21 December 2011

Kiddie lit here, there, and everywhere

While on holiday, I've found some kiddie lit references in unusual places. I've come across Snowman toilet paper, Miffy and Mr. Men Kleenex, and Very Hungry Caterpillar cake. Fun!

15 November 2011

Author Interview: Krista Russell

New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1851

With the establishment of time and place, Krista Russell sets the stage for her debut novel, Chasing the Nightbird. This historical adventure for middle grade readers (or anyone with an interest in the history of whaling) tells the story of Lucky Valera, a fourteen year old boy who has grown up at sea, working on whaling ships with his father. After his father's death, Lucky plans to continue working as a whaler, until the appearance of an unknown step-brother, Fernando Fortuna.

A landlubber through and through, Fortuna forces Lucky into a sort of endentured servitude to pay off a debt owed him by their father. Lucky has no intention of working for his brother, particularly when he finds himself laboring in a textile mill, and is constantly scheming to get back out to sea and reconnect with the Nightbird. But encounters with Emmeline, a Quaker girl involved in the Abolitionist movement, and a fugitive slave named Daniel, force Lucky to change his plans.

As a Cape Verdean, Lucky suddenly finds himself at risk of losing his physical freedom--not simply his economic freedom--when slave catchers come to New Bedford to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Having always lived as a free citizen, Lucky does not identify himself with Daniel (although there is a lovely moment when Daniel sings The Drinking Gourd and Lucky mentions that sailors navigate by the Big Dipper as well.) Lucky might wish nothing more than to return to sea, but fate and circumstances conspire against him.


Not Just For Kids: I have to start by saying how much I love the lyricism of the book's title. Did you come up with it or was it a collaboration between you and your editor? Other than the image which it creates in my mind of pursuing an actual bird (which of course isn't what the book is about, despite the ubiquitous Delph,) so much of the story is about pursuit: Daniel pursing freedom, Lucky pursuing freedom, Emmeline pursuing social justice, the slave catchers pursuing runaway slaves, Fortuna pursuing wealth, and Lucky's initial desire to actually track down and catch-up with the Nightbird. Was that a theme that you were consciously developing as you wrote the story? How did the story change from what you originally set out to write (if it changed at all?)

Krista Russell
Krista Russell: I love the title, too! I wish I could take credit for it, but it came from Jessica Alexander, my brilliant editor at Peachtree. The original title was A Following Sea, but the marketing folks at Peachtree thought it sounded too adult (on reflection, I had to agree). I tried for weeks to come up with a good alternative, but nothing sounded right. As soon as Jessica suggested Chasing the Nightbird, I knew she’d found the book’s title.

I’m not sure I was conscious of the theme of pursuit until Jessica suggested the title. I added the line where Emmeline says “Keep chasing your precious Nightbird. And good riddance!” (along with other references to the ship and where she’d be) at that time.

NJFK: Having grown up in the Boston area, I really identified with Lucky's connection to the sea. I loved the bit at the beginning, during his first day in the mill, when Lucky is trying to center himself by finding the harbor, and his distress at being so land-locked within the walls of the mill. I lived for six years in England, and 4 1/2 of those years were spent in Derby. You are probably not familiar with Derby, but it is in the Midlands, smack in the middle--about as far from the sea as you can get. That's unfortunate when you think that England is an island! Having never lived more than twenty minutes from the shore my entire life, it was an adjustment.

KR: I grew up in MA and in Kennebunkport, ME and I sooo identify with the land-locked feeling. Atlanta’s fatal flaw is that it’s a 4 hour drive from the beach :). We have lovely lakes nearby, but it’s not the same, is it?   

 NJFK: I was unaware of New Bedford's mill history (I always think of Lowell when thinking of mills.) I like how you represented the two cultures in the town: whaling culture and mill culture. While they are not necessarily in conflict with each other, as a reader I got the impression that they were rival businesses competing for the economic heart of the city. Is this true? And that clash of culture comes through in other aspects of the story; Lucky certainly looks down on "land-lubbers" at the start, and Fortuna has turned his back on the sea and the life of their father. And then there is Brisco [the mill manager] who repeatedly refers to Lucky as lazy and incompetent simply because he can't keep up with the more experienced spinners. How much research did you have to do into the two industries?

KR: I found the contrast between the whaling and textile industries really interesting and enjoyed researching both. What happened in New Bedford reflected what was happening in the US (more so in northern states) during the Industrial Revolution. The mills came to New Bedford during the golden age of whaling, but grew as whaling began to wane – finally becoming the engine driving the city’s economy.

Just as New Bedford’s identity had begun to change, our country was facing an identity crisis – illustrated by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. I was interested in this theme, and how our beliefs, experiences, and the groups we belong to shape our identities. 

NJFK: Did Quakers settle in New Bedford because the city was tolerant, or did New Bedford become a tolerant place because of the presence of the Quakers?

KR: Great question! Some of the founding families of New Bedford were Quaker, and more came over from Nantucket (where whaling had started) after a fire in 1846 destroyed Nantucket’s commercial district and sandbars made it hard for the increasingly larger whaleships to dock.

I had attributed New Bedford’s prominence in the abolitionist movement and its reputation as a safe haven for runaway slaves (who made up a higher percentage of the population than in New York or Boston) to Quakerism. But I found that the whaling industry and the whalemen themselves also played an important role.

I was fascinated that men who lived by the whalemen’s commandments (tongue-in-cheek though they may have been) were also active in the abolitionist movement. Although many captains and ship owners were Quaker (hard to picture them embracing the whalemen's commandments) the average sailor was not. A whaleship formed its own society (understandable given that the average whaling voyage was over 3 years) and in many ways a more egalitarian one. The work was so dangerous and the crew so dependent on one another for survival, that judgments tended to be made based on ability rather than skin color. It seemed to me that when prejudice existed it tended to be green hand (landlubber) vs. experienced sailor. Have you ever seen the show Deadliest Catch? The same dynamic exists today.

NJFK: How much research did you have to do into sailor suspicions? They are so ingrained in Lucky's philosophy. And what about the whalemen's commandments? What is their source?

KR: I did a good bit of research on sailor’s superstitions – mainly because I was intrigued by how suspicious they are (I love that a black cat is good luck to a sailor). But also because I was trying to get a feel for the world and worldview of a whaleman. The whalemen’s commandments came from Black Hands, White Sails, an amazing book about the history of African-American whalers by Patricia C. and Frederick L. McKissack. I’d been struggling with building a compelling main character, and as soon as I read the commandments I knew I’d found Lucky.


Readers, you should go and find Lucky, too. Chasing the Nightbird is a satisfying read with strong characters and thought-provoking contrasts between freedom and slavery, land and sea, plans and destiny.

Thank you to Krista Russell for kindly answering my questions and Blue Slip Media for providing me with a copy of the ARC.

21 October 2011

Cybils Review: Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas

This striking book takes a very interesting approach to the subject of hummingbirds (which, incidentally, make up the second-largest group of birds in the Americas.) It combines factual information with folktales. And quilts! When I first held this book in my hand, I felt like I was looking at one of those trick pictures with two images. When you look at the picture above, what do you see first: the subject of the book or the fantastically crafted cover? Personal prerspective might dictate how a reader is initially drawn to this book, but in the end, the merger of fact and craft is an attractive one.

At the heart of this book, as the title suggests, is the mighty hummingbird. This tiny bird, which seems to defy logic, holds a fascination not just for author Jeanette Larson, but clearly intrigued and inspired several North and South American native cultures as well. Larson starts by presenting the scientific data. Size and physical characteristics, plumage, habitat, courtship--these are some of the subjects which introduce the hummingbird to the reader. Each factual chapter is followed by a pourquoi tale--a "why" tale--which is relevant to the initial discussion. "Vocalization" is followed by Why the Hummingbird Has No Song, a Navajo tale; "Migration" is followed by the Aztec Legend Why the Hummingbird Migrates to Mexico. The hummingbird is not always a hero, such as in Why the Hummingbird Drinks Nectar, a Hitchiti Tale from the southeastern United States that bears a resemblance to The Tortoise and the Hare. But whether hero or rogue, the diversity of folktales across the length and breadth of North and South America is a testament to the ubiquity of the bird.

How the Hummingbird Got Its Colors

Special mention needs to be made of the quilts created for the book by Adrienne Yorinks. Using a combination of spot illustrations--or should I say, 'spot quilts'--to break up the scientific text, and then double page spreads, like the one above, to provide a background to the folktales, she has crafted a unique-looking book. Even the quilts themselves, which incorporate acrylic paint, collage, and photo transfers look unlike any quilts I have ever seen. They are vibrant, and at times unexpected, much like the hummingbird itself. I love the fact, mentioned in Yorinks' Art Notes, that hummingbirds can "breed with other species of hummingbirds, creating one-of-a-kind hybrids." All part of the hummingbird mystique which writers and scientists have been trying to capture since the Nazca civilization.

Nazca Lines, in Peru, created as a quilt in this book

In her introduction, Larsen says, "To fully understand any subject, it's useful to gather knowledge about it through every discipline, whether factual resources or stories." By taking this approach she has written a book which will have appeal for researchers as well as readers of tales and hopefully cross pollinate interest between the two.

08 October 2011

Why do adults read children's books?

You know, sometimes a hat is just a hat.

This recent article from The Independent references Cambridge University academic Dr. Louise Joy, who puts forth the theory that adults read childrens literature to escape the stress and demands of adult living; that they yearn for a simpler way of life, like you would find in a childrens book. Must be because being a kid is so easy, right? Her forthcoming book, Literature's Children, focuses on The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, and the works of Tolkein, Carroll and Dahl. Uhm....21st century anyone? By that sampling I think it would be fair to surmise that adults must read childrens books out of a yearning for anytime before 1950.

I think I'll overthrow self-consciousness and have a straightforward relationship now
I'm pretty sure the millions of adults (and I don't have an exact figure on hand, so humor me on this one) who have read The Hunger Games are not hankering after anything in that book. This is my theory: grown-ups read kids book because (wait for it......) they are good! They are enjoyable. They make you think, whether it is about home cooked meals (which according to this article is a staple of The Hobbit, yet not really what I remember the book for) or the morality of twenty-six teenagers slugging it out to the death. The best childrens books do what the best adult books do--they touch readers. No age requirement--or justification--required.

07 October 2011

Cybils Nominee: Can I See Your ID: True Stories of False Identities

It's that time of year again--Cybils time! I'm a little late getting this plug in (you know--life and stuff interfering with my writing) but I wanted to mention it all the same. This will be my fourth year with the Cybils. After a year as a Round Two judge, I am back as a Round One panelist, which means a whole lot of reading and hopefully lots of great recommendations for this blog. I am serving on the Non-Fiction: Middle Grade & Young Adult panel (or NFMGYA for short.) You can see the rather impressive list of nominations here. Nominations will be accepted until the 15th of October, so there is still time to nominate your favorite NFMGYA title, or any title in ten different categories--including apps, for the first time.

I've started off with Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities, by Chris Barton and illustrated by Paul Hoppe. Chris Barton was a Cybils winner in 2009 in the Non-Fiction Picture Book category for The Day-Glo Brothers and a 2010 Picture Book finalist with Shark vs Train. His latest book introduces ten individuals--mainly teenagers--who for one reason or another pretended to be someone else. In some cases the motivation was chutzpah, in others career advancement, and in at least two survival. Each story is told in the second person, a narrative choice I really liked because it puts the reader directly into the text. It felt like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure story, where each turn of the page might have dire consequences. It's hard not to feel a little anxious when you read the line, "There's nobody you can tell the truth to--nobody you feel you can trust." I was familiar with a few of the individuals in this book: Solomon Perel (whose amazing deception was the subject of the film "Europa, Europa") John Howard Griffin (author of Black Like Me, which I had to read in high school,) Forrest Carter (whose The Education of Little Tree caused a furor with Oprah,) and Frank W. Abagnale Jr ("Catch Me If You Can.") But the rest were a revelation.

One thing Barton does particularly well is to throw the reader directly into the deception. Along with the use of the second person narration, each fraud is already in full swing when the reader joins. Keron Thomas, the sixteen year old train spotter who decides that he would like to drive a New York city subway train for a shift, is already standing on the 207th Street station platform waiting for his carriages when the story starts. While the individuals involved might have had plenty of time to plan how they were going to carry out their impersonations, the reader does not and needs to be ready to run with the situation from the get-go. Barton does take a small step back to provide some background information, but then it is back to the business at hand, which is basically, 'will you pull this off?'

Barton's extensive research for the book, which included interviews with some of the individuals still living, shows the seriousness with which he approached this subject. At the end of each story there is a "What Happened Next" explanation where the reader discovers the consequences of the deception. In his afterword, Barton seems to be directly challenging the reader with the opening question "Who do you think you are?" As middle schoolers and young adults, they might be asking themselves that same question. But further reading seems to indicate that Barton is actually questioning himself as a writer, for having the nerve to investigate these stories. Aside from raising the morality of the rights or wrongs of tricking people, Can I See Your I.D. is essentially about having "the nerve"; the nerve to trick people who are ready to be fooled, the nerve to survive when you are condemned to die, the nerve to investigate the truth in the hearts of our neighbors, and the nerve to sell someone your story.

06 October 2011

Blog Tour: The Cheshire Cheese Cat: a Dickens of a Tale

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. This lively novel, in which Dickens plays a supporting role--but his influence is evident throughout--is a good way to get the party started. The Cheshire Cheese Cat is about a cat who loves cheese, a mouse who loves language, a crow who loves Queen and Country, and a novelist with no opening line. The story is set in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, an actual London pub which was frequented by some of the most distinguished writers of the Victorian era. Skilley is a Fleet Street alley cat trying to survive on fish heads and smarts. He manages to install himself as mouser at the Cheese, where he quickly strikes up an unorthodox bargain with the resident mice. The mice, led by the wordsmith Pip, will bring Skilley cheese, and he will pretend to catch them, for the benefit of the humans who are unhappy about sharing the inn with the rodents. This works for a while, until the appearance of rival cat Pinch, a truly Dickensian ruffian, who has always despised Skilley. As Skilley tries to maintain his bargain with the mice, shield them from the ruthless Pinch, protect the secret of his cheese obsession, and uncover the mysteries of the inn itself, the action culminates in several revelations, a finale involving a chaotic visit from a royal--who is not amused--and, at long last, the perfect opener.

There is precedence in childrens literature for the successful partnership of cats and mice: Samson and Arthur the church mouse; Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse in Times Square. But I think this is the first instance of  a triumvirate of cat, mouse, and monumental literary figure. No prior knowledge of Dickens is required to enjoy this book, but familiarity adds to the pleasure. Pip and Skilley talk about "our mutual friend;" Dickens mentions that he has "great expectations" for the resolution of events at the Cheese; the innkeeper's daughter, Nell, bears more than a passing resemblance to the saintly heroine from The Olde Curiosity Shop. And how about this passage? Pinch, renamed 'Oliver' by the barmaid, is deposited before a skeptical Skilley, who thinks:

Well, this was an unwelcome twist."

And for self-referential meta fans (surely there are some in the 8-12 demographic?) there is this literary trivia: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is alluded to in the text of A Tale of Two Cities, the book over which Dickens is laboring in The Cheshire Cheese Cat. Dickens' inability to write the perfect opening line for his new project is mentioned repeatedly, and some of his rejected attempts are deliciously, and humorously close.

Aside from the book's opening line--"He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms."--perhaps the greatest tip of the cap to Dickens is Pip himself, who bears the name of the hero in Great Expectations. It is easy to imagine an 'a-ha' moment in the future for any young reader of this book, when they pick up Great Expectations in some high school or college literature class, and make the connection.

While having plenty of fun with Dickens (not to mention Wilkie Collins and William Thackery,) collaborative authors Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright (great name for an author!) make some observations about writing as a craft. As Pip tells Skilley, "There is more to writing than tossing down a few haphazard words; words must have context." In this case, the development of the story at the Cheese is within the context of the friendship between Skilley and Pip. The success of the entire operation depends upon their camaraderie and willingness to stand by the other. There is also the observational friendship between Dickens and the animals; his journal reveals that he has taken an interest in their ways and manners, which seem unlike any he has ever witnessed before. As a fellow known for his philanthropy towards the most vulnerable members of Victorian society, it seems completely plausible that Dickens would have cared about animal welfare as well--even the welfare of one so humble as a mouse or a stray cat with a crooked tail.

While Deedy and Wright have fun with language, composing short chapters which keep the action moving along, artist Barry Moser has graced the book with portraits of the cast of characters, humans and animals alike. They complement the text with grace, humor and sometimes pathos. The Cheshire Cheese Cat is that most wonderful of packages--a clever and entertaining book which respects its audience while at the same time challenging its readers to stretch beyond a given genre (animal story, historical fiction, mystery) to discover the context of a universal story. Or, to be more precise, it is a Dickens of a tale.


The folks at Peachtree Publishing, who kindly sent me a copy of the book to preview, are clearly proud of The Cheshire Cheese Cat and have created a sublime interactive website with teacher resources, games, and further information about Ye Old Cheshire Cheese as well as Victorian London. There is also a blog which collates the stops on this blog tour. You can read all about it here. The book is available now, but I can provide a copy for one lucky reader (huzzah!) All you have to do is leave a comment and some way that I can contact you (email address, blogger id, twitter handle.) Entrants must be US residents.

Be sure to check out the other stops on The Cheshire Cheese Blog Tour:

A Word's Worth
Maestra Amanda's Bookshelf
There's a Book
Through the Looking Glass
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers  
Peachtree Publishers

It is a far, far better thing to do (with apologies to Dickens!)

22 September 2011

Blog Tour: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Would you deny this bear his hat?
Poor Bear. He's lost his hat. Then he finds his hat! The end.

A simple enough story. But read between the lines, and you will discover a book which can be appreciated as a funny read-a-loud or a sly peak through the fourth wall. I Want My Hat Back, the first picture book to have been both written and illustrated by the supremely gifted Jon Klassen, is a dead-pan pantomime starring an unlikely cast of woodland creatures. Like Pirandello's six characters in search of an author, they seem to have stumbled into a story by accident. One of them has stolen Bear's hat. One of them does not even know what a hat is. One is stuck behind a rock. Little dramas; big laughs.

It all starts with the cover. Klassen has stated that his first idea for this book was, in fact, an image in his mind for a cover. (You can read more of his insights in the Q&A at the end of this post.) Just look at that bear--he's on a mission! Focused and determined, he wants his hat back, and readers should be in no doubt as to whether or not he will find it (and woe to the one who stole it!) But once the story begins, and the bear proceeds to ask of each character his simple, unfailingly polite question--"Have you seen my hat?"--the negatives begin to pile up. Yet the bear's ignorance is the reader's bliss, because the thief of the hat is immediately evident. Once discovered, it is just a matter of giggling at each misstep until the bear finally realizes his error and does, indeed, find his hat. It is a storytelling technique which works remarkably well.

Klassen's previous experience with video (he did design work on a BAFTA nominated ad for the BBC, the film Coraline, and the video for U2's I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight,) is evident in the theatricality of the book. In some ways, the action of the story is a direct result of the reader's perspective. The reader sees what happens, but needs to provide the context. There is no back story, no motivation, other than the intensity of the bear's desire to get his hat back. It is a sentiment to which children can instantly relate. And because they can see the hat before the bear does, you can be sure that holding this book up during either a storytime or a one-on-one reading will elicit cries of, "There it is! It's behind you!" Not to mention, plenty of scope for trying on a multitude of voices. Storytime as reader's theater!

The book weighs in at an economical 253 words, but the images speak volumes. With visual laughs for the kids, and a touch of black humor for adults, I Want My Hat Back is a cross-generational hit.

As part of this blog tour, author and illustrator Jon Klassen kindly took some time to answer a few questions.  

NJFK: In creating this book, did you have an image first or the story? Did you enjoy the freedom of creating both, rather than working from a story written by someone else?

JK: I had the idea for the cover first, but not the character or the story for a little while. Just the title, and somebody not wearing a hat. I did enjoy working on both the writing and the pictures, though I was nervous about it, because I don't usually write things. There are less ways to hide in writing than there are in illustration. But when it became just dialogue, I got more comfortable because it's less formal.
I was also glad to work on something very simple. When you get something from someone else, it's often harder to make it simple.   

NJFK: Despite the fact that little seems to happen in the story, there is a sense of theatricality because of the perspective of the audience. Reading the book reminded me of watching a pantomime (“He’s behind you!”) Did your experience of working with film and video influence the creation of this book in any way?

JK: Yes! I'm glad you noticed that. Because I was nervous about the writing, and also because I like drawing characters that aren't doing very much, I wanted to try and make it seem as though it was a badly rehearsed play with animals who were sort of brought in for the day to read these lines. That's why they are looking at the audience instead of each other, which is how the bear misses seeing the hat early on. Later, once he's found out what has happened, it's like the bear forgets he's in a play and gets as mad as he would if this had happened to him in real life and goes and does what a bear would do.

I think the way the end is done is a little more like a storyboard from a film instead of maybe how a book would be. It's hard to stop thinking about stories that way if you've been doing it for a while.
Author and illustrator Jon Klassen
NJFK: How is a book created both digitally and in Chinese ink? One process seems modern and the other traditional.

JK: Those two things are how I like to work best. I like working with traditional mediums at first, to give a looseness to things, and then bring what's been done into the computer to work over it and tighten it up. It's nice because you can make all sorts of mistakes and experiments with the traditional materials and know you still have that last stage to use whatever you're doing. In this case all the characters and plants were done in silhouette with chinese ink on paper, and then scanned in and the color and smaller details, like eyes and other features, were added digitally.   

NJFK: Will there be a sequel involving a blue, round hat, by any chance?

JK: There might be a blue hat, though I'm pretty happy with the shape of the red one. I might keep it pointy like that.  

NJFK: And finally, I have to ask--what was it like working with U2?!

JK: Well I didn't get to meet them or anything. David O'Reilly, the director, got to meet them afterward because he was working from Europe and they came through, and it really was David's video. But it was still pretty surreal sending them illustrations and getting approval and stuff. It was such a small production, it was weird knowing it was for this huge band that we'd all grown up with. They liked the video though! They even let us make the cover for the single afterward!

A big thank you to Jon Klassen for the interview, and to Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of the book. Be sure to visit the other stops on the (global!) tour for more interviews with Klassen:

Tuesday, Sept. 20 – UK: Playing by the Book
Wednesday, Sept. 21 - AUS: Kids' Book Capers
Thursday, Sept. 22 - US: Not Just for Kids
Friday, Sept. 23 – UK: Bringing Up Charlie
Saturday, Sept. 24 - AUS: My Book Corner
Sunday, Sept. 25 – UK: Wahm Bham
Monday, Sept. 26 - Canada: Pickle Me This
Tuesday, Sept. 27 - US: There's a Book
Wednesday, Sept. 28 - AUS: My Little Bookcase
Thursday, Sept. 29 - US: Chris Rettstatt

16 September 2011

More Kiddielit love for Ted Williams

I've been obsessing about the amount of attention Ted Williams gets within the realm of children's literature. Must be all those pin-striped covers I've been forced to stock over the years. I was well pleased to read Fred Bowen's No Easy Way , and I thoroughly enjoyed The Unforgettable Season by Phil Bildner, even if Williams did have to share the book with Joe Dimaggio. Now, I can look forward to two more books recognizing the accomplishments of the Splendid Splinter, both as a ball player and as a man.

October sees the release of Soldier Athletes, the third installment in Glen Stout's highly readable "Good Sports" series (shameless plug--mine is the Booklist review beneath Baseball Heroes.) Four athletes are featured, so of course there is a profile about Ted Williams and his distinguished career as a pilot during both World War II and the Korean War.

Then there is There Goes Ted Williams: the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived by author and illustrator Matt Tavares. Tavares has already proven his Red Sox cred with Zachary's Ball, and his picture book biography Henry Aaron's Dream is not to be missed. There Goes Ted Williams looks to be really special. You can see get a peek at it here, but you'll have to wait until 2012 to get your hands on the book.

Last but not least, Dan Gutman is finally bringing Ted Williams into the Baseball Card Adventures fold with Ted and Me. And just in time for the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. Now, I can't take credit for this, of course, but I did write that open letter to Dan Gutman all those years ago...... However it came about, Gutman's latest is a welcome addition.

13 September 2011

Dead End In Norvelt Giveaway!

A few week ago I reviewed, with much enthusiasm, the upcoming middle grade novel by Jack Gantos, Dead End in Norvelt. Well, the book is "upcoming" no more--today is release day! The kind folks at Macmillan Audio saw that review, and they sent me a copy of the audio book to give away on this blog. So, in celebration of the book's release, I invite you all to enter for a chance to win this 6 disc audio book--READ BY THE AUTHOR! Yes, Mr. Gantos adds yet another layer to the fact-vs-fiction aspect of this book by reading it to you himself!

You can hear an excerpt of the audio book here. To enter the giveaway, all I ask is that you leave a comment on this blog. Make sure I can contact you if you are the winner! The winner will be chosen randomly one week from today. Good luck!

09 September 2011

Non-fiction review: "America is Under Attack: the Day the Towers Fell" by Don Brown

As the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, I am forced to consider something I have thought about almost since that very day: how do I explain this to my daughter? She was eight months old at the time, oblivious to the knowledge that the world was changing. And now, ten years on, there is an entire generation just like her; children for whom September 11th is as much a part of history as George Washington or the lunar landings. While adults heed the call to never forget, our children don't even remember it.

Don Brown's latest addition in his "Actual Times" series is written for children who have probably heard about September 11th but have no frame of reference with which to relate to it (unless they were personally affected by it themselves. One of the statistics Brown mentions: about 3000 children lost a parent that day.) Carmen Agra Deedy's 14 Cows for America, or Jeannette Winters' September Roses, two excellent picture books already available on the subject, approach the event as storytellers. They focus on specific incidences related to the day. As they show readers how different people responded to the event, they are already thinking about a new reality--the one that began on 9/12. Don Brown is writing as a historian, documenting the day's timeline and presenting the personal accounts of people there. He is showing readers how it all started. 

Brown, who is both author and illustrator of the book, writes with a chronicler's need for detail; he presents facts with sensitivity for the age of his audience without shielding them. But he draws with a broken heart. The watercolors which illustrate the text are at times devastating:
               --a single plane flying over New York City, an everyday site which is so menacing in this context;
              --trapped men and women calling for help through the gash left at the first point of impact while a helicopter hovers helplessly nearby;
              --a man at a gas station looking over his shoulder to see a plane looming beside the Pentagon;
              --a woman blown out of her shoes by the force of the collapsing South Tower.
And the illustration which opens the narrative--a double page spread of nothing but blue, a plane in the top right corner. It's beautiful, just as the actual day itself was.

The bibliography at the end of the book is a testament to the research that Brown put into collating the information and crafting the illustrations. An Author's Note provides statistics from the day as well as a brief mention of America's response to the attacks. A discussion guide is available online, as is this excellent interview with Don Brown over at School Library Journal. America is Under Attack is dedicated to the 15 people from Brown's home town of Merrick, New York who were killed in the attacks, which reminds readers that the impact of history is most powerful when it is related personally. 

A list of my recommended picture books about September 11th is available here.

25 August 2011

Boldly going into board books

I suppose after my tirade about the BabyLit series of board books, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't have a dig at what can only be described as this fall's geekiest offering for "the youngest reader." Well, call me a hypocrite--and completely illogical--because I am nowhere near as offended by The Star Trek Book of Opposites as I am by "Little Miss Austen's" and "Little Master Shakespeare's" gnawable classics. Perhaps it's because my Trekkie heart skipped a beat when I saw it. I wanted to buy it.....for myself. Because it looks hysterical. I don't get the impression that there are any bogus attempts to convince parents that their babies will learn about science by plunking this book in their lab. I'm not even sure babies will learn a whole lot about Star Trek from looking at it. Or grow up to be nerds themselves. But for those of us already inhabiting that place known as space, the final frontier--what's not to love?

24 August 2011

Anticipated Arcs: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

My experience of Jack Gantos consists almost entirely of Rotten Ralph. I haven't read the Jack Henry books, and I have only gotten as far as borrowing Joey Pigza. It was returned unread, another victim of a hydra-esque TBR pile. I mention all this because Gantos' latest book, Dead End in Norvelt, features a character named, funnily enough, Jack Gantos. But this middle-grade story bears almost no resemblance to the one he told in his compelling YA autobiography Hole in My Life--unless you compare a summertime grounding to a prison term. So I am at a bit of a loss when reflecting how the new book compares to his previous fiction (naughty red cat aside,) and utterly flummoxed if I try to match it to his actual life story. So let's examine "Norvelt" on its own merits.

The story takes place over the course of two months in the summer of 1962. Jack Gantos is the only child of a couple who might very well become Archie and Edith Bunker when they retire. They live in a Pennsylvania town called Norvelt, a cooperative social experiment created after the Great Depression and championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, after whom the town is (re)named. Grounded almost as soon as vacation starts, Jack finds himself hired out by his mother to elderly neighbor Miss Volker, a woman who doubles as coroner and obituary writer for the local paper. But her hands are so crippled by arthritis that she needs to dip them in hot paraffin just to regain temporary dexterity. She dictates her obituaries to Jack, concluding each with a history lesson which is sometimes relevant to the deceased, but usually is just a chance to pontificate about forgetting the lessons learned from history. Add to that: a best friend whose father runs the local funeral parlor, an invasion by a group of surly Hell's Angels, constant nose-bleeds, an inexplicably loaded Japanese WWII rifle, some human-deer interaction reminiscent of The Queen, (but funnier,) a never-ending supply of Landmark Biography references, a twelve-year old who drives a car, and a retiree who rides a tricycle. That goes only some of the way towards explaining how completely off the wall this book is.

Thankfully, Gantos maintains a sense of nostalgia which allows the reader to laugh at the ensuing wackiness in the context of an era so different from today--as opposed to just being weird for weird's sake. Although I'm pretty sure there is some of that, too, since I don't know which part of the book is factual and which he completely made up. Not quite historical fiction, not quite autobiography, not quite postmortem for an America that is long-gone, Dead End in Norvelt is definitely one of the funnier and more unusual books you are likely to read.

Reviewed from an Advance Readers Copy. Dead End in Norvelt--coming your way September 13, 2011.

16 August 2011

Travels with Dodsworth

This summer saw the release of Dodsworth in Rome, the fourth volume in the easy reader series about Dodsworth and his accidental companion, Duck. It's an amusing book in a series which consistently entertains and has the capacity to continue for many volumes yet as the pair bumbles their way across the globe.

The journey actually started, sans Duck, in a junk yard, where the underachieving Dodsworth, whose motto was "try to do as little as possible" would seek out items to sell in his thrift shop. The Pink Refrigerator, the picture book which first introduced Dodsworth, is that rare achievement: dryly funny and infinitely wise at less than 35 pages. Unlike the protagonist of David McPhail's Mole Music, who actively seeks out meaning in his life, or the lackadaisical Al in Arthur Yorink' Hey Al, who learns to find paradise close at home, Dodsworth is quite content with the routine of the hum drum existence which asks so little of him. It takes the intervention of a magical refrigerator (yes--I said magical refrigerator) to open his eyes to the wonders of life not just around him but within his own grasp. It is from these philosophical roots that the more routine hijinks of the road trip emerge.
I have great affection for the Dodsworth series. Yet while I find the books to be a cut above many written at the easy reader level, I feel that they lack something of the magic of The Pink Refrigerator. The character of Duck irritates me more than he engages me. A reread of the books reminded me that Duck gatecrashed Dodsworth's world tour, and Dodsworth is now essentially stuck with Duck until he can return him to his home and friend at Hodge's Cafe. While Duck's (mis)behaviour often precipitates the action of the books, and as a result of wild-goose chases (so to speak) gives Dodworth an opportunity to tour a given city, his inability to learn from his experiences drives me nuts. Dodsworth has essentially become the straight man in his own series, which seems a little bit unfair since he sets off at the end of The Pink Refrigerator to "find an ocean," not babysit a cooky duck.

Still, the adventures of Dodsworth and Duck have a whimsical innocence which I can only describe as Capraesque. No sooner does calamity befall them (such as when Duck makes paper airplanes out of all their Euros and launches them from the top of Eiffel Tower,) then good fortune smiles upon them (a local bakery hires them to deliver bread.) In London, Dodsworth and Duck are separated, and find themselves in a trading places scenario reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper and concludes with a sleepover at Buckingham Palace. And in Rome, it is actually Duck who has the best line in the book: when Dodsworth explains that tourists throw coins over their shoulders into the Trevi Fountain to ensure that they return to Rome someday, Duck asks, "Why leave in the first place?"

A fair question. But leave they eventually will--once they pay back all the money Duck pinched from the Trevi Fountain. There is a big wide world to discover (I'm still hoping they make it to Boston.) And although they ferried from New York to Paris, and crossed the English Channel in a hot air balloon, Dodsworth has yet to stand before an ocean and discover if its reality lives up to his own imagination. Can he return home a fuller--and fulfilled-- individual because of his experiences? Will he be able to do more than "just enough" once he is back home with his thrift shop and returns to everyday life, whose promises will be limited only by his own definition of "limited"? These are big questions for a series aimed at emerging readers, but they are at the heart of Dodsworth's quest. So even if Duck's hijinks tend to distract Dodsworth from his original initiative, the challenge of the pink elevator--"keep exploring"--is a mandate that holds relevance for readers of any age.

19 July 2011

On My Reading Radar: Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey

We are BIG Traction Man fans in this house, so when I saw this listed as a great summer read over at The Guardian, I got pretty excited. And for the record--absolutely NO need to be under 5 to enjoy it. Traction Man is the thinking person's Action Man (also known as GI Joe in this country.) And with his faithful side-kick Scrubbing Brush, he will be prepared for anything. I could not find a US release date for this title, but considering the success of the previous titles in this series, Traction Man is Here and Traction Man meets Turbo Dog, it can't be long before he arrives on our shores.

You can read my previous rhapsodizing about Traction Man here.

18 July 2011

Picture Book Review: Arlington: the Story of Our Nation's Cemetery

I first visited Arlington National Cemetery on a family vacation back in the 80's. My father, a Navy man with a passion for military history, was particularly keen to take my brother and I there. He wanted to show us the grave of Audie Murphy. I was pretty impressed with the place, but what impressed me most was the behavior of my dad. A life-long smoker, he had such reverence for Arlington that he wouldn't throw his cigarette butts on the ground. He carefully stubbed each one on the bottom of his shoe and placed it in his pocket. That image has stuck with me ever since, and whenever I think of Arlington National Cemetery I think of hallowed ground.

Author and illustrator Chris Demarest has written Arlington: The Story of Our Nation's Cemetery with similar reverence. It is clear that it is a special place to him. It is also a place with a "complicated, sometimes troubled history." And when you consider that it was originally chosen as a burial location during the Civil War out of spite, 'complicated' seems the nicest way to put it. The book starts with a history of the property; it once belonged to a gentleman named George Washington Peake who built upon it Arlington House, which would eventually be inhabited by Robert E. Lee, Peake's son-in-law. The history lesson develops into an explanation of the many monuments in the cemetery and the meaning of the routines which take place there. The most well-known is the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown, but in reading the book one discovers that even the maintenance of the gravestones (and there are more than 300,000) is done with solemn purpose.

Demarest's illustrations capture the symmetry and precision of Arlington. And although graves feature heavily, images of tidy rows of headstones bring a regimented peace to the pictures. Arlington's dual role as a tourist attraction and a functioning cemetery is most evident in the story which Demarest retells of President Kennedy. The young president visited the cemetery in the spring of 1963 and commented on how he enjoyed spending time there, little realising that he would be buried there himself in seven month's time. It is a poignant moment in a book which expertly merges the larger framework of American history with the smaller picture of personal narratives.

Young researchers and tourists alike will find much of interest in this book. Back matter includes a timeline, bibliography, list of websites, notable individuals buried at the cemetery, and notable monuments. There is also a brief mention of Freedman's Village, a collection of houses built for Peake's slaves when the Union Army seized the property and Arlington House--more complicated history. Yet despite the routine and protocol which is part of Arlington's function, Demarest shows that it is ultimately a place of stories, because through remembrance, recognition, and visitation, it is a place of lives--specifically lives in service to one's country. He concludes with an author's note which reveals a personal connection between himself and the cemetery. His father is buried there. Like Demarest, I have my own tie to the cemetery, and it is more than just a striking memory from a past vacation. My father was a bugler at Arlington National Cemetery between November 1, 1962 and November 8, 1963. He, too, is part of the story celebrated in this outstanding and dignified book.

15 July 2011

From Page to Screen: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

It seems ages ago that I first heard talk of Martin Scorcese adapting Brian Selznik's Caldecot winning book for the big screen. And now, come Thanksgiving, it seems that we will finally get to see it. My first question, after watching the trailer, is--what happened to the rest of the title? The invention has fallen by the wayside. It's seemingly arbitrary changes like this which always make me suspect of film adaptations of beloved books (and The Invention of Hugo Cabret is much beloved by me--it was my Book of the Year for 2007.) And truthfully, there is still a part of me which feels that a film could never live up to the book, because the real magic of the book was the unique experience of reading it. Even in 3D I don't know that there will be much unique about this film-watching experience. To be truly unique, I think the film should be silent, but that's just me. Have a look at the trailer and judge for yourself.

12 July 2011

Books for the All-Star Break: This is the Game by Diane Shore and Jessica Alexander

There is no shortage of nostalgic baseball picture books available; just run a search for different versions of Take Me Out to the Ballgame to prove the point. This is the Game, written by Diane Shore and Jessica Alexander and illustrated by Owen Smith, is a nice addition to the genre. It reads like a cumulative tale, not so much about the history of baseball, but about the excitement which builds from moment to moment during the course of an inning, a game, a season. The book covers familiar feel-good territory: back alley games of stick ball, Cracker Jack, trading cards, listening breathlessly around a radio. It works, because the rhyming text reads effortlessly, with no clumsy rhymes to get in the way of the love of the game, or the enjoyment of the reading. A handful of historic moments get a mention, but predominately the book is about the small moments in a fan's enjoyment that bring such joy. I also liked that the book ended with the words, "Play Ball!"because to me, as a fan, those words are full of fun and promise. Which is what This is the Game is ultimately building towards. A perfect read while we wait for the All-Star break to pass and the rest of the season to commence.

You can have a look inside the book here:

01 July 2011

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a sucker is born every minute

I make it a general policy not to purposely offend readers. I even try to avoid implying that my opinion is correct and anyone who thinks otherwise is an out and out moron. But I have to confess that I am about to let loose with a full blown rant, and if you happen to disagree with me.......sorry, but I'm right.

Yesterday I read this article in Publisher's Weekly about a new series of board books that will "introduce to the youngest reader....." And let's stop right there. I hate that phrase, because to me, 'introducing to the youngest reader' really translates to 'selling to kids who aren't yet ready to read the real version of this book.' Plus, I am an admitted board book snob. I think babies should have their own books, written with their needs in mind. I don't like board book versions of established picture books, because I feel it is a disservice to both formats and a lazy way to make a buck. The board book version of The Snowy Day, for instance, irks greatly. So imagine how I feel about these:

You know, I could cope with the zombies. But this is an out and out abomination. Let's start with the titles: Little Miss Austen and Little Master Shakespeare. These authors aren't Muppet babies, you know, but the greatest writers in English literature. Show a little respect! There's interpretation, there's parody, there's watered down, and then there is out and out offensive. This begs the question "For the love of God, why?!" The creative director behind the series (and yes, there will be more) says, “We knew there was nothing like it available for the age group, and that the books would be a great introduction to perennial classics both for very small children and parents who might never have read the classics before.”

First of all, there is nothing like it for the age group because it's a stupid idea and unnecessary. Babies are not going to get a classic vibe from the books. There won't be some sort of subconscious love for masterpieces when they are older because they gnawed on the corner of Romeo and Juliet. Nor are they guaranteed a place at Harvard. Better for the parent to read the original out loud while the baby is in utero if that's the plan.

Secondly, the thought that the books might serve as an introduction to the parents is enough to make me throw my hands up in despair. Might as well let the alien invasion begin, because humanity is doomed.

Which leads me to my third gripe. This isn't about what the babies will like, unless there is a mirror attached to the back or a button to push. Let's be honest--babies could care less about Elizabeth and Darcy, and that double suicide at the end of Romeo and Juliet might be a bit much for "the youngest reader". This is about sucking parents into thinking they are doing something healthy and edifying for their babies. Of course reading to babies is healthy and edifying. So why should I care, if the babies don't? To each their own, right? But pre-sales have already passed expectations, and judging by the comments at the end of the article, people do think the books are absolutely adorable (even though I'm right and they are wrong.) Which means that I, as a librarian who likes to think of herself as open-minded and not (gulp!) judgemental, will have to buy these books. As a Janeite that galls me. As a librarian it challenges me. As a lover of the classics it makes me die a little bit inside.

To the babies, I have just this to say: accept no substitutes! Demand your concept books and save the classics for when you are old enough to appreciate them. And to the parents, this: don't kid yourself. You are not introducing your child to anything remotely resembling a masterpiece. All you are doing is perpetrating the delusion that anything can be made accessible to anyone with the right amount of tweaking and modification. It's a lie! Some things should be left as they are to be discovered when the time is right.

20 June 2011

Lunch with a YA Trifecta: This is Teen with Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, and Maggie Stiefvater

Last Friday I was privileged to be included in a luncheon hosted by Scholastic Books and the New England Independent Booksellers Association for YA writing sensations and all around awesome-women Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, and Maggie Stiefvater. The ladies were in town to visit the Wellesley Booksmith and to promote This is Teen, Scholastic's integrated teen community initiative, which works to unite teen readers with their favorite authors and other like-minded readers, mainly via Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook, here is a stellar example of how social media can morph into face-to-face interaction. I swung this invite because of a connection I made on Twitter--an individual who then put my name forward to the woman organizing the event, who was looking for Boston based YA book bloggers. I had never met my Twitter connection, nor the individual who eventually invited me (via Facebook I might add,) but I was more than happy to go and say thank you when we all met, for the first time, on Friday. So if you take grief about your addiction to social media, just remember this--it does pay off. And sometimes, there is even cake involved!
Self-righteous, defensive rant over--back to the main event.

I cannot say enough nice things about Mses. Cabot, Bray, and Stiefvater. Getting back to all that stuff I said about social networking; there's a reason why I find it so appealing--I'm shy. Well, these ladies put me (and everyone else, too, I assume) at ease. They were approachable and--in the case of Meg Cabot, who zeroed in with an outstretched hand and firm handshake--fast-approaching. Those ladies worked the room with charm. If I've learned anything from my recent lunches with authors (wow--it felt good to type that!) it's that an author's job doesn't end once the book is finished. The amount of meeting and greeting that is involved is amazing, and they have to be just as good at the people skills as well as the writing craft.

So many books, only so many pens
After lunch, but before cake, there was the book signing. I had a teeny stack, but there were book sellers there with BOXES of books. The ladies no doubt worked off lunch just by signing them all. Still, I'm sure it's a gratifying task all the same, imagining the excited hands to which those autographed books will be delivered. I know at least one ten year old girl who was beside herself when Mummy brought her an autographed copy of Allie Finkle: Moving Day. And please allow me a fan girl moment to post this:

Lunch, books, and schmoozing finished, the grand finale was, indeed, the cake. Decorated with the jacket covers of each of the ladies' most recent book, enhanced with toys to represent key moments from each, and boasting a most delicious frosting (I think it was Cool Whip,) the honored authors graced us all with one final photo call.

They then proceeded to cut the cake. With relish.

Best of all--they served us the cake. Authors truly are versatile.

A big thank you to the folks at Scholastic and NEIBA for a slap-up lunch, fantastic bookish discourse, and a chance to hob-nob with some truly outstanding writers who just happen to be outstanding--and very fun--women, too.

10 June 2011

Picture books for the Stanley Cup: Number Four, Bobby Orr!

Now that the Bruins have made a series of the final, I thought this was a good time to draw attention to Mike Leonetti's Number Four, Bobby Orr! It took ages for Ted Williams to get his own picture book, but this Boston sports legend got his in 2003 (any news on a Larry Bird picture book? How about Yaz--the last winner of baseball's Triple Crown? Someone get writing!) Illustrator Shayne Letain sets the triumphant tone for this book with his rendition of the iconic 1970 photo of Orr's cup winning goal. The book itself is about a young boy named Joey who loves hockey and idolizes Orr. When an injury curtails his season, Joey writes a letter to Bobby Orr, asking for advice on being a better defenseman. Joey's recovery coincides with the progression of the season, culminating with a healed Joey sitting in the Boston Garden to witness his hero make history.

There is quite a lot of information in this book about Bobby Orr and his impact on the Bruins and the city of Boston. For locals there are a number of little details which give fanish delight (such as mention of the fact that Joey is watching the Bruins on channel 38.Remember WSBK?!) Number Four, Bobby Orr! is an unashamed love letter to a hockey legend, and a fun read for Bruins fans as they face the rest of the series.

05 June 2011

The Wall Street Journal--saving the world from YA

Last night, as Doctor Who spoilers and Bruins lamentations fought for control of my Twitterfeed, I started noticing a recurring hasthtag: #YAsaves. Someone--specifically, blogger and Youth Services Consultant Elizabeth Burns--was retweeting a vast amount of responses to an article which had appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The article was entitled "Darkness too Visible" and was followed by the following: "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"

Silly me--for a moment I thought the article was going to explain why it was, in fact, a good idea. What the author wrote instead was damn near medieval in her disdain for and ignorance of what she considers to not just be a current trend in YA literature, but an agenda championed by librarians and book publishers to introduce teenagers to every grim reality this world has to offer--all in the name of freedom of expression and overriding parental controls. Yeah--that's why I went to library school.

There's a lot wrong with this article, and voices across the blogosphere are already starting to point that out. (And by the way, if you want to find any dissenting commentary about this article, stick to the blogosphere and Twitter, because as of this writing--which is 13.02 on Sunday the 5th of June--you won't see much disagreement in the comments of the original article, which is a stunning fact in itself.) I can't let this article pass unnoticed either, so I am going to comment on the anecdote which opens the article: the story of a woman who "popped into [Barnes and Noble] to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, "nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." She left the store empty-handed."

My question is this: if she wanted a book recommendation, what was she doing at Barnes and Noble?

No offense to the many fine folks who work at B&N stores all over the world. There's one in the town where I work, and they do a great job of reaching out to the community and promoting literacy and making books and reading as fun as possible. But let's be honest--Barnes and Nobles is a big-box chain store. If this woman wanted to ask a knowledgeable professional for book recommendations, why didn't she go to her public library? At my library we have all the dark lurid stuff--because some people actually want to read those books for whatever reason that isn't mine or yours to judge--but we also provide alternate titles (because that's what libraries do.) And more importantly, any library worth its salt is going to have someone who can talk to the woman, determine what she is looking for, and steer her in that direction. One of the comments at the end of the article is by this particular woman herself, and she indicates that the staffer at B&N who was trying to help her didn't know anything about the books, and really was no help at all. Was she unlucky to have happened in on the one day that there was no one knowledgeable to help her? Again, no offense to Barnes and Noble, but the answer is--no. Because cashiers and book stockers at B&N are not librarians. They may be book enthusiasts, but are they professionals who can talk knowledgeably and reliably about a range of books even if they are not in their particular department? Probably not--because they are not librarians. They have not made it their business--their vocation!--to be able to recommend titles to any person on any given day who wants any type of book. That's what you get from a good librarian, and it is probably the most under recognized and under appreciated facet of my job by anyone who assumes that a library is just a building to store books.

It seems to me that publishers follow trends as much as they dictate them, so if any given Barnes and Noble is full with only a certain type of book, there's a reason for that--it's a popular type of book. Yet another reason to visit the library, where many different types of books are available for many different types of reasons and readers. I wish the author of this article had focused on that. But I think she had her own bone to pick. Evidently, instead of being helpful, librarians--by sheer virtue of their association with the big bad American Library Association which comes in for a lambasting as well--are, like publishers, trying to "use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives." I don't know. Yesterday it looked like The Wall Street Journal, with their strident article, written by their regular children's book reviewer, was the one driving the bulldozer.

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