30 December 2009

On My Reading Radar--No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season

Just in time for Red Sox fans after a long, cold offseason! This picture book about one of the few records left standing after the steroid era is due for publication on February 4, 2010. Woo hoo! Can't wait to get my hands on it.

It is my opinion that Ted Williams has not received the sort of kiddie lit attention that other baseball greats have been awarded. Think of all the books about Babe Ruth, or Roberto Clemente, or Jackie Robinson--all worthy subjects for sure. But Ted Williams was not just a great baseball player, but a patriot as well, having interrupted his professional career not once, but twice to serve in the Armed Forces. I haven't seen too many modern athletes, other than Pat Tillman, who have forfeited their lucrative careers in favor of serving their country. I have already written an open letter to Dan Gutman, in the hopes of roping him into writing about the Splendid Splinter. Thank you to Fred Bowen for getting the Ted Williams ball rolling!

20 December 2009

Rave Review: Imogene's Last Stand


In the immortal words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, "Mine eyes have seen the glory," and her name is Imogene Tripp.

Imogene is a little girl who loves history: reading it, quoting it, sharing it. However, no one else is as enthusiastic as she it. In fact, most of the residents of Liddleville, New Hampshire, where Imogene lives with her father, are down-right apathetic about their past. When a plan is devised to tear down the local historical society to make space for a shoe lace factory, which will put Liddleville "on the map," Imogene finds that hers is the lone voice of opposition. Her fellow Liddlevillians are bemused by her passion for history, at the perceived expense of the town's future. Armed with a limitless supply of energy, ideas, and apropos quotes, Imogene fights a one-girl battle to save the historical society. Her ultimate triumph is, like America's most glorious moments, hard-fought and well-earned.

The Founding Fathers might have laid the foundation of this great nation, but it's the dedication of one inspired and focused girl who preserves it for them--at least in Liddleville. In a literary landscape dominated by princessess, fairies, and pink, Imogene's spunk and tenacity makes for a picture book heroine who will go down in history.

19 December 2009

Storybook Soldiers

I came across this article through the excellent Library Link of the Day service (if you are interested in library issues and not already subscribed--you should be!) Storybook Soldiers is an initiative established by the British Army which allows members of the armed services serving in Afghanistan to record themselves reading a bedtime story for their children. It makes a compelling argument for the power of parental reading, not just as an education tool but an emotional lifeline, especially over the holiday period.

Wartime and Christmas have crossed paths before, perhaps most famously during World War I, when the German and Allied soldiers engaged in an impromptu Christmas truce. This event is retold in John McCutchen's Christmas in the Trenches. Oil paintings by illustrator Henri Sorenson, and a CD with a recording of the folk ballad on which the book is based add to a touching, if somber, Christmas offering. War is hell, but Christmas, one hopes, is civilizing.

14 December 2009

Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas

Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fancy Nancy never gets old. And with a Christmas theme, illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser can really go to town with over the top decorations. As Nancy says, her house never looks fancy except at Christmas time. I bet there are lots of would-be Nancy's who understand that situation! The book also gets the sentiment just right when decorating the tree prompts a discussion about the sentimental value of the ornaments. Glittery and full of fun, it's another winner :)

View all my reviews >>

18 November 2009

Cybils Nominee: Pippo the Fool


Firenze, Italy is home to many cultural treasures, not least of which is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore, with its unmistakable dome. Pippo the Fool tells the story of Filippo Brunelleschi, the goldsmith who defied expectations and designed the dome for a competition, orchestrated to solve what was becoming an insurmountable architectural challenge. Whether ahead of his time, or simply eccentric, Brunelleschi was ridiculed by his fellow Florentines and earned the unflattering nickname of Pippo the Fool (although he did manage to befriend the artist Donatello, so his brilliance was not lost on all.) Rather than apply himself to his trade, he was known for his fanciful--some would say useless--machines and inventions, waiting for his opportunity to show his true talents. When the time came he proved his detractors wrong, won the contract, and put the finishing touch on a duomo which has since thrilled engineers and pilgrims, locals and tourists.

Author Tracey E. Fern and illustrator Pau Estrada have combined to recreate a Renaissance city which is colorful, rather clean, and impatient; the construction of the dome is a matter of great concern to everyone. The illustrations reveal plenty of period detail, from the clothing, to the busy market scenes, to the animals sharing the homes and streets of the locals. While the illustrations are sometimes humorous (an ironic beam of light from Heaven falling upon the head of Pippo's main rival and tormentor, Lorenzo Ghiberti springs to mind,) the humor never comes from the foreignness of this slice of the 15th century. In fact, the inclusion of an Illustrator's Note at the end of the book provides insight into how Estrada recreated 15th century Florence--and more specifically, the construction of the dome--without the aid of photographs. He also tips his hat to a some of the masters of the Italian Renaissance in his illustrations, although those homages might be missed by all except art students.

After taking over 120 years to build the basilica, the fact that the dome itself was finished in a mere 16 seems miraculously swift. Brunelleschi's ability to forsee every structural difficulty and devise his own efficient solutions was no doubt a factor in this. While young readers might not fully grasp the years involved, they will certainly get a sense of the scale of the project as the dome, brick by brick, comes to visually dominate the book. And should they ever manage to visit Firenze themselves, they just might recall the story of the dreamer who left such a remarkable legacy to his city.

11 November 2009

Dodsworth in London


Dodsworth in London by Tim Egan


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I had high hopes for this book because (1) I love Dodsworth and (2) London is one of my favorite places in the world. I think Dodsworth needs to lose the duck and return to the ideals of the Pink Refrigerator--introspection, creative expression, and self-discovery.

View all my reviews >>

10 November 2009

Best Illustrated Books of the Year


Here we go--the award season is upon us now: the National Book Award finalists have been announced, the Cybil panelists are hard at work whittling down their lists of nominees, and the New York Times has announced it's Best Illustrated Children's Books for 2009. And there are some beuts among this year's list. Personal favorites: Only a Witch Can Fly, A Penguin Story, and the breathtaking The Lion and The Mouse. I'm also happy to see Shaun Tan get a nod for Tales from Suburbia, to highlight the fact that illustrated books are not just for kids, even if a non-adult audience is in mind.



06 November 2009

Cybils Nominee: In the Trees, Honey Bees


This informative picture book about honeybees manages to cover a lot of ground in an attractive, efficient manner (much like a bee!) The "story" is told in rhyming text perfect for reading aloud: Morning Light./ Warm and bright./ In the trees,/Honey bees! A block of text is at the bottom of most pages to supplement the rhymes and explain some of the action in the pictures. (This text is also concise enough and written at a level that most developing readers will be able to read it for themselves.) So, while "Lots of food./Nestling brood" might not include enough information for any inquisitive listeners, the explanation at the bottom of the page about how Nurse bees feed the larva more than 100,000 times will go a long way towards filling in the blanks.

The illustrations alternate between scenes of an idyllic countryside and the bustling, non-stop bee hive. For the squeamish (like me) who have a hard time with large amounts of insects concentrated in a small space, the illustrations are never overwhelming; there are just enough bees in the pictures to depict one of nature's most industrious and unflappable workers. There is a lot to admire about bees, and a thorough and well presented author's note at the end--"The Buzz About Honey Bees"--goes into further detail about beekeeping, which is not really covered in the body of the book. This supplemental information is not only interesting but helps to link honey bees and humans in a way that readers can appreciate. The book ends with a brief but current bibliography of text and electronic sources.

Because of the way information is presented for varying levels, In the Trees, Honey Bees will appeal to a broad range of readers. As a picture book, it combines bucolic visuals and a pleasant rhyme; as an informational book, it provides facts and details about a bee's life in the hive, as well as a brief study of beekeeping and sources for further reading. This is a fine example of how non-fiction can be presented to the PreS-Gr. 3 set so that it is fun and appealing.

05 November 2009

Rave Reviews: Lou Gehrig the Luckiest Man

I was once asked to consider which I would prefer: the candidate of my choice as President the United States, or the Red Sox to win the World Series. Without a moment's hesitancy I answered, "the Red Sox to win the World Series". I'm just putting that out there to let you know the mindset of the person writing this post.

Through the wonders of online social networking I have made friends with people who share my interests, as well as those that simply do not--but I like them anyway. And that includes Yankee fans. I avoid them in real life when I can, but through the relative anonymity of sites like Twitter, Facebook, and blip.fm, that piece of damaging information sort of snuck through after we had already become friendly.

So where am I going here? A few months back I wrote about Tintin in the Congo and censorship. As a librarian I have the power to put whichever books I deem fit on the shelves. And while some might self-censor books dealing with hot-button issues like race, same-sex marriage, or religion, the one area in which I am always the most tempted to judge a book as "not worthy" is on the topic of baseball. The little librarian devil that sits on my shoulder can point out a million reasons why I shouldn't put a Yankee book on the shelf, which then makes the little librarian angel on the other shoulder have to work extra hard to ensure that my professional duties are maintained and carried through. So, because I have stumbled into some Yankee friendships, and because I am simply not magnanimous enough to say "Congratulations," this is the best that I can offer them:
If I am ever in the challenging position of having to recommend a book to a Yankee fan, I always hand them David Adler's picture book biography, Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man. Some kids might know that he has a disease named after him (Lou Gehrig's Disease, officially known as amytrophic lateral sclerosis.) Most baseball fans are familiar with his record of playing in 2130 consecutive games--a record which spanned fourteen years and stood unchallenged until Cal Ripken, jr broke it in 1995. Some might have even heard soundbites of the speech he delivered at Yankee Stadium in 1939, in which he uttered the now iconic phrase "today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." But what this book does so well is show young readers how Gehrig's tenacity, consistency, and positive attitude came from a lifetime of trying to be the best human being he could. He never missed a day of grade school. He worked hard because he had watched his parents, poor immigrants to the United States, work hard themselves. When he could no longer play effectively, he benched himself and was happy enough simply to put on his ball uniform and bring the lineup cards to the umpires. When he left baseball he took on a job working with former prisoners with the New York City Parole Commission, in the hopes of inspiring and reforming troubled youth. Gehrig's No. 4 was the first uniform ever retired by a team.
Terry Widener's illustrations are warm and old-fashioned, representing a now distant past with a certain amount of nostalgic glow. It is a fitting style for a man who, in truth, seems like a saint, even without holding him up to the likes of many modern professional athletes who often come across as barely contained hooligans making as much money as they can. Adler's text is easy to read and keeps the story focused on Gehrig's modesty and character, his love of the game and his love of life. This is a book which not only serves as a fine introduction to one of the great figures of the game, but it is also a book which shows young readers how to be a hero through honesty, hard work, and gratitude. It is a book which should be read by Red Sox and Yankee fans alike.

03 November 2009

Cybils Nominee: My Japan


If young readers today know anything about Japan, I would speculate that their knowledge base consists of Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and Naruto. Possibly, if they are manga readers, they know that the Japanese read from right to left. And they might have heard of ninjas. But do they really have any idea just how different every-day life in Japan is from every-day life in the West? That even though children in Japan go to school, and like to shop, and go on vacations and play sports, that the details are simply different?

My Japan introduces readers to Yumi, a 7 year old girl living with her parents and younger brother in a Tokyo suburb. This is a bone-fide "informational" book. There is no narrative. The reader is given a look at the day to day activities and notable celebrations of a typical Japanese family. The first thing readers will learn is how compartmentalized everything is in Japan. Sometimes this compartmentalization is practical (separate rooms for men and women in the public baths,) sometimes it's functional (the picture of Yumi's mom getting dinner ready in the kitchen shows how every space is efficiently utilized for storage,) sometimes it's for uniformity (girls have red school bags, boys have black,) and sometimes it's just....here's that word again......different (there are no street names in Tokyo--only district names.) Readers will also learn that Japanese students clean--and by "clean" I mean scrub--their school every day. They will learn that Japanese bathrooms have two types of toilets: a Japanese and a Western variety, and neither one really works like the ones in America. They will learn that 3 and 7 year old children have their own holiday (Shichi-Go-San,) that every public bath (which is not for cleaning yourself, by the way) seems to have a painting of Mount Fuji in it, and that there are three different types of writing in Japan--two of which are presented at the back for ambitious readers to try and replicate.

Cultures are, of course, different from one another, which is what makes learning about them so much fun. But there is something unexpectedly unusual about My Japan, because on the surface, it doesn't look different at all. The cover of the book shows Yumi and her brother standing under a tree--just a couple of kids, like the audience at which the book is aimed. It's not until you start to read that you get the impression that the differences between Yumi's world and a Western child's world involve not just types of food or sleeping on a futon as opposed to a bed. They involve holidays evolved out of a feudal system of which we have nothing to compare. They involve knowing when and where to wear a kimono. They involve buying pet stag beetles at department stores (I somehow cannot imagine Macy's hopping on that bandwagon!) When you read this book you really get the impression of looking through the window at a foreign culture. If such an impression was made on an adult reader like myself, imagine the impact on the mind of child, curious and open to a different way of learning and living.

Yumi's seven year old life is rich with details to share and discover. And My Japan is nothing if not child-centric. The illustrations are full of smiling faces, toys and games, and easy to follow instructions for making paper chains and origami. While some pages are illustrated catalogs (thing's in the kitchen, things in the bathroom, necessities for school, to name a few,) others, like the the two page spread of an underground subway stop, are ripe with i-spy opportunities. And, just like the kitchen, every inch of the book is used efficiently: even the back cover provides a learning opportunity, with a map of Japan showing the five (of over 3000) largest islands which make up the country, as well as the 47 prefectures. This is a book to be revisited, because there is an amazing amount of information in here. It is compactly organized, cheerfully presented, and intriguingly different.

27 October 2009

Cybils Nominee: River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River


From the very first line of the book, "When I was growing up in Kentucky, I used to dream about New York, the great city on the Hudson that bore my name," author-illustrator Hudson Talbott establishes two facts: this book is personally special, and this book is about--and for--dreamers. This is also established on the front cover, where the book's title and author are easily seen and compared, but the opening page, with it's illustration of a young boy looking out a window and envisioning a New York City skyline made of stars, prepares readers for something magical.

The entire history of the Hudson River is condensed to 42 pages, which is no mean feat, considering the influence this single river has had on the economic, industrial and creative development of the United States, and New York City in particular. As Talbot tells it, explorers, colonists, merchants, entrepreneurs, writers, artists and environmentalists all drew inspiration--and sometimes wealth--from the river. In fact, sometimes this book reads as a non-fiction version of The Giving Tree, in which the Hudson River is a source which cannot help but provide for the needs of Americans near and far; in the winter, when the river freezes and prohibits boat traffic and its corresponding business, locals harvest the ice, providing seasonal work for farmers who then ship it to the iceboxes of the booming New York City. "It was great business, for the ice was free--a gift of the river." The dark side to this relationship is that when New York City needs a sewer, the Hudson River fulfills that need, too.

Fortunately, as beneficial dreams feed one into another--the creation of the Erie Canal is a direct link between George Washington, who envisioned it, and Governor Dewitt Clinton, who finished it--so do the bad dreams feed into the good. The abuse of the river by big business (in particular, a proposed hydroelectric pumping station by Con Edison in 1963) leads directly to the creation of the modern environmental movement and legislation which protects natural resources across the United States.

Talbot has written and illustrated a book which, quite appropriately, flows from one historical period to the next. The connections he makes link from the Ice Age to modern times. He uses the river as a visual motif as well; it weaves across the pages, dividing text into readable chunks. Dates are printed on the river so that the timeline is visible and fluid. Techniques such as a train breaking through a tranquil landscape dramatically illustrates the impact that modern industrialization would have on the future of the river. He incorporates stories of personal tragedy (Henry Hudson, for which the river is named, is the victim of a mutiny and set adrift in the icy Canadian waters never to be seen again) with the grand panorama of history. And at the end, there is the reminder of the boy who dreamed of a river linked to him by his name. Picturesque, lively, and ever flowing, River of Dreams is a book born of a child's dream, leading to inspiration and fulfillment, just as the Hudson River has done throughout history.

22 October 2009

Cybils Nominee: Nugget on the Flight Deck


Considering the fact that my father served on the USS Forrestal (CV59), I could not pass up the chance to review this book. My dad was not a pilot (he was a trumpeter in the ship's band,) and he didn't work on the flight deck, but he did sleep beneath it, a fact he was mighty proud of. So this book held immediate appeal for me.

And, sentiment aside, it will hold appeal for young readers, too. "Nugget" is service vernacular for a new aviator on his first tour of duty. In this case the nugget is a boy, standing in for every child who has ever wanted to pilot a fighter plane. He's dressed in his zoombag (flight suit) and ready for his hop (mission). Readers, along with the nugget, are walked through the preparation involved in getting ready for flight, and then the actual flight itself. The book is written in a conversational tone which introduces numerous air and nautical terms and slang, so no glossary is needed; terms are highlighted within the text and then explained in sidebars on each page, sometimes with illustrations.

One thing you realize if you have ever stood near an air craft carrier, is that it is massive (as tall as 24-story building, to be exact.) The picture book format is well suited to emphasize this fact, allowing for double page profiles of the ship (never identified, which is too bad.) In fact, the layout consists of double page spreads throughout. The reader gets a close-up look at on-deck preparation--it takes more than just the pilot and co-pilot to get a bird (in this case a F/A-18F) in the air--a panoramic in-flight refueling operation, a mock dogfight, a return to the carrier, complete with tilting horizon, and the precision involved in landing on the flight deck.

The book's palette is, not surprisingly, sky blue and steel grey. But there is a lot of color , too. As is explained at the end, there is a color-coded system to the uniforms worn by the various crew members on the deck. As in so much of military life, the ability to communicate through code is important on an aircraft carrier, and if a pilot sees purple, green and brown coats on the flight deck, he knows he is in good hands. A selection of Carrier Facts, the Aviator's Alphabet, and rather official looking sources round off this salute to the well-oiled machine that is an aircraft carrier flight crew.

Bravo zulu!

17 October 2009

I have it on good authority--give 'em more Rickman!

It sounds as if the folks down at Kidlitosphere 2009 are having a grand time. I've been following events on Twitter, via the #kidlitcon hashtag. And aside from some very useful discussion about the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) transparency rules, and how they will affect bloggers, I saw this nugget go by:

@gregpincus #kidlitcon to have a popular blog, put up pictures of dogs, cats, or Alan Rickman!

Now that's information that is unambiguous, and that I can use RIGHT NOW! So, weighing my options, and taking into account his recurring role in the Harry Potter film series, allow me to present you with this:
I will be manically checking my google analytics stats to see just how this gratuitous use of Alan Rickman has increased my blog readership!

13 October 2009

Horrid Henry Blog Tour


Following the success of this spring's initial Horrid Henry invasion (4 books, 16 stories of unrivaled mischief and bad behavior,) the elementary aged yobbo is back in Horrid Henry and the Scary Sitter and Horrid Henry's Underpants. Having already established that Horrid Henry is fairly irredeemable, author Francesca Simon and illustrator Tony Ross continue to play up Henry for all his comedic value. His parents continue to despair in the face of his behavior (although they get some sweet, if unintended, revenge in Horrid Henry Eats a Vegetable.) And little brother Perfect Peter is starting to develop as less perfect and more prim; he is not so perfect that he isn't above bickering with Horrid Henry and conniving to get his own way, as he does in Horrid Henry's Car Journey. But what readers want is Horrid Henry getting in and out of scrapes and providing a good laugh, and that is exactly what they get.

The stories fall into two categories: stories where Henry gets away with being just about the worst blighter imaginable, and stories where he gets his come-uppance. Kids will enjoy either variety. For me, the stand-out story from these two books is Horrid Henry's Thank You Letter. Nagged by his mother to write thank you letters for gifts he doesn't even like (as has already been witnessed in the underpants story,) Horrid Henry comes up with the brainstorm of starting a thank-you letter writing business. As has recently been seen in the "Wimpy Kid" books (remember the haunted house?), money making schemes in which the work ethic is less than ethical are doomed to failure. Not only are they doomed, but they are so spectacularly ill-advised that the reader has a hard time deciding what's funnier: watching the machinations as the plan is put into place, or awaiting the outcome. After a brisk uptake in customers, Henry's attempt to devise a suitable template for his "personal" thank you cards leads to:

"Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you/No Thank you for the

a) wonderful
b) horrible
c) disgusting

present. I really loved it/hated it. In fact, it is the best present/worst present I have ever received. I/ played with it/broke it/ate it/spent it/threw it in the garbage/ right away. Next time just send lots of money.

Best wishes/Worst wishes

You can imagine Henry's surprise and indignation when his unhappy customers are just about ready to tar and feather him after he's mailed out a bunch of those. And unfortunately for Henry, he sent the form letter as thanks for his own gifts, too.

Naughty children in literature, while perhaps a source of dismay for parents, have such obvious appeal for young readers. Like Rotten Ralph before him, who is endured--even adored--by the ever-patient Sara, there is never any threat that Horrid Henry's antics will lead to anything other than more opportunities to act out. And even when he comes up against someone as formidable as he is, such as Moody Margaret or Rabid Rebbecca, the scary sitter, the reader knows that Henry's vanquishing will be short lived and that he will soon be back in top, horrid form.

If you have want a chance to read a bit of Horrid Henry yourself, I have a copy of Horrid Henry and the Mummy's Curse (just in time for Halloween) to give away. This copy has been provided by Sourcebooks, the publishers of Horrid Henry in the United States. Just leave a comment and send an email to my profile, and you will be entered in the giveaway. The drawing will be held on 21 October 2009. Good luck!

08 October 2009

Book of the Week: Minifred Goes to School


It's always tough for me to resist a picture book with a cute kitten on the cover. And when said kitten is wearing a pink frilly dress and doing handstands and is written by Caldecott winning author-illustrator Mordicai Gerstein ...well of course I'm going to read it! There is a proud tradition of mischievous cats in picture books, with Rotten Ralph as the standard bearer, and Minifred slots in nicely. But is it really fair to call her mischievous? The evidence:

Minifred is found hidden in the seat cushion of the Portley's settee, a circumstance which is established on the credits page. The Portleys, who would like a baby, are more than happy to accept the kitten as a substitute, and they name her 'Minifred' after Mr. Portley's aunt (whom she evidently resembles.) They raise Minifred as their daughter. And where her naughty behavior might not be an issue while she is a "toddler," as she gets older it becomes less acceptable. She is told she must follow rules, which she proudly refuses to do. When she decides to go to school, she quite likes it, except for the rules. However, an odd loophole in the rule book allows Minifred to continue doing as she pleases and still follow the rules.

The key to enjoying this book, which comes across as rather odd after an initial reading, is to remember that Minifred is not little girl but a cat. Although she can dance and walk on her hind legs and wear dresses, for the purposes of the story she is not anthropomorphized. While the Portleys, who are always referred to as her parents, treat her like a little girl, she is a cat. And what do cats do? Whatever they please! Which brings me back to my original question: is she really naughty if she is simply being herself?

What I liked about this book is that there is no moral, no lesson (except perhaps the message that children need to be allowed to be children.) Minifred does not bend to the will of the human authority that dressed her in frilly clothes. Talk about trying to domesticate! Minifred's classmates think it's unfair that she does not follow the same rules they do, but young listeners and readers may very well cheer Minifred's success at bucking the system. She is what she is (a cat,) and while she will wear the clothes, and do her schoolwork, and be a child for a lonely couple, she will also chase bugs up walls, jump wherever she pleases and leap out of windows. As soon as everyone accepts that Minifred does what she likes, all will be well. That is an "inmate-ruling-the asylum" argument that might not sit well with adults of a.....shall we say....controlling nature. But I'm with Minifred on this one.

So you've already read Wimpy Kid......


.....and it's still not October 12th, when Dog Days is due for release. While you're waiting for every one's favorite junior high diarist, let me introduce you to Julian Rodriguez. Julian is one seriously put-upon eight year old. In his first book, Trash Crisis on Earth, he not only has to take a test on an empty stomach, but then he is asked to take out the trash. Invasion of the Relatives involves enduring a Thanksgiving meal with the extended family: two nanas, two cousins, all revolting. Julian's trials and tribulations are dutifully reported to the Mother Ship (yes--did I mention that Julian survives his families demands by imagining he is an intergalactic First Officer?) from whence comes advice and encouragement and a semblance of reason, much like a digital Jimminy Cricket. The motif of Julian parading as an alien sleeper on Earth is played to the comic hilt with plenty of techno-babble tossed in to emphasize how the fantasy plays out in Julian's mind. For instance, his description of a ball, for the benefit of the Mother Ship, with which he must play catch with his cousins:

"...this ORB, how it tortures me! It is nothing but a cheap synthetic polymer formed in the shape of a sphere or a pointed egg, but the mini-brains worship it as though it had magical powers."

Or Julian's description of a Thanksgiving dinner:

"During this particular festival, the living quarters are festooned with natural debris. Groups of genetically linked mini-brains from different localities are invited to come and feast on hideous local specialties."

When you're eight, you can get away with that!

The book combines graphic elements with blocks of text and the impression that the reader is interacting directly with the Mother Ship through black pages representing a computer screen. There is a note at the back of the book describing the different types of fonts used; a lot of effort went into the visual effect of the book, and it shows. Stadler's angular style gives Julian an edgy appearance, while on his family it looks almost grotesque. Julian would not have it any other way!

It is easy to imagine that Julian Rodriguez might grow up to be Greg Heffley; his eye is as observant, his wit as razor-sharp, and his sense of taking-on-the-world just as finely honed. May they one day cross paths, if only on your To Be Read list.

04 October 2009

Rave Review: Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware



I've been waiting for this book to be published for what seems an awfully long time. As an enthusiastic fan of both Whales on Stilts and The Clue of the Linoleum Leiderhosen, knowing this book was in the works was sweet torture. Now that it's here, and I've read it, I sort of don't know what to make of it. For starters, what started as "M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales" has become "Pals in Perils," which to my way of reading consciously shifts the focus of the series away from Lily (the only one of the gang who is "ordinary",) to Jasper himself, the one old-fashioned enough to actually use the word "pal" in his day to day conversation.

But let me backtrack, for those who have not been following this series. Lily Gefelty, Katie Mulligan, and Jasper Dash are three friends who have shared an inordinate amount of crazy adventures. While Katie and Jasper are both stars of their own series of pulp adventure books (which allows author Anderson untold opportunity to lovingly poke fun at the genre,) Lily is just an ordinary girl distinguished mainly by floppy bangs and undying faith in her two friends. After fighting off an aquatic invasion in "Whales," and solving a mystery at a resort visited by other action series characters in "Leiderhosen," Lily, Katie, and Jasper investigate an art theft and the possible endangerment of a group of monks in "Flame Pits".

That's the straightforward plot summary. What it fails to relate is the sheer Sternsian ambition of this book. By focusing the story on Jasper Dash, star of a series that one suspects not many people are reading anymore, and the one character who even within this strange set-up has always seemed out of place, with his arcane expletives ("Saturn's rings!",) endorsement of a vile energy drink (Gargletine,) and technology worthy of Tom Swift, the absurdities to which Anderson can take this story are infinite. For starters, there is his description of Delaware as a mysterious land, which sounds more like Nepal than a Mid-Atlantic American state, although he manages to combine the two profiles with throw-away lines like:

"For one hundred years, Delaware has been cut off from the other states, isolated completely as a result of its overpriced and prohibitive interstate highway tolls. For one hundred years, almost no one has gone in or come out. Only the bravest of explorers have penetrated this exotic land."

Aside from playing with reality within the story--a reality which the characters themselves try to maintain (Katie is indignant at the suggestion of mountain ranges or dinosaurs in Delaware)--Anderson takes liberty with the format of the text, writing downwards to describe a great fall, or inserting pages from the seminal tourist book about Delaware: The There and Back Again Guide to Greater Delaware, which assures you, among other things, that any intrepid visitor will "catch very few of Delaware's disfiguring diseases." And always there is the narrator, who is not so much omniscient as chatty, sometimes diverting attention away from the action of the story with a self-conscious air of mischief and tongue so firmly lodged in cheek that it may never come out again. These playful stylistic touches made me think of experimental literature like Tristram Shandy or If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, where the act of reading the story is part of the story itself.

Allusions, of course, which will go flying straight over the heads of the 8 to 12 audience which this book is targeting. So where is the appeal? The appeal is in a mysterious original colony which is strangely lacking in vowels; or a vendor who chases our heroes for three days over a 15 cents debt; or a Stare-Eyes competition team with a coach who sounds like a sadistic hockey dad (or just the thought of a Stare-Eyes competition at all!) The appeal is in every crazy detail that Anderson crams into this smart, oh-so-clever book. While at times I thought the descriptions of the impossibly strange indigenous creatures of Delaware went on a bit too long, and the bickering between Jasper and Katie was sometimes more dull than droll, there is plenty of goofy fun and laugh-out loud moments (the face-off between the pacifist monks and the cliche-spouting Jersey gangsters is not to be missed) to carry the story. And the ending, where the ultra-square Jasper is heralded by Lily and Katie, is surprisingly touching. The moment doesn't last long, but it is a reminder that smart humor is never gratuitous. And M.T. Anderson has shown himself to be at his smartest when he is at his strangest.

02 October 2009

Cybils: Non-Fiction Picture Books


Last year was my first with the Cybils, and I had the pleasure of serving on the Easy Reader Panel. This year it is my privilege to work with another great group of bloggers on the 2009 Non-Fiction Picture Book panel. I've started paying more attention to non-fiction picture books because of the fact that my daughter enjoys reading them so much. And as authors make more use of the picture book to get informational books into the hands of kids, there's a fantastic array of subjects covered by this kid-friendly format. After only one day of nominations there is already a stellar group of books to read and from which to pick the finalists. You can see that ever growing list here (and if you have a favorite title that isn't already on the list be sure to nominate it!) And be sure to check out the blogs of the other members of the Non-Fiction Picture Book Panel:

Panel Organizer: Jone MacCulloch, Check It Out

Panelists (Round I Judges):
Bill and Karen, Literate Lives
Amanda Goldfuss, ACPL Mock Sibert
Jone Rush MacCulloch (see panel organizer)
Debbie Nance, Readerbuzz
Franki Sibberson, A Year of Reading
Carol Wilcox, Carol's Corner

Round II Judges:
J.L. Bell, Oz and Ends
Shirley Smith Duke, SimplyScience
Roberta Gibson, Wrapped in Foil
Emily Mitchell, Emily Reads
Carol Hampton Rasco, Rasco from RIF

01 October 2009

Winnie the Pooh gets an update


Okay, I'll admit it: I'm not a huge fan of Pooh. I kind of like Piglet, and Eeyore is sort of amusing, but when I tried to read the original Pooh books on my own as a child, there was no connection. Perhaps I've been stunted as a person, but there you have it.

All the same, I found myself peeved and protective when I read on the BBC website that a new character, Lottie the Otter, has been created for the first "original" Pooh story since Milne stopped writing them himself. I'm pretty sure I understand why the creation of a new character was deemed necessary, why these "timeless and beloved characters" couldn't be trusted to pull in new audiences on their own. Like the sudden increase in girly trains in the Sodor Roundhouse, marketers (may I blame marketers here?) and creative controllers of these established franchises need those new audiences, otherwise why bother? They probably want to be seen as updaters, too, and updating means inserting female characters were there weren't any. As I try and think back to the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, the only girl character I can remember is Kanga, and she was pretty much resigned to wearing an apron and hopping after Roo. Admittedly not much of a modern character for today's little princesses.

So how does Lottie stack up? Well, according to the article she is described as "feisty," which makes sense; why go through the bother of creating a new character and then have her be sedate? She likes cricket. What ho! and all that. She is a stickler for etiquette. Okay......no mommy issues there, right? But, so we absolutely, positively know she's the new girl character, she's wearing pearls. Now, perhaps my perspective is a bit colored at the moment because I am reading Packaging Girlhood, in which the authors berate the trend of accessorizing young girls at every turn--usually with a handbag, although that just would not be practical at all when trying to hit a googly. Or perhaps it's because I attended a Southern women's college, at which the running joke--certainly among us hip artistic types--was that it was the place where pearls went with everything: jeans, sweats, shorts--everything. Whatever--the pearls really annoy me.

What it comes down to, at least for me, is this: if the original product wasn't good enough on its own, leave it to the original fans to love as it was. Pooh's devotees will have the requisite passion and enthusiasm to introduce the books to new audiences without the aid of faux modern girl characters. Lottie the Otter, even in the eyes of this non-Pooh fan, you've got some big shoes to fill if you want to claim your place in the Hundred Acre Wood.

30 September 2009

Are you ready for the Cybils?


Somewhere between the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards and the John Newbery Medal sits the Cybils. Now in its fourth year, the Cybils, or Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literacy Awards, aims to provide a service where popular meets literary. Any book published in English within the contest year is eligible, and any on-line reader/frequenter/passerby can nominate a book within a range of categories. Once nominations close, a group of panelists, selected from volunteers within the children's and YA blogging community, will read the books, discuss the blooks, blog about the books, and finally present the nominees which will then be read, discussed, and blogged by a group of judges. The entire process is transparent, with updates and progress provided on blogs. You can even follow them on Twitter. The final, triumphant results are announced in February. Last year's winners are here.

Nominations for this year's Cybils Awards open tomorrow, October 1, and will remain open until the 15th. If you have a favorite childrens or YA title, be sure to head on over to the Cybils website, read the nomination rules, and fire away. This is the one literary award where anyone who loves books for kids can be a part of the process.

26 September 2009

Can Lunch Lady meet these requirements?


Not to go on about it, but for anyone who might have wondered just what a professional librarian is supposed to be able to do, and why it's not just about loving books, the Association for Library Service to Children has updated their competency requirements. School Library Journal reported about the update earlier this week. Librarians serving children should be up to snuff on everything from Babar to Web 2.0.

I read this with interest, because just this morning I was thinking about the reasons I became a librarian in the first place. And in looking back on my decision, it was never about the books. It was never about being helpful, although there is an undeniable rush when I am able to connect a patron to exactly what they want. It's all about the information. I wanted a job where I could ferret around and learn stuff. And in that regard, librarianship has pretty much lived up to that criteria. Just this morning I learned, along with a patron, about making vegetarian smoothies. I'm pretty sure I'll never make one, but I now know where to look if I want to (Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko.) The reason I find book banning and challenges so troublesome is that they stop the flow of the information; the continuing process of daily learning, even if what you learn is not something you will personally adopt or absorb. In a world where everyone has an opinion, it's important to have a place where people--and more specifically, kids--can access information without being judged or questioned. It's a responsibility I take seriously.

So that's why I wanted to be a librarian, but to actually perform as a well-rounded professional, there's a whole bunch of other stuff I have to be able to do, from attending workshops to enduring an irate patron who is giving her local public servant a piece of her mind (I had that pleasure earlier this week.) And the ALSC has most kindly indentified all those necessary skills and put them in a handy document to remind me, and inform non-librarians, of just what it is I need to do. So if I get a little tetchy because it is suggested that anyone who is kid-savey and kind can be a librarian, just remember that my job is more than stacking bestsellers on a shelf.

23 September 2009

An Open Letter to Dan Gutman


Dear Mr. Gutman,

As I sit here, with the sun setting on the 2009 baseball season, hanging around and waiting for the Red Sox to clinch a postseason berth (magic number currently stands at 6,) my mind is wandering (it's not a very interesting game.) I have been following the adventures of Joe Stoshack since Honus, straight through to Ray, with various degrees of interest. I keep coming back to the series because: 1) I love baseball and 2) I love time travel stories. So what I want to know is this--when will we be able to read Ted and Me?

Seriously, I think Stosh needs to have an adventure with The Splended Splinter, The Kid, The Greatest Hitter Ever (er....evah!) He needs to meet the player who holds one of the few untouchable records left standing in this post-steroid error. He needs to meet a man who was willing to interrupt his Hall of Fame career not once, but twice, in order to serve his country. More importantly Stosh needs to meet a Red Sox player! He needs to visit that lyric little bandbox known as Fenway Park and stand in the shadow of the Green Monster. He simply hasn't lived as a baseball fan otherwise.

One of the things I admire about your series is how you always attempt to represent the ballplayers honestly, warts and all. I challenge you to find a subject as marvelously flawed and complex as Ted Williams. (You could probably sneak in a fly-fishing scene too, if you were so inclined.) If you are looking for larger than life, they don't get much larger than Teddy Ballgame.

Fenway Park will be celebrating it's 100th birthday in 2012. If you start writing now, you could have Ted and Me ready in time!

I'm looking forward to Roberto.

Cheers,
Kara

Elephants Cannot Dance. Says who?


Both Elephant and Piggie can dance in this cute promotional game. This is the sort of time waster that is allowed childrens librarians, because it is work related (wink, wink.) I like the Funky Trunky.

20 September 2009

Rave Review: Lunch Lady


Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The Punk Farm author and illustrator has created a silly and highly appealing superhero for young graphic novel readers. Each volume starts with a crime, foiled by a masked (and rubber-gloved) crusader who is none other than our intrepid heroine. The first volume, which involves a plot to replace all the teachers at school with cyborgs so that the kids will elect one particular teacher Most Popular, introduces the central characters: Lunch Lady, who is serving justice and serving lunch; Betty, who is also a lunch lady and fills the role of Q, devising new gadgets for Lunch Lady in the bowels of the Boiler Room (which can be secretly accessed through an entrance hidden behind the refrigerator;) The Breakfast Bunch--Hector, Terrance, and Dee Dee--a study group-cum-band of buddies who discover Lunch Lady's double life and try to help her, although as the series is continuing their assistance is actively discouraged by Lunch Lady; and Milmoe, the school bully who continuously picks on the Breakfast Bunch, although Dee Dee stands up to him on a number of occasions, while her more timid friends try to avoid trouble at all costs.

The humor in the books is both textual and visual. Lunch Lady often uses types of food as exclamations ("Sweet Potatoes!") and phrases like, "I'm on him like cheese on macaroni!" Images of Lunch Lady sneaking about like a ninja or delivering high-flying kicks while swinging fish-stick nun chucks and hurling chicken nugget bombs, have high goof-appeal. Some of Lunch Lady's other cool gadgets include a Spatu-copter, a Lunch Tray Laptop, Taco-Vision Night Goggles, and a Bananarang. The only color used is a hue of rubber-glove yellow, which is sometimes used in the background, in the action lines, or to accent Lunch Lady's costume.

My only complaint with the books, and this is a clear indication of my bias and bruised ego, is the use of evil librarians in Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. The plot revolves around a coalition between the school and public librarians to destroy all copies of a new video game which is due to be released. Their plans are discovered by both the Breakfast Bunch and Lunch Lady who work separately to foil the librarians (who, by the way, had some nifty high-tech of their own. They would counter any attacks with, of course, books, that could project laser images of central characters. Thus, the "Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" attack projected a laser Aslan.) The librarians are not just out of touch in terms of their attitudes towards video games, but they are grumpy and belligerent towards their patrons. Dee Dee, who is an avid reader, seams to be one despite the librarians. At the end of the book, when Lunch Lady sets up the sort of reading/gaming program available at many libraries today, and the principal asks her if she would like to be the new school librarian--well! That's just beyond the pale. Because anyone can be a librarian, right, MLS not withstanding. It's a shame that librarians, a group still subject to unflattering stereotypes, were not at all redeeming (one of them spat out, "I prefer media specialist" in a most uncivil manner.) Here's hoping that in future books, a more positive librarian makes an appearance as a replacement for this band of criminals.

But, as I said, that is my only complaint. This is a fun series that will appeal to reluctant readers and fans of graphic novels equally. I look forward to the further adventures of Lunch Lady.

15 September 2009

Rave Review: Stitches




I was not originally going to write a review of this book (and whether this post proves to be a critique or a rambling observation still remains to be seen,) but, having just put it down, I wanted to say something about it. I could have quickly tweeted--"Just read 'Stitches' by David Small. Wow!"--and anyone interested who saw the tweet would have no doubt commented. But that didn't seem fair treatment to this unusual autobiography. 'Unusual' is really an understatement; "harrowing', 'dark', 'grizzly', 'bleak' might be more accurate descriptors. But I want to keep a book which is so reliant on the use of images from becoming bogged down with words. Also, anyone who is familiar with the bigger picture knows that David Small grew up to become a Caldecott Medal winner, married a fellow writer, wrote and illustrated the playful Imogene's Antlers, and--most importantly--survived the story within the pages of Stitches. His is ultimately a story of triumph! And yet.....well.....let's just say, thank goodness for catharsis.

Small starts his story when he is six, an age when the intense emotional repression in his family has become evident. He talks about the language used by his family; his father pummels a boxing bag, his mother slams doors, and his brother thrashes away at a drum kit. David's language is not art, as the reader would be forgiven for assuming, but illness. There is not much that David can do about it, but he is chronically ill. He is born with a sinus ailment, and his father's attempts to treat the respiratory problems with radiation will result in David developing cancer. And yet, ghastly as this is, the story that Small tells up to this point is unimaginable enough. He tells about his mother, born with her heart on the wrong side of her chest, which becomes a tragic allegory for her inability to communicate; he tells of vacations spent with a grandmother who's taciturn nature masks increasing insanity; and always there is the presence of an inexplicable, unfathomable rage which courses through the family.

And yet, as I read this book, I was struck by the fact that I could not hate these warped, disturbed people who raised David Small. This is a testament to his storytelling craft as well as the images he creates; his mother, for instance, is often portrayed with opaque, flashing glasses which prevent us from seeing her eyes. It is as if he is acknowledging that there was more going on than any child could understand. When I read Small's brief note at the end, in which he says that "maturity, reflection, and some family research" has led him to a new understanding of his mother, I felt vindicated as a judge of character. However, Small makes it quite clear that his parents damaged him immensely, and he judges them appropriately.

And, as mentioned, there is the big picture. In a recent issue of Publisher's Weekly, Small wrote a three page article about why he writes. That article, like this book, is presented graphically. He represents himself as Frankenstein, a monster made monstrous through no fault of his own. In that article he explains how the writing of Stitches has helped him feel much better, though he is Frankenstein still. And while the book does not end happily, it does end--which means that there is a survivor to tell the story. Small has illustrated picture books which have been at times exuberant (When Dinosaurs Came with Everything,) reflective (The Friend,) and celebratory (The Library.) As readers we do not always get the full story behind the creators of the books we love. With Stitches we are treated (if that could possibly be the correct word in this context) to a level of revelation beyond what most readers could imagine. Read this book, and marvel.

07 September 2009

"Last Newspaper Boy in America" book trailer and contest

Love the old-school announcer on the trailer!

06 September 2009

Book of the Week: My Uncle Emily


Here is a delicate treasure of a picture book. It's an enlightening vignette from the life of poet Emily Dickinson. Part fact, part fiction, the book details the tender relationship between young Thomas Glibert "Gib" Dickinson and his aunt. There's is a relationship of shared joys; gardens, black cake, and poetry. Uncle Emily says that poets "light lamps", and although Gib does not always understand what her poems mean, the questions which they raise in him do, indeed, light lamps for his young mind. When Uncle Emily sends him to school with a poem for her teacher, Gib's protective affection for his unique aunt gets him involved in a school yard fracas. Gib tries to hide the incident from Uncle Emily, fearing that it will upset her kind soul to know that he got in trouble on her account. But she knows him too well, and uses one of her own poems to light a lamp for Gib, so that he may find his way to tell the truth.

In many ways, this book is slightly inscrutable like a poem, yet lights a lamp all the same. The reader is plopped in the midst of Dickinson's life with little explanation of her place in literary history and almost no biographical details except for what relates to Gib. It must stand on its own, which it does superbly. It is a great read-aloud, with text that reads smoothly, even when incorporating old-fashion terminology like "peculiar old maid." NMD was fascinated by a double spread illustration of the miscreants stood in separate corners, dunce caps on their head, which seemed much more arcane than an aunt who was called "Uncle" as a family joke and always dressed in white. Nancy Carpenter's illustrations are reminiscent of the work of Barbara McClintock, evoking a distant time with authentic detail which always seems pretty even when portraying dissent. Yolen mentions in an author's note that the poem for the teacher is factual, while the fight between Gib and a taunting classmate is fictional. In that author's note she also mentions that young Gib died at the age of eight. Such a conclusion adds an air of melancholy and mortality that Emily Dickinson would--and did--make note of. This is a lovely book which will evoke interest in a sensitive, compelling poet, who always noticed the little details that other grown-ups missed.

04 September 2009

Rave Review: The Last Newspaper Boy in America

Before I start my review, I have two confessions. Confession No. 1: I know author Sue Corbett. Confession No. 2: I read all my newspapers on-line. Therefore, I am no doubt contributing to the demise of the printed press. However, it is not so much the death of the newspaper industry which is at the heart of this clever, engaging, and timely story. Rather, this is the story of Steele PA, a town that is dying and finds its fight for survival in the hands of one strong-willed paper boy. This is also the story of how a town is more than the sum of its parts. And, this is a story about paper clips.

The protagonist of the book is Wil David, a 12 year old boy who's family is at the heart of Steele; his great-grandfather founded the town when he invented a special type of hairpin and then built a factory to manufacture it at the start of the 20th century. Wil's family has also been responsible for delivering The Cooper County Caller to the good folks of Steele, a job which in itself has outlasted the hairpin factory. That is, until the publishers of The Caller feel that Steele is no longer a viable market and decides to cease delivery there. When Wil, who has no sooner taken over the job of paper boy from his elder brother Sonny, learns that he is soon to be unemployed, he takes it upon himself to reverse the decision. He's not called Wil of Steele for nothing. What starts as a campaign to save his job snowballs into a larger mission as Wil becomes caught up in the mystery of a fairground game laced with scandal, and the townsfolk try to decide what to do with the defunct hairpin factory.

The topic of dying towns has been covered before in children's literature--I think of Andrew Clements' Room One (2006,) for instance, where the inhabitants are faced with the prospect of busing their children far afield when keeping them in the one-room school house seems no longer viable. As in that book, a clever, observant boy helps to set up the solution. Because Wil himself is so focused on how the closure of the paper route will affect his own fortunes (he has plans to save for a laptop,) the enormity of the situation is not evident until about the middle of the book. As the bigger picture starts to take shape, Wil's plan to save not just his route, but Steele itself, becomes bolder.

This is one of those satisfying books where all the loose ends are tied up in a most pleasing manner. Wil is a big-hearted, believable character, surrounded by a supporting cast who, while not as clever or focused as he is, compliment him with strengths of their own. This is also a story told over various mediums: e-mail, fax, letter, even a school report, are used to move the narrative. And, of course, there are the newspapers--flung on porches each morning, consulted for jobs and news, making as well as bearing headlines. How Will galvanizes the people of Steele, propelling the action to is natural conclusion, is a feel-good story worthy of any publication.

20 August 2009

Rave Review: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney


My list for 2010 Caldecott nominations starts right here! Jerry Pinkney has illustrated some beautiful picture books over the course of his long, distinguished career, but with this retelling of the famous Aesop fable, he has really raised the bar and created a stunning piece of art. Even the physical book itself exudes craftsmanship as the slightly thicker paper used gives the book a feeling of quality and distinction. Pinkney's decision to tell the story wordlessly is a natural choice; the original required minimal text to tell how the one kind deed from a creature in power is his ultimate salvation. Pinkney also reveals a back story, in where family is the focus, that strengthens the poignancy and immediacy of the original fable. This is a book where the story literally runs from cover to cover--starting with the mighty, almost imposing image of the lion on the front, and ending with the less imposing yet equally magnificent portrait of the mouse of the back. Read it and be wowed by the beauty of the illustrations, the directness of the interpretation, and the wisdom of the composition.

19 August 2009

Tintin in the Congo causing trouble again


The National Coalition Against Censorship blogs today about the decision by the Brooklyn Public Library to remove Tintin in the Congo from its circulating collection. They will still keep the book, but it will now be housed in a special collection. This is basically the age-old compromise for librarians when faced with material of a "difficult" (i.e. controversial) nature: make the book available, just make it difficult to find. Although most librarians probably consider themselves as protectors of intellectual freedom (I know I do) and like to think that they would fight to the death to allow readers access to a book--any book!--(fortunately I've not yet been asked to do so,) it is probably fair to say that most librarians also choose their battles. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank, even the Harry Potter books, have cache, and it is easy to imagine most librarians standing up for these classics. But Tintin in the Congo has had a hard time finding defenders. I blogged about this issue in 2007 when Little Brown made the decision not to republish the book in the United States, despite the fact that the entire Tintin collection was at the time being reissued as a box set. And not having read the book myself (how can I? It is not easy to locate in this country,) I cannot comment on its historical or literary value. In the case of Tintin the Congo, I now have the feeling of collusion between publishers and libraries who have effectively between them made this book unavailable to anyone, buyers or borrowers. That is neither honest nor good.

14 August 2009

And in the "life is sweet" category......


.....after opening his magic pink refrigerator, and visiting New York and Paris, Dodsworth arrives in London in November. I have just this to say--please come to Boston!

Picture Books with Promise


Okay, when I saw the title of this book in the Publisher's Weekly Fall Children's preview I got excited because I had images of cockney wide-boys dancing in my head. One look at the cover has disabused me of that notion, and a visit to Urban Dictionary has enlightened me to the fact that "geezer" is a term used in the US as well as the UK, although the connotation is completely different. I guess I've watched too many episodes of "The Fast Show"to think of a geezer as a crotchety grandpa. That being said, "geezer" is still one of my all-time favorite words, and so as long as this story bears little to no resemblance to The Shivers in the Fridge (creepiest. children's. book. EVAH), this book just might live up to the promise of its title.

12 August 2009

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You Meme

Hook by Ed Youg
How Robin Saved Spring
by Debbie Ouellet, illus. by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Here are a couple of visually striking picture books which touched NMD and I differently. I'll start with Ed Young's Hook, which is an Ugly Duckling tale of sorts. It tells the story of an eaglet which is raised by chickens after his abandoned egg is mistakenly given into their care. It becomes clear to the chickens that Hook is not meant for Earth, and they enlist the aid of a Native American boy to help Hook find his wings. The narrative is told in short, economical sentences which say just enough to move the story along. The illustrations have a sketchy, almost hurried look to them, and like the text seem to portray so much with so little detail. It's a completely different style from what Young used in last year's Wabi Sabi, which was a complex story richly illustrated. I loved this one. It reminded me of Molly Bang's Goose.

How Robin Saved Spring is a great example of judging a book by it's cover. It's hard to resist such a beautifuly delicate image. Nicoletta Ceccoli's illustrations have an other-worldly quality about them which support this original fairy tale quite well. The story tells of Lady Winter and Sister Spring who take turns rising and sleeping over the course of a year. One year, Lady Winter decides that she would like the world to be in winter all year. So she makes a magic blanket which keeps Sister Spring asleep past her regular time. If you can get past this slightly evil premise--sleep and death are too closely associated here for my comfort--then you will enjoy the attempts of various animals to wake up Sister Spring and the punishments which Lady Winter bestows upon them. It takes clever little Robin to save the day, as the title implies. In a perfect example that adults are overly squeamish, NMD liked this very much and felt that Lady Winter was simply "mean". No hidden undertones for her!

Don't forget to visit The Well-Read Child, which is hosting this meme.

06 August 2009

You read to me, I'll read to you Meme

This week NMD and I have combined older titles with newer. While she makes her way through Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater, I have been on picture book duty. Here's the current list, some of which I have already commented on.

I read to NMD:
1000 Times No, as told by Mr. Warburton
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Funny Farm by Mark Teague
Grumpy Grandpa by Heather Henson, illus. by Ross McDonald
Marley Goes to School by John Grogan, illus. by Richard Cowdrey
One by Kathryn Otoshi
Sea of Tranquility by Mark Haddon, illus. by Christian Birmingham
Sir Cumference and All the King's Tens by Cindy Neuschwander, illus. by Wayne Geehan
Snoring Beauty by Bruce Hale, illus. by Howard Fine
Vunce Upon a Time by J. Otto Seibold and Siobhan Vivian

This week's highlights include Sea of Tranquility, which is a personal favorite. If you think you've heard the author's name before, well you probably have. Before Mark Haddon became internationally famous for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, he wrote this gentle, fond picture book about his own love affair with the moon. The book has been re-released for the fortieth anniversary of the lunar landings as Footprints on the Moon.

No surprise that NMD liked 1000 Times No--she is eight after all! It is an amusing and straightforward story of a toddler who wants to make himself absolutely understood by declaring "no" not once, not twice, but 1000 times in 1000 different ways. Fun to pore over with your own strong-willed child.

This weeks' most interesting concept book is Kathryn Otoshi's One. It is essentially an anti-bullying story. But the way that she combines colors and numbers--everyday teaching tools for young children--with word play for the grown-up reader is a novel approach to a subject which is not always successfully tackled.
Don't forget to visit The Well-Read Child, which is hosting this meme.

05 August 2009

Reading Radar--what's new for the fall

I've just spent a thoroughly pleasant hour or so perusing a new Scholastic catalog, and I have discovered that a lot of my favorite series have new books coming out in September and October! I will be making space on my To Read Pile for:


Julian Rodriguez: Invasion of the Relatives by Alexander Stadler
It's been a long wait for this sequel to Trash Crisis on Earth

Marsupials by Nic Bishop
After Spiders and Moths & Butterflies I'm really hoping that Mr. Bishop sticks with mammals for awhile!

Dog and Bear: 3 to Get Ready by Laura Seeger
And the third book in the series. Dog and Bear: Two's Company, the sophomore offering in this series, was not as strong as the debut. Here is hoping for a return to form for Dog and Bear.

Squire's Quest by Gerald Morris
Very Happy for this return to the Squire's Tales after a few offerings from the Knights' Tales for younger readers.

Happy Birthday Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
You can never have too much Bad Kitty!

How do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
The same way they get well soon, go to bed, and go to school--with much good humor.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans by Cynthia Rylant
I love how Rylant and illustrator Arthur Howard have made the quiet life of this Octogenarian and his cat so appealing. In our house, the high octane Henry and Mudge too a distant back seat to Mr. Putter and Tabby.

I Spy Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
Fly Guy's popularity simply grows and grows in my library, and considering the frequency with which books in this series are being released, I would guess that we are indicative of a wider trend.


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