22 December 2008

Christmas in Blighty

As I celebrate Christmas in England with my husband's family, I'll be on a proper hiatus from the blog (as opposed to one imposed by a lack of time!) Have a merry Christmas, and I will be back in the new year!

09 December 2008

Easy Reader Review: Journey of a Pioneer by Patricia J. Murphy

As the only Cybil nominated title in the Easy Reader category that could be classified as non-fiction, Journey of a Pioneer tells the story of Olivia Clark, a young girl living in Elk Grove, Missouri in 1845. The story is told in diary format. On March 23, Olivia learns that she and her parents are going to head out west to the Oregon Territory where land is plentiful. From April 10 to September 28, Olivia keeps a record of the family's journey. Her entries provide a look at life on the trail and are the means through which author Patricia J Murphy inserts historical facts and anecdotes. Little details like Olivia's amazement at her father's tears when they leave Missouri, or watching her mother have to abandon her stove and trunk so that the wagon can ascend a steep hill, help to make the narrative more personal to the reader. Published by Dorling Kindersley, the book maintains many of the hallmarks of its popular Eyewitness series, combining colorful illustrations, photographs, and fact boxes. There is plenty of white space and a fluid layout so that readers are not overwhelmed by the amount of text, which is considerable for a level 2 book. A page of Pioneer Facts, which a grown-up would have to read, and an index are included at the end. All in all, this is a serviceable introduction to both historical fiction and readable non-fiction.

06 December 2008

Librarian Lays Down the Law

Well, it made me smile!

The Narnia Code--is this really necessary?!

Talk about taking all the fun out of a series: the Guardian reports about an upcoming BBC documentary about the third layer of hidden meanings within the Chronicles of Narnia. Evidently, each of the books can be linked to a planet in our solar system. To quote the article:

"There are three layers of meaning - it's like three-dimensional chess. Instead of wishy-washy fairy tales, in fact this proves they are quite the opposite - he was writing happily on three levels," said Stone, who has interviewed academics and friends of Lewis for the documentary.

So, not happy with just two levels--the "wishy-washy fairy tale" level and the Christian allegory level--evidently Clever Clogs Lewis was slipping in Medieval Cosmology as well.


I have cherished memories of reading these books as a child. At the time I was more than happy with the wishy-washy fairy tales. As I got older and was able to recognize the Christian allegory, well that was okay too. And kind of cool, because I felt learned for connecting the dots. But this third level is a conspiracy theory too far! It seems as if the Narnia books have been fiddled with quite a bit in recent years; first there was the reordering of the books by publishers so that they could be read chronologically. Now this. Narnia, we hardly knew you.

04 December 2008

Great Galleys--Picture Books you won't want to miss--You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

Baseball season is still months away (71 days till pitchers and catchers, but who's counting?) And before it returns, look out for this gorgeous picture book biography of the enigmatic lefty Sandy Koufax. Now, you can't tell from the image here, but the front cover is one of those animated pictures that, when you move it about, looks like it's live action. Anyone opening the book is going to get a Koufax fast ball up-close. Not quite chin music, but a cool effect to start the reading experience.

I've read this galley a number of times now, and I still can't decide what I like best, the old-timer tone of the narrator (an unamed veteran teammate of Koufax's) or the caricature style of the illustrations (think Al Hirschfeld.) When the narrator talks about the scouts sniffing around the promising young pitcher, the flow of the lines makes them look like they actually are sniffing. Fabulous! There's so much style to this book, despite the muted pallet (greys, golds, and Dodger Blue) and often unreadable expression of the hero. Of course, Koufax himself was unreadable, both as a man and as a pitcher. Although the title suggests incredulity that anyone might not know who Sandy Koufx is, he was such an intense and brief flash of brilliance, he's almost easy to miss, if one did not live during his time of dominance. I actually thought he was dead, but was put right by a brief author's note at the start of the book (and I call myself a baseball fan!) This should find a large audience, with fans of the game, non-fiction readers, and anyone drawn to the eye-catching cover. Look for it in February.

01 December 2008

NYT notable Children's Books of 2008

The New York Times has listed it's notable children's books of 2008. Yet again, I must protest that of the 8 books listed, five of them are really YA titles. There are no books for early readers, (Elephant and Piggie are more then adequate,) middle readers (hello, Mercy Watson) or anything for the formidable 8-12 tween demographic. It's either picture books or 12 and up. What a swiz! And again, why do they limit the list to 8? I realize that illustrated picture books get their own list, but even that only brings the total of notable children's books to 24. Adult books get a list of 100! No balance whatsoever.

However, one comment I can make in favor of this list is that it includes Wabi Sabi. And readers of this blog heard it here first, back in June, that this was a special book.

20 November 2008

Magic Treehouse Musical

While attending a performance of Spamalot last night, I saw a poster advertising this, coming to Boston just in time for February vacation. *Sigh*

I could go on a tirade about the constant trend of transferring successful titles from one medium to another. But that may read as disingenuous in light of the fact that I was attending a stage production based on a highly successful film. I guess the problem is that I just don't like The Magic Tree House series (there, I said it!) File this one under: definitely just for kids.

18 November 2008

Easy Reader Review: Spring is Here! A Story About Seeds by Joan Holub

Another book up for consideration in the Cybils Easy Reader category is this pre-level 1 offering by Joan Holub. According to the level chart on the back of the book, a Pre-Level 1 reader (as defined by publisher Simon and Schuster) is as easy reading as one can get, focusing on word repetition, familiar words and phrases, and simple sentences. With only 21 pages and 97 words, author Joan Holub and illustrator Will Terry attempt to explain the life-cycle of seeds, as experienced through the eyes and hands of a group of ants.

Well, they succeed magnificently! Rhyming text and playful language supported by energetic illustrations makes this a fun read while still conveying the principles of gardening. The book uses sound repetition much more than word repetition, which adds to the exuberance and reduces the stilted effect sometimes associated with the easy reader level (I think of all those earnest phonics books out there. So educational! So boring.) The arrival of spring, hailed in the book's title, is the final result of the ants' hard work. But before that there is the planting, the nurturing, and the waiting, all cheerfully explained and anticipated by the ants. In fact, the planting and growing of seeds is a great metaphor for what books at this level are trying to achieve--getting children to the point where reading is fun while steering them through the ins and outs of language development, accumulated vocabulary, and reading comprehension.

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it is not a stand-alone title, but part of the "Ant Hill" series. Readers who enjoy Spring is Here! can move on to Picnic! for more ant and reading fun. The use of series fiction with older readers has proven to be highly successful at maintaining reader interest. Little surprise then that the same principal is successfully applied to emerging readers as they look for consistently well-written books with which to practice their new skills. Three cheers then for the ants, and their steady march towards spring and all its rich rewards!

13 November 2008

NY Times Best Illustrated Children's Books 2008

The New York Times has released it's list of the best illustrated children's books for 2008. While I'm thrilled to see the inclusion of Wabi Sabi, what's with the rather cheap looking scans included in the slide show? Could the Times not produce better quality prints from the books? They are supposed to be highlighting the illustrations, after all.

Never one to be outdone.......

Looks like it's going to be a fun January ^_^

On my Reading Radar--Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero

Hurrah for more Fashion Kitty! My daughter and I were just talking about this series this morning. She is currently discovering the joys of Babymouse, and she said that the one series reminded her of the other (must be all the pink.) She'll be glad to know that there's more fashion heroics on the way and on the way soon--Baker and Taylor states a January pup date. Would it be too undignified if I had to wrest the book away from my 7 year old in my own desire to read it?

11 November 2008

Veterans Day title--Anna and Natalie

To be honest, Anna and Natalie, written by Barbara Cole and illustrated by Ronald Himler, is not strictly a Veteran's Day title. But I used it yesterday for a Veteran's Day storycraft program to great effect and was touched by how aware and proud the children in attendance were of veterans in their own families. The book tells the story of a fourth grade girl who wishes to be involved in the team from her class that will be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C.'s Arlington National Cemetery. There is a completely surprising twist to this story (it would take a remarkably observant reader to guess it before the end.) Anna succeeds in her wish to be selected, and in doing so draws attention to the wartime sacrifices of a group of participants almost completely unrealized by civilians, but valued immensely by service men and women everywhere. I will say no more, other than, thank you.

Easy Reader Review: I Will Surprise My Friend by Mo Willems

One of the nominees for the Cybils Award in the Easy Reader category is this funny offering by Sesame Street scribe turned children's book legend, Mo Willems. Willems was the recipient of the 2008 Theodore Geisel Award for There is a Bird On Your Head, which also features Gerald Elephant and Piggie. In "Surprise", Gerald and Piggie observe a squirrel playing a hide and seek trick on a friend, which they decide to duplicate when they see how much fun the squirrels had. However, the game goes awry because the two friends are so good at hiding from each other (think of a well-orchestrated Marx Brothers routine.) Gerald beings to imagine outlandish disasters which may have befallen Piggie, and Piggie assumes that Gerald has given up on finding her and headed off to lunch. The true surprise comes when they both emerge from behind the same rock and scare the tuna salad out of each other (to quote another Willems' creation, Leonardo the Terrible Monster.)

Willems has taken the same winning combination that he utilizes in his picture books--memorable characters, silly humor, simple wisdom, boundless enthusiasm--and applied it to the easy reader format. But perhaps his greatest achievement here is his ability to take the limitations of the easy reader format and turn them into narrative strengths. The vocabulary in this book is limited, basic, and often repeated. Yet with a well placed exclamation point, bold typeface, or over sized font, the emotion behind the words becomes evident to the young reader. The color-coordinated speech bubbles keep the dialog flowing without the cumbersome interruptions of "Elephant said" or "Piggie said" and also helps to clearly indicate which character is speaking when the action gets frenetic (as it often does!) Piggie and Gerald themselves are extraordinarily expressive characters and go a long way in providing visual clues to the reader, despite the fact that they are often the only images on the page.

At the heart of "Surprise", as with all the Elephant & Piggie books, is the friendship of the two main characters. The episodic nature of the stories keeps the reader focused on the specific moment in time in which Elephant and Piggie are discovering something about their relationship and their value of each other. In "Surprise" they learn that prefabricated fun is not necessarily as good as spontaneous joy--but certainly as unpredictable.

08 November 2008

Wallace and Gromit are back

Yay! And I'll be there to see it! But does it involve cheese?

Satoshi Kitamura

The Guardian recently (well, today, to be precise) ran an article about Satoshi Kitamura. It is a well-written, article but lacking in one vital detail--Kitamura's art! I have tried to rectify that problem by providing a picture of the cover of my favorite Kitamura book, Me and My Cat. Also, a visit to Satoshiland will fill in many illustrative gaps, as well as provide information about his upcoming books. My visit to Satoshiland was an eyeopener; I thought I was familiar with the majority of his work, but I see that I really only touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you want to get a look at his latest offering, The Young Inferno, written by John Agard, check it out here.

21 October 2008

Scanimation Fun--Swing!

The new scanimation book, Swing!, came in today, and we all had good fun looking at it. Despite the fact that we have a defective page (the figure skater in our copy doesn't turn) I think it's even better than Gallop!, and that takes some doing. Focusing on athletic verbs, the scanimation action in Swing seems more sophisticated and technically accomplished: you get cyclists racing around a corner, and a baseball that is hit right at ya, like a 3D movie. We have Gallop! at the circulation desk to keep little hands and eyes busy while the grown-ups focus on getting everything checked out and (if necessary) paid up. Even without circulating, we still invested in a second copy of Gallop! after about six months because the first copy was so well-loved. I envision a similar fate for Swing!

20 October 2008

Cybil Easy Reader Nominations are in

As I try to recover from the Sox's ALCS Game 7 loss, it's time to return to the rest of my life--starting with my work as an Easy Reader panelist for the Cybils. They have listed all the nominees in all the categories. Considering my area of interest this year, I'll draw attention tothe nominees for Early Readers.

07 October 2008

Books--better than PE!

Okay, I'm oversimplifying here. But just as television can affect childhood obesity (negatively,) so can reading (positively!) And for all those book nerds (like me) who were filled with dread at the thought of climbing the rope, or running around a cold field, or any activity which showcased my total lack of athletic prowess,this article in Time Magazine is vindicating. Books really are good for you!

06 October 2008

Thinking about Bambi: Or, why I became a librarian

One of the things that attracted me to librarianship was the possibility of learning something new every day. How could I be surrounded by so much knowledge without picking some of it up? And I have one of those minds that's great for remembering the trivial (although I find that I forget more and more important stuff as my head becomes more crowded.) Anyways, today I learned that Felix Salten was not American! Yes, like the art history teacher who tried to convince me that Christopher Columbus was, in fact, English--she was working on the fact that his name was "Christopher Columbus." As opposed to "Cristoforo Colombo"?--I assumed that the author of Bambi was an American on no sturdier platform other than that I myself am American.

Well, that's embarrassing to admit, but there you have it.

I made my discovery while weeding this morning, and I noticed on the title page of our rather tatty copy of Bambi, that the book had been translated. A quick check on Wikipedia informed me that Felix Salten was in fact Austrian. Well I suppose they have woods in Austria, too. But in reading the subtitle: A Life in the Woods, I just assumed that those woods were in New Hampshire. Disney certainly made them look like American woods. And shame on me. Because anyone who has read Bambi (and I have, many years ago) knows that the book is nothing like the film. In fact, my copy here has an introduction by John Galsworthy, of Forsyte Saga fame. Which then begs the question--is Bambi even a children's book? Galsworthy's intro is gushing in his praise. He calls Salten a poet. He calls Bambi "a little masterpiece". Yet no where does he theorize about how much children will enjoy this book. In fact, he ends his introduction to the book with "I particularly recommend it to sportsmen."

Wow. When Disney gets their hands on a thing, it really takes on a life of its own.

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.

22 August 2008

Michael Rosen--he's no twit

British children's writer Michael Rosen weighs in on the Jacqueline Wilson naughty word controversy.

21 August 2008

WTF? Dame Wilson can't swear

Or at least her characters aren't allowed to. The BBC reports that the second printing of Dame Jacqueline Wilson's latest novel, My Sister Jodie, will be reprinted after the publisher, Random House, received three complaints and a message from ASDA supermarket mega-chain (which happens to be owned by WalMart,) that they will not sell editions of the book with the offending word. This is an issue that many authors have had to contend with (remember the scrotum brouhaha?) and frankly it's tiresome. Authors never do anything by accident, and if a character uses vulgar language, it's probably because they are, well, vulgar, and the author would like to make that clear. I am by no means an advocate for naughty language in children's books, and whenever I review a book in which swears or other profanities are included, I mention the fact--particularly if they seem unnecessary. That's just me doing my job for librarians and media specialists who are reading the reviews and wondering if the books are suitable for their collections. But I have never said, "Don't buy this book--there's swearing!" Nor would I ever assume that I was doing the world a favor by demanding the withdrawal or reprinting of a book which had language I objected to. If I discovered that my daughter read a book with bad words, that I thought were inappropriate for her, I would use it as a platform to discuss with her why profanity is not for us. Chances are my daughter will someday read a book with bad language and I'll never know about it because she'll have the sense not to tell me or use the language herself. And I'm fine with that, because it shows that she can deal with media that is less than savory without being fundamentally altered as a person.

What a pity that Ms. Wilson--a Dame, no less--felt the need to capitulate. She needs backbone lessons from Judy Blume. I will be interested to see how the book is released here. And considering the British-specificness of the vulgar word in question, would an America audience notice it anyway?

Was Bob Marley inspired by the Banana Splits?

The BBC puts forward a compelling case. Read and listen here. You be the judge!

15 August 2008

Graphic Novels continue to make their mark

ICv2 reports that Nickelodean Magazine is including for the first time a Best Kids Graphic Novel Award in its annual comics issue. It's just another indication of mainstream visibility for graphic novels both within pop culture and children's literature. Amen!

25 July 2008

Pigeonholeing--who needs it?

This recent article in the New York Times about what makes a book YA or adult (the short answer--an editor) touches upon two subjects that have recently irritated me: rating books by age and James Patterson. It's clear to see from this article how labeling a book as "suitable" for a specific age/audience limits is capacity to reach beyond that demographic. If adults are daft enough to ignore a book because it is YA (and, therefore, not adult,) then think about how they will ignore books for their little ones because the cover says it is for 8-12 or Gr: 1-3. And as for James Patterson, he is sooooo only about making as much money as possible! Otherwise he would be more than happy to let his Maximum Ride books sit on the YA shelves. Works for Sherman Alexie!

New Honor for C.S. Lewis

I'm not sure why this was listed in the BBC Entertainment section, but it's cool news all the same. Those Blue Plaques ensue that the everyday pedestrain doesn't cruise past an otherwise unrecognized spot without realizing the history that took place there.

22 July 2008

On my Radar--Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog

I live for days like this! The kind folks at Random House have cheered me considerably with their Fall 2008 teaser, announcing the news of a new Traction Man book coming in September. Woo hoo! Traction Man is a hero at our house, and no doubt others across the world, and I'm pumped for his further adventures.

20 July 2008

Trip to the cinema reveals Despereaux

While at the pictures today to see Wall-e (which is excellent, by the way,) I saw the trailer for the screen version of Kate Dicamillo's The Tale of Despereaux, with none other than Matthew Broderick giving voice to the mouse hero (who also voiced grown-up Simba in "The Lion King", all those years ago.) "Despereaux" is hands down my favorite Kate DiCamillo book, with any Mercy Watson title as a close second, so I'm not sure what to make of this development. The film is all CGI and looks to be joketastic, which may or may not be a good thing (think wise-ass "Shrek".) Still, the film adaptation of Because of Winn-Dixie was very good, so I will reserve judgement (for now!)

Getting back to Wall-e, go see it if you have not done so already. It's not just for kids! In fact, it was an excellent reminder that a G rating simply means that a film is suitable for a general audience, not that it is intended for the tot-lot crowd. This film was intelligent, wise, and clever beyond belief. And there was hardly any dialog! Like a fantastic wordless picture book, this film let out imagination do the talking.

17 July 2008

Gurus at war--the battle over Stuart Little

Here is a fascinating article about the ideological battle between Anne Carol Moore, the extremely influential librarian/children's book critic/expert who is credited with single-handedly inventing children's librarianship, and Katherine White, wife of E.B. White and children's book editor for the New Yorker. The touchstone of their battle--the publication of Mr. White's odd little book, Stuart Little. There is much to admire and despise about Moore, a woman who was clearly ahead of her time in terms of service provision but believed too much of her own press. As for Stuart Little itself, I was underwhelmed by it as a child, but there is no denying its place in the canon, despite what Moore thought of its suitability (not sure what either of them would think of the fact, though, that a Google image search of Stuart Little brings up pages of movie images, long before any of Garth William's wonderful illustrations.)

Just goes to show you, children's literature isn't for wimps!

26 June 2008

On My Radar--Fave Early Reader Series

Some of my favorite Early Reader series are returning with new installments. September brings us the further adventures of Fly Guy, that slightly scrotal but totally lovable insect (and I don't often show affection for any sort of bug) and his owner, Buzz. And for fans of the softer, less-manic tales of friendship, there is a new Houndlsy and Catina book to savor.

I have so much admiration for writers who can create a story of limited, sometimes pre-dictated, vocabulary, and still offer a story that is fun to read. Dr. Seuss and Else Holmelund Minarik are the standards by which Early Reader authors are judged, but Mo Willems (Elephant & Piggie,) Tedd Arnold (Fly Guy,) Cynthia Rylant (take your pick!), James Howe (Houndsley & Catina,) Lola M. Schaefer (Mittens,) Keith Baker (Mr. & Mrs. Green) have all risen to the challenge.

19 June 2008

Bedtime Stories

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas (Schwartz, Viviane)
Come Fly with Me (Ichikawa, Satomi)

Sort of a mixed bag tonight (from my POV, that is. My daughter whole-heartedly approved of both.) Come Fly with Me is a very pretty book, reminiscent of the Old Bear books by Jane Hissey. It would appear that Ichikawa is working her way through her toybox, considering "Fly" comes on the heels of La La Rose and I am Pangoo the Penguin. The story of Woggy, a cuddly dog, and the toy wooden plane on the search for Somewhere, seemed secondary to the fine Parisian details on each page. I couldn't help looking for Adele and Simon.

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas--this week's Book of the Week--is funny in one of those nice quirky ways. Timothy is a very small mouse who longs to be strong. When his mother repairs his favorite pj's, and makes them extra-strong, that strength is passed on to Timothy (who should have been named Samson, perhaps?) Timothy uses his newly found strength for good and proceeds to help various strangers out of their predicaments. The art work is a combination of comic style blocking (complete with bubble-speech commentary from Timothy's trusty toy monkey) and full-spread illustrations. I hope that Timothy and his pj's have more adventures soon.

05 June 2008

Rating Books--what qualifies as an R?

A recent article in the Guardian details proposals for age ranges to be placed on the covers of children's books published in the UK. I'm being facetious by suggesting that books may someday be rated like films (although I'd believe just about anything.) But I find the idea of age ranges condescending and irritating. Must everything in life be labeled and pigeonholed? Labels provide a false sense of security (not unlike filters on computers) and a false impression of legitimacy. For example: I have now worked in two towns with a teacher who assigns a second grade biography project, and the only criteria is that the kids must use a book that is at least 100 pages long. Do you know how many biographies are written for second graders that are at least 100 pages long? I'll tell you--hardly any. All that assignment leads to is children working their way through the biography section, pulling books off the shelf, until they find one that is 100 pages long. There is no joy in the learning process, because the books that are interesting to the second graders are inevitably less than 100 pages long.


Admitedly, manga in the US is labelled. I've always viewed that as a concession made to Western readers who are simply confused by the genre and think it's all porn. I doubt if faithful, voracious manga readers pay any attention to the ratings. But how many children will be turned away by great reads becuase they feel they are (1) too old for said book, or (2) too young? I know that the label "Children's Room" is the kiss of death for kids who feel they are no longer children and as a consequnce never darken my door and miss out on lots of books they'd enjoy. So I can envision second graders (or any graders) being told to read a book that is "age appropriate" and going down the shelves until they find one with the magic age range printed on the front. It doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine labels turning children away from books, too. I can just imagine a precocious seven year old eyeing James and the Giant Peach (8-12) and being persuaded by a responsible grown-up who is at the mercy of labels to choose The Magic Treehouse instead (5-7.) Not much of a deal, really.

01 June 2008

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

Wabi Sabi, by Mark Reibstein, illus. by Ed. Young (due for release October 08.)

This evening I read a very clever, very ambitious picture book called Wabi Sabi. It tells the story of a cat named, well, Wabi Sabi. It also attempts to explain the concept of Wabi Sabi for a young, Western audience. I think it succeeded magnificently, and is an excellent example of how the picture book format can do so much more than simply teach readers the alphabet, or numbers, or opposites. The book reads from top to bottom, rather than left to right, so it is fair to say that this book turns the picture book on its head--literally! The effect is like reading a scroll--an ancient Japanese scroll with rich, spiritual illustrations. Illustrator Ed Young is channeling Steve Jenkins with cut paper collage that seems to stand off the page. This is a picture book for older readers, and I always think the world needs more of those! I hope Wabi Sabi finds an audience.

(While searching for a cover image of the book to post with this entry, I found this, which has been posted by the editor of the book.)

31 May 2008

So it's not just me--Keeping Narnia in order

One of the trickiest questions I often get at work is, "Which is the first Narnia book?" It's a tricky question because there is a correct answer--The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe--but it is being undermined by the insistence in recent years of publishing them in chronological order within the narrative, rather than as originally released; hence, starting with The Magician's Nephew, whose action predates that in "Lion", Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Horse and his Boy. I'm not sure who came up with this idea--I have even seen it floated somewhere that it was Lewis' wish to re release them so. But in this age of prequels, alternate endings, and companion volumes, I find it difficult to believe that today's savvy young readers would be confused by reading a history of Narnia's inception after they have already read the previous five books. So, when some poor, unsuspecting soul asks me which is the first Narnia book, I give them the spiel about the debate.....and then hand them whichever of the two is actually on the shelf (mustn't send them away empty handed.) The release of "Lion" in the theatre has helped to reassert it's position as the lead-off title. And now, The Horn Book, the children's literature Bible, has taken its stance on the issue. How nice to be right ^_^

Of course, the second part of this issue is: "What?! You mean you don't intrinsically know all of the Narnia books by heart? They're not etched on your soul?!" That incites the same feeling of being flabbergasted as when someone asks me for a recommendation for a 2nd-4th grader, and they answer the statement, "Well, I'll assume you have already read Charlotte's Web," with, "No."

How is that possible?!

The Electric Company season 2 opening titles

Hey you guuuuuuys! The Electric Company recharged

Is anyone else as pumped about the return of The Electric Company as I am? And just in time for my daughter to be old enough to appreciate it.

Harry Potter Causing Trouble Again

Has there ever been a book responsible for so many lawsuits?! If the book isn't being banned or causing some sort of copyright ruckus, now it is supposedly getting people suspended. Weird. I wonder how many copies of the books have been sold through controversy alone.

14 May 2008

Roald Dahl prize--Give us your funniest book

The Guardian reports the Children's Laureate (UK) Michael Rosen is on a mission to find the funniest children's book. Is this to replace the now defunct Smarties Prize? The prize will be awarded in two categories: books for children 6 and younger and books for children 7 to 14. I will start the nominations with Gorgonzola: A Very Stinkysaurus by Margie Palatini and Tim Bowers (illus) for the 6 and under crowd. For older readers I will nominate Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware by M.T. Anderson. Okay, so I've not even read it yet--not due for release until July--but his other Thrilling Tales have been absolute screams, and I have great faith for this title, too. I reckon Jeff Kinney stands to do well from this prize. I'm sure they are reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid in England, too.

12 May 2008

More good news--Elephant and Piggie

My in tray had lots of nice surprises for me today: two new Elephant and Piggie books are coming out in June: I Love my New Toy and I Will Surprise my Friend. Fantastic!

John Patrick Norman McHennessy--not a moment too soon

Hurrah! My prayers have been answered! A Random House Summer Catalog was in my inbox this morning, and on page two was the announcement and brand new ISBN number for a reissued edition of John Burningham's outstanding John Patrick Norman McHennessy--the boy who was always late. This has been on my "Lost Treasures" list since the early days of this blog. I take no credit for it's reissue, only immense pleasure that someone in a position to bring it back did so.

I hope it has been left as originally published and not revised to meet modern day sensibilities. I'm thinking of the bit where the disbelieving teacher threatens to thrash JPNM for telling lies. Children today need not fear corporal punishment, and I suspect that when the book was originally written in 1987 there really wasn't much danger of it then either. But you never know how far the bubble-wrapping of children will go. The revising of books is an ongoing controversy in Children's Literature, from Tintin in the Congo to whether or not editions of Good Night Moon should feature a picture of illustrator Clement Hurd holding a cigarette.

10 May 2008

Diary of a Wimpy Kid translations.

After reading in Publisher's Weekly about the success of foreign language translations of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I had a look on the net for some of them. How kind of Chad Beckerman of Mishaps and Adventures--he has a lovely collection of cover images at his website.

James Patterson strikes again

I had hoped the Maximum Ride books were flying off our YA shelves because they were being read by YA readers. I suppose, in the bigger picture, a circ is just a circ, and that's a good thing. But I still feel cheated by a nefarious marketing ploy. I've been irritated by this before.

Barefoot (Books) in the (FAO) Park

I find this ironic, considering that the FAO Schwartz in Boston is no more.

21 April 2008

Read it Again, Mummy!--Who is Melvin Bubble?

I love it when authors expand the possibilities of the picture book. And so does my daughter--at least in this case. Her current favorite is Nick Bruel's Who is Melvin Bubble? Before the book even starts, the reader spies a letter written to the author by a little boy named Jimmy, who is requesting that someone write a book about his best friend, Melvin. Through a series of interviews with key figures in Melvin Bubble's life, Bruel makes an attempt to discover just who Melvin Bubble is, thus writing the wished for book. It's a clever premise, the picture book version of a self-referencing mockumentary. There are no throw-away details, so even though the book could seem gimmicky, it is actually a tight narrative that achieves the dual goals of (1)granting Jimmy's wish and (2)effectively introducing the reader to Melvin Bubble. And all the different characters makes for a fun read-aloud. It will be a sad day when Mr. Bubble has to go back to the library.

15 April 2008

Everywhere you look--Emily Gravett

Every now and then there seems to be an author who turns up out of nowhere and manages to be everywhere. British picture book writer and illustrator Emily Gravett is one of those authors. Perhaps I am more aware of her presence because I now order books, so I see what's coming in on a regular basis. But since the much celebrated release of Wolves in 2005, five more titles have followed, with two others slated for release in 2008. That's amazing production, if you ask me!

I have been warming up to Ms. Gravett with each new title. Wolves did not impress me as much as it did others, and Meerkat Mail seemed like Griffin and Sabine Lite for a younger crowd. But I was totally charmed by Orange Pear Apple Bear with its 4 word story, and Monkey and Me is as simultaneously simple and sophisticated as the child's imagination which it celebrates. And now that I know she keeps pet rats.....the love affair continues!

Gravett has a lovely website--despite the shushing librarian--so be sure to check it out for a complete bibliography of titles available here in the States and her native England.

09 April 2008

Bedtime Stories

Peanut by Linus Alsenas
A Kitten Tale by Eric Rohmann
Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard, illus.

Some very sweet stories this evening. Peanut, in which a little old lady mistakes an elephant for a puppy reminded me of My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World, where it's not clear to the reader whether the protagonist is aware of their mistake, or simply choosing not to notice. And of course, an elephant is involved in both. "Kitten", where three kittens who have never seen snow worry about their first snowfall, while a fourth kitten blissfully anticipates it, made me think of Kevin Henke's Wemberley Worried. "Kitten" has received a lot of positive press, and it is all deserved. The simplicity, yet effectiveness, of the message is breathtaking. And the kittens are adorable.

Mr. Putter and Tabby are favorites here, even more so now that my daughter can read them herself. The mellow pace of the stories, the leisurely line of the illustrations, and the vocabulary which challenges without intimidating, make this a wonderful series for emerging readers. If Henry and Mudge, also by Cynthia Rylant, have been exhausted, check out Mr. Putter and Tabby instead.

06 April 2008

What I am Reading Today--Vasco Leader of the Tribe

The success of Erin Hunter's Warriors series no doubt paved the way for the publication of Vasco: Leader of the Tribe, which is more of a poor man's Watership Down than a compelling animal drama. Vasco, a wharf rat, is one of the few survivors of a calculated campaign by Man to exterminate all rats from human habitats. Vasco finds himself the unexpected, but not really unwilling, leader of a rapidly expanding tribe of rats, also on the run from extermination. As he leads them from their homes, through a perilous sea journey to an unknown land, and eventually to settlement in a foreign jungle, Vasco's skills as a diplomat and rat of change are constantly called into use.

As an advocate for rats, I had great hopes for this book. But it was dire. There is none of the mythic purpose that grounds the Warrior books, where well organized clans of feral cats coexist. There's not even the genuine force of evil that propels the struggle in the Ga'hoole series. The rats of "Vasco" are all at odds with each other seemingly because they are fueled by constant panic and a diet of garbage. Vasco is a visionary in his wish to establish a stable life, rather than simply survive, but his is the lone voice of reason or optimism. And at 300+ pages, shifting from one rat fight to another is exhausting and tiresome.

As with any book that has been translated (in this case from French to English) there is always in my mind the thought that perhaps something has been lost in the process. But it's hard not to believe that the nihilistic tone of the book is thoroughly Continental. There are plenty of vicious battles in the Warriors books, but we also see the cats at play, exhilarated by their sense of purpose, and encouraged by their belief in the spirits. The rats in "Vasco" only exist to breed and eat. When I think of Ratatouille, where an ambitious rat also wanted to do more than just survive, I wish that "Vasco" provided more bright spots and less cruelty.

01 April 2008

Book of the Week--Happy Birthday Monster!

It's been awhile since I've come across a book that I felt was a suitable replacement for Kat Kong (plus I was out of the country.) But a successor has been found! Scott Beck's Happy Birthday Monster! is a charming book that has already enjoyed repeat readings at our house. The story is straightforward: Ben, a cute little demon-like monster, is throwing a surprise birthday party for his friend Doris (a cute little dragon-like monster.) We see Ben welcoming his guests, the guests hiding, and then the ensuing fun of dancing, snacks, and gift-giving. Beck's clever, cheerful illustrations run as a series of visual jokes: a ghost chagrined when her snacks fall right through her; Ben stuck in the ceiling by his horns after being tossed in the air by his friends; Doris lighting her own candles by breathing fire on them. There are plenty of puns, too. Everyone is so happy to be together. If only all birthday parties were this congenial!

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