Wednesday, December 30, 2009
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2000) by J.K. Rowling. The fourth installment in Rowling's cataclysmically popular and utterly enchanting series was the first to be published in this decade. The chronicles of a boy wizard and his world are built to last.
"White Teeth" (2000) by Zadie Smith. Linguistically splendiferous, this engaging novel shatters ethnic categories and narrow prejudices -- and ushered in a global lit.
"Twilight" (2005) by Stephenie Meyer. Along with its evil spawn -- er, I mean sequels -- this dully written series smashed records at the bookstore and at the box office. Vampires may live forever, but these books won't.
"Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" (2003) by Lynne Truss. Grumpy grammarians had their day in the sun with this book and its many imitators.
"The Tipping Point" (2000) by Malcolm Gladwell. The runaway success of this book and others by the same author ignited a mini-genre: the anecdote elevated to a business truism.
"The Da Vinci Code" (2003) by Dan Brown. Lord help us.
"Be Near Me" (2006) by Andrew O'Hagan. The anti-"Da Vinci Code": a beautiful, tragic, provocative novel about faith and loss.
"The God Delusion" (2006) by Richard Dawkins. Militant atheism found its leader in this brilliant British academic, who turns his withering scorn upon religious believers.
"Wintergirls" (2009) by Laurie Halse Anderson. Young adult literature came of age with Anderson, who taps into teenage fears and hopes with heartfelt precision.
"Oryx and Crake" (2003) by Margaret Atwood. Apocalyptic lit, a new genre, found its bleakly bewitching oracle
Friday, December 18, 2009
When my son was in elementary and middle school, he would come home so worried about the state test. Weeks and months leading up to the test would be spent on test taking skills and drills. I remember sitting down and talking with him about the fact that he is so much more than someone who does or doesn't do well on a test. He is a violinist, a runner, a soccer player, a best friend, a writer of poetry, a son, a grandson, a volunteer, a dog lover and on and on.
Yes, school is important and many decisions are made based on tests, but we are so much more than the sum of our test scores. This seems to be the message in Looking Like Me written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by his son, Christopher Myers. Below is a nice review of the book from Kirkus:
An interview with Walter Dean and Christopher Myers is available on the Follettee Liberary Resources website.
The Myerses-father and son-reunite for a poetic celebration of self that blends a sort of Whitman-esque hip-hop with '70s-vibe visuals. Adapting the cumulative cadences of Bill Martin's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Walter Dean Myers's text immediately establishes a preeminent self-affirmation: "I looked in the mirror / And what did I see? / A real handsome dude looking just like me." Narrator Jeremy hears from a succession of family, neighbors and community members and adds role after role to his portfolio. He's a brother, son, writer, city kid, artist, dancer, talker, runner, dreamer: "Looked in the mirror- / I look like a crowd." Christopher Myers overlays eclectic photo collages with stylized, silhouetted figures in saturated hues of chartreuse, butternut, chocolate, magenta and more. The text's two upper-case typefaces look like gritty, spray-painted stencils and whimsical woodcuts. There's a touch of call-and-response in the refrain ("He put out his fist. / I gave it a BAM!")that begs to be read aloud. This vibrant synthesis of poetry and pictures is a natural for classrooms and family sharing.
Looking Like Me celebrates every child, and every thing that every child can be." Publishers Weekly writes, "a funky, visually fluid funhouse that proves pigeonholes are strictly for pigeons."
Monday, December 14, 2009
L.A. Times: Children's books 2009: It's all good! says Jon Scieszka
The Huffington Post: National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Must Go!
The first installment is an interview between IRA Executive Director Bill Harvey and Peter Johnston, chair of the IRA/NCTE task force that prepared the recently revised Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing. Together, they explore what literacy means in today's digital age and the need for new standards to measure literacy. Peter Johnston’s interview is just the first of many thought-provoking programs that will be posted monthly on the IRA website and address topics that range from reading assessment to the role of parents in literacy development.
In January, watch for an interview with IRA President Kathryn H. Au on Culturally Responsive Instruction.
You can play the program directly from your computer or download it onto an I-Pod or other mp3 player.
Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu. Dial, $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3330-5
As in Wonder Bear, a large white bear looms large in Nyeu’s latest, but this sophomore effort is a world apart. In three short and endearingly silly stories, six adorable bunnies prove to be the very definition of “victims of circumstance,” thanks to their industrious but clueless neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Goat. The good news is that the Zen-like Bear puts things right; the comically ambivalent news is that the cure often seems as bad as the disease. Thus, when Mrs. Goat unknowingly extracts the napping bunnies out of their hole with her vacuum cleaner, Bear decides the best way to rid them of grime is to hang them from a flagpole and blast them with “the big fan.” Nyeu’s winkingly demure writing, fluidly schematic line drawings, and limited palette (each chapter is keyed to a single dominant color) make knowingly naïf foils for the outrageous acts and outlandish solutions that the bunnies endure. Whereas Wonder Bear was sentimental and loosely (at best) plotted, this sardonic, tightly constructed satire offers spot-on fun for the age group, even as it gleefully sends the primly narrated animal story up the river. Ages 3–5. (Jan.)
The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley, illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-545-12508-6
Kerley and Fotheringham (What to Do About Alice?) pair up again to offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of another famous family. Wanting to present a portrait of her papa beyond that of just humorist and author, Mark Twain’s 13-year-old daughter Susy spent a year chronicling her observations and reflections. While her entire work was published in 1985 (Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain), Kerley contextualizes the teenager’s admiring musings with vivid familial backdrops. So when Kerley notes that Twain’s wife often would “clean up any questionable passages” in his writing, Susy’s biography states that this meant “some delightfully dreadful part must be scratched out.” Minibooklets titled “Journal” appear in the fold of many spreads, containing excerpts from Susy’s notebook (some may find the flowery typeface of the inserts hard to read). Adding dynamic flair to the limited palettes of each digitally created scene are curlicues representing words, which emanate wildly from pen tips, pages, and mouths. Author notes about Susy and her father, a time line of Twain’s life, and tips for writing an “extraordinary biography” complete this accessible and inventive vision of an American legend. Ages 7–11. (Jan.)
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce. HarperCollins/Walden Pond, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-183683-1
The hero of Boyce’s enchanting third novel has grown a bit over the summer. “Seven inches is not a spurt,” his father says. “Seven inches is a mutation.” Having facial hair and the height of an adult is a nuisance for 12-year-old Liam, until he realizes he can pass for a grownup. The charade escalates into danger when Liam passes himself off as his own father and wins a trip to a new theme park in China with his friend Florida, where they will be the first to experience an out-of-this-world new thrill ride. “The Rocket” turns out to be a real rocket, and the novel opens with Liam and four other kids literally lost in space. What follows is a hilarious and heartfelt examination of “dadliness” in all its forms, including idiotic competitiveness and sports chatter, but also genuine care and concern. Luckily for the errant space cadets, Liam possesses skills honed playing World of Warcraft online—yes, here is a novel, finally, that confirms that playing computer games can be good for you. A can’t-miss offering from an author whose latest novel may be his best yet. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)
Eighth-Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-545-09676-8
Rhuday-Perkovich delivers a masterful debut, telling a layered middle-school tale filled with characters who are delightfully flawed and, more importantly, striving to overcome those flaws. Reggie McKnight has been saddled with the nickname “Pukey” thanks to a disastrous incident on the first day of school. Attempting to get through the rest of the year unnoticed, he spends his time with his best friends, political activist Ruthie (who shares Reggie’s Jamaican background) and aspiring rapper Joe C. While working on a project at a homeless shelter with his church’s youth group, he becomes increasingly interested and involved in the community, leading to his participation in his school’s presidential race, first as an adviser to a classmate, eventually as a candidate. Rhuday-Perkovich doesn’t take shortcuts, forcing Reggie to deal with a world in which he doesn’t always get the answers or successes he wants, and the book shines as a result. Messages of social justice—whether through church projects, parental discussions, or recognition of racial biases among his friends—complement the story and characters, rather than upstage them. Ages 10–14. (Jan.)
A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata. S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4169-1883-7
Newbery Medalist Kadohata (Kira-Kira) shows that truth has as many shades of gray as an elephant in this emotionally taut survival story, set in war-torn South Vietnam. After American troops leave his village, Y’Tin, his family, and his neighbors are left to fend off their enemies themselves. But Y’Tin’s mind isn’t on war. It’s on his pet elephant, Lady, and his dreams of opening an elephant-training school. His hopes vanish when North Vietnamese soldiers devastate his small village (Y’Tin helps dig a mass grave at one point). Y’Tin manages to escape into the jungle with a friend, where he reunites with Lady, but separated from family and friends, his thoughts grow dark. As the days go by, he becomes angrier and less trusting, wondering “if he would ever feel safe again or if safety was gone from his life forever.” Illustrating the wisdom of Y’Tin’s father’s words—“The jungle changes a man”—Kadohata delves deep into the soul of her protagonist while making a faraway place and the stark consequences of war seem very near. Y’Tin’s inner conflicts and changing perception of the world will haunt readers. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin, $9.99 paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-57380-5
Backstabbing, rumor mills, and freeze-outs by the in crowd are familiar territory, but Summers (Cracked Up to Be) takes these traumatic experiences to a new level of nasty. Regina Afton, once a member of the elite Fearsome Fivesome, is dumped after word gets out that she slept with her queen bee best friend’s boyfriend at a party. What no one knows—or doesn’t believe—is that it wasn’t consensual: Regina was nearly raped. In a series of pranks that go beyond the usual cold stares (the word “whore” painted on her locker, books thrown in the pool, a vicious “IH8RA” Web page, a four-on-one beating), her ex-friends exact a revenge meant to inflict permanent damage. Regina’s only salvation is her nascent friendship with a loner she bullied back in her heyday, but even his forgiveness is hard won. Parents and teachers are suspiciously absent (and oblivious to Regina’s suffering), but it’s Regina’s lack of recourse that makes this very real story all the more frightening and effective. Regina’s every emotion is palpable, and it’s impossible not to feel every punch—physical or emotional—she takes. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Best of Young Adult Fiction 2009 by NPR
Notable Children's Books of 2009 by The New York Times
Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009 by the New York Times
Best Books 2009 by School Library Journal
Best Children's Books of 2009 by Publisher's Weekly
Best Children's Books of 2009 by Kirkus Reviews [PDF]
Top of the List by Booklist
Monday, December 7, 2009
Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli, illus. by Kadir Nelson. S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4169-3505-6
While Nobel Medalist Wangari Maathai has been the subject of two earlier picture biographies (Jeanette Winter's Wangari's Trees of Peace and Claire Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya), this story is structured more like a folktale, portraying Maathai as healer and botanist. “These are strong hands,” she tells a woman who does not have enough food to feed her family. “Here are seedlings of the mubiru muiru tree.... Plant as many as you can. Eat the berries.” Nelson's (We Are the Ship) breathtaking portraits of Maathai often have a beatific quality; bright African textiles represent fields, mountains, and Maathai's beloved trees. Maathai knows that some trees make good firewood, others form hedges to keep livestock safe, while the roots of others clean dirty water. After every encounter, a Kikuyu expression is repeated: “Thayu nyumba—Peace, my people.” Mama Miti, as Maathai comes to be known (it means “mother of trees”), is rewarded not with fame or power but with the satisfaction of seeing Kenya restored. Napoli (The Earth Shook) creates a vivid portrait of the community from which Maathai's tree-planting mission grows. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)
Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds, illus. by Floyd Cooper. Philomel, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-25091-0
This sterling collaboration views Rosa Parks's 1955 refusal to give up her bus seat through the eyes of a perceptive boy seated with his mother in the rear of the bus. Early on, the child rolls a treasured marble up the aisle and Parks good-naturedly shoots it back to him. He tucks the marble safely away when the bus fills with passengers and he senses trouble up front: “Some folks look back, givin' us angry eyes. 'We do somethin' wrong, Mama?' I say all soft.” Reynolds's (Superhero School) lyrical yet forceful text conveys the narrator's apprehension and Parks's calm resolve, which inspires the boy. “[S]he's sittin' right there, her eyes all fierce like a lightnin' storm, like maybe she does belong up there. And I start thinkin' maybe she does too.” Cooper's (Willie and the All-Stars) filmy oil paintings are characterized by a fine mistlike texture, which results in warm, lifelike portraits that convincingly evoke the era, the intense emotional pitch of this incident, and the everyday heroism it embodied. Ages 6–8. (Jan.)
The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean. Harper, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-183665-7
Kindhearted Pepper Roux has been led to believe that “[c]hildhood was a mouse trap from which he could never expect to escape,” his death by age 14 foretold in a dream. His maiden Aunt Mireille takes it upon herself to pave Pepper's path to heaven with daily prayer, constant confession, and rote memorization of last rites. So when Pepper awakens on his 14th birthday still alive, he launches himself on a sea voyage, intent on outrunning death. Mistaken for the ship's captain (his father), he is befriended by a compassionate, cross-dressing steward, Duchesse. Creating vivid characters is just one of McCaughrean's (The White Darkness) gifts—Aunt Mireille joins Dahl's Spiker and Sponge as one of the Most Evil Aunts in children's literature. Pepper flees across the French countryside from one disastrous job to another—delivery boy, horse wrangler, deli clerk, and even journalist, which allows McCaughrean to wink at readers as Pepper complains, “Copy editors cannot read anything without changing it.” As his journey ends in a cleverly orchestrated climax, readers will root for Pepper to get the ending he deserves—a happy one. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. Dial, $17.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3396-1
Fisher (the Oracle Prophesies series) scores a resounding success in this beautifully imagined science fantasy set in a far future where, many years earlier, civilization was artificially frozen at late-medieval levels in order to save the world from dangerous technologies. Simultaneously, all of the world's malcontents and madmen were sealed into an unimaginably vast, sentient prison named Incarceron, where a dedicated group of social engineers intended to create utopia. Claudia, the brilliant daughter of the cold-blooded warden of Incarceron, has been raised from birth to marry and eventually control Caspar, the simpleminded heir to the throne. Finn, a young man without a past, is a prisoner in Incarceron, which has become a hideous dystopia, an “abyss that swallows dreams.” When Claudia and Finn each gain possession of a high-tech “key” to the prison, they exchange messages, and Finn asks Claudia to help him attempt an escape. While he negotiates the hideous maze of the prison, Claudia makes her way through the equally deadly labyrinth of political intrigue. Complex and inventive, with numerous and rewarding mysteries, this tale is certain to please. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)
Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai by Stan Sakai. Dark Horse, $14.95 (64p) ISBN 978-1-59582-362-5
The heroic but sweet-tempered samurai rabbit celebrates the 25th anniversary of his first appearance in comics with this fully painted hardcover. Yokai are the evil supernatural creatures who can invade this world on dark nights; Usagi is walking through a forest on such a night when a distraught mother begs him to find her daughter, who's been stolen by a shape-changing kitsune. He meets a variety of hostile spirits and demons as he undertakes that mission. He also encounters his enigmatic acquaintance Sasuke the Demon Queller, from whom he learns that the yokai are gathering to swarm into the human world and conquer it. It's up to the two anthropomorphized little animals to stop them. Sakai's art deftly demonstrates that comics can be simultaneously cartoony and scary, especially in a double-page spread of the Demon Queen and her hoard; moreover, the comic's design, linework, and coloring are simply lovely. Unlike the bleak cynicism of many contemporary comics, this beautifully produced little book shows how much love Sakai still has for his rabbit ronin. A 2009 Eisner Award nominee for Best Continuing Series, Usagi Yojimbo is a genuine pleasure for readers of all ages. Ages 9–12. (Dec.)
Monday, November 30, 2009
Be sure to enter the Holiday Books Giveaway! Leave your email address in the comments section so that if you win, I can contact you for a mailing address. Note: I do not keep email addresses or submit them to publishers or anyone else. Email addresses are only used for receiving mailing addresses of winners and then deleted.
I am in the process of revising The Joy of Children's Literature for a second edition. If you have used this book, please let me know if you have constructive feedback.
I have enthusiastically blogged here, here, and here about the production blog of The Library of the Early Mind, a feature-length documentary film about children’s literature directed by Edward J. Delaney and produced by Edward J. Delaney and Steven Withrow.
Today, I was thrilled to find out that Steven Withrow (in the picture on the left with his daughter) will be contributing a monthly "field notes" column over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. On December 15th, Steven will post his first interview/feature with a children's publishing professional with art director and book designer Susan M. Sherman.
In the mean time, be sure to read Steven's interview (with himself) at the 7-imps blog in which you will learn that he is one amazingly accomplished, and funny, man!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
During the question/answer phase of the presentation, the authors discussed and raise very important issues that I think all teachers should consider. One of the questions I asked was about receiving posts that contained personal information. Children and young adults become very connected to these authors through their books and the authors' blogs allow them a way to have direct communication. I wondered if children/young adults were posting very personal information in the comments sections of the authors' blogs. Most of the authors indicated that some students have posted personal information, but not too many. This lead to several more comments from the authors.
Laurie Anderson addressed the need to teach students how to compose appropriate email communication in addition to or instead of traditional letter writing (which is, after all, dead, right?). I not only agree with Laurie, but I believe it is essential. Email and other forms of Internet communication is and will continue to be the major form of writing students will do in the work place. School is quickly becoming the only place were students are required to use handwriting (especially cursive).
The authors also talked about the overwhelming amount of email they receive from students that is obviously part of a classroom assignment in which students "demand" a response from the author quickly because the response is required as part of their grade on an assignment. Authors, like everyone else, want genuine responses to their books. Justine Larbalestier talked about receiving a letter from a young adult in response to her book Liar that brought tears to her eyes. It is easy to see why tons of email asking, "Where do you get your ideas" and "why do you like to write," are not on the top of their list of questions to receive from students; especially when often, the answers to many of those questions can be found on their website or other Internet resources. This should definitely be a part of teaching students how to effectively use email communication.
What are your thoughts?
Friday, November 20, 2009
THE CHRISTMAS MAGIC
Far, far North, when the nights are longest and the stars shine brightest, Santa begins to prepare for his big night of giving. He gathers his reindeer, feeds them parsnips and berries, and polishes his bells and his sled. Then lovingly, he chooses toys for every child in the world. For Santa loves them all, and he knows what each child at heart wants most. Then, with the thrum of magic that makes reindeer fly, he spreads the Christmas joy and warmth throughout the world--as he always has -- and always will until the end of time. From best-selling author Lauren Thomas, and Caldecott Honor Artist Jon J Muth.
On Christmas Eve, Godfather , something terribly amazing happens to Godfather’s handcrafted toys…they come alive. Marie is swept off her feet on an incredible journey with the Nutcracker in this astonishing classic story by E.T.A. Hoffman. Critically acclaimed artist Gail de Marcken’s stunning illustrations bring this spellbinding tale to life.
Two (2) winners will receive both copies:
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
The Christmas Magic
To enter, leave a comment between now and midnight on Thursday, December 3rd, along with the email address where you can be contacted for mailing information should your name be selected (US only). If you do not leave an email address, I do not have a way to contact you and therefore you will not be considered for the contest. The winner will be randomly selected on Friday, December 4th.
—Lemony Snicket, regarding the new free online edition of THE BAD BEGINNING
For a limited time, you can read 100% of A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning for free online with Browse Inside!
View Lemony Snicket’s video response to this latest unfortunate event.
Friday, November 13, 2009
A Pennsylvania elementary-school program used an "Everyday Heroes" theme to get preschoolers excited about reading and learning. As part of the Storywalk program, preschool-aged children toured classrooms staffed by a police officer, a school nurse and other "heroes" on hand to answer questions after children were read stories about their professions. Early-childhood education efforts like Storywalk are paying off, kindergarten teacher Betsey Wilson said. "Some kids are coming in here reading," she said. "It's unbelievable." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Indiana educators recognized for elementary-school book club
Two educators at Stony Creek Elementary School in Indiana are receiving national recognition for a book club they created to help promote reading outside of school. The club features monthly lunch sessions at the school media center, where first-grade teacher Karen Duvall and media specialist Gwen Tetrick read to students from a selection of award-winning books. The book club complements other literacy initiatives at the school, say the educators, which have helped to boost achievement. The Indianapolis Star
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I contacted several of my favorite author bloggers and asked if they would present with me on a panel at the National Council of English conference in Philadelphia about blogging...and they said YES!!! So, next week I leave for Philly to chair a session with Laurie Halse Anderson, Barbara O'Connor, Maureen Johnson, Justine Larbalestier, and Lisa Yee. I know...HOW LUCKY AM I??
If you are attending NCTE, come hear these wonderfully amazing authors talk about blogging in the session titled, Authors' Blogs: Connections, Collaboration, and Creativity (session K.07 Saturday, November 21, 2009 4:15:00 PM to 5:30:00 PM). Please come by and say hello.
Today, Laurie Halse Anderson posted a video of her new writing cottage. It is so very awesome. She may be writing about the American Revolution in that cottage right now. Way to go, Laurie!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Goin' Someplace Special: Our Interview with Patricia and Frederick McKissack
The McKissack's have written stories about the African American experience for more than 25 years. They draw from some of their own childhood favorites — Brer Rabbit, fairy tales, myths, and the poetry of Langston Hughes — to create beautifully drawn characters who learn to use their wits and appreciate their own gifts. In Goin' Someplace Special, young 'Tricia Ann makes her way to one of the only places in 1950s segregated Nashville that welcomes her with open arms: the public library.
Our Newest Booklist: Thanks for the Dreamers
Artist, chef, inventor, storyteller, tree-planter, dreamer, do-er. In this lovely collection of books you'll meet a group of incredible people — some famous and some not — who have each made a difference in the world.
Listen! I Have a Story to Tell…
Legends, pourquoi stories, and trickster tales — Native American tradition is rich in storytelling. For book recommendations as well as links to classroom activities and other web resources, browse our sister site Colorín Colorado.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
From accounts of civil rights heroes, to harrowing (and hopeful) stories about contemporary teenagers, to picture books that perfectly capture friendship, curiosity, or flights of fancy, 2009 held a treasure trove of wonderful reading for children of all ages and interests. Narrowing them down to just 30 titles wasn't an easy task, but we believe the following books stand out for their remarkable writing, indelible characters, and arresting artwork.
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illus. by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge).
The unlikely subjects of this fascinating picture book biography exemplify ingenuity and dedication to chasing one's dreams.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Little, Brown).\
With humor and some showstopping spreads, Brown offers a green fable about the rebirth of a city, without a hint of preachiness.
Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick).
Moving beyond the geniality of Maisy, Cousins expertly draws out the primitive emotions at the core of Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and six other beloved stories.
Dinotrux by Chris Gall (Little, Brown).
Few things are more kid-pleasing than trucks and dinosaurs—put them together in a raucous, prehistoric hybrid and you have picture-book gold.
John Brown: His Fight for Freedom by John Hendrix (Abrams).
Hendrix's powerful, exaggerated imagery in this picture book biography is ideally suited to the life of this controversial American abolitionist.
Stagecoach Sal by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Carson Ellis (Disney-Hyperion).
Blithe storytelling and slyly humorous art give this story of an utterly confident, quick-thinking 19th-century heroine plenty of pioneer spirit.
The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown).
Not a single word from Aesop's fable of friendship appears in Pinkney's version, set in the Serengeti. This isn't a problem since the lovingly detailed interplay between the protagonists say it all.
Otis by Loren Long (Philomel).
Long's story of the friendship between a tractor and a young calf exudes a comforting sense of nostalgia and a gentleness of spirit.
Crow Call by Lois Lowry, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline (Scholastic Press).
Newbery Medalist Lowry's first picture book, drawn from a childhood story about her father's return from war, is poignant and quietly moving, with a timely resonance.
Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World by Marilyn Nelson, illus. by Jerry Pinkney (Dial).
Gloriously evocative poetry and paintings create a stirring tribute to an all-female swing band that made spirits soar during an era of war and prejudice.
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle).
A simple, fixed design and two combative, off-screen voices make this book and its central optical illusion—is that animal a duck or a rabbit?— a delight.
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illus. by Marla Frazee (S&S/Beach Lane).
A subtle undercurrent of interconnectedness and a spare elegance make this picture book more than just a gentle ode to families of all shapes, sizes and kinds (which it assuredly is).
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking).
A powerful exploration of anorexia, dysfunction and death, Anderson's story of a friendship ripped apart is moving and haunting.
Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Delacorte). An angel, a dwarf, cults, wormholes and mad cow disease all factor into the surreal cross-country road trip that teenage Cameron takes, in a satirical story that's as memorable as it is funny.
Fire by Kristin Cashore (Dial).
Introducing Fire, a human “monster” with psychic abilities, this companion novel to Graceling expands the scope of Cashore's fantasy world and offers twists, intrigue and romance aplenty.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press).
This much-awaited sequel to Collins's dystopian bestseller, The Hunger Games, doesn't disappoint; it's immersive, voracious reading as the ramifications of Katniss's actions in that book spread.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Dutton).
Masterful characterizations make the tragedy at the core of this novel all the more devastating, as narrator Mia weighs the decision to live or die.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Holt).
With a detailed, evocative setting and an authentic, relatable protagonist, this turn of the century coming-of-age novel teems with humor, spirit, and energy.
Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick (HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray).
This timely and provocative thriller, with a teenage American soldier at its center, is a nuanced exploration of war, heroism, and morality.
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Candlewick).
Set on a planet colonized by men and now wracked with strife, Ness's sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go entwines themes of sexism, terrorism, genocide and human nature, while bringing the action to a fever pitch.
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (Dial).
The singular Mrs. Dowdel from A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago brings humor and heart to this holiday story; as ever, Peck's writing has a comforting, evergreen quality.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Random/Lamb).
Every syllable feels rich with meaning in this atmospheric mystery involving a girl, her former best friend, and her mother, set in 1970s New York City.
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press).
Lyrical and thoughtful, this paranormal romance between a girl and a werewolf offers wit, an intriguing mythology, and dual (but equally honest and compelling) narratives.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic/Levine).
Artfully crafted characters form the heart of this riveting novel about a 17-year-old with Asperger's syndrome, who grapples with issues of ethics, love, and other real-life conflicts.
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Levine).
Tan proves that his prose is every bit as hypnotic as his artwork in this wondrous collection that reveals the banality and strangeness of the suburbs.
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor, illus. by Jim Di Bartolo (Scholastic/Levine).
In lush prose, Taylor offers three utterly captivating stories, each centered on a kiss; comic book–style prequels from Di Bartolo, her husband, add to the enchantment.
The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick).
In this thriller about a college student uncovering twisted family secrets, Wynne-Jones expertly draws his characters and setting while ramping up the tension and the creepiness.
The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum by Candace Fleming, illus. by Ray Fenwick (Random/Schwartz & Wade).
This illuminating biography reveals Barnum as a complex, infinitely clever figure and delineates his triumphs as well as his failures.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (FSG/Kroupa).
Colvin's memories of fighting for civil rights in the 1950s—including refusing to give up her bus seat as a teenager in Montgomery, Ala. (before Rosa Parks)—make for a searing true-life story of courage.
Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking).
Arresting photography and firsthand memories from those who participated, as children, in the 1965 march to Montgomery make for a haunting and inspirational read.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
It’s been said that anyone can write a children’s book, but only the most talented can be successful. Don’t waste your time wading through poorly-written books; instead, take a look at these blogs that feature the best of children’s literature. Whether you are interested in literature for the very young, teen and young adult literature, or specialized genres such as multicultural literature, poetry, or comics and graphic novels, these blogs will help you find the best books available–leaving you more time for reading and enjoying this literature.
Click here to see the list. Which blogs do you read that they didn't select? Quite a few for me, but they also included many that I do follow. All in all, a pretty good selection and a very nice resource.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. Blue Apple (Chronicle, dist.), $19.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-934706-78-7
No ordinary abecedarian, this typographical trip will wow design fans and suggest creative projects with letterforms. The book's introduction speaks affectionately of typefaces—“just like people, they look different and have different personalities”—before embarking on a thrilling spin through the alphabet. The first spread presents an alligator's silhouette, made up of capital and lowercase As, as the repeated word “algae” forms green strands around it. A bat shaped from gothic Bs holds vampire connotations; tall, skinny Gs evoke the height of a giraffe that hides behind leafy, vertical folds; and breathless italic Rs make a rabbit seem poised to leap. Werner and Forss, a debuting team of graphic designers, devote page borders to extra wordplay: a C becomes the curved back and tail of a cat, a K's extended foot kicks a soccer ball, a cursive L is a lasso and rounded Ps nestle in a pod. Innovations arrive several to a page, rewarding repeat visits and encouraging readers to muse on the power of type and all that letters and words can imply or insinuate. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)
What's Coming for Christmas? by Kate Banks, illus. by Georg Hallensleben. FSG/Foster, $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-39948-1
The smudgy lines of Hallensleben's soft-focus acrylics capture the tranquillity of a snowy day in a semirural setting, while Banks's text reads like a lullaby, as “something” approaches in the days leading up to Christmas. Banks vacillates between ephemeral indications that something special is imminent (“You could smell it in the scent of cinnamon and spice that permeated the air”) and the signs that escape notice (“No one saw who put the gifts under the tree and filled the stockings.... No one, no one, no one”). A gently thrilling reminder of all the elements that make for a celebratory season. Ages 3–6. (Oct.)
The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson, illus. by Jon J Muth. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-439-77497-0
A sedulous and quirky Santa, who sports bunny slippers and feels a “tingling in his whiskers” (his mustache sticks out like the hands of a clock at 10:10) as Christmas nears, prepares for the arrival of the holiday. He calls his reindeer home and tends to them, then shines his sled, carefully selects toys and climbs a stepladder to tie up his enormous pack. Muth's idyllic, wintry watercolors and pastels set the mood as “the night begins to thrum with magic, the kind of magic that makes reindeer fly.” Readers, like Santa, will feel the magic, too. Ages 4–7. (Sept.)
The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup, illus. by Matt Tavares. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-3223-6
A boy makes a gingerbread pirate crew on Christmas Eve; his mom leaves most of the pirates for Santa, but the boy takes the captain to his room. As the boy sleeps, the captain—sporting a ruffled shirt made of icing and a toothpick peg leg—makes his way downstairs (“Where's my crew? he wondered. And who's this Santa Claus who wants to eat them?”). Luckily, Santa ends up being a friend who gives the pirates a ship of their own. Swashbuckling gusto and a poignant finish should make this a new favorite. Ages 4–10. (Sept.)
Congratulations to these authors!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
'Daily Show' Writer's 'Genius Of Unspeakable Evil'
Host Liane Hansen talks to Daily Show Executive Producer Josh Lieb about his new book, I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Looking Back On 'Wild Things' With Maurice Sendak
Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak's classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are is a perennial favorite.
It won the Caldecott Medal as the "most distinguished picture book of the year" in 1964, and was adapted into an opera two decades later. (Sendak earned his stripes as a designer on the opera production, working on the sets and costumes for the premiere production.) Now, Where The Wild Things Are comes to the big screen, directed by Spike Jonze.
Sendak's other children's books include In The Night Kitchen and Inside Over There.
Goosebumps Horrorland webcast
Date: Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET / 10:00 a.m. PT
Host with the most: Brian Stelter, reporter at The New York Times
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wimpy Kid Author Answers Kids' Questions
All Things Considered enlisted help from kids around the country for an interview with children's book author Jeff Kinney. Kinney writes the incredibly successful series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, about smart-mouthed middle-schooler Greg Heffley, who has only one real friend because he's, well, kind of a sad sack — think modern-day Charlie Brown.
Warning to those who have never read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: These questions come straight from our youngest listeners and Kinney's biggest fans. We received hundreds of e-mails from kids who wanted to have their questions answered for once! Kinney answers some of those questions below...read the rest of the article here.
Cheese, Wimpy Kids And The Perils Of Middle School
The Bible suggests that the meek might one day inherit the earth. For now, one particularly meek kid named Greg Heffley is burning up children's book best-seller lists. Greg is the smart-mouthed sad-sack protagonist of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series (read an excerpt). As Kinney tells Michele Norris, his character isn't a bad kid — just a "not-fully-formed person."
Some Parents Wary Of 'Wimpy Kid' Series
Not everybody is enthusiastic about the Wimpy Kid series. Some parents feel uneasy about their children identifying with a main character who is at times selfish, lazy and whose high jinks often land him in trouble. Tanya Turek, a mother of three who works in the children's department of a Barnes and Noble, has blogged about the series. Tanya Turek, a mother of three, says parents should discuss the themes in the books with their kids. Read the rest of the story here.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Scholastic will host a free Webcast for readers of the 39 Clues series:
When: Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:30pm ET / 10:30am PT
What: The 39 Clues: Advanced Agent Training Live Webcast
Who: Featuring the first five authors of The 39 Clues: Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, Jude Watson, and Patrick Carman. Hosted by The 39 Clues super-fan Whoopi Goldberg.
Registration is required.
Monday, October 19, 2009
The Childrenslitproject blog which I posted about previously (the production blog of The Library of the Early Mind, a feature-length documentary film about children’s literature) has two new video clips up! The first is with Mary Ann Hoberman, the US Children's Poet Laureate:
Mary Ann Hoberman was named Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Author of 45 books, all but one of which are in verse, Hoberman collaborated with her husband, artist Norman Hoberman, on her first four books, including her first book of poems, All My Shoes Come in Twos (1957). Some of Hoberman’s best-known titles are A House is a House for Me, illustrated by Betty Fraser; The Seven Silly Eaters, illustrated by Marla Frazee; and The Llama Who Had No Pajama, a collection of 100 of her favorite poems. Her verses have been widely anthologized and her books have been translated into several languages. She is the recipient of a National Book Award.
The second is with Brian Selznick:
Brian is the author/illustrator of the critically acclaimed The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was awarded the 2008 Caldecott Medal. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Brian worked in a Manhattan bookstore for three years, during which time he wrote his first book, The Houdini Box. We interviewed Brian at the Lincoln School in Providence.
The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth, illus. by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-439-92544-0
Aylesworth and McClintock's (Our Abe Lincoln) retold folktale about a lost mitten opens sweetly, with a playful boy wearing the tomato-red hat, scarf and mittens his grandmother has knit for him. After a carefree sled ride, he returns home, gazing disconsolately at his mittenless hand. He gets a comforting hug and hot chocolate while, outside, a delighted squirrel crawls into the mitten. Soon a rabbit asks to share the warmth: “ 'Please!' begged the rabbit./ 'My toes are cold as ice!/ Your mitten looks so cozy,/ and warm toes would feel so nice!' ” The tale grows sillier as a fox, then a bear, repeat the rabbit's rhyme to humorous effect and persuade the mitten's occupants to let them in the tight space, massively distending the mitten (they soon discover its limits—with explosive results). McClintock adapts her 19th century–style pen-and-ink imagery to the slapstick, emphasizing the animals' gestures and facial features in a Currier & Ives winter wonderland. The lifelike animals recall Joel Chandler Harris's folktales, and the naturalism—which is an unlikely but inspired vehicle for comedy—is full of surprises. Ages 3–6. (Oct.)
John Brown: His Fight for Freedom by John Hendrix. Abrams, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8109-3798-7
This unflinching biography by illustrator Hendrix (Abe Lincoln Crosses the Creek), his first as author, begins with a lucid summary of the antislavery movement, pre–Civil War politics and Brown's early activities in the underground railroad. With the massacre of proslavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek, Hendrix zooms in closer to reconstruct the abolitionist's transformation into an outlaw (“John's ruthless tactics spread fear into the hearts of the Border Ruffians and others, but also branded John a crazed madman”). The violent raid in Harper's Ferry, Va., leads to Brown's arrest and execution and is the climactic event of this compelling narrative. In an author's note, Hendrix opines why Brown should be admired as visionary, not villain (“Terrorists crave destruction and turmoil, and the seed of John's rebellion was compassion”). An aptly polarized palette of saturated amber and blue acrylic washes with pen and ink lends the folk hero's tale hyperbolic splendor (in one memorable spread Brown metamorphoses into a tornado). Hand-hewn, period-fashion fonts spell out Brown's pronouncements and biblical quotations, underlining his convictions. A strong introduction to Brown's controversial legacy. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Gateway by Sharon Shinn. Viking, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-01178-0
Daiyu was adopted as a baby from China by an American couple, and now as a teenager in St. Louis, a strangely attractive gem sends her into an alternate world where North America was colonized by Chinese settlers rather than Europeans. Daiyu is recruited by Ombri and Aurora, two “servants of the gods” who are also able to move between worlds, to help stop Chenglei, a dangerous traveler who has been elected prime minister of Shenglang (the alternate version of St. Louis and “arguably the most important city on the world called Jia”). But even as Daiyu becomes increasingly fascinated by Shenglang and attracted to Kalen, who assists Ombri and Aurora, she begins questioning everything: is the charming Chenglei truly evil? (“Were Aurora and Ombri simply interdimensional bounty hunters who had their own agenda?” she wonders. “How could she possibly know?”). Shinn's (General Winston's Daughter) fantasy finds the right balance between adventure and romance, while illuminating how seductive evil can be and that sometimes the best weapon one can possess is a skeptical mind. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-38252-0
Sophomore Jessie Sloan is having a bad year. Her two closest friends are turning punk and boy-crazed; one of them even pursues Jessie's longtime crush. To make matters worse, Jessie's beloved older brother will soon be leaving for college. Jessie feels adrift and spends her time sewing skirts and listening to audiobooks. Halpern's (Get Well Soon) story picks up pace when class nerd Dottie introduces Jessie to Dungeons and Dragons, which Jessie (to her surprise) actually enjoys, leading her to a new group of friends as well as a heartfelt, if a little clichéd, crush on a cute boy with his own nerdish tendencies. Jessie is a thoughtful, sympathetic narrator (“How is it that someone becomes a dork?... What makes some people like punk music and Denny's and other people like costumes and Dungeons and Dragons?”), and her fresh voice will reveal to readers just how independent and exceptional she is (even when Jessie can't see it herself). The relationships and dialogue ring true; readers navigating the stratified social structures of high school will relish an ending that celebrates true friendship. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
Congratulations to these authors!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
How A Kid's Movie Became A Hipster Happening
Spike Jonze: Check. Dave Eggers: Check. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Check. Where the Wild Things Are has all the ingredients to become the hipster equivalent of Star Wars. Writer Cliff Kuang talks about the bonanza of the cross-marketing.
Where the Wild Things Are: 50 Years Later
When Maurice Sendak was looking for inspiration for the wild things that would inhabit his now-classic book, he found it right in his own extended family. NPR's Bob Mondello reviews the new film version of Where the Wild Things Are, which opened this weekend.
Friday, October 16, 2009
In 2009, 193 publishers submitted 1,129 books for the 2009 National Book Awards. The total number of books submitted to the category of Young People's Literature was 251. Out of the 251, the following five finalists were chosen (reviews by Horn Book with the exception of Stitches):
Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt)
In 1838 Charles Darwin, then almost thirty, drew a line down the middle of a paper and listed the reasons for marrying on one side and the reasons for not marrying on the other. After much consideration, he opted for the former, and from his prospects he wisely chose his cousin, Emma, who was open-minded but devoutly religious. She supported her husband, even editing his work, but she feared for his eternal welfare should he follow his revolutionary theories to their logical end. Charles, in turn, was equally tortured, wanting to please his wife, wanting to believe in religion, but not at the expense of science. With great empathy and humor, Heiligman’s lively narrative examines the life and legacy of Darwin through the unique lens of his domestic life, an inspired choice that helps us understand that for all the impact his theory would have on the world, nowhere did its consequences resonate so loudly as within the walls of his own home. Here is a timely, relevant book that works on several levels: as a history of science, as a biography, and, last but not least, as a romance. A bibliography, an index, and notes are appended. j.h.
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
It’s 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, and fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin is in the thick of things. She refuses to give up her seat on the bus (nine months before Rosa Parks) and is also one of the plaintiffs in the federal case that ends segregated buses, yet her story remains largely unknown. Hoose fashions a compelling narrative that balances the momentous events of the civil rights movement with the personal crises of a courageous young woman. Because Claudette was young, pregnant, and unwed, it was the more respectable Rosa Parks who was thrust into the national spotlight as the face of the movement. But Claudette’s story is no less inspiring, and Hoose reasserts her place in history with this vivid and dramatic account, complemented with photographs, sidebars, and liberal excerpts from interviews conducted with Colvin. Recent books have done a commendable job of exploring the civil rights movement beyond the iconic figures of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks — A Dream of Freedom by Diane McWhorter, Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum, Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman — and Hoose’s thoughtful book now joins their ranks. j.h.
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
David Small’s Stitches is aptly named. With surgical precision, the author pierces into the past and, with great artistry, seals the wound inflicted on a small child by cruel and unloving parents. Stitches is as intensely dramatic as a woodcut novel of the silent movie era and as fluid as a contemporary Japanese manga. It breaks new ground for graphic novels. (Françoise Mouly, Art Editor of The New Yorker )
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Review forthcoming from Horn Book.
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)
One morning, before classes start, Trina flits by Dominique; Dominique takes it the wrong way, vowing to fight Trina after school; and Leticia happens to witness it all, but despite the urging of her friend does nothing to stop it or even warn Trina, who is oblivious to the danger. The fight goes down, with devastating consequences for both parties, and though Leticia continues to insist that “what’s going on between Dominique and Trina don’t have nothing to do with Leticia,” the reader is left to wonder what might have been had she intervened. Sandwiched between an intriguing setup and provocative conclusion are character studies relayed in alternating first-person voices. Mixed-race Trina is flirty, artistic, and just a little bit ditzy. Tough basketball player Dominique is consumed with bitterness about being benched for poor grades. Leticia is notably average — more interested in friends than in classes, more willing to go with the flow than to take a stand, but with family and school problems of her own. With Leticia’s central dilemma nearly lost in the shuffle of voices, the character studies lack a cohesive focus. Nevertheless, this latest novel from Williams-Garcia (Like Sisters on the Homefront, rev. 11/95; Every Time a Rainbow Dies, rev. 3/01) offers a piercing snapshot of three girls in an urban high school, their daily struggle to realize their hopes and dreams, and the threat of school violence to shatter them all. j.h.
YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE JUDGES: Kathi Appelt, Coe Booth, Carolyn Coman, Nancy Werlin, Gene Luen Yang
The Winner in each of the four categories – Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and People's Literature – will be announced at the 60th National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on Wednesday, November 18.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
In the early 1950s, legendary baseball hero Jackie Robinson literally "tested the ice" for his kids who so eagerly wanted to skate on the frozen lake near their home. Under Sharon Robinson's skillful authorship and Kadir Nelson's vivid illustrations, Testing the Ice also becomes a stunning metaphor for her father's remarkable racial breakthrough.
The family spent many summers enjoying the lake by their home, but no matter how hard the kids tried, Jackie would not get into the water. In the winter, when the water froze, the kids decided they wanted to go ice-skating. Reluctantly, Jackie agreed to join them and trepidly maneuvers the ice to make sure it is safe for the kids.
The illustrations in the book are stunning--it's as if they leap off of the page and suck you in. The book is a wonderfully inspirational story that all ages will enjoy.
One (1) winner will receive a Testing the Ice prize pack!
Kidorable Hat, Glove & Scarf set (random styles)
copy of Testing the Ice
Four (4) additional winners will receive a copy of the book!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
From NPR: October 13, 2009
Our local independent bookstore opened extra early on the morning of Oct. 12 to sell copies of the insanely anticipated fourth book in Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, this one entitled, Dog Days. The last time I remember that bookstore being overrun with hoards of kids yelping for a book was when the final Harry Potter novel came out. It was midnight when the Potter boxes were broken open, and the kids were dressed as macabre creatures from Hogwarts.
The atmosphere surrounding the arrival of Kinney's latest book was appropriately sprightlier: The bookstore opened at dawn and distributed donuts. Like the Potter series, Kinney's books are aimed at a middle-school audience, but they translate well to older readers. Unlike the Potter series, Kinney's books are funny — the kind of funny where you have to stop reading every so often because you're laughing so hard that tears and snot are running down your face, and you feel like maybe you'll even throw up. How's that for an erudite critical endorsement?
I started reading Kinney at the command of my 11-year-old daughter. One of the things she hates most in the world is when adults loom over her and ask, "So, are you a big reader like your mother?"
She's not. She's much more socially well-adjusted than I am and doesn't seek out quiet corners where she can seal herself off with a book far from the madding crowd. She soured on the Potter saga about halfway through when the story lines got grislier. Kinney, however, is just her ticket. Not only is his series hero, Greg Heffley, a middle-school everyman, forever waiting for his growth spurt as he's surrounded by "gorilla" classmates "who need to shave twice a day," but the books themselves are stories in cartoon form, otherwise known as graphic novels.
This is a literary genre whose attractions, I confess, I've been immune to until I began reading the Wimpy Kid books. Because the conceit of the series is that the books are journals that Greg himself is keeping, the cartoons here are strictly stick figure. But what a range of middle-school misery Kinney wrings out of a few lines — the bend of Greg's back under a jumbotron-sized book bag; the quaking of his scrawny body as he's perched on the edge of the freezing school pool, waiting for the swim meet whistle to blow and seal his doom.
The cartoons don't merely illustrate the story, they advance it and split it off into a hundred digressive tributaries, working like the footnotes in Eliot's Waste Land.
Admittedly, maybe I'm reaching for a high-art analogy because I'm still a little uncomfortable about my kid preferring to read what amounts to a hardcover comic book series over, say, Little Women. But Kinney has anticipated this kind of helicopter-parent squeamishness. In Dog Days, Greg Heffley's relentlessly chirpy mom starts a summer reading club. At the first meeting, the other boys report on the books they've brought, among them: Sudoku Insanity and X-Treme Pop-Up Sharks.
Greg's mom says these books aren't "real" literature and insists that the club is going to have to start with the "classics." Greg says that he's "not really sure what makes a book a 'classic,' " but he thinks "it has to be at least fifty years old and some person or animal has to die at the end." He says these are the types of books "teachers are always pushing us to read at school," and that if you read a classic in your free time, the teachers "reward you with a sticker of a hamburger or something like that."
Kinney has an ear — and eye — for the middle school milieu. (Read an excerpt describing Greg's disastrous attempt at starting a lawn-mowing service.) For adult readers, he vividly brings back the oceanic feeling of helplessness that swamps most of us at that age when you're not in control of your weirdly changing body, or even what you're allowed to eat or read.
Last spring, in the delirious company of my daughter and two of her middle-school guy friends, I heard Kinney speak at the University of Maryland. It was one of the best author talks I've ever attended. Kinney had the whole cavernous auditorium — adults, kids — roaring with laughter. And then he stuck around to sign books: not just the books that were on sale, but all the books of his that the hundreds of kids had brought with them. Kinney "gets" the powerlessness of late childhood; in his appearance that day and throughout his ongoing series, he's made all the "wimpy kids" out there know that they're in good company.
A few days ago, I posted about my awesome experience hearing the Exquisite Corpse presentation and Jacqueline Woodson recite from many of her books during the National Book Festival. Well, now you can see it for yourself! The webcasts are up!
Another presentation that I really enjoyed was Sharon Creech. She read aloud from her new book The Unfinished Angel. She read the part of the slightly confused Italian angel and her book publisher, Joanna Colter, read the part of the little American girl, Zola. Delightful!
I also heard Jeanette Walls, which was amazing. I had a transfomative experience when I read The Glass Castle and I couldn't wait to hear her speak. I had so much hope that she would be exactly who I wanted her to be...and she was that and more! I have already bought her new book Half Broke Horses and can't wait to start reading.
There were so many amazing children's and YA authors at the National Book Festival that I didn't get to see and I'm looking forward to seeing them now. I think it is so wonderful that the presentations are captured and uploaded to the NBF website so everyone can feel the magic of "meeting the author!"
Monday, October 12, 2009
The Dinosaur Tamer by Carol Greathouse, illus. by John Shroades. Dutton, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-525-47866-9
Greathouse and Shroades's rollicking debut, set “back when the old, old West was still as green as a bristlecone pine and cowboys were as common as warts on a Stegosaurus,” introduces pint-sized cowboy Rocky who “teethed on a Deinonychus femur and used an Ankylosaurus tail as a rattle” and specializes in taming dinos of all sizes. Though the book is full of delightful hyperbole and outlandish claims, both author and artist sprinkle it with authentic dinosaur names and features; Shroades uses a palette of fantastical colors for his dinos, as when Rocky ropes a purple and blue stegosaurus “at ninety paces while wearin' a blindfold and eatin' a prickly pear.” But trouble surfaces with the arrival of T. Rex—the “rip-roarin'est, snip-snortin'est reptilian that ever did stomp the earth.” The artist wisely maintains T. Rex's slightly menacing and mischievous expression throughout, even when the tamed beast becomes “as docile as a fresh-hatched platypus pup.” Greathouse's humorous tall tale language never falters, and readers will relish cinematic scenes of Rocky and T. Rex tussling, creating several American landmarks in the process. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)
Dog Days by Jeff Kinney. Abrams/Amulet, $13.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8109-8391-5
Is there a better remedy for the back-to-school doldrums than getting to see how Greg Heffley spent his summer vacation? If nothing else, the comedy of errors and indignities he suffers will make readers feel a whole lot better about any family vacation disasters of their own. In the fourth book in Kinney's bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Greg has a falling-out with his friend Rowley over a failed lawn-care business, puts up with his parents' attempts to get him out of the house (Mom organizes a book club for boys—who pick out titles like “Sudoku Insanity” and “Ultimate Video Game Cheats”) and tries to shake off the twin horrors of the murderous “muddy hand” from a horror film he watches and the terrifying sights in the men's locker room at the pool. Kinney's gift for telling, pitch-perfect details in both his writing and art remains (such as the cursive script and cutesy content of Mom's photo album captions). No reason to think kids won't devour this book as voraciously as its predecessors. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge. Viking, $19.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-670-01189-6
Partridge (This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie) tells the unsettling but uplifting story of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, using the voices of men and women who participated as children and teenagers. Their stories unfold over 10 chapters that detail voter discrimination and the subsequent meetings and protests that culminated in the famous march. Quotations from Joanne Blackmon Bland (first jailed at age 10), Charles Mauldin (a high school student) and other youths arrested and attacked make for a captivating, personal account. The chronological format builds suspense, while the narrative places readers at church meetings, in jail cells and at the march itself. Italicized lyrics to “freedom songs” are woven throughout, emphasizing the power drawn from music, particularly in the wake of the violence of Bloody Sunday (“They were willing to go out again and face state troopers and mounted posses with whips and tear gas and clubs. The music made them bigger than their defeat, bigger than their fear”). Powerful duotone photographs, which range from disturbing to triumphal, showcase the determination of these civil rights pioneers. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)
Congratulations to these authors!
Trick-or-Treat: 20 Halloween Books for Kids compiled by the Children's Book Review
Top 12 Halloween Books compiled by Elizabeth Kennedy
Fall Harvest of Books compiled by the Reading Rockets website
Halloween Round-up 2009 compiled by Kidsreads.com
Halloween picturebooks for preschoolers compiled by the ESSL Children's Literature blog
A List of Halloween Picture Books for Kids compiled by Suite 101
Halloween Poetry for Children, Parents, Teachers compiled by Suite 101
Interviewing all the wonderful authors and experts has been a dream come true for me, and we have many more exciting interviews planned. Our choices have been limited, to some degree, by geography and budget (we're based in Rhode Island), but we're also focusing in on certain thematic threads and one interview has often led naturally to another.
Mr. Withrow also indicated that the next authors to be featured are Jane Yolen and Norton Juster; both clips are already up this morning! The clip of Norton Juster's interview has the following annotation:
Norton Juster is both an architect and an author of children’s books. His best-known work is The Phantom Tollbooth, which was illustrated by his then-neighbor, Jules Feiffer. He also designed the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art at Hampshire College, where he taught for more than 20 years.
Did you know that Norton Juster designed the Eric Carle Museum???? How cool is that? I'm really looking forward to following the progress of this project!
Right after reading the email from Steven Withrow, I read a blog post from the Graphic Classroom about another upcoming documentary titled, Comic Book Literacy: A Documentary Film about Comics in the Classroom and Beyond. A description from the film's website follows:
The Comic Book Literacy Documentary is an independent documentary film project currently in production. The film showcases comic books as a way to inspire a passion for reading in both children and adults. Comics have traditionally had a bad reputation from the perspective of the general public and it is the goal of this film to shatter the negative stereotype of comics as "junk food for the brain" and to show them in a new light.
Exciting, right? On the website you can see the comic book writers that will appear in the film. The film also has a blog and a trailer. Check it out...