Monthly Archives: May 2016

Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie NightingaleRaymie Clarke’s father has left town with a dental hygienist, and she is convinced that if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, he will see her picture in the newspaper and want to come back. To that end, she has decided that she has to take baton-twirling lessons from Ida Nee, who is famous and has an office covered with baton-twirling trophies. When she arrives at her first lesson, Raymie meets Louisiana Elefante, daughter of the Flying Elefantes, who has “swampy lungs” and faints at the slightest provocation, and Beverly Tapinski, one tough little chick who refuses to answer questions about the bruise on her eye. These two become Raymie’s best friends, the “Three Rancheros,” who set out to do great deeds, such as to recover Raymie’s library book about Florence Nightingale and save Louisiana’s cat from an animal shelter.

Kate DiCamillo is such a decorated middle-grade author that her books become classics as the letters leave her fingers for the screen. Her pitch-perfect language and her ability to write lightly and humorously while dealing with deep, painful issues show her grasp of her young audience, acknowledging their struggles without overwhelming them with adult expectations. Raymie is at an age where the adults in her life have tremendous influence, and she literally sits at the feet of her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Borkowski, and follows the advice of her swimming instructor to “flex your toes and isolate your objectives.” As an earnest young lady, she does the very best she can—even though that is sometimes not what she thought it should be—but Raymie eventually learns that she cannot control everything that happens in her life, and even more importantly, that she is not responsible for other people’s decisions, and she may never understand them. A moving, semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story that is a joy to read.

Very highly recommended.

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Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Book Expo 2016

 

BEA vendor hall

Just a Tiny Corner of the Vendor Hall

Vast spaces with advertising banners flapping overhead, thousands of vendors tastefully hawking books and book-related technology, and many more thousands of women and men setting up appointments with their chiropractors on their cellphones as they juggle canvas bags of heavy books that they couldn’t resist adding to the piles of unread galleys they already have at home: it’s another Book Expo America.

BEA venueMcCormick Place in Chicago—the West Building, specifically—hosted us this year as we attended excellent sessions with esoteric names such as “Innovation in Children’s Publishing” and “The Story Starts Here: Humor Edition” while navigating escalators and paying outrageous amounts of money for water. BEA started as a conference for publishers and booksellers, particularly for the adult market. However, over the years they seem to be catching on to the fact that libraries spend a lot of money on books, and that the children’s market—especially the exploding YA segment—can be lucrative, too. Two years ago, in New York, there were just a few valuable events for me, but this year, I had a hard time getting to the vendor floor between sessions, although two exceptional events were added the very week before the conference.

Kwame Alexander hug

Kwame and me: we’re best buds.

By the late afternoon on Thursday, the day after the Day of Dialog and Children’s Author Dinner, I was beginning to flag. I had been rained on during the river architecture tour in the morning, had attended several good sessions at McCormick Place and had even done a conquering tour of the vendor floor. Somewhere along the way, I got wrapped up in a bear hug by the amazing Kwame Alexander, Newbery-winning author of Crossover. He’s expanded to picture books now! At the end of the day, the thought of walking across the indoor bridge to the Hyatt Regency for Scholastic’s Picture Book Event was daunting, but I figured I could nurse my blisters later. I’m so glad I made the effort! Three outstanding authors and illustrators greeted us there: David Shannon, Tom Lichtenheld, and Kate Beaton. All of these are much-loved authors, and you can imagine how much fun picture book folks would be.

Picture Book Panel

Kate Beaton, David Shannon, and Tom Lichtenheld

There were musical numbers with audience participation, reader’s theater, and hilarious slide shows. We received galleys of Shannon’s new Duck on a Tractor, Lichtenheld’s Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs, and Beaton’s King Baby. I had to laugh when Kate Beaton talked about the stages of life on Facebook: you go for years in college when you have nothing but pictures of young adults partying, etc. Then suddenly, your friends get married and their posts are nothing but baby pictures, and you roll your eyes in disgust. Then your sister has a baby, and your Facebook page is nothing but baby pictures, too—but nobody else’s baby is as cute or smart as yours. They left us with terrific gifts, including a signed and illustrated print of all three book covers in a wooden frame, which is now hanging near my desk.

Thursday evening was all about the Sourcebooks cocktail party in the Hancock Tower that I wrote about in my first Chicago blog, so it was serious work, of course.

Torch Against the NightFriday started early, back at McCormick Place for the Children’s Author Breakfast. Let me just state here that the fees for the meals at BEA must go to the speakers, because the menus are a low-carber’s nightmare. Mini-bagels, sweet breads, and fruit. I had had some yogurt back at the hotel, just in case, so I started off this breakfast by popping the top off the coffee carafe and pouring it all over the tablecloth, my purse, and my slacks. I did manage to miss my colleague, thank goodness. The day did improve. Jamie Lee Curtis, who is one of the few celebrities to write children’s books that are truly literary, hosted a panel that included Dav Pilkey, Sabaa Tahir, and Gene Luen Yang, all of whom are brilliant and gave fascinating speeches. Ms. Curtis shared with the audience that her severely challenged son, who is now twenty, could not read until he met Captain Underpants, and so now she has a soft place in her heart for Dav Pilkey. She choked up, they embraced, and the audience wept and had more coffee. Ms. Tahir spun stories of her childhood as a bullied Muslim girl growing up in the American western desert, where her father owned a hotel. I achieved my objective of acquiring an additional copy of the much-anticipated A Torch Against the Night for a certain teen girl that I know who passionately adored Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Gene Luen Yang gave a rousing speech as this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, encouraging us to read outside of our comfort zones. I agree with him that our entire world would be a more peaceful place if we lived inside one another’s stories for a while and broadened our worldviews. In all, this author’s breakfast encapsulated the heart of children’s literature: innocence, suffering, laughter, and compassion.

After meeting a favorite author by chance on the vendor floor, sharing stories at a session with the Unshelved guys and other librarians, and setting up a shipping box to send all of my loot home ahead of me, I went to the ABA-CBC Children’s Author Speed Dating Lunch, and this, as mentioned in my last post, is where I geeked out. Here is how author speed dating works: all the participants are assigned to a numbered table, and the authors move from table to table, pitching their latest works for five minutes until the bell rings and they move to the next table and start again. Often, the authors are fairly new or even debut authors. It’s fun, and the tables are piled high with gift copies of their books, just in case you haven’t set up that appointment with your chiropractor yet.

David Arnold.jpg

David Arnold

I had never eaten a meal during speed dating before, and it was tricky. You can’t put food in your mouth while the author is talking, since that seems rude, so you’re stuffing forkfuls of salad in while they walk to the next table. Our second author had just sat down and was plunging into his spiel in a panicked manner, since he had just realized at his first table that the bell rings far too soon. Something he said made me think, “Oh, my gosh, is this…?” as I craned my neck to see his nametag while frantically trying to swallow my lettuce. Then I blurted out, “Oh, my gosh, are you David Arnold?” He stopped talking and nodded, wide-eyed, as if caught in the act of being himself. “Oh, I just loved Mosquitoland so much and forced so many people to read it!” KidsLogoORIGINALFILEI gestured to his new book, Kids of Appetite, and he started talking again. At the end, I asked him if he was signing galleys and got all the info about where he would be. In the meantime, the very dignified woman to my right took over all author comments, since I’m sure she was convinced that I could not behave in a professional manner. This turned out to be a good thing, since I could not say a word later when Arthur A. Levine, a publisher himself, sat down to talk about his new book, What a Beautiful Morning. I could not help crying the whole time, which made him tear up, so the woman on my right was probably in despair that our entire table would be disgraced. This luncheon turned out to be much more wonderful than I expected, so Friday was becoming an excellent day.

Kids of AppetiteAfter this event, I hauled my armloads of books up two flights and immediately got in line at the Penguin booth to get David Arnold to sign Kids of Appetite. There was another line for Sabaa Tahir, but when asked if I wanted to join it, I said, “Oh, I’ve already seen her” in a lofty manner and went to Arnold’s line. I was probably the oldest person in either line, but I probably spend more money on books than any of them, so I felt justified. When I got to the front, he remembered me from the luncheon, since I was so memorable to all the witnesses, and he asked me if I wanted the book to be personalized. I said, “Hey, I did not walk all this way and stand in a line for just a signature!” So he very nicely wrote a bit in it. (I have already finished this book and will post a review later. Hint: thumbs up.)

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater

The very last session I attended at BEA was the APA Audio Authors’ Tea. Do you know what they served at this tea? Tea. Lipton’s. Regular or decaf. There were also some cookies that I ignored, but seriously, Lipton’s? When I went to Orlando for the Baker & Taylor Vendor Summit, they had a glorious selection of teas set out all the time between sessions. Here, I actually paid for the session and got Lipton’s. Oh, well, I really paid for the event because it featured (drumroll…) Maggie Stiefvater! There were others, too, of course: Terry McMillan, John Scalzi, and Michael Koryta, so no small potatoes. All were great, and discussed the special considerations that go into making recordings of books, which I have found fascinating since touring the Recorded Books studio a couple of years ago in New York. Maggie looks like a character in one of her books, and I hung on her every word. I am so glad that I was able to finish The Raven King—the last of the “Raven Cycle”— before seeing her, and I can’t wait to see what this amazingly creative author serves up next.

And that was it! I shipped off my box of goodies and joined my group of colleagues and my husband for that boisterous final meal of octopus that I wrote about in my first Chicago post. I was able to meet so many of my favorite authors, confer with other professionals, and continue to increase my respect for hardworking publisher reps, and throughout the week, several themes seemed to come to the forefront over and over again. I hope to write about those in a later post.

Thanks to all who made Book Expo America possible!

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The very sophisticated photos of David Arnold and Maggie Stiefvater are from Google searches, probably by very expensive professional photographers. The photo of Kwame Alexander and me is from Baker & Taylor’s Facebook page, courtesy of Jill Faherty of Baker & Taylor’s Children and Teen Services.

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Day of Dialog 2016: Up Close and Intense

Day of Dialog logo

My colleagues and I flew to Chicago to attend Book Expo America, a huge annual gathering of publishers, authors, booksellers, and, increasingly, librarians. BEA lasted three days, the first of which we spent at the Day of Dialog, presented by School Library Journal (for professionals serving youth) and Library Journal (for professionals serving adults). BEA has been in New York for a number of years, but this year was hosted in Chicago, just to give us a change of scene.

Day of Dialog is a wondrously concentrated dose of information tailored specifically toward librarians and teachers whose work it is to push books on kids. SLJ knows just what we need, and presents individual speakers, panels of authors who address trends and issues in current literature, and panels of publisher representatives who fill us in on the hottest upcoming titles by their respective authors. Except for lunch, the participants stay in one room and just soak it all up.

Richard PeckRichard Peck was our opening speaker. At 82, he is still as sharp and witty as ever, and his remarks applied his seasoned wisdom to the edgiest current topics. Nothing is off the table with Mr. Peck! Years ago, while I was in graduate school, I carpooled with a school librarian who was having a tough time with a class of rowdy fifth-grade boys. She asked me for a title that she could read to them, hoping to get them interested in books. I suggested Peck’s The Teacher’s Funeral. Although the humor was down-home, I thought boys would really appreciate it. A couple of weeks later, she thanked me profusely. She bubbled over with good news about her boys, marveling that you could hear a pin drop in her class now, unless the boys were roaring with laughter in all the right places, and that they couldn’t wait to get to her class to hear the next chapter. We felt much the same way on Wednesday, hanging on his every word. You can get a taste of his speech on YouTube here  and here. His latest book, The Best Man, comes out in September.

There were great discussions on the making of children’s nonfiction, particularly illustrated nonfiction guaranteed to entice young ones into learning. If I may recommend a few, don’t miss Will’s Words, by Jane Sutcliffe, who invites us to explore the words and phrases introduced into our language by the bard’s works, Some Writer!, by Melissa Sweet, a biography of E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web fame, and Around America to Win the Vote, by Mara Rockliff, one of many excellent books on women’s suffrage coming out in this 100th anniversary year.

MG topicThe middle grade author panel was worth the price of admission for me. Middle grade books are the ones that we remember fondly from childhood, and almost all of the great classics fall here, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Secret Garden. These new authors discussed the truth that we find in children’s literature and the sometimes overwhelming issues that children deal with, whether the adults in their lives try to shield them or not. Middle Grade PanelAdam Gidwitz described his new medieval novel, The Inquisitor’s Tale, which he researched while in Europe with his historian wife. Quite a leap from his Tale Dark and Grimm and Star Wars retellings! I am looking forward to this one. Jason Reynolds, author of As Brave as You (among others), held us spellbound as he mused on the themes that were common to all of us as we read stories of other cultures. As he said, stories are true when they explore the fundamental touchstones of life, such as family and the universal need to be loved. I had the privilege of hearing Jason again at the AAP Children’s Author Dinner that evening (see photo below) when he went into greater depth about his new book that explores a boy’s discovery that his grandfather, who has always been his hero, is totally blind. It is our response to life’s surprises that makes us grow bitter or grow into heroes ourselves. I have a feeling Jason will be a new favorite author for me.

Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird

During lunch, I was able to speak to Betsy Bird, purveyor of SLJ’s celebrated blog Fuse#8, about the fabulous Children’s Literary Salon that she had hosted a couple of weeks before. Presented with the topic “Death and Theology in Children’s Literature,” Nathan (N.D.) Wilson, of 100 Cupboards fame, and Jeanne Birdsall, author of the beloved “Penderwicks” series, discussed the Christian and post-Christian humanist points of view, respectively. SLJ has made this and other webcasts available here. I highly recommend this webcast, particularly for Christian teachers and parents, and for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to see the author lauded for his children’s and adult works. I confess that I watched it live in my family room, weeping and saying, “Yes! This is why we sacrifice for the children!”

YA PanelAfter lunch, Laini Taylor gave a wry and thoughtful speech about genre fiction, which I love, but which is often not valued as highly as realistic fiction. Her hot pink hair was also on display in the following panel of women writers of young adult fiction. Here’s a new statistic by Bowker: more than half of all YA fiction is read by adults!  I do know a lot of adults who read YA, but I thought my perspective might be skewed by my environment.

The day rounded out with a full panel of picture book authors and illustrators. I must admit that I was flagging by the middle of the afternoon, but certainly not because of the program. Another smashing success! Kudos to School Library Journal.

Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) Children’s Author Dinner was held at the opulent Palmer House Hotel that evening, and in addition to another brilliant panel of authors, I was surrounded by terrific children’s librarians from around the country. All kinds of shop talk went on while consuming a scrumptious meal accompanied by generous amounts of wine. After dinner, the authors spoke about their books, which included picture books, graphic novels, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction.

One of the great advantages of attending events like Day of Dialog and the authors’ dinner is that I learn which books the publishers are featuring this season and next season, and I will be sure to order all of these titles, if I haven’t already! That is their point, of course, but it is also the point for me. As a selector, I have learned over the years that if a publisher is pushing a title, they think it deserves to do well, and, conversely, if they choose to market a title strongly, it will do well as a result! This helps me to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and get the books that kids will love. All of this is in addition, of course, to being starstruck by meeting the authors of my favorite books—my rock stars! Truth be told, I only geeked out once, and that was on Friday, which will be another post!

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The image of the SLJ Day of Dialog logo was obtained from Google Images, as was the image of Betsy Bird. The other grainy, dreadful photos are my own. Apologies to the photogenic originals!

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Where Are the Gangsters?

Chicago DuskBefore last week, when I thought of Chicago, it was dirty, dark, and violent. Have I seen too many movies? My trip to Chicago for Book Expo America showed me a completely different side of the town! Granted, our hotel was in the “North River” area, and I never ventured into the South Side to see Leroy Brown, but our visit was spectacular.

Devil in the White CityAs a librarian should, I read some books before getting on the plane. Besides Fodor’s and Lonely Planet’s guides to Chicago, I read The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. This nonfiction account of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 introduces the reader to the leading names in architecture of the time, the men (and one woman) who built what they considered the first truly American city. If you can stomach the chapters on the serial killer who was quietly causing young women to disappear at the time of the fair, this book reads like an exciting novel. Larson laces in the names of many historical figures who wove in and out of Chicago’s narrative at the turn of the last century.

Chicago Art Institute

The Art Institute of Chicago

David was able to accompany me on the trip, and we caught a morning flight so that we could take in the Art Institute in the afternoon. It was glorious! So many treasures that I had always wanted to see. We did not have time to go to the special Van Gogh exhibit—the museum closes at 5:00!— but they had other works of his in their permanent collection, anyway. Here are some of my favorites.

 

First Impressionist room

First sight upon walking into the Impressionist Wing

Paris Street on a Rainy Day

They are staring at Paris Street; Rainy Day, by Caillebotte. I could only get close enough to take this crooked picture!

Nighthawks

Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper. As stark and captivating in real life as I’d imagined.

American Gothic

American Gothic, by Grant Wood. The artist’s niece and his dentist.

Mary Cassatt

The Child’s Bath, by Mary Cassatt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lou Malnati 2That first evening, we crossed another “must” off of our list by sampling Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s, recommended by a friend who is a former Chicagoan. It tasted fresh and delicious, but I have to say that New York pizza is the real thing for this east-coast girl.

Cubs gameI had professional sessions all day and night the next day, which I’ll get to in a later article, but David took advantage of the time by taking in a Cubs game. Since he’s a South Carolina guy, he’s never met a stranger, so he made friends with a Michigan couple in the hotel elevator who were also headed to the game. They taught him all about the train system, and they rode together to Wrigley Field. David took pictures of the houses all around the field that have benches on the roof! The owners rent the space. Clever! David got a ticket for a cheap seat online, but as the game wore on, the ushers wore out, and he was able to wander down to snap a photo this close.

 

Architecture Foundation boat

The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river tour of the city was a highlight of our trip. Even though it was a chilly, cloudy morning, this 90-minute cruise featured all three branches of the Chicago River, narrated by a brilliant architect/ docent who knew all of the technical information as well as fascinating anecdotes of Chicago history. I discovered, to my own surprise, that my favorite styles of architecture were Art Deco and Post-Modern. Although it started to rain and the temperature dropped to what would be winter temps in North Carolina by the time we got to the edge of Lake Michigan, this tour was worth every penny. If you go to Chicago, do not miss it. Here are some of my favorite buildings:

Trump

Right in front as we start off, the modernist masterpiece by a man we can’t escape even when we turn off the TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrigley Building

The Wrigley Building, built for the man who accidentally made a fortune from chewing gum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curved green building far

The long view of 333 Wacker Drive, a postmodern building that curves with the riverfront.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curved green building close up

A close-up of 333 Wacker Drive that shows the rippling, blue-green glass that reflects the river water. This is possibly my favorite building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wedge Bottom building

As you can imagine, real estate is at a premium in downtown Chicago, so architects get creative. If you look closely, you will see that the glass building in the center is being built on a wedge-shaped base, as if it were an arrow thrust into the ground. Amazing engineering.

Willis Tower fog

The top of the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, peeking from the clouds.

Triangle condos

Some postmodern architects love triangles, and…

Curved condos

some like curves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridge Going Up

The many bridges really work!

David Tilt Chicago

After professional workshops that afternoon, our entire group of librarians was invited to the Sourcebooks Publishers cocktail party at the top of the Hancock building, Chicago 360. What a view! The entire room on the 94th floor is surrounded by ceiling to floor windows. David took photos for hours, catching the changing light over the city and the shores of Lake Michigan. The picture at the top of this post was from this vantage point, and my husband was brave enough to do the Tilt! They put you in a little glass box and tilt it out 30 degrees so that you look down on the city. Although the light was behind him, I can attest that he is the person all the way to the right. At the maximum tilt, he let go of the handles and spread out his arms like Superman. A couple of my colleagues also took the dare. I stood a safe distance away and had an extra cocktail in their honor.

IMG_3328We ended the week at Quartino’s Italian Restaurant, where I had a bowl of tentacles. Not what I expected, but the Frutti di Mare featured more octopus than I had anticipated. We shared lots of other goodies, so it was alright. Great food and a lively place filled with locals. An excellent finish to our trip!

 

But wait! There’s more! The real reason for our journey to the north was the Book Expo America. In the next posts, I’ll let you in on all the book news and views that I learned from authors and publishers in one info-packed week.

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