Garth Williams failed to get this right.
No word on whether or not Moominmamma . . . oh, wait.
Darn it. No pun intended.
Wait! This just in! I believe this is an image from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. If so, then this cat isn’t knitting but tatting. And if she is tatting then it’s possible the needles go up, right? So let’s just find an image of someone tatting.
So much for that.
I think we may have a winner. Yes, it looks like it. Granted, she’s put the knitting down on her lap to whisper “Hush” to the bunny in the bed, but I think it very likely that the needles were held correctly before then. Shall we give it to him?
Okay. Enough with the deceased. Let’s see how some of our contemporary masters fare in this game.
Didn’t see that one coming.
YES!! And Pinkney for the win! The cat’s needles are down, I REPEAT! The cat’s needles are down!
Paul O. Zelinsky
Considering how much work Paul put into getting the spinning wheel right in Rumpelstiltskin, it’s little wonder he’d get the knitting right in Swamp Angel.
Cheating a bit here. This is from one of Sophie’s Missed Connections pieces and not from a children’s book, but it at least proves that if knitting ever does come up in one of her books, she’ll know what to do about it.
I suspect I would have had a small heart attack if it turned out that Ms. Brett didn’t know knitting. She has, after all, portrayed some of the greatest illustrations of stitching ever seen in a picture book.
Notable missing illustrators aren’t listed here simply because I couldn’t figure out if they ever depicted knitting in their books. Hence the lack of John Steptoe, Maurice Sendak, Trina Schart Hyman, Grace Lin, Tomie de Paola, Yuyi Morales, and others. If you’ve inside knowledge on the matter, have at it. Other contemporary illustrators like Lauren Castillo or Jon Klassen can be found on the previous piece about knitting books in 2014.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Chess Rumble, which explores the ways this strategic game empowers young people with the skills they need to anticipate and calculate their moves through life.
Synopsis: In Marcus’s world, battles are fought everyday—on the street, at home, and in school. Angered by his sister’s death and his father’s absence, and pushed to the brink by a bullying classmate, Marcus fights back with his fists.
One punch away from being kicked out of school and his home, Marcus encounters CM, an unlikely chess master who challenges him to fight his battles on the chess board. Guarded and distrusting, Marcus must endure more hard lessons before he can accept CM’s help to regain control of his life.
Awards and Honors:
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, American Library Association (ALA)
Notable Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English
Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, International Reading Association (IRA)
Top Picks for Reluctant Readers, BoysRead.org
G. Neri, an award-winning filmmaker whose work has earned him several honors. Inspired by his editor, Jennifer Fox, who had wanted to do an urban chess story for years and finally saw the possibility of making it come to life through him, Neri dove into the project with unbridled enthusiasm. “I loved the idea of using chess strategy as a way to approach life. I had dealt with a few teens who had come from troubled pasts and had difficulty finding an outlet for their inner struggle. So the idea of pairing a kid like this with a chess mentor who did not back down came naturally. It was a very organic process, and I let the characters tell me their stories.”
Neri hopes that readers will come away from Chess Rumble “think[ing] about their lives and the choices they make before they make them.” Pressed to continue, Neri says, “I hope they are intrigued to play chess, and maybe start thinking about acting on, instead of reacting to, negative situations. Acting considers what can happen if you make one choice versus another. Reacting just responds impulsively to the problem instead of thinking ahead three steps and maybe making a better choice.”
Now that my kids have reached the ripe ages of five and two, I’m finding myself more interested in picture books that pick apart the nature of sibling relationships in interesting ways . I don’t mean fighting. I mean that crazy pushmepullyou of loving each other to the extreme mixed with scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs annoyance. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with a variety of picture books that celebrate this tricky balance. Books where it’s not all sweetness and light nor vinegar and . . . uh . . . darkness (note to self: work on metaphors before posting to readership).
Here’s just a quick smattering of some of my favorites at this precise moment in time.
I am now and forever Team BRL. Back in the day when I reviewed it I mentioned that for me this is a book about grace. Telling kids to forgive other kids is tricky, but telling them to forgive their little annoying siblings? Add in the fact that this is one of the very rare picture books you’ll find about a American Muslim family that isn’t about their faith in some way and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Speak truth to me, but softly. Give me picture books about siblings, but get a little heart in there. Now in some ways, I feel that Parkhurst’s book remains one of the funniest and most honest displays of sibling relationships I’ve ever seen. That moment when the mom says, “Sweetie, she’s two. You don’t have to do what she says,” just squeaks with familiarity. I am that mom. I live that mom’s life. Albeit with the genders of the kids switched.
A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban, ill. Lillian Hoban
I’m in that weird position as a librarian where I know all the “classic” children’s picture books and I know to read them to my kids, but I’m still shocked when I finally discover that some of them are more contemporary, funny, and honest than a lot of the stuff being published today. Take Frances. Now there’s a character I hope we never lose. She has lots of great books but this may be my favorite. Clearly Russell Hoban knew children, because that relationship between Frances and her sister has all the qualities of a real sisterhood.
Nope. Still not back in print. Still weird. He just got a street named after him, guys. The fact this isn’t even a board book is bizarre. My son loves it, possibly because the baby gets to bean the brother upside the head with a teddy bear and all that brother does is sigh and get the kid out of his crib. But that shot of the messy baby kiss on his brother’s nose . . . I’m not a sentimental soul in the least, but that gets me.
I’m open to any and all suggestions for more titles of this ilk, if you have them.
Check out LEE & LOW BOOKS’ Building Classroom Community Unit for First Grade! The FREE and downloadableunit consists of eight read aloud lesson plans to inspire your best classroom community yet.
The start of first grade is ripe with opportunities for building long-lasting positive school behaviors and attitudes. Time spent building relationships and establishing social and academic expectations can pay dividends all year long.
Using a rich collection of diverse picture books to support this work lays the foundation for a classroom culture of appreciation and acceptance.
The Building Classroom Community Unit for First Gradeconsists of eight read alouds and provides a structured approach for this important work, yet the lessons are flexible enough for you to teach language and behaviors specific to your students’ population, preferences, and goals. Each lesson is intended for multiple days so that from the beginning students are exposed to close reading and the value of multiple readings. We believe the first eight read alouds, or roughly the first two months of school, are critical to setting the tone of your classroom community, read aloud procedures, and expectations for engagement.
review and build on the expectations for listening and discussion participation introduced in kindergarten, with a new emphasis on staying focused on a topic and building on others’ responses
encourage students to learn about one another through discussions of favorite individual and family pastimes and goals for the year ahead
engage in rigorous yet developmentally appropriate discussions about crucial topics such as individual strengths and challenges, managing disagreements kindly, and persevering through mistakes and difficult tasks
Each lesson may be used as a stand alone, but we hope that using these books as a broad unit will help lay the foundation for a strong classroom community with strong learning expectations. We designed the unit to spiral. Additionally, each lesson and book can be adapted for other grades (and we hope you will do this!).
Book extension activities encourage exploration of these topics through writing, drama, and art, as well as lay the foundation for collaborative learning during your year.
Serving on award committees is a time-honored tradition amongst children’s librarians. The award ceremonies that come after? Gravy. This past weekend I was delighted to attend the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Ceremony, the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, and the presentation of the Scott O’Dell Award all in one fell swoop. To do this I had to travel in Boston. For whatever reason they did not pick up these three events and move them to Evanston for my own personal convenience. I shall have a word with the management, I assure you.
But in all seriousness, it was delightful. In particular Katrina Hedeen was delightful, somehow managing to simultaneously put out fires (metaphorical, though I’m sure she could wield an extinguisher with aplomb), calm nerves, and keep everything on schedule. She even typed up a handy little schedule which listed absolutely everything I would need to know during my time in MA.
For my part, I came to the town with two additional goals:
Meet Laura Amy Schlitz, Sharyn November, and Jeanne Birdsall for lunch. Those of you familiar with all three individuals are probably now wondering if the heavens themselves would split asunder at the conjoining of this magnificent triumvirate. More on that in a second.
Record an episode of the Horn Book Podcast with the multi-talented Siân Gaetano. In course of said recording, find a way to take over Roger’s job.
So there was an element of timing to this trip. Neither of these things, you see, were on Katrina’s original schedule for me. I would have to be quick, slick, and on time.
Now in any good story, there can sometimes be outside forces which throw your protagonist (notice I didn’t say “hero”) off their chosen path. In this case there was a bit of a baseball game of an important nature happening on Friday when I arrived. It didn’t slow me down much but it did mean that while most of my delightful lunch happened, I just missed Sharyn November by a hair when I had to book it to the podcast. Hence the lack of a killer selfie in this slot:
The podcast was a lot of fun. Julie Danielson, who spoke with Roger and Siân not long ago on her own episode, had advised me to eat the mic. Just devour it. Take large chunks out of it with my teeth. That really is the only way to be properly heard. I thought maybe I’d have some natural mic magnetic abilities that would allow me to draw it to my lips unbidden. This did not seem to be the case but Siân has this incredibly subtle way of drawing attention to the fact that you’re beginning to drift away while you are recording that is commendable. She’s a class act, that one. Our topic was “religion”, which should give you pause right there. I’m an odd candidate to talk about it but we had lots of interesting things to say. I’ll let you know when it’s up. They’ll be discussing VOYA on the podcast next (as is right) so I’ll be the week after that. It’s all good.
Roger, for the record, was not present at the recording since he was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get everything in place for the ceremony that night. That meant that in addition to taking his place on his podcast (the first step, as I’ve mentioned, in my plan to supplant him on it entirely) I got to creep around his office like . . well . . a creep. And there, on the wall, was the cutest photograph of all time. I got Roger’s permission to post it here. It’s of Roger a number of years ago doing a storytime when he was still a children’s librarian. Check it out:
My plan for attending the ceremony consisted of following people who would know where we were supposed to go. This was a good plan. So I ducked into the ladies restroom to change. After a quick change we headed over, drank champagne, and I got to ogle the prizes that the winners of the Boston Globe-Horn Book receive when they win.
I don’t know if any of you have attended this particular award before. It’s Boston-based so a fair number of New Yorkers were able to travel up with relative ease. Still and all, I’d never been. As it turns out, winners of the awards receive silver bowls with their names engraved on the side. Honor winners get silver plates of much the same thing. And unlike awards like the Newbery and Caldecott, both the authors and the illustrators of each book received their own reward and make their own speeches. Pretty sweet.
As I was to learn, also unlike other professional children’s awards, the judges of the BGHB awards are placed upon the stage upon chairs that look like they hold more professional degrees than anyone whose tuchas they happen to cradle. The judges were placed in the front with Roger in the back.
Imposing, to say the least.
If a chair could disapprove of the state of your attire, this one would.
I was therefore very glad indeed that I’d opted to switch out my ratty, fluff-infested, possibly pungent black tights for my sleeker blue ones. I do not have particularly interesting legs, but at least they could claim to be colorful.
Listening to M.T. Anderson. For the record, if you find yourself on a stage sitting for long amounts of time, I highly recommend turning your legs into an interesting color. Not puce, though. Never puce.
In case you have forgotten, here were this year’s winners:
NONFICTION AWARD WINNER:
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan)
Three of the honorees couldn’t attend the ceremony. Each one sent in a nice little acceptance speech video in lieu of their actual selves. I will now proceed to rank their reasons in order of increasing extremity:
Sherman Alexie – Unable to attend due to a prior family commitment. Totally understandable.
Frances Hardinge – Unable to attend because she was officiating a wedding. Totally and completely understandable.
Yuyi Morales – Unable to attend because she was donating a kidney to a complete unknown stranger simply because it was the right thing to do. This is what we call in the business the greatest, most understandable reason a person could produce for not being able to attend an event.
The speeches, as you might imagine, were lovely. Laura Amy Schlitz, for example, did hers on the floor beside mic and without notes and I could only wish Frances had been there to hear her since I think those two would have gotten along like gangbusters.
Afterwards the judges had been invited to a Candlewick dinner, so we climbed onto what appeared to be a Candlewick Party Bus and made our way to a lovely little restaurant. No idea what the name was, but it was one of those places that try to make classic dishes interesting by throwing in peculiar little touches. For example, I got the chicken and waffles, but the chicken was topped off with guacamole. Not a bad addition by any stretch of the imagination but not something you normally see.
It was that nice, blearily checking in to my hotel room, that I realized I’d left my glasses, my only glasses, in the restroom across the hall from the Horn Book offices. Pfui.
The next day was cloudy, gloomy, and just packed with that kind of nasty misty rain that drifts under your umbrella and somehow manages to soak you in a low-level sheen of wetness anyway. But it could have been blue skies and birds singing sweet songs for me. I was going to meet someone for breakfast that is, to me, quite the celebrity.
I don’t know how many of you listen to the NPR Podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. For me, it is the only way I am able to understand any of the current goings on in the pop culture world. What is Steven Universe? What happened at the Emmys this year? What’s You’re the Worst? They answer all and they occasionally have a librarian on for her expertise. Her name is Margaret H. Willison and in addition to working full-time in a library she also records the podcast Two Bossy Dames. The kicker? She knew who I was and was willing to do breakfast with me! Bonus! I’ve always admired Margaret’s aplomb on PCHH since she is able to keep up with a quick and lively crew on a variety of different topics. Thinking on your feet in this manner is an enviable skill, but she wields her tongue adeptly. And, I am happy to report, she is just as sweet, funny, intelligent, and smart as you would hope her to be.
After this, I had to get my glasses back. Long story short: I did, but Simmons may wish to consider how easy it is to bypass those doors that require cards. Some of them simply aren’t turned on. Hence my recovery of my own glasses.
Meanwhile, back at the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium the theme of the day was “Out of the Box”. Cathryn Mercier, the Director and Professor of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College gave the opening and welcome alongside Roger Sutton. Now if you watched Cathryn throughout the day, you would have seen her writing down a variety of different notes, longhand, on a pad of paper. These notes were then, by the end of the day, transformed into a speech that wrapped up all the pertinent points. It was extraordinary. She didn’t even transfer it all to a laptop and edit it. So well done there.
M.T. Anderson started off the day with a speech called “What’s Actually in a Box”. It may have discussed his intense dislike of Little Women. “Unboxing Nonfiction” was a panel conducted between Roxanne Feldman and Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes. During the course of their talk they spoke about the dire need to break wide open “the canonical boundaries of biography.” Then Steve Sheinkin spoke on the topic of “Get Me Out of the Health Food Aisle!: Rethinking Nonfiction”. LEGOs were involved in some manner. After lunch Roger Sutton moderated “How Jazz and Picture Books Are the Same Exact Thing” with Roxane Orgill and Francis Vallejo and then I got to interview Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler about their book One Day, the End. Turns out, they are a hoot. As a moderator you always worry that your subjects will just give one word answers to your questions. Rebecca and Fred worked like a perfectly tuned engine. You’d think they’d been friends for years, rather than a lucky pairing of author and illustrator by an editor. We were also able to determine once and for all whether or not the girl in the book picks up the ice cream that falls from her cone and places it back on that same cone from the ground or not. Squeamish readers may not like the answer.
“Unboxing Fiction” was a truly fascinating talk conducted by Joanna Long with Laura Amy Schlitz and Rebecca Stead. We found out that both authors were descended from hired girls who married above their stations. We learned what a bundling board is, as well as chaperoned kissing parties. Oh, it was amazing stuff. I can only hope the day was recorded in some way.
Finally Cathryn Mercier gave her (longhand) final speech and this was immediately followed up with by the presentation of the Scott O’Dell Award to Laura. There was champagne and chocolate cupcakes with blue frosting. Everything, in short, that makes life worth living.
My trip to the airport would have been in an overpriced taxi. Instead, winner Francis Vallejo, his girlfriend, his mom, and his dad all drove me to the airport themselves. They not only saved me money but were lively and wonderful companions en route, and I’d be an unappreciative beast if I didn’t thank them here. We got to talk a little Detroit, which always caps off a trip well.
And a thank you to the fine and fabulous folks of the Horn Book for babysitting me, putting me up, and generally allowing me to have a wonderful time. Thank you to Roger for selecting me for this committee. To the winners for your time and speeches. And to the attendees for coming up afterwards to say you read this blog from time to time. That’s awfully nice to hear. So thank you one and all, and if anyone reading this is so inclined, do be so good as to sign up to attend next year’s BGHB Award Ceremony. It’s supposed to be the official 50th anniversary, so you know the cupcakes are gonna be good.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a parent or guardian reads a picture book to a child repeatedly, day in and day out, for weeks or even months on end, something is bound to happen to the child’s brain and that of the adult reader as well. I don’t mean to make this sound dire or anything. The child, as many studies have shown, benefits from the repetition and learns from it. For the adult, however, there can be side effects. And perhaps the most common side effect is Chronic Family Phrase Generation.
Example: You read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury constantly. Even if you have never seen this book performed in a storytime, you are aware that there are natural cadences to the text. You’ve read this so often that you have its natural cadences memorized. You have different voices for each of the sound effects. When the family runs from the bear you thump on the book like their frightened footsteps have come to life. And what is the result of all this hard work? Every time you go outside and the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing and the temperature is somewhere between 73-75 degrees you say aloud, “What a beautiful day.” And then, not five seconds later, “We’re not scared!”
Every. Single. Time.
That, my friends, is Chronic Family Phrase Generation. The upside of this is that everyone in your immediate family knows what you’re talking about when you use these phrases. It’s like a secret family passcode. If they ever kidnap you and replace you with an evil twin, all your family has to do to determine whether it’s you or not is to simply say off-handedly, “What a beautiful day.” If you don’t respond with that Pavlovian “We’re not scared,” then clearly you are the evil twin.
I think it’s actually really interesting to consider the qualities that make a written sentence into a family phrase. What must it consist of? The length? Where the stresses on each one of the words falls?
In my own home we have many such phrases, but only a couple occurred to me while writing this post. They are:
From Go, Dog, Go: “Up the tree. Up the tree. Up they go to the top of the tree.” These sentences are modified every time I’m trying to get the kids to go up the stairs. Also acceptable, “Go down dogs. Go down, I say.”
From The Daddy Mountain: “And that could be a catastrophe.” This one comes up randomly, but is very satisfying. I recommend placing the stresses on “that”, “be”, and the “tas” part of “catastrophe”.
I asked my husband if he had any growing up and he let me know that yes indeed, there were some. Both, to the best of his knowledge come from Dr. Seuss. They are:
“If such a thing could be then it certainly would be.”
“An isn’t has no fun at all. No he disn’t.”
This leads to a word of warning to the wise. The danger of all this, of course, is that someday your phrase can potentially remain but the source will have disappeared. In my own family growing up, for example, the phrase, “I swoop. I soar. I fly. Back up, back up!” was acquired somewhere. Possibly from a book, possibly from a film, possibly from a television show. The source has been lost but the phrase remains, only now every time we say it we cringe and feel obligated to follow it up with, “What is that from?”
So in the interests of research that will certainly never go anywhere, what are some of the family phrases in your home that you heard growing up or that you say now to your kids or grandkids, and that can claim picture books as their original sources? I wonder if any of your answers will repeat. Surely I cannot be the only person in the world doomed to say “We’re not scared” every time the day outside is beautiful.
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