30 September 2008

Dick King-Smith--ever a favorite

Last night before bed I quickly read through The Twin Giants by Dick King-Smith. I needed a break from the currently disheartening Chains (Laurie Halse Anderson), and at a mere 68 well-illustrated pages, TTG fit the bill. I have to admit, it didn't do a whole lot for me. I'm not sure this tale of twin giants who marry a pair of twin giantesses was a compelling enough read. There was plenty of opportunity for slapstick and high-jinks, and the book never quite achieved it. But that's not the point! (And besides, with illustrations by current binky Mini Grey, why complain too much?) Reading The Twin Giants put me in mind of just how much I have enjoyed the books of Dick King-Smith. For a man who started writing late in life--a third carer, really--he has been Trollopian in his output. So here for your enjoyment, because I'm thinking of it, is a list of my top five Dick King-Smith books.

Martin's Mice: This gets top billing because it was the first DKS book I read, so I am especially fond of it. The story of a cat who decides to keep a pet mouse, this is always the first DKS title I recommend when introducing kids to him. Worked for me!

Babe: The Gallant Pig: A couple of years ago I led a 3rd and 4th grade discussion group where we read this title, and I was astonished that not a single child had seen the film. I felt old! This book has plenty of merit and can hold its own against that other famous pig, Wilbur. (And do see the film. It's outstanding. And that's coming from a person who generally frowns upon book to film adaptations!)

The Fox Busters: Before there was Chicken Run there was The Fox Busters. A group of barnyard bitties decide it's time to take care of a persistent problem. Taking their name from the legendary RAF Dambusters, these chickens give a local fox plenty to think about. This was Dick King-Smith's first book, and it has held up well over time.

Mr. Potter's Pet: A great read-aloud, partially due to the take charge pet in question, a mynah bird named Everest. Illustrated by Mark Teague, of LaRue the dog fame.

Chewing the Cud: Dick King-Smith's autobiography is just as engaging and original as anything he has written for children. It's right up there with Roald Dahl's Boy in terms of opening a window to a world that is long gone--possibly for the better, but one that inspires nostalgia all the same. DKS writes of many of the animals he has known in his time (he was a gentleman farmer for many years,) and it is fun to imagine where they eventually turned up in his books.

I also quite liked Hairy Hezekiah, which I reviewed here.

Thus is my tribute to Dick King-Smith Read him today!

24 September 2008

Bratz Busted!

Well, I can't say that I'm sorry. Scholastic's decision to drop all Bratz tie-in products from their book sale circulars is reported in the New York Times. It seems there was some concern with their hypersexualization of young girls. I don't have a problem with the fact that many of the books and other products offered by Scholastic for home retail are television or toy tie-ins (although it always grated on me when my daughter would pass over a lovely Caldecott selection in favor of a Littlest Pet Shop or My Little Pony item.) I believe in "whatever gets 'em reading." But in our house, "brat" is a pejorative term. So why would I want to purchase something which portrays a brat 'tude as cute or an intrinsic right?

Just as an aside, Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which spearheaded the campaign against the Bratz products, wrote an interesting book called Consuming Kids: The Hostile Take Over of Childhood. I read a portion of the book a few years back, when my daughter was about 4. It left me with a distinct feeling of panic--the sense that my little girl was simply a moving target for advertisers. Now that she is older, with the dispensable income that an allowance provides, and the influence of other children at school who talk about the latest "it" item, I think I was correct to worry, if not panic.

23 September 2008

Huzzah! Mothstorm set for October release

There are more adventures ahead for Art, Myrtle, and Co in the third installment of Philip Reeves' sublimely hilarious Victorian space odyssey. There's still plenty of time to read Larklight and Starcross if you have not already done so. While everyone else is fighting over Brisingr and Breaking Dawn, treat yourself to a series that's intelligent, original, and gut-bustingly funny.

It's been a a good day for some of my favorite series. Just this afternoon I finally got my hands on the new Enola Homes mystery, The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan. Now I am just waiting for Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware, and then my triumvirate of series fiction faves will be complete!

17 September 2008

Merchandising Opportunity for Mini Grey

Dear Ms Grey,

Have you considered releasing a Traction Man action figure? So many of our favorite picture book characters have made the successful transition to plush cuddly friend. It would hardly be a transition at all, as Traction Man is already a toy! The merchandising possibilities are endless: Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush deluxe set! Traction Man limited edition with all-in-one green knit suit! Traction Man with bottle of Germo (fill it with water for authentic spray action!) If Janeites can get a Jane Austen action figure, then TM fans deserve one too. Then there will be no stopping them, as Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush take on new adventures all over the world!

Failing that, please write a million more (or at least a good dozen) sequels chronicling the sublimely funny, forever brave, and ever ingenious Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush.

Yours, always prepared for anything,
Yankeerat and NMD

16 September 2008

It's Cybil time

Now headed into its third year, the team behind The Children's and Young Adults Literary Awards, also known as the Cybils, has begun the process of finding and recognizing the best books of 2008. And now I can count myself as part of that team! I will be serving as a panelist on the Easy Reader Group. This is a new category for the Cybils, and I'm psyched to be a part of bringing recognition to what is often an overlooked category within children's literature. The Easy Reader level is where the excellence of craft is most appreciated; think of the the Elephant and Piggy Books, or Little Bear, where so much good writing is unleashed with so little text.

The panels and judges for the other nine categories will be posted over the coming days. All fun stuff!

You can read about the 2007 Cybil winners here.

13 September 2008

Can the Eric Carle Museum get this?!

A gallery in Manchester, England held an exhibition of art work by Lauren Child. Wouldn't I love to see this closer to home!

Roald Dahl Funny Prize Shortlist

After announcing itself back in May, the shortlist for The Roald Dahl Funny Prize is now available. Judging by the titles listed, it is a prize for UK writers only. The project was spearheaded by UK Children's Laureate Michael Rosen. I wonder if US Laureate John Scieszka has similar plans. I'm sure he could get Gordon Korman on board, and advocate for recognition of funny books for children.

Prize Shortlist

The Guardian (UK) has announced it's short list of titles for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. The winner will be announced 24 September. The inclusion of Jenny Downham's Before I Die caused slight stir in May, when the long list was announced, because it is technically a young adult book. I am not familiar with the criteria of the Guardian's selection, so I do not know how frequently crossover books make the cut. But I do know that Before I Die has been heralded as a publishing sensation, yet has only gone out one measly time in the year that it has been in our collection.

Reading and the Second Grade

Two weeks on, and the second grade has been a real transition for my daughter. I remember my time in second grade as unpleasant, but that is because I had a rather mean teacher (she had issues--but not my fault.) But my daughter, as far as I can tell, likes her teachers. She's friendly with most of the children in her class and is happy to see them, and they her. But she is daunted--with a capital D--at the thought of homework. Twenty minutes a night, two nights a week, is like torture--water torture, to be exact. And sadly, lumped into that hell that is known as homework, is reading.

I suspect that my daughter is already a reluctant reader (how can that be?! I'm a guru!) And this misery over homework is not helping the matter. My daughter and I have a set reading routine which has been in place since I started reading to her regularly at bedtime. She loves it. Threatening to take away stories at night is a legitimate punishment and wields mighty power. She could be read to all day. But she seems reluctant to do it herself. A few notable exceptions: non-fiction, American Girl catalogs, and picture books.

All this rambling is to lead up to a rather excellent essay in this month's Horn Book about helping parents chose books for their second graders. It was a good refresher read because it reinforced many things I have noticed in my experience with children at the library: the love of series fiction, the appeal of underpants, and the fear of long books. The author of the essay, teacher Robin Smith, even puts in a plug for picture books. Thank you! I cannot stress how often I have seen parents turn their noses up at picture books, never mind the kids. If we all remember that "picture book" is a term used to describe a format, not a level, the world would run much better. I'm convinced of that!

11 September 2008

Remembering September 11th

I blogged about this last year. But I think it's still worth mentioning.

David Almond's Skellig headed for the silver screen

While trawling through my sadly neglected Google Reader (these late running Sox games are killing me!) I came across this piece from the BBC. For me, the draw is the appearance of John Simms (also known as The Master, for those of you who are not Whovians) as the dad.

I know I've said this before, but I am so leery of book to film adaptations. It seems that there is less and less of a relation between the original source and the end product. I recently watched The Water Horse, which is radically different from the book. And the trailer I saw for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, with a plot development that never happened in the book, completely put me off watching the film. I've not read Skellig (so many books, so little time,) so this might be the film for me.

10 September 2008

Getting a Clue (the first of 39)

Well, after the all the handwringing at work yesterday about whether or not to circulate The Maze of Bones with the cards (wish I'd known about the cardless library edition in advance,) both copies are still sat on the shelf. So much for Buzz.

Publisher's Weekly does a good job of explaining the scope and ambition of this new series which, I must admit, sounds like a lot of fun. And I love the stable of authors they've got lined up to pen the future titles (bring on Gordon Korman!) But I hated reading about how the series was a property that needed to be "branded". How very corporate 21st century! Forget the threat from the Kindle--the biggest hurdle for books today is lack of brandability. What could The Westing Game have achieved with such a campaign (mind you, it did win the Newbery Medal, so it didn't exactly go unnoticed.)

04 September 2008

Hitty Hang-ups

While reshuffling our Series section in the Children's Room, I came across a Ready-for-Chapters series called "Hitty's Travels". It is a four volume series based on Rachel Field's Newbery Award winning book Hitty Her First Hundred Years. Hitty is a wooden doll that travels from girl to girl over a span of time, and she recounts her adventures with those girls. The "Hitty's Travels" books circulated as recently as this past May. The original Hitty has not gone out since 2005. That's just not right!

I hate it when dumbed down impersonations supersede the original source. The series of "Great Illustrated Classics" is a prime example. I grind my teeth in anger each time I come across one on our shelves. I firmly believe that if a reader is not yet ready for full force gale Jane Eyre, then wait until they are--don't hand them some lame-o imitation and leave them with the impression that they've read the masterpiece. (And if the issue is remedial reading, then find something original at the appropriate level. There is so much great stuff out there!) Other examples of "divide and dumb down" are the "Portraits of Little Women" series and the cottage industry that has become the Little House books. It seems that every female relative of Laura Ingalls Wilder is entitled to a book.

I think the most over used phrase in Children's publishing today is "now available for today's youngest readers". For instance, it is used to justify the transformation of picture books into board books--two formats that at times are incompatible. Does today's youngest reader really need a board book version of The Snowy Day, written for pre-schoolers, when they will gain so much more from Bow Wow Orders Lunch, which was written specifically for that age bracket (and works better as a board book to boot?) Today's youngest reader doesn't need warmed-over, abridged Hitty. They need original books written just for them, to tie them over until they are ready to meet Hitty in all her 207 page glory.

03 September 2008

The Picnic Basket--Review

I have joined the ranks of reviewers at the new review blog site, The Picnic Basket. You can read my review of the trio of Jane Yolen Hippo Board book, here.

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