28 April 2009

Rave Review: Erika-San by Allen Say

I have to confess to a soft spot for Allen Say. He is the author of one of my all-time favorite picture books, the Caldecott Winning Grandfather's Journey, which is the finest writing I have ever read about the immigrant conundrum--loving two places at once. In his latest book, Say has written again about a subject which is very close to my heart--the realization that you are out-of place; that you sense your heart's proper home is somewhere else, and the relentless journey to get there. The protagonist, an American child named Erika, knew from a very early age that she wanted to live in Japan, from the moment she saw a bucolic print hanging on her grandmother's wall. And not just any where in Japan--she had her eye on a specific spot. A specific tone, if you will. Erika's single-minded ambition to find that place that is burned into her memory leads her from the crowds of Tokyo to a small rural community where she becomes a foreigner teaching in a place where she does not feel foreign at all. The way in which Say tells the story of how Erika finds her home, not just physically but spiritually, is incredibly moving. By mirroring Erika's journey with her relationship with a local man, Say has created one of his most straightforward and accessible books in recent memory. This is a lovely and delicate book and reinforces Say's prowess as one of the finest writers of multi-cultural discussion for children.

27 April 2009

Reading Radar: It's a Secret by John Burningham

It was a happy children's librarian who saw this in her May edition of "Books For Growing Minds." Even better, I found an article in a recent issue of "The Independent", where Burningham talks a bit about his childhood, in promotion of his new autobiography. (Note to self--buy it!) He has some scathing commentary about modern parenting trends. But readers familiar with his disarmingly subversive picture books will not be surprised.

My John Burningham Top Three:

3) The Magic Bed: Georgie has outgrown his crib and is ready for a big boy bed. And he doesn't choose just any old bed as a replacement. Magic and imagination are interchangeable in this story about moving on.

2) Mr. Gumpy's Outing: What could possibly go wrong when a boy, a girl, a cat, a dog, a rabbit, and a cow ask for a ride on the same skiff?

3)John Patrick Norman McHennessy, the Boy Who was Always Late: Now back in print, to my complete and utter joy. You can see what I think of this classic here.

21 April 2009

Top Ten Challanged Books of 2008

The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom has released this year's list of the most challanged books (well, at least the top ten) in 2008. And Tango Makes Three is still the most challanged book. A look at our circulation records shows that it's not even raising an eyebrow here. Nor is Uncle Bobby's Wedding, which, along with Tango, can be found on our picture book shelves (as opposed to on the Parent's Shelf with all the "issue books".) Whether this lack of offense is because of geography or apathy, I couldn't say.

20 April 2009

Battle of the Kids Books Round 2

A new week, a new round of battles in SLJ's entertaining and enlightening literary smack-down. After reading another outstanding commentary, I can see that I will have to break down and read this match's winner eventually. Especially considering my delight in long, book-stop sized books--and I don't mean poorly edited fantasies which could probably weigh in at 200-250 pages if given a proper look-over before they hit the press. I mean leisurely books, written with underutilized words like "vexed" and plenty of space for ideas to develop and characters to muse. I think of Anthony Trollope, who of course was not a children's writer, but who gave his books plenty of room to breathe. To me, a tome is the intellectual equivalent of a soak in a bubble bath, giving a tired over accelerated brain the chance to slow down, unwind, and enjoy a massage, which you can't do when operating in a world of tweets and scroll bars on the bottom of a TV screen. Judge Tim Wynne-Jones put it quite well when he writes, "And yes, it’s a marathon to read, by today’s standards, but that’s why it’s a book, rather than, let’s say a video game or a tweet. Books are what we turn to for the heavy lifting!"

Time to get in shape.

17 April 2009

Rave Review: Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss

I have been a fan of the Toon Books from the very beginning. They have successfully tackled the formative but sometimes creatively-challenged Early Reader market-- with comics. And it makes such good sense! Favorites among their list so far have included Benny and Penny by Geoffrey Hayes and Stinky by Eleanor Davis. Now I must add Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss. Young readers will recognize Bliss' from Diary of a Worm/Spider/Fly while parents will know him from The New Yorker. The story here is a simple one: little boy chases pigeons across NYC--madcap shenanigans ensue. But if you read the Author Bio at the end, you'll see that Harry Bliss himself, as a child, often considered life in New York as a comic panel. And that is what he has created for little Luke--one big comic in which he can run himself to exhaustion. Starting with the cover, in which Luke is looking at a comic book on the ground and wondering where the pigeons are, as if he can jump into those pages and look for them, this is a story meant to be told panel by panel.

But I have to confess, I love this book for the nerd factor--Captain Haddock is in it! And Olive Oyl! Even the Hulk manages to sneak in. At first I thought it was a coincidence--that Bliss' style suggested the similarity. But after a few more cameos, I knew he was purposely treating comic lovers. And it reinforced for me the idea that Luke was run amok in a comic world. Readers need not recognize the allusions to enjoy the visual humor; my daughter had no idea what I meant when I started yelling, "Olive Oyl! Olive Oyl!" but she embraced the pure thrill of the mayhem.

Librarians may fret about where to place Toon Books: is it an Early Reader? is it a Graphic Novel? But just so long as they are put somewhere visible so that kids can find them--you can't go wrong.

16 April 2009

in favor of non-fiction

Because I tend to do most of my professional reading on-line--and more and more of it via Twitter, I might add--the corresponding print journals tend to pile up on my desk. So in an attempt to make some headway through those intimidating piles, I picked up a recent issue of Booklist (an April issue in fact, which is pretty good for me) and came across this article by Will Manley. First off, if you aren't a regular reader of Will Manley, you should make a point of becoming one--I liken him to Dave Barry for librarians. His connection with Booklist is only slightly longer than my library career, so I feel a kinship with him--that I have grown-up with him, if you......will (ha, ha.) But I digress.

Manley's article was about his recent discovery and joy in children's non-fiction. He goes on to highlight a particular series, but my main point is this--non-fiction needs more face time! As the mother of a reader who is partiularly keen on non-fiction, I get a sense of its worth on a regular basis. And, having recently reviewed a whole bunch of non-fiction series, I admittedly have NF on the brain. But one thing I have noticed is how audience savvy non-fiction books are becoming. They seem to understand that they can be beneficial not only for school reports, but also for hooking reluctant readers. You can do things in non-fiction books that you can't always do in fiction, like use exciting fonts and in-your-face photography, and cool layouts. And the best part is, it's all true stuff!

And while non-fiction has never gotten major literary props (although there is the Sibert Award) there are some real stars in the non-fiction world: Steve Jenkins, Gail Gibbons, Jim Arnosky, Seymour Simon, David Adler, Kathleen Krull, and many, many more. I also recommend checking out I.N.K. Interesting Non-Fiction for Kids, to read what some of these authors have to say for themselves.

Non-fiction--it's not just for homework!

14 April 2009

is this appropriate?

If I had a nickel for every time a parent asked me that question, book in hand. "Appropriate" is such a subjective term. Clearly what I think is appropriate for my own child to read (anything she wants) is not appropriate for others. But when an earnest, well-meaning parent asks me if a certain book is appropriate, how can I possibly know what words are acceptable--what scenarios, what characters, what thoughts? Librarians make judgement calls every day about books and where to place them in the collection or whether to buy them at all. But there is no Appropriate Ruler that librarians use to judge whether books are suitable for the varied patrons that cross our paths each day. We use common sense, professional assessment, and a healthy dose of "different strokes."

I had a patron this evening tell me that she has no time to read her own books because she is so busy keeping up with her daughter's reading, to make sure that everything she reads is "appropriate". Oh my goodness--what a pointless motivation. Of all the dangers there are in this world, a child reading an "inappropriate book" is really the least of them. Just let them read!

13 April 2009

Battle of the Books takes shape

Wow--who needs to read the books when the commentary is so fantastic? The SLJ Battle of the Books has begun with a bang, as the first two matchs have pitted a weighty, confusing tome against a manipulative tearjearker and a no-brainer against a darkhorse contender. I shall say no more, but check out the commentary from first round judges Roger Sutton and Jon Scieszka to get a sense of the judging shoes future rounds must fill

And for all you Twitter types, you can get updates from the BOB twitter feed--very handy!

04 April 2009

Series Made Simple

School Library Journal has published it's second Series Made Simple Supplement. Aimed at facilitating the task of fording the streams of overwhelming series selections directed at Youth Services and School librarians everyday, the supplement is due to be released with the April issue of SLJ. But it is already on-line, and you can read it here. And in a blatant act of Shameless Self-Promotion (although, really, is it any more shameless than building an entire blog around my own opinion?) you can read my contribution to the supplement here.

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