31 December 2007

Book of the Year--The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Harry Potter got all the attention, but The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick is the title that, in my opinion, has revolutionized not just books, but the process of reading itself. Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, is of a similar opinion, and his word counts for a lot more than mine. I grabbed "Invention" to investigate the hype (for it came with plenty) and was simply blown away by its scope, ambition, and achievement. It tells the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan, who has been secretly keeping the clocks of a French railway station running on time since the disappearance of his uncle, the current clock-keeper. His most prized possession is a diary of drawings which he found among his dad's possessions when he died. Hugo's interest in the drawings, which feature unbelievable automatons, leads him to a toymaker with a background shrouded in mystery. The book, as well as the story, is steeped in the history of the early days of motion pictures. I know quite a bit about the early history of film (thanks to all those Klaus classes,) so reading a story which deals with the subject was fun in and of itself. But what truly amazed me as I read, was how my brain adjusted to the switch between text and images, to the extent that I was learning a new way of reading while I read. As the book progressed I could predict whether each turn of the page would reveal text or image, because I was so completely a part of the flow of the story. When I closed the cover, I was almost stunned by the experience, in the same way that I was stunned as a first grader when I realized that the print on a page finally made sense. Truly, an outstanding book.

30 December 2007

Polar Bear Knut on CNN and Prosieben - Eisbär Knut

Bedtime Stories

Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World (Hatkoff, Juliana, Isabella and Craig and Dr. Gerald R. Uhlich)
The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Superheroes (Eaton, Maxwell III)

It takes a village to raise a child....and write a book, too, by the looks of it. But Knut is so gosh darn cute it seems churlish to complain. While Knut does not have the emotional cache of Owen and Mzee, the authors try to draw attention to the melting polar caps and the threat of polar bear extinction to give their photo tale some emotional umph. I guess it worked, because as soon as I read the line "Some scientists even believe polar bears could become extinct in our lifetime," my daughter screamed "NO!" I asked her if she knew what "extinct" meant. Well, 'no' to that, too. But clearly, it didn't sound nice. It probably made her think of "exterminate!" which is a familiar word to her, being part of the Dalek vernacular.

Max and Pinky are back in their second book (after The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds.) They have no problem deciding to be superheroes, but the designation of 'sidekick' causes all sorts of trouble. Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush never had that problem. I was also impressed to discover that Max and Pinky are on Facebook. How very tech savvy of them!

28 December 2007

Royal honors for Wilson and Hill

The Guardian reports that Brit children's authors Jacqueline Wilson and Eric Hill have been honored in this year's Queen's Honours List. Jacqueline Wilson has now earned the right to be called Dame. Eric Hill has been given an OBE (Order of the British Empire.) I'm not a big fan of Spot, but I think it's fantastic that a picture book creator has been recognized in such a way.

Honors to me, too; this is my 100th blog entry. Yay me!

25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

Have a safe and peaceful Christmas. Read lots of good books!

24 December 2007

Book of the Week--We Were There

Christmas is here, and I present to you one of my favorite Christmas picture books. It's fairly recent, and I think it has probably flown under many radars. But that's okay, because that fits the message of the book. It's Eve Bunting's We Were There, and it tells the Nativity story from the point of view of the lowliest, ugliest, creatures of the dark--the scorpion, the snake, the bat, the toad, the spider, and (my personal favorite) the rat. While the beautiful sheep and cow and donkey stood by the glow of the Christ child, the forgotten creatures watch from the shadows. But they, too, followed the star, and they too worship. And of course, they are as precious to Him as the beautiful animals. The story is told in prose and is illustrated with outstanding paintings by Wendell Minor. This is a handsome, thoughtful reminder of why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

20 December 2007

What I am Reading--Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I've heard so many great things about this book, that when I finally managed to get my hands on a copy, I grabbed it. (It's so popular at work that one copy was not enough. I bought a second copy, and I rarely see that one, either.) Books told in diary format (is there a word for that? Like 'epistolary' for stories told with letters?) are as old as the novel itself. But unlike those early books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid has its own website, where readers can follow the adventures of Greg Heffley (not all of which have appeared in the book.)

Anyway, "Diary" was not really what I expected. Perhaps I fell into the "it's got cartoons, it must be for younger kids" trap. I was certainly expecting a book for, say, grades 3-5. But this is a solid 6-9 book; the protagonist is in the 7th grade, and you can tell. Sometimes he's a jerk (like, say, a 7th grade boy,) and while there aren't too many puberty episodes, you can tell they are just over the horizon (probably in the follow up volume, Diary of a Wimpy Kid--Roderick Rules, due out in early 2008.) So while I was initially caught off guard when the book didn't meet my preconceived expectations, I fell into it's rhythm and quickly got my literary feet under me.

And now I know why the book has been such a big hit: it's wet-your-pants funny! I took great delight in recommending it to a colleague first thing this morning for her middle school son. She said he likes books that are "sophomoric". Well this is right up his alley then! "Diary" is at times sophomoric. But episodes like the description of the Cheese Touch--spot on! Middle School is so cruel. And, with hindsight, hilarious. How nice to be able to look at it from the other side.

18 December 2007

What I am Reading--The Daring Adventures of Penhaligon Brush

This attractive animal fantasy should appeal to readers who like swashbuckling and hedgehogs in waistcoats. Penhaligan Brush is a fox, bored by his life as an apothecary in a sleepy Cornish village, who goes to visit his adoptive badger brother in the coastal town of Porthlaven. There he stumbles upon a dastardly plot by the loathsome wrecker Sir Derek (not a nice cat) to lure a ship full of treasure to its demise on the craggy shores of the port. Ouch!

The book, by S. Jones Rogan, is beautifully illustrated by Christian Slade (he of the Korgi fame.) Having visited Cornwall on many occasions, there is much about this book that appeals to me and makes me wish that I was still living in England. I anticipate recommending this title to boys and girls alike.

12 December 2007

Bedtime Stories

Little Red Riding Hood (Pinkney, Jerry)
At Night (Bean, Jonathan)
Chilly Charlie (Rau, Dana Meredith)
Millie Waits for the Mail (Steffensmeier, Alexander)
Alligator Boy (Rylant, Cynthia and Diane Goode)

A fabulous bunch this evening! I've had my eye on Pinkney's Red Riding Hood since it made its way through Tech Services. It has a very Christmasy feel, with snow covered woods and cardinals to match the tell-tale hood. Pinkney has had a particularly stellar year, IMHO, with Little Red Hen and The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll (which he illustrated) also seeing release in 2007.

But the stand out title for me tonight was Millie Waits for the Mail, about a cow who takes great delight in frightening the mail carrier each day. The unexpected canine behavior reminded me of My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World by Gilles Bachelet. And why is the cat so silly? Because he's an elephant! I love it when reality is thoroughly turned on its head, yet it still makes sense. And following up on yesterday's post about the success of translated books for children, I'd like to point out that both titles are imports: "Millie" from Germany and "Cat" from France.

I've been asked by a loyal reader (so nice to know you are there!) to keep a running list of all the picture books mentioned in this blog. Look for it in the new year.

11 December 2007

On my Radar--Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware

Who knew that The First State was so deadly?

Delaware has been lampooned before by M.T. Anderson ("The New York cheese cake tasted more like Delaware.") The third installment of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales is set for an August 2008 release. Summer never seemed so far away....

Until then, why not revisit the first two volumes in the series: Whales on Stilts and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. You can read excerpts from "Whales" and "Lederhosen" here. Series fiction never had it so good.

Translated treasures

Recently, both the Guardian and Publisher's Weekly have run articles about the dearth of translated literature in the English speaking market. Sara Nelson, in her Op Ed piece for PW went so far as to say..."like moviegoers turned off by subtitles, most Americans would rather read about Americans in the American idiom. A function of fear or arrogance? You decide?"

I think that perhaps the deciding factor is neither fear nor arrogance, but perhaps it is more an issue of age. Children's Literature has a rich tradition of bona fide translated hits, from Pippi Longstocking to Tintin to Rainbow Fish to The Thief Lord. 2006 saw the release of the excellent Beyond Babar: The European Tradition in Children's Literature by Sandra L. Becket and Maria Nikolajeva (I particularly liked the chapter on Tove Jansen's Moomintrolls.) And over the past four to five years I have noticed some fantastic picture books coming out of the Far East (yes, it's not just Manga over there!) Writers from Japan and South Korea have created some gems that have no problem crossing the language divide. I've even had the dubious pleasure of reviewing some translated works that were, in my opinion, not worth the effort. But at least their presence shows that there is room for translated books in the Children's market. Children know a good story when they hear one, and it is nice to know that the prejudices which may affect adult literature are overcome for the younger readers.

Some titles of note---

Emily's Balloon (Sakai, Komako)
Chester (Imai, Ayano)

South Korea
While We Were Out (Lee, Ho Baek)
My Cat Copies Me (Kwon, Yoon D--a former Book of the Week)

On My Way to Buy Eggs (Chen, Chih-Yuan)

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Ayano Imai was born in England and moved to Japan, where she resides still. However, there are a number of high profile children's writers who have moved from Japan to the West: Satomi Ichikawa, Satoshi Kitamura, and Alan Say. Say's books often depict life in Japan, or reference Japanese life and culture. Clearly, this is not a road block for his young readers. Chalk it up to the flexibility of kids!

05 December 2007

Bedtime Stories

Museum Trip (Lehman, Barbara)
Rabbit's Morning (Tafuri, Nancy)

In order to facilitate the fact that I can't talk because I have no voice tonight (nasty head cold,) we read some wordless picture books. "Rabbit" isn't strictly wordless; there is a single sentence which is split between the first and last page of the book. But I didn't even need to read that much, because my daughter could handle it ably on her own. "Museum" reminded me a lot of Rainstorm, because in both books the opening of a door leads to unexpected adventure. This is hinted at on the cover itself, as the protagonist of the story peals back a plain white corner to reveal a maze beneath. Very clever.

I might be a new convert to the charms of Lehman's picture puzzles, but I am a long time fan of Nancy Tafuri. I love the clean, uncluttered lines of her drawings. She manages to make her characters (almost always animals in their natural habitat) look realistic and anthromorphized at the same time. I use her books a lot in my baby story times. Her books are generally over sized, which makes them easy to show to a group. And there is always just enough to look at, without having to take in too much.

Fairies-they're not all sugar plums

When I saw this article by novelist A.S. Byatt in the Guardian, the title made me think there could be a connection to The Spiderwick Chronicles (and it's 2008 film) in which fairies are not sweet little pixies, but mischievous--if not malicious--creatures. (Fans of the TV show Torchwood will remember the Small Worlds episode from the first series which also deals with the topic--probably the most disturbing episode of the lot, IMHO!) The article rambles a bit, including as it does a description of an exhibit currently on display in London, which I do not have any hope of seeing, and moving beyond its original premise of exploring the dark underworld of fairies and other fantastic beings. (In brief, the crux of the article is: fairies--not just for kids!) But there are many references to Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, and other classics of Children's Literature which grew out of an Edwardian reverence for childhood and more than a little distrust of a woman's civilizing hand. The article also flirted with ideas I've previously come across in the excellent Inventing Wonderland, by Jackie Wullschlager, all about the birth of fantasy in Children's Literature.

(BTW, the image above is called The Entomologist's Dream, by Edmund Dulac, one of the artists on display in the xhibit mentioned in the Byatt piece. Looks more like a nightmare than a dream, and succinctly represents the chaos associated with fairies.)

04 December 2007

Book of the Week--Ivan the Terrier

I love a story that's fun just for the fun of it. And that is a great way to describe Peter Catalanotto's Ivan the Terrier. Bringing new meaning to the term "fractured" fairytale, the energetic Ivan manages to break up every attempt by the author to tell a simple, straightforward tale. Muted but lively watercolor and gouache illustrations aid in the mayhem created by Ivan (the demise of the gingerbread boy is worth the price of admission alone.) This one is for dog lover everywhere!

03 December 2007

Why we read

I'm catching up on my newspapers this morning (delayed school opening due to inclement weather--a mixed blessing.) This article in the New York Times about why we read caught my eye. It also quotes this years' winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, Sherman Alexie, talking about the impact of The Snowy Day, the classic picture book by Ezra Jack Keats, had on his development as a reader.

New York Times Notable

Considering they came up with 100 books for grown-ups, this puny list of 6 Notable Children's Books by the venerable New York Times seems a bit of a jip. And only one of the titles, How to be a Baby...by me, the Big Sister (Lloyd-Jones, Sally), is legitimately a children's book. The rest are YA or have strong YA leanings (that means you, Mr. Potter.) A little more effort please!

02 December 2007

Horn Book Fanfare

Here is the Horn Book's "Best of" list for 2007. There are now a couple of titles which are starting to appear consistently on this year's lists: Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Peter Sis's The Wall, And Sherman Alexi's The True Story of a Part Time Indian, just to name a few.

28 November 2007

Anne Frank's Tree

According to the Guardian (UK) the tree outside the house where Anne Frank and her family were hidden--a tree she mentions often in her famous diary--is in danger of being cut down. It is dying and in a position to damage the historic house should it, or any of its closest limbs, come down in a storm. Needless to say, cutting down the tree has proven to be a controversial issue, and if it comes down, it won't be without a fight.

Perhaps if I visited the tree and saw it with my own eyes, and imagined myself looking at it through the only available glass in the house that wasn't blocked up, I might feel differently about this. I remember how I felt when I visited the World War I battlegrounds in Belgium, and by seeing just how close the trenches had been to each other, better grasping the enormity of what happened there. But thinking about the matter from a distance, I can't help but feel that Anne's legacy is her book; that her book has become a greater symbol of hope than the tree will ever be. The tree can go, because the story lives on.

Bedtime Stories

I love my Pirate Papa (Leuck, Laura)
The Copycat (Hersom, Kathleen and Donald)
George and Martha, Back in Town (Marshall, James)
Out of the Egg (Matthews, Tina)
The Wizard of Oz (Baum, Frank L.)

A bit of everything tonight--old favorites, new twists. I've been looking forward to sharing "Oz" for some time now. Since my daughter has not even seen the film yet in its entirety, this seems like a good time to introduce the original. And it's nice to take a break from the American Girls!

I particularly liked Out of the Egg. More than simply a fractured fairy tale (Little Red Hen gets the works in this one,) it was a truly wise adaptation of a story that sometimes reads vindictive. The title is more than a simple reference to the birth of a chick; it is an expression of how children can break away from the patterns of their parents and teach lessons of their own.

While looking for images of "Pirate Papa" and "Copycat" I came across the websites of the illustrators. Check them out! I had not previously seen the work of Kyle M. Stone, but I am well-familiar with Catherine Stock. She has illustrated dozens of children's books. I've even reviewed one of the them, The Bora Bora Dress (Schaffer, Carole, Alexis.) I didn't think much of the book (as my review indicated,) but I loved Stock's illustrations. And indeed, I am blurbed on her site! No attribution, of course, but as a representative of School Library Journal, I recognize my words (just like a parent ^_^.)

27 November 2007

On My Radar--The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets

I was ordering books this afternoon, and I saw this one. I love the Enola Holmes mysteries. I'm not always a fan of literary sequels/prequels/tie-ins, because often times I feel like the author is simply trying to piggyback their book onto a more famous title (or, as in the case of Wide Sargasso Sea, they have some sort of agenda against the original text.) But the Enola Holmes books work because author Nancy Springer manages to balance her own character with the more famous and revered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation. And they are darn good stories!


Okay--this has nothing to do with Children's Literature. But I'm so happy, I have to share. Rose is coming back!

26 November 2007

Book of the Week--The Little Skyscraper

This is a favorite, and whenever we see it on the library's shelf, it eventually ends up on ours. And in light of recent buzz about the Kindle leading to a new and improved literary experience, this is a timely selection.

At one time, the Little Skyscraper is the tallest building in the city. His grace and beauty fills everyone with pride and inspiration. But as time moves on, taller, more modern buildings spring up around the Little Skyscraper, and our friend is overshadowed and redundant. Fortunately for the Little Skyscraper, this is a picture book with a message, and he is saved from a dreadful fate because one person remembers the building's glory and treasures it. Sweetly illustrated and concisely told, this is a lovely book, and it will enjoy repeat readings in this house until the day it is due back at the library.

Kiddie Kindle?

This morning I finally read the Newsweek article, The Future of Reading, about Amazon's Jeff Bezos and the impact of the Kindle on reading, the book in general, and all that makes sense in the known universe. Frankly, I found the article terrifying! I wasn't as upset about the device's effect on reading, as I was about it's effect on writing. The idea of a novel as a collaborative process, wikified and edited by it's readership, gave me the shivers. Not every one's cup of tea, to say the least.

But as I was reading, I couldn't help but think about what a very adult device the Kindle is. I'm sure kiddie kindles are in the works, just like the digital cameras Fisher Price makes for toddlers, and the child friendly keyboards for computers. One of the appealing features of the kindle, according to the article, is that it's "bookish". It feels like a book--has a book's jes ne se quai. But how can one appreciate the bookish appeal of a device if one is still learning what a book is? Could I use a Kindle effectively in story time? How would picture book illustrations fare on a device no larger than a paperback? We see how artwork for LP's was diminished when reduced to the size of a CD jewel case (and it's hardly worth mentioning the tiny little image in an ipod's screen.)

Trekkies will be aware that when Captain Jean Luc Picard needs to relax after a hard day on the Enterprise, he reached for his Earl Grey (hot) and a massive tome of Shakespeare, not the tiny palm-sized tablet he uses for work (or, admittedly, that budding author Jake Sisko on Deep Space Nine uses. A generational preference, perhaps?) The point is, the death of the book has been predicted many times before. And although the Kindle doesn't so much represent the death of the book as its evolution, I reckon that the experiences of our youngest readers will dictate the success and viability of the Kindle, and not the Tech Heads (and I count myself as a Tech Head!) who love new gadgets.

21 November 2007

Beowulf for Children?

Evidently former British Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo thought it was a good idea. He adapted a version of the epic poem just for kids. I guess you would file that under "not just for grown-ups". You can read what he thinks about the new film adaptation (in 3-D, no less. I did not know it was released in 3-D.)

20 November 2007

What I am Reading Today--The Last Polar Bears

I'm not real sure what to make of this one. It tells the story of a grandfather (no name, only "Grandfather") who decides to travel to the North Pole so that he can see a real polar bear in the wild, rather than in captivity. He takes his dog, Roo, (who I'm sure is supposed to be charming, but who I found to be selfish and annoying,) and they set off. This is an epistolary novel, and the letters are all addressed to "Child". Grandfather and Roo set sail on the Unsinkable and head for the North Pole and the Great Bear Ridge (which Grandfather has told Roo is made of ice cream. Whether she believes him or not is unclear.)

To be honest, there is a lot about this book that is unclear. Why does Roo act more like a human than a dog? She talks, cleans, and has an allowance. Even though Grandfather finds the polar bears, is he really at the North Pole? The town of Walrus, where they initially set up camp, is a tiny outpost inhabited by drunken wolves with a taste for rum, and an unusual calendar (the final letter is dated 40 October.) At some point this book takes a turn into the absurd. Grandfather and Roo deal with genuine obstacles on their journey, such as freak snowstorms and food shortages. But they also spend a good part of their time playing golf, which does not seem like a necessary activity when you are a Septuagenarian fulfilling a life-long dream.

But perhaps most puzzling about the book is why it just stops. They reach the polar bears--the end. Admittedly, this is part of a series, and Grandfather and Roo will visit other places around the world, but a tidier ending would have been more satisfying after the whimsy of the text.

Author/illustrator Harry Horse is best known in the States for his Little Rabbit books. But he had a long career as a political cartoonist. He also had a rather tragic death (although some might disagree with me about that.) It is difficult to read The Last Polar Bears without relating it to his death. And for a gentle story--because this is at heart a gentle story--that's a shame.

18 November 2007

Read it Again, Mummy!--The Witch's Child

Were it not for the fact that I wanted a holiday book for Book of the Week (and that I adore The Ugly Pumpkin,) Arthur Yorinks' The Witch's Child would have been chosen. And if my daughter made the decisions on this blog, you can guarantee that this book would have gotten the nod. She liked it so much that she asked me to read it twice tonight, at the expense of a chapter of Meet Samantha.

So here's the story: for reasons known only to herself, the rather nasty witch Rosina decides that she would like to have a child. So she makes herself one and names her Rosalie. She gives the child a room full of toys and anything her heart could desire (but being heartless herself, how would Rosina know anything about 'heart's desire'?) When Rosina cannot find a way to bring Rosalie to life, she discards her; no "Gepetto Parent of the Year" awards here! Then, to accentuate her nastiness, Rosina turns local children into thorn bushes. All seams dire until Lina, "an inquisitive girl," wanders into the witch's house and finds the abandoned Rosalie. She cleans her up and plays with her. A little love goes a long way, as the witch discovers too late.

The message of the book is fairly clear; love makes us real. It is a theme we have seen in The Velveteen Rabbit, and even fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow white, where a kiss literally restores life. No wonder my daughter wanted to hear it twice. But as the parent reading this book, I came away with a completely different message. The final line of the story, in describing the return of the children who were turned into thorn bushes, is, "With Rosina gone, her clouds departed, and finally, in the sun's embrace, the bushes that were children were children again, and their parents loved them and were thankful for them and properly cared for them, as well they should." Bad parenting is rampant in this book, from the dodgy rationale behind Rosina's parental urge, to Lina who "strayed too far from her parents". Well, it would seem that she strayed too far, just as the thorn bush children were "lured away," because the parents were not paying attention. So for me, the message is "Love 'em or lose 'em." Be thankful for your children, because they are gifts, not rights.

Gee, maybe this is a holiday book after all.

Book of the Week--The Ugly Pumpkin

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, this week's book of the week is a Turkey Day book with no turkey. The Ugly Pumpkin by Dave Horowitz starts as a Halloween trick and finishes as a Thanksgiving treat. It's a sweet and funny ugly duckling story--told in clever rhyme, no less!

17 November 2007

Quote of the day

In a review of--among others--Jon Agee's Nothing for the New York Times (and a former NJFK Book of the Week,) author Emily Jenkins writes:

"The buried lessons in highly entertaining classics like "Where the Wild Things are" and "Millions of Cats"--or in popular new titles like "Fancy Nancy" and "Library Lion"--are more engaging than those in books that explicitly exhort children to like themselves, eschew prejudice, value love over material objects and other such morals, important though they are."

Amen! It seems that in recent months I have been sent to review more than one picture book hitting me over the head with the "it's-good-to-be-different" hammer. Adults don't like a heavy handed approach, and neither do children. Perhaps the number one reason why I prefer to read children's literature over adult literature (unless it predates the 20th century) is that the story is still alive in children's books. So much modern, "grown-up" literature seems to be more about making a point rather than telling a tale. The best books manage to do both. But it should always be the story, not the moral, that sticks.

As for Ms. Jenkins, a prolific author, start with Toys go Out and Love You When You Whine.

15 November 2007

Coming to a Theatre Near You

The following books will be released as films by Walden Media in 2008:

Nim's Island (based on the book by Wendy Orr)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspin (the incomparable C.S. Lewis)
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (I'm sure author Jules Verne would appreciate the extra effort of filming in 3D)
The City of Ember (IMHO, one of the most overrated books in recent memory.)

Let's hope that the good folks at Walden Media have learned their lesson after the "Seeker" debacle and focus on more faithful adaptations. Also, are their any non-fantasy books in the works? Interesting, film-worty stuff happens in the real world, too.

National Book Award Winners

The National Book Award Winners were announced last night. This year's winner for Young People's Literature was Alexie Sherman's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Well Done! I'm sorry that Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret did not win because, 1) I loved it and 2) it really challenged the boundaries of the novel as a format. And that is a noble tradition that goes all the way back to the 18th Century (Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.) But all in all, an excellent book has been recognized, and we can all take pleasure in that!

14 November 2007

What I am Reading Today--Starcross

I have been so looking forward to this book; pretty much since I closed the cover of its predecessor, Larklight. As soon as this made its way through Tech Services I grabbed it. And, I'm pleased to say, I have not been disappointed! The Victorian intergalactic adventures of Art, his ever so proper sister Myrtle, their 2,000,000 year old mother, and the space pilot-cum-British-spy Jack Havistock continue as they do their duty for Queen and Country. 'Science Fiction' is one of those terms that has fallen out of favor, particularly among the biggest fans of the genre. The replacement term, 'speculative fiction' is a fantastic substitute in this case, because both Larklight and Starcross are speculating on an epic scale. With one simple premise--alchemists never could turn base materials into gold, but they did develop warp technology--and one far-reaching backdrop (Queen Victoria's British Empire,) author Philip Reeve has created a series of adventure stories with the sensibility of M.T. Anderson and the bustles of Anthony Trollope. Give us more, kind sir!

Publishers Weekly Best of 2007

Warm off the presses, here are the top choices for 2007 by the folks at Publishers Weekly. You'll notice that a couple of these titles made an appearance here at various points during the year.

13 November 2007

More Dahl Please--Fantastic Mr. Fox

Found this on the Times (that's, of London) website. American director Wes Anderson is directing a feature length adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, with George Cloony. What I want to know is, does The Fantastic Mr. Cloony speak West Country?

12 November 2007

You know the end of the year is near.....

....when all those "Best of" lists start coming out. The New York Times has got things rolling with its list of Best Illustrated Children's Books. I notice that of the ten mentioned, one of them is Jabberwocky, a rather startling and innovative retelling
of the famous Lewis Carrol poem, using inner city basketball as the motif. Hey, if Shakespeare can be adapted and interpreted, why not Carrol? I mention this particular book, because I bought a copy for work, and it has gone down like the proverbial lead balloon. But now I am vindicated! O Frabjous Day!

Notable absences (IMHO): Robot Dreams by Sara Veron and Dogs and Cats by Steve Jenkins.

Freedom isn't free--Veterans Day 2007

With heartfelt thanks to those who have served this country and who are serving still on my behalf.

11 November 2007

Book of the Week--Rainstorm

Not since William Steig's Pete's a Pizza has a rainy day been so much fun. Barbara Lehman's Rainstorm tells the story of a little boy, alone in his tidy nursery in his big old house, and the adventure he discovers when he finds a key under a chair. This is yet another wordless picture book, a genre which is rapidly becoming my favorite in children's literature (and the third featured as a Book of the Week.) And cliche though this might sound, words here are unnecessary. The images work so well on their own, that even the title is one word too many. The combination of full page pictures and comic style blocks advance the story perfectly. 1000 words? These pictures speak volumes.

08 November 2007

Sick Day

The little one was home sick today (which means I was home today, too, but reasonably healthy.) In between cat naps, we enjoyed a few books together.

More Spaghetti, I Say! (Gelman, Rita Golden)
A Witch got on at Paddington Station (Sheldon, Dyan)
Mercy Watson Fights Crime (DiCamillo, Kate)
Big Bad Wolves at School (Krensky, Stephen)

I'm already well familiar with "Spaghetti" and "Mercy Watson"; they are established favorites in our house, and now the fun is that, where as I used to read them to my daughter, she is now able to read them to me. But both "Wolves" and "Witch" were surprises. They weren't at all what I was expecting. I thought "Wolves" would be about, well, big bad wolves going to school and causing trouble. But the twist in this fractured fairy tale is that the wolves go to school in order to become big and bad. They attend the Bad Wolf Academy where they learn such useful skills as huffing and puffing and speaking a second language (that would be, "Baaaaaa".)

As for "Witch", it caught my eye, because after my time in England, working in the transport industry, no less, I couldn't resist the picture of the routemaster on the cover. And although I think it was supposed to be a comic story about non-conformity and magic, my lasting impression of the book is the portrayal of the uptight, jobsworth conductor who does his best to evict the unassuming witch from his bus. Perhaps I'm just sensitive, having worked as a railway conductor, and knowing what sort of wise guys take advantage--in every sense of the word--of public transportation. But he really did encompass all the negative stereotypes we worked so hard to discourage and dispel after privatization.

But I digress. And speaking of digressions, I'd love to know how much "Witch" illustrator was influenced by the style of fellow English illustrator, the late, great Janet Ahlberg.

Oo la la! Make room for extra Nancy

The world is about to get a whole lot more fancy. February 2008 will see the release of at least three more Fancy Nancy books, including some 'I Can Read" titles for the youngest connoisseurs (that's a fancy word for 'fans.') And if that's still too long a wait, Fancy Nancy Loves! Loves! Loves! is due out at the end of this month.

05 November 2007

Book of the Week--The End

David LaRochelle's picture book The End joins such cultural mind benders as the film Memento and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (where we know the answer, just not the question.) Okay, well, maybe I'm stretching the comparison a bit, but the fact is that The End is a clever little oddity that starts at the end of the story and works its way backwards to the start. And, having read the book both forwards (that is, backwards) and back (you know what I mean!) it made more sense starting at....the end. With joyful illustrations by Richard Egielski (of Hey Al! fame) this book shows how the wisdom of hindsight can illuminate just about any situation. Even one that starts, "They all lived happily ever after."

03 November 2007

Bedtime Stories

Gargoyles: Monsters in Stone (Dussling, Jennifer)
Un-Brella (Franson, Scott E.)
Gimme Cracked Corn and I Will Share (O'Malley, Kevin)
Someday (Spinelli, Eileen)

Rather an eclectic selection tonight. We had a wordless picture book (Un-Brella,) a pun-fest ('Cracked Corn",) a prose picture book (Someday,) and a highly informative early reader. Did you know that "gargoyle" comes from a French word meaning "throat"? and have you noticed that it sounds very much like "gargle", which is technically what a Gargoyles do, since they are decorative water spouts? Bedtime reading that is not just for kids indeed!

Check out this trailer for Un-Brella. It doesn't really give an idea of what the book is about (a little girl and her magic umbrella that turns a snowy day to a sunny one, and vice-versa.) But it's sweet and gentle, and the book is certainly all that.

01 November 2007

What I Am Reading Today--Edwards Eyes

I actually got about half-way through this slim little volume and then abandoned it for the World Series (which the Red Sox won, BTW, have you heard?!) So I have started all over from the beginning, but to be honest, my impression has not changed the second time through. An air of gentle doom (if you can imagine that) hangs over the story, which is told in an episodic manner. Rather than a narrative, it reads like a string of scenes. I'm finding it frustrating, because I don't feel as if I am getting to know the characters; I'm just being told what the author, the Newbery Award winning Patricia MacLachlan, wants me to know. That's too bad, because I consider character development to be one of her strengths as a writer. And other than Edward's desire to learn how to through a knuckle ball, I don't get a feel for the developing story (which doesn't seem to be developing at all.) This book has been lauded and praised in all the review journals, so what do I know? Well, I know that so far I am not particularly enthused about Edwards Eyes, despite the many baseball and Sox references.

23 October 2007

Book of the Week--Zachary's Ball

In honor of the fact that the Red Sox are in the World Series for the second time in four years, this week's book of the week is Zachary's Ball, by Matt Tavares. Everyone wants a souvenir when they visit the ballpark, and in this picture book a young Zachary is transported to the game of his dreams when his dad hands him a snared foul ball. Perhaps it is the ball itself, or maybe it is the act of passing the ball from one generation to the next--in any case, it is a magic that must be shared. And it all takes place within the shadow of Fenway's Green Monster--reason enough to read any book!

20 October 2007

Answering The Guardian--My belated top ten

I have been slightly side-tracked by the Red Sox's pursuit of the pennant, but at last I have for your consideration my Top Ten Favorite Children's Authors. About a month ago I wrote about a Top Ten List from The Guardian, a daily broadsheet coming out of the UK. Their list of most popular children's authors, which purported to be voted on by British young adults, was lopsided in favor of 1) British authors and 2) Classic authors. So I have countered with my own list.

I have compiled my list based on authors that I either loved as a child/young adult, as well as authors I have discovered since working in the field. They are listed in the order in which they popped into my head.

Drum roll please......

Susan Cooper
Madeline L'Engle
Lloyd Alexander
E.B. White
Elizabeth George Speare
Rumiko Takahashi
Beverly Cleary
David McPhail
John Agee
John Burningham

Honorable Mention:

And then there are my Top Three Fond Memories, listing authors whose books I remember really loving at the time:

Donold Sobol
Ellen Raskin
Walter Farley

16 October 2007

Spiderwick Board Game

According to ICV2, there will be a board game tie-in to the film version of The Spiderwick Chronicles, due to be released in early 2008. That's kind of cool, and will probably sell like the proverbial hotcakes, since the series is so popular (not sure I would call it a YA series, though, as it is called in the article.) But where's all the hotly anticipated The Seeker memorabilia? ;)

Happy Ending Hoax

Guerrilla advertisement hits the world of Children's Literature! Considering we are talking about the country that spawned a registered political party called The Official Monster Raving Loony Party, it's easy to see why The Mail fell for this. And concerned parents are a mad bunch anyways, right? Still, I bet Lemony Snicket was tickled.....lemon? And as for Milo and the Magic Stones, it's only unhappy if you chose the path of selfishness. Sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure for the preschool set.

12 October 2007

What I am Reading Today--Keturah and Lord Death

I love fairy tales. I love the language and the imagery and the allegory--the whole package. I wish people would stop thinking of fairy tales as exclusively for children, because they aren't. The tradition of the fairy tale dates back to the oral history of literature, when stories were told rather than read. That's why some of them are so frightening and just plain twisted. Long before they became morality morsels for children, fairy tales warned listeners to be careful in a dangerous world.

So with that in mind, I whole heartedly recommend Keturah and Lord Death, a book for a YA audience steeped in fairy tale tradition. I'm almost finished, and I love it! Keturah is a young woman with a talent for telling stories. She also has a talent, if you want to call it that, for seeing Death (who is a rather sympathetic, burdened character in this book.) The people of Keturah's village, once they become aware of her ability, beg her to intercede with Death on their behalf, but don't want anything to do with her otherwise. Meanwhile, Keturah has her own bargains to broker with Death, who not only is ready to take her from this earth, but claim her as his bride as well. Great stuff!

Still on the topic of outwitting Death, check out Teresa Bateman's picture book The Keeper of Soles, in which a cobbler manages to put off the inevitable with the promise of new shoes.

10 October 2007

The Seeker--oh dear!

This is just one of a half dozen wretched reviews I've read for the film. My worst fears confirmed! The Dark is rising, but the film is floundering.

09 October 2007

What I am Reading Today--The Thing About Georgie

First time novelist Lisa Graff covers Andrew Clements territory with this story about a fourth grade dwarf. While George Washington Bishop's dwarfism has always been a reality, it has never been an issue. Until now. He is concerned that his soon to be baby sister or brother--dubbed Baby Godzilla in his mind--will one day outgrow him--literally. He is falling out with his best friend, Andy, and can't seem to find a way to end the fight. And the only person interested in being his friend is Jeanie the Meanie, and she has a strange way of showing affection (like signing him up against his will to play Abraham Lincoln--he tallest president ever--in the school play.)

Once I started this book I really couldn't put it down. Graff does a fantastic job of making Georgie a character the reader can sympathize with without pitying. The thing about Georgie is a great recommendation for middle grade readers, boys and girls, for we are all little in a big world.

08 October 2007

Lost Treasures #3--John Patrck Norman McHennessy-the boy who was always late, By John Burningham

John Burningham is one of those authors that I did not discover until I was an adult. Had I grown up in his native England, it would have been a completely different story. But here in the States he's just another respected import. His classic, Mr. Gumpy's Outing, is listed by Anita Silvey (talk about gurus!) as one of the 100 best books for children, but other than that his droll little windows into a child's psyche seem to come and go. A quick search on Amazon.com shows that of three pages of titles, only half a dozen or so are still in print. Again, it's a different story in the UK, but American fans need to catch his books in the initial print run.

John Patrick Norman McHennessy-the boy who was always late (we'll call it JPNM for short) is a frequent bedtime favorite at our house. It's the simple story of a boy making his way "along the road to learn." Each day he meets seemingly insurmountable hurdles (a crocodile leaping out of a drain, a lion sneaking out of the bushes, a tidal wave washing over a bridge) yet he vanquishes them all, only to come up against a higher hurdle--his teacher's disbelief. The teacher is straight out of the Oxford Don book of fashion, with a log black coat, four-point cap, and a total lack of imagination. Various punishments are meted out to JPNM--standing in the corner, writing out "I must not tell lies" 500 times, solitary confinement, and even the threat of a good thrashing. The teacher not only discredits JPNM's stories, but he gets unreasonably irate about the loss of a glove, torn trousers, and the fact that the boy arrives sopping wet (which is to be expected when you've nearly been washed away by an unexpected tidal wave!) But revenge is sweet, and by the end of the story we see that JPNM has not been traveling along the road to learn for nothing.

I find that children have an amazing capacity for magic while understanding the world in completely literal terms. If JPNM said a lion sprang out of the bushes, well of course it did, even if that's not supposed to happen. John Burningham's books wonderfully capture this dichotomy, and it makes them great fun for the adult reader.

05 October 2007

We interrupt this blog.....

....for the American League Division Series! Yes, the Sox are back in the big time, which means late nights and disrupted guru service. Sorry (but not really--it's the SAWX!)

Today is the release date for The Seeker, the film based, supposedly, on The Dark is Rising. Having recently completed the book, and seen the trailer for the film umpteen thousand times, I'm pretty sure that they are two different beasts. Author Susan Cooper has similar concerns. In rereading the book, I was struck by how little actually happens (hard to translate a lack of action to the big screen.) Even more importantly, the book is steeped in antiquity--the land of Britain itself, the Old Ones who fight the Dark, Will Stanton, the protagonist, who's only connection to modern life is a preference for Chelsea Football Club (he still goes caroling, for pete's sake, and sings carols in French!) This is not simply an everyday-boy-discovers-magic-powers type of story. But that seems what the filmmakers are aiming for. I don't know. If it's a success, I'm sure we'll see the rest of the series eventually.

02 October 2007

Guys Read--What a concept!

I came across this gem while updating my Authors' Websites list. The site, called Guys Read, is moderated by Jon Scieszka. He needs to update it and add Cowboy and Octopus! There's a great list of recommended authors that write what guys want to read. Alright! Makes my job easier.

01 October 2007

Book of the week--Cowboy and Octopus

What a quirky little book! The seven stories chronicling the friendship between Cowboy and Octopus are distinguished by Lane Smith's pick-and-mix artwork and a subtle humor that is truly child-like, reminiscent of James Marshall. Comparisons between Cowboy and Octopus and Marshall's George and Martha are easy to draw. Cowboy and Octopus themselves, however, are not drawn. They are paper cut outs. They can change location, but they can't change pose. It's all part of the charm. My personal favorite is "The Rainy Day." One window, two points of view, no more than two dozen words exchanged, but volumes expressed. Check it out!

What I am Reading Today--Jack Plank Tells Tales

2007 really is the year of the pirate--even failed ones, like Jack Plank. I picked this one up because it's short (I need a quick read before immersing myself in Red Sox postseason baseball,) and because I like Natalie Babbitt. Reading this book of tightly constructed vignettes, I'm reminded that Babbitt is an excellent picture book author as well as a novelist. I'd enjoy more structure in "Plank" but the tales are amusing.

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