28 February 2008

Art auction for a worthy cause

The Texas Library Association is auctioning an original piece of picture book art by Diane Stanley. The image is taken from Charles Dickens: the Man who had Great Expectations, by Stanley Peter Vennema (now, sadly, out of print.) For your chance to see the image and print a raffle ticket, visit the Itsy Bitsy Gallery.

Wimpy Kid Film

No surprise here. My 5th/6th grade discussion group met on Tuesday to discuss the two WK books, and one topic that came up was "Who would you cast to play Greg Heffley in a film version?" I'm dismayed to say that, other than Frankie Muniz, who's probably too old by now, I'd not heard of any of the actors they suggested!

27 February 2008

Great Galleys--Picture Books you won't want to miss

I seem to have been inundated with picture books for review over the past few weeks. Just like buses...you wait, and wait, and wait for one to arrive, and then as soon as you light a cigarette, three arrive at once. I don't actually smoke, but I have seen this theory in action, and it's true! Anyways, I've been fortunate enough to get some good ones in this recent batch and can proudly recommend:

Mr. Pusskins and Little Whiskers: another love story by Sam Lloyd
Gorgonzola: a Very Stinkysaurus by Margie Palatini and Tim Bowers, illus.
Max's Bunny Business by Rosemary Wells

There's always room for more in the Great Fictional Cats cannon (Rotten Ralph, Samson the Church Cat, Jenny Linsky, Henry the Siamese, Slinki Malinki--I could go on and on) so make space for Mr. Pusskins! His books beg the question "just where are the grown-ups?" but in the end, who cares? Mr. Pusskins is the star with Emily as his adoring friend. And now he has a new devotee, the mischievous kitten Little Whiskers.

Gorgonzola is the stinkiest dinosaur this side of the Mesozoic Era, but it's nothing a few well-placed words and a toothbrush can't fix. This "message" book about personal hygiene is funny and clever with fantastic cartoon illustrations and a few choice puns as well. Dinosaurs and B.O.--a great combination!

Max's Bunny Business is really here as an honorable mention, simply because it involves the venerable Max and Ruby who seem to have the same adventure over and over again: Ruby, industrious and focused, is sidetracked by Max, who just wants a set of vampire teeth/chocolate chicken/sparkle ring. Fortunately, they still amuse. And just who's side is Grandma on anyways? After all these years, I still can't tell.

All of these books are available May 2008.

25 February 2008

Call me a cynic, Mr. Patterson.....

The New York Times writes about author James Patterson's attempts to reach a broader audience with his YA series, Maximum Ride. I don't care what he says in the interview: this is about selling more James Patterson books, not about successfully introducing adult readers to the joys of YA literature. Let's at least be honest, folks! Mr. Patterson isn't really so different from many adult authors (and actors) who think they have children books locked away inside of them. He is fortunate that he has the opportunity to get them published because of his track record in a different genre. But to throw his weight around like this, and then try to represent it as bringing great books to the masses, is nauseating.

24 February 2008

Baited Breath--What's Awesome This Spring

Looking for some hot releases for the first half of 2008? Publisher's Weekly has kindly compiled a list of titles scheduled for release up to the end of June. I myself am eagerly awaiting The Pigeon Wants by Mo Willems. Check out The Pigeon Wants a.....contest as well if you want to try and win a school visit from Mr. Willems himself! All those years working for Sesame Street have made the Pigeon website just about the most entertaining character site on the web.

Bedtime Stories

Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas, illus. by Korky Paul
Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Space Boy by Leo Landry
Dog and Cat Make a Splash by Kate Spohn

A trend, if that's the correct word, that my daughter developed in the early days of bedtime stories, was to put herself into the stories. It started with Ian Falconer's Olivia. Clearly there was something about that "porcine wonder (apologies to Mercy Watson!) that she identified with. She asked that her name be used instead, and Olivia was never 'Olivia' in this house again. When I was a child I used to play act out my favorite books, and then scenes from chapter books, as I got older. Eventually I was no longer happy being part of someone else's story and began writing my own. But that initial incursion into beloved books was the first step in unlocking my own creativity.

'Daughter-as-character' made an appearance not once but twice this evening. Perhaps it was the unexpected appearance of a Christmas story (and she so loves Christmas,) but first she was that daft hen Minerva Louise. Even more impressive was the character swap involved in 'Dog and Cat', because she was reading that one to me. And she not only placed herself in that story, but she also found room for my husband and I, our next door neightbor, her favorite teddy bear, and her American Girl doll. So not only did she have to concentrate on reading the words correctly, but she had to keep all the charcters straight. And by golly, she did it! An impressive display, if I do say so myself. And a wonderful example of the maxim that "books can take you anywhere".

19 February 2008

What I am Reading Today--My Last Best Friend

Ida May is a bright, regular fourth grader who has just suffered the biggest blow of her young life--her best friend Elizabeth, moved away. Once bitten, twice shy, Ida determines never to make another best friend. This should be easily accomplished since class meanie Jenna Drews has made a career out of telling everyone what a loser she is. So when upbeat, popular, newcomer Stacy Merriweather arrives on the scene and wants to be Ida's friend, Ida has absolutely no interest in reciprocating. Uh uh. Not.At.All.

These days I can't seem to read books about little girls without internalizing their struggles, because my own daughter is just setting down this road: learning that life is unfair, that other kids are mean, and that their parents won't always "get" them. Then I read a book like My Last Best Friend, and I feel a little bit better, remembering that there's good stuff too: that kindred spirits hone in on each other no matter what the obstacles, that mom and dad have seen it all themselves and are there for you, that excellent teachers will notice you and encourage you. There are no real surprises in this book--other than the fact that Jenna Drew might actually have a humble side to her. The reader knows that Stacy Merriweather can't be all that she seems (Ida herself has already figured this out,) and you just know that Ida and Stacy are each what the other needs. This book is funny, touching, and gives the reader everything she wants. And with a sequel on the way, that's good news. This is going straight to the 'Staff Picks' shelf at work!

18 February 2008

Before Green Gables

I found this in the Washington Post--Elizabeth Ward's review of Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson (great name!) I was not even aware that an Anne prequel was in the works. Like Ms. Ward, I am not a fan of literary prequels, sequels, companion novels--whatever you want to call it when someone new writes a book basically cashing in on someone else's. Homage and tribute is one thing--writing about every woman who was loosely related to Laura Ingalls Wilder is another beast altogether. Still, it's a favorable review. It will find an audience. Some readers may not even realize the books are written by different authors. Is that a good thing?

17 February 2008

Book of the Week--Kat Kong

How did I ever miss out on this one?! First of all, I love Dav Pilkey's picture books, and having made a point to read all of them, I thought that I had. Secondly, Kat Kong looks just like my cat, Richie, famous for having traveled over from England with us and being the most talkative, daftest, lovable cat I know (I also have a nine lives/reincarnation theory about him, but I won't go into that here.) Kat Kong is a "faithful" adaptation of the King Kong story--about as faithful as you can be using manipulated photo collage and telling the story with mice and a black cat. The book has been rated, just like a film (TS for "terribly silly".) Forget 'terribly' silly--it's wonderfully silly! There are some truly ghastly puns, both in the text and in the pictures. So if you like to groan while you giggle, this is the book for you. Dav Pilkey's website has some fantastic "behind the scenes" info about this book, including the storyboards he drew for Kat Kong and it's companion volume Dogzilla, on-line puzzles and printables from the book, and insider tips about how he managed to get his cat, Blueberry, to make such menacingly goofy expressions. In fact, the site in general is quite cool. Stay awhile and play!

15 February 2008

Rag Doll Respect

Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy are joining the ranks of Holly Hobby and My Little Pony--iconic toys that have been "updated" for modern audiences. School Library Journal reports that Simon and Schuster and Starz Media have joined forces to return the dolls to the pop culture spotlight. The new Raggedy Ann looks awfully cute. She has a sort of manga style about her. But I loved her in her original incarnation. This must be how Pooh fans felt when Disney got their hands on the franchise and irrevocabley defined how Winnie the Pooh looked for generations of children.

14 February 2008

2007 Cybil Winners

Here are the winners of the 2007 Cybil Awards, the nominees of which are featured on the right-hand side of his blog. The recipients are nominated and voted within the children's lit blogosphere. Considering the list of winners bears almost no resemblance to the winners of other major awards so far, it just goes to show that consensus is difficult.

12 February 2008

What I am Reading--Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

The purpose of reading this book was tri-fold (if that's the correct use of the word.) (1)Author Jeff Kinney will be appearing at the Barnes and Noble in Walpole, and I want to go meet him (2)this is the chosen book, along with it's predecessor, for the February meeting of the 5th and 6th grade book discussion group at work (3)I enjoyed the first one so much. Rodrick Rules picks up a few months after the end of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He is back at school and trying to put behind him an unpleasant episode with his brother, which you just know is going to surface at some point. Greg's sibling relations dominate this story: either he's trying to evade to run-ins with big brother Rodrick or avoid doing anything naughty in front of snitch-master little brother, Manny. For the most part, Greg fails on both parts. "Better-than-nothing" best friend Rowley is still around. He reminds me of Ralph from the Simpsons; an absolute idiot who has to work hard to stay out of his own way.

There was something a bit more mean-spirited about Rodrick Rules than "Diary," and I suppose we can blame Rodrick for that. He really is horrid! He's got his father doing his homework, he swindles his mother out of money for bogus drum lessons to Greg and Rowley, and he never seems to get the comeuppance that afflicts Greg whenever he does anything cruel or wrong (unless you count the science fair.) And I found the parents to be particularly obtuse in this volume. Where as the first diary reminded me of the slings and arrows of being in Middle School, this diary has filled me with dread at the thought of raising a middle schooler. Heaven forbid I should get it as wrong as Mr. and Mrs. Heffley do! Still, Mom manages to steal the show towards the end, which almost makes up for the Mystick and Magic stupidity, where her good intentions manage to undermine just about the only thing in the book that Greg does that keeps him out of trouble. All I'll say is that it involves a school talent show, public access cable, and some seriously bad dancing.

Having said all that, fans of the first book will eat this one right up (as evidence by the number of kids who have signe up for the book discussion group this time around.) I expect to run into a sizeable crowd of fans at B&N on Monday. And I'm even looking forward to the next installment, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw (according to the publisher's website, at least five volumes are planned.) Does Greg finally get one over on Rodrick? Does he shove the annoying Manny down the toilet? Does Mom finally buy a clue?! We'll see.

Into the Wild: e-browse for free

According to the New York Times, Harper Collins is launching an on-line initiative where readers can view the full content of select books for free on-line. They have equated it with flipping through a book at a shop or the library before deciding to take it home. Most of the titles on offer are adult, but Erin Hunter's enormously popular Into the Wild, Vol. 1 of the Warriors series, is one of the titles available. And speaking of Erin Hunter, it looks as if she is branching away from cats and on to bears. The Seekers Vol. 1: The Quest Begins is due for release in May.

11 February 2008

Bedtime Stories

Jenny's Birthday Book (Averill, Esther)
Something to tell the Grandcows (Spinelli, Eileen and Bill Slavin, illus.)
Pierre in Love (Pennypacker, Sara and Petra Mathers, illus.)

It's been a couple of evenings of sharing favorites with the little one. Last night she read The Snowy Day to me, which was a big deal, because it was the first time her reading assignment for school was a proper book and not a phonetic worksheet. So there was a real sense of achievement, as well as the warm glow of nostalgia. And then tonight we returned to Jenny Linsky and her cat club in Jenny's Birthday Book. I was a big fan of the Cat Club as a kid, particularly Pickles the firecat. My daughter likes him, too, but for her the delight is in the sight of the cats dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe in Central Park, and the diva cat Concertina with her mouth wide open, forever belting out an aria. It's amazing how some books age so much better than others, and this is one of them. I mean, excellent is excellent, at any time, right? But in reality, not all good books are created equal. Fortunately, the Jenny books have managed to age without dating itself. I'm constantly pushing them at work (recently bought a brand new set of them with nice clean covers and intact bindings.) The gentle tone that ends the book, as Jenny says a prayer that "Please may all cats everywhere have happy birthdays when their birthdays come," and she falls into contented sleep, is as tranquil as the green room and the bowl of mush in Goodnight Moon. If you managed to miss Jenny Linsky in your youth, meet her now!

(Project for a future date--write a biography of Esther Averill. I can't find one. It's on my list of things to do.)

09 February 2008

What I am Reading--The Redheaded Princess

It took me about forty pages to warm to this historical novel about a teenage Elizabeth Tudor, mainly because author Ann Rinaldi did such a poor job of establishing the narrator's voice. Elizabeth is old beyond her years, and not just because children were forced to grow up faster. At eight years of age she is expressing love for an admired member of her father's court, and it is as if Rinaldi has lost track of her narrator's age. Dialogue between Elizabeth and her younger brother Edward sounds as if it is exchanged between grown-ups, rather than tweenies (which they are at the start of the story--forsooth!) The book vacilates between juvenile and young adult suitability. But once it becomes clear that this is a YA book, both in content and style (again, it took about 40 pages, so be patient,) this is an engrossing story of political machinations, love affairs, and family dysfunction. Despite the fact that we know Elizabeth will go on to become one of England's most influential monarchs, it is fascinating watching her walk the tightrope between familial sentiment and survival.

Elizabeth is portrayed as a wise and wily young woman, mindful of her place while out of favor, but never forgetful that she could very well be queen one day. She watches her rivals get their turn at the throne, and then fall through one means or another (some natural, others, as in the case of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, unnatural.) Supporting characters in the book, of which there are many, are well-rounded. Rinaldi manages to avoid caricature when portraying larger than life figures like Henry VIII. In the end, The Redheaded Princess is worth the effort and will reward readers with a fresh look at one of the most fascinating political dynasties in history.

S & S Blogfest--talk to an author!

Well this looks like fun! Simon and Schuster is hosting a YA blogfest from March 14-27. Kids can put forward questions to their favorite authors (and there are about 100 listed as taking part) through a special link on myspace.

07 February 2008

Thank You Bear wins Zolotow Award

Well now, I'm starting to pop up everywhere. Kind of like a ghostwriter--you read my writing, you just don't know it's me! School Library Journal reports that Greg Foley's Thank You Bear is the 2008 winner of the Charlotte Zolotow award. I gave that book a starred review way back when--a point that is mentioned in the article, and quoted.

But enough about me. Thank You Bear is a thoroughly deserving book and wonderfully represents the style and tone of Ms. Zolotow's writing. I think of titles like The Hating Book, My Friend John, and A Father Like That, where she writes about the sensitive, reflective side of childhood. She near enough spoke their language. And so does Bear. Look out for the new Bear book, Don't Worry Bear, due for release in 2008.

I should also mention that some of the runners-up were favorites in this house, too, including At Night (Jonathan Bean), A Good Day (Kevin Henkes), and Pictures From our Vacation (Lynn Rae Perkins.)

I've been published!

Well, no I haven't. But my review has been blurbed on the back cover of the paperback edition of Sue Corbett's Free Baseball And although I will not receive any royalties, I will still insert a shameless plug, because I have become friends with Sue--buy the book! And buy it through this website! (there, now I feel profitable.) You can read my original review here.

Happy Chinese New Year!

To experience some of the joy of this holiday, read When the Circus came to Town by Laurence Yep.

04 February 2008

Book of the Week--Adele and Simon

This is my current life story, but without the benefit of it taking place in Paris! Adele collects her brother Simon from school, and on the way home he manages to lose the drawing of a cat he made in school, his books, his scarf, his gloves (one at a time,) his hat, his crayons, his knapsack, his jacket, and his sweater. All this despite the conscientious Adele's constant scolding and hand-wringing. As my daughter and I made our way through the book--for each page is actually a picture puzzle, with the missing item hidden for little hawk-eyes to find--I was reminded of a day when I dropped her off at school and then followed a trail of hats, gloves, and scarves, all left behind by my little one like a trail of breadcrumbs from her classroom to the front entrance. While I prefer Dahlia as a story, Adele and Simon is an absolutely gorgeous book, with maps of Paris for end pages, and detailed pen and ink and watercolor drawings of early twentieth-century Paris. An absolute feast for the eyes.

What I am Reading Today--Hairy Hezekiah

Dick King Smith is such an inspiration. He started his writing career later in life, after having already tried his hand at farming, teaching, and TV presenting (and doing them all well, I might add, although he claims in his biography, Chewing the Cud, that he was not a very good farmer.) He has written dozens of books, all of them effortlessly readable, giving the impression that anyone with a good story to tell can sit down and crank it out. His most recent offering (at least on this side of the pond) is Hairy Hezekiah, about a Bactrian camel who is lonely in his zoo environment and sets off to find friendship and adventure in the big world. His journey takes him to the Safari Park, Shortseat, located in the English countryside. I have a sneaking suspicion that Shortseat is modeled after Longleat Safari Park, in Wiltshire. The fact that Longleat is the ancestral home of the Marquess of Bath, and the aristocrat in this book is called The Earl of Basin supports my theory. I have visited Longleat--long time ago, now--so perhaps I've actually met Hairy Hezekiah himself. King-Smith uses a friendly, conversational voice for his story, and this tone is reinforced by Nick Bruel's humorous black and white illustrations. This is just right for early chapter readers and will get them primed for some of King-Smith's meatier books, such as Babe: The Gallant Pig and (my personal favorite) Martin's Mice.

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