Category Archives: Books and reading

Reading Roundup

Although I set out to read like mad over the holidays, life got in the way, as you can tell by an earlier post, and I ended up with just a few books read. They are a wide-ranging lot, though! Here are four I recommend and two I had to give up.

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Olive is not the most likeable protagonist. She’s not the sweet mom, the girl next door, or the Every Woman. In a series of thirteen separate, yet related, stories, we learn about this large, blunt woman from her husband, her students, her son, and her neighbors. Finally, toward the end of the book, Strout circles in to Olive herself, by this time vulnerable and sympathetic. Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has recently been developed into a television series. Strout’s brilliant construction and fine writing make this a highly-recommended read.

Rain ReignRain Reign, by Ann M. Martin

Rose (rows) has high-functioning autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome, and is obsessed with homophones. The story is told (tolled) in (inn) Rose’s voice, so whenever she encounters a homonym, she puts all (awl) of the related words in parentheses, which gives the narrative a distinctive style (stile). Rose’s large, loving dog is named Rain (reign, rein), because her dad brought her home on a rainy night (knight). Most stories about children with Asperger’s are about boys, and they all seem (seam) to (two, too) have parents who are intensely involved in their children’s lives, working to get them the best care possible. Rose never knew (new, gnu) her mother, and her father deals with Rose’s problems by yelling, “Cut it out!” Thank goodness that Rose has a gentle, understanding uncle in her life. There is some (sum) tension in this novel, at least (leased) for the older reader, because we (wee) are always expecting Rose’s father to snap, and the crisis of the novel comes when Rain runs away during a hurricane. (Just to let you know—since I would want to: the dog does not die. It is safe to read the book.) Rose is such an appealing character, and although the reading is difficult at first, kids will soon get used to the constant homonyms. I would love to see this win the Newbery.

Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion

If you read the sparkling Australian novel The Rosie Project last year, you will want to follow Don and Rosie to America. Spoiler Alert: In the very beginning of the novel, Rosie announces that she is pregnant. Don responds to the news by bolting out the door of their apartment in New York and running across town to the home of his friend. No matter what the situation with Rosie’s delicate condition, Don continues to react completely inappropriately. Perhaps he is trying desperately to be the best father imaginable, but between not knowing how to do that and wanting to keep Rosie from any stress, he puts his job, his relationship with his unborn child, and even his marriage in terrible jeopardy. As an Aussie Sheldon Cooper, Don is completely adorable and lovable. I must admit that I felt that The Rosie Project was a stronger book, but I will certainly read Don and Rosie’s next installment.

Man Called OveA Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

As I have opined before, the wave of Scandinavian books and movies out there these days can’t help being so brutally depressing, considering the far north’s godlessness, six months of darkness, and starkly angular furniture. Can tragedy be funny? As this delightful novel opens, Ove is trying his best to end his miserable life, but he just can’t manage it when all of these pesky people need his help. Ove is a quintessential curmudgeon: grouchy, grumbling, and judgmental. As the story develops, we learn the reasons for Ove’s ornery nature, but it only serves to make us love him more. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a novel for everyone, men and women, young and old. Highly recommended.

Amongst these winners of my holiday reading, I must admit that I pulled my bookmark out of two others. I make it a policy not to review books I don’t like, so I won’t mention them by name. I try to read widely, but sometimes a book just doesn’t fit.

The first one was a teenage boy book. The mind of a teenage boy is just not a comfortable place for an old lady to hang out. Now, I loved Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith, earlier this year, because it was brilliant, hilarious, and shocking. However, when a bunch of us teen librarians got together a couple of months ago to chat about the year’s best teen books, we all agreed that we thought it was excellent but could not bring ourselves to recommend it to a kid. Notice that I didn’t write a review. That being said, if it wins the Printz, I will cheer. The writing was just spectacular. (Ava Lavender is still my top pick, though.) However, when I went to read this other teen boy book (by a different author) last month, I just couldn’t go there again. Soon, maybe, but not this book.

2014-06-28 17.29.21

Three of My Favorites

The second book I gave up on was supposed to be a cozy read for female literary types. Me, in other words. I was really looking forward to curling up with it over the holidays, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a man-hatin’ book. I don’t understand man-hatin’ books or Lifetime movies. I have been greatly blessed in my life to be surrounded by phenomenal men: father, husband, son, brother, brothers-in-law, pastors, church friends, co-workers, you name it. They are strong, hard-working, brave, honorable, handy, and able to reach high shelves. They are also loud, self-absorbed, blustering, messy, and, um, not always mannerly. I love that. How boring life would be if we were all the same. So, if a woman wants to live by herself in her fussy, little life where everything is always clean and quiet, and no one ever grunts or slams furniture into her walls (“Oh, sorry about that”), then she is welcome to do so, but I’m not going to read her books.

Whew! So that’s everything I’ve read since Christmas. Right now, I’m reading the Qur’an, so I think I’ll be there for a while. It’s something I must do. In the meantime, I’ll think of something else to write about. Maybe I’ll actually do some crafts in my new craft room!

Disclaimer: I read library copies of Olive Kitteridge, Rain Reign, and A Man Called Ove. I read an advance reader copy of The Rosie Effect. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Men and Women

Zoom Zoom Zoom

2014-12-25 18.44.56Sometimes, when we expect things to be really difficult, they’re worse. I knew my time between Thanksgiving and New Years would be challenging, since I had all of the usual holiday obligations and activities, plus our county’s annual booksale, plus our son’s move out of our house into his own house, but there was more! On Thanksgiving, the very first day of holiday festivities, my mom fell and broke her hip. It was almost eleven o’clock at night, and she just turned to get up from her chair, and over she went. We followed the ambulance to the hospital, where the staff very kindly ignored the fact that some of us had obviously been celebrating quite a bit and were wandering aimlessly around the emergency area. Everyone was fine by the time we left at six in the morning, and we all spent much more time over the next few days than we ever expected at the fabulous Parkridge Hospital (Resort & Spa?) while Mom had surgery. Seriously, I have never seen a hospital this gorgeous, with marble floors, fountains, and firebowls in the pools. Mom is still in rehab, but she was able to come home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for all the festivities. Here she is on Christmas night, snoozing after a big day.

2014-12-12 18.42.26

Our county’s annual book sale took place two weeks later, and all the normally sedentary librarians had the experience of standing, walking, and carrying 450,000 books on a concrete floor all week long! We shared naproxen sodium tablets and tips for easing muscles. I began a love affair with Blue Emu. For those of us in administration, it was a fun time of customer service. Who doesn’t love a huge building full of readers?

2014-12-21 15.33.35Our son was happy to move into a new townhouse, and his realtor’s wife was happy to have a December closing!* His move was somewhat more stressful than anticipated, though, and was delayed several days. Here is a Public Service Announcement: When you buy a phone from AT&T and ask to make payments, they open up a $5000 line of credit for you! Our son did not know this, but his lender found out the day before closing. Even though the new phone was paid for, he had to produce a document that proved that the credit line was closed, and that document had to cross numerous desks before he closed. Because of that, he ended up moving the furniture in the middle of the week, when all of his helpers were at work. However! He now has a lovely townhouse located right near the city—just where he wants to be. First order of business: Get that NC State Christmas tree up with just a week to spare!

In the meantime, I now have a guest room and a craft room! We moved all of Michael’s furniture out of his office, along with three truckloads of furniture and stuff from the garage, and then we started cleaning. I took every single book off the three ceiling-to-floor bookcases, dusted them, and placed them on the floor. When each bookcase was done, I wiped it down, and then David pulled it out and vacuumed behind it. Then I put every single book back on the shelves. Ten thousand squats! I could hardly walk the next day. We cleaned up an antique chest of drawers and moved David’s grandmother’s dining room table in there. It had been in the garage for three years! Murphy’s Oil Soap is a wonderful invention. I spent some of the Christmas money I received from my mom on art supplies and moved all of my old art supplies and my sewing machine into that room. While I was looking for old paintings, I found a substantial length of dark red fabric, so I turned it into window treatments and a matching seat cover for the chair. I rounded up some favorite mugs and repurposed them, too. Here are some before and after photos.

2015-01-02 19.53.51

2015-01-02 19.53.34

2015-01-11 19.28.16

2015-01-11 19.57.07

Like most of you, we also spent more time than we would ever want staring at the television screen, stunned at the news. People were in the streets in Missouri, New York, Paris…. The mind boggles.

Even with all the undecorating and return to work, we did find time to grill salmon in the dark,

2014-12-28 19.09.51

make the best New Year’s Day pork roast ever, thanks to Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead cookbook,

Make It Ahead and sip tea in our new teal tea pot,

2015-01-02 10.30.14

also compliments of my mom. I’ve spent some time on resolutions and plans, which I will share with you in another post, coming up soon. Here’s hoping for a nice, dull 2015.

______________

*Note: For those of you who didn’t know, my husband was our son’s realtor.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Family, Life's Travails- Big and Small

Thrones, Dominations, by Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh

Thrones DominationsLord and Lady Peter Wimsey have returned from their honeymoon and are adjusting to life as the most unexpected married couple in 1930s London. The former Harriet Vane finds that happy marriages may not make for great mystery writing, and Lord Peter seems determined not to allow his smooth, urbane mask to slip in society so that others would know how deliriously happy he is that Harriet finally said yes. No one can understand why a man who could have any woman in England would choose a plain, overeducated female who seems determined to continue to work for a living.

Just as the Wimseys’ marriage seems cool and rigidly correct, the Harwells seem passionately in love. He is rich; she is beautiful. What could go wrong? Perhaps the portraits that the famous artist, Monsieur Chapparalle, is painting of Harriet and Rosamund Harwell will reveal the secrets that each woman is harboring inside. Secrets will out, and misunderstandings can be deadly.

I have been a great admirer of Dorothy L. Sayers for decades. I own all of the original Peter Wimsey mysteries, have read her translation of Dante’s Inferno, one of her Canterbury morality plays (one is enough), as well as a biography of Sayers, and I own a collection of her essays called A Matter of Eternity. I particularly appreciate her essay concerning Jesus and women. Amen, sister. Sayers was a contemporary of “the Inklings,” and bristled when her name was used professionally without her middle initial. She felt that if C.S. Lewis could have two initials and J.R.R. Tolkien could have three, couldn’t a woman have one? She was an academic who started writing mystery novels late in life when her alcoholic husband was driving them into the poorhouse. Let’s face it: if it were not for Peter Wimsey, we wouldn’t remember her at all. Well, perhaps college professors would know her for her acclaimed translation of The Divine Comedy.

According to the author’s note at the end of Thrones, Dominations, Ms. Sayers had already started this novel, but gave it up to work on theater productions and the Dante translation. Jill Paton Walsh, a Booker Prize-nominated author, was asked to pick up the manuscript and bring it to a fitting conclusion. I had known Ms. Walsh before as the author of many children’s books, but for some reason, I had never paid attention to her “New Lord Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane Mystery” series. I think I burned out on dead author remakes with all of the Jane Austenesque volumes, which vary widely in quality. Recently, however, I saw an ad for the latest in Walsh’s series, and the reviews were excellent. I was intrigued, so I requested this first volume from our library. From the first page, Walsh retains the style and wit of Sayers’ original works, with a clever mystery and welcome updates on all of our favorite characters. It was a thrill for this devotee to learn more about Peter and Harriet, particularly how their unusual relationship would fare under the censorious glare of the English aristocracy, especially Peter’s family.

Here is a series continuation that does not disappoint. I will be certain to read the other three (so far!) entries, since there are very exciting developments at the end of this book. If you are a Sayers fan, a mystery enthusiast, or love the sparkling badinage of early 20th century English writing, take heart! Here is a whole new series to savor.

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

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

New and Notable: Picture Books, Part Four

Duck and GooseWith new picture books pouring into the library system every day, I can say that Americans are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. We can take our children to storytime every week and come home with an armload of books for free. Well, yes, it is taken out of your taxes, but wouldn’t you rather use your tax dollars this way than to make use of the fire department every week? Alright, then.

On the other hand, boatloads of books can make good choices difficult. Here are some of my favorite new books—“new” meaning within the past year or maybe two. I have left out anything that I’ve already mentioned in a previous part of this article and have loosely grouped them into similar styles or themes.

 Self-Esteem and Individuality

Some Monsters Are DifferentDavid Milgrim- Some Monsters Are Different. Pastel, non-scary monsters turn out to have the same differences that human children do! Funny.

David Shannon- Bugs in My Hair. David Shannon writes many hilarious books about his less-than-sterling childhood. This icky title is full of puns and laughter.

Flight SchoolLita Judge– Flight School. A penguin story about a little water bird who will do anything to fly. He declares that he has “the soul of an eagle.” Fabulous writing.

Tori Corn- Dixie Wants an Allergy. Dixie is jealous of all the kids in her class who have allergies, and she wants to be special like them. An interesting way to teach about both allergies and contentment.

Jill Esbaum- I Hatched! A killdeer chick hatches and discovers the wonder of himself! Very enthusiastic and childlike, including matter-of-fact exploration of his whole body. Makes a great read-aloud.

Intergenerational

How to Babysit a GrandmaBarney Saltzberg- Tea with Grandpa. Timeless sweetness with cutting-edge technology, a little girl has tea with her grandpa every Saturday. Only on the last page does the reader discover that it’s a Skype teatime.

Jean Reagan- How to Babysit a Grandma. A new sequel to the hilarious How to Babysit a Grandpa, this child teaches other kids how to keep Grandma busy, how to take her to the park, and other skills.

 Fun Ways to Teach

President TaftMac Barnett- President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath. Full-on comedy for this dubiously historical event.

Gloria Whelan- Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine. How can Victoria be modest and queenly, yet still enjoy the ocean? Prince Albert to the rescue!

Brad Meltzer- I Am Rosa Parks. Meltzer has recently launched these picture book biographies that show famous individuals as children. See also I Am Abraham Lincoln and I Am Amelia Earhart. More to come!

Clotilde Perrin- At the Same Moment Around the World. Here’s an unusual topic for picture books: time zones. This tall, skinny book shows children pursuing activities in each time zone, with a map in the back to show them all at once.

Karen Kaufman Orloff and David Catrow- I Wanna Iguana. A little boy and his mom exchange messages about the pros and cons of buying an iguana. Might encourage writing; might discourage the gimmes. Features Catrow’s wildly energetic illustrations.

Little Red WritingKaty Beebe- Brother Hugo and the Bear. A medieval take on “the dog ate my homework.” Brother Hugo says that Saint Augustine’s writings have been eaten by a bear, so he has to copy a new illuminated manuscript.

Kyo Maclear- Julia, Child. How Julia Child and her friend Simca learned to love French cooking as children. Encourage your little chef!

Joan Holub- Little Red Writing. A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood starring a red pencil who writes her own story, including facing down a pencil sharpener called the Wolf 3000.

For the Love of Books

Library Book for BearBarbara Bottner- Miss Brooks’ Story Nook. Sequel to the fabulous Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I Don’t), this librarian heroine uses stories to deal with real-life problems.

Bonny Becker- A Library Book for Bear. The latest in the series that began with A Visitor for Bear, these humorous stories about a curmudgeonly bear and gregarious mouse are absolute favorites.

Animal Stories

Mister Bud Wears the ConeCarter Goodrich- Mister Bud Wears the Cone. Poor Mister Bud. He had a hot spot, and he worried it so much he had to wear the cone. If you’ve seen the movie Up, you know the shame involved. Hilarious and poignant tales of an old dog and the young upstart. The first in the series is Meet Zorro. This is probably my favorite picture book so far this year.

Stephen Huneck- Sally Goes to Heaven. The very last book in the “Sally” series about this beloved black Lab. Illustrated with distinctive woodcuts. We will miss Sally.

John Himmelman- Katie and the Puppy Next Door. Katie learns about friendship with other dogs. First in this series is the adorable Katie Loves the Kittens.

Tad Hills- Duck and Goose Go to the Beach. Duck thinks he wants to go the beach, but then doesn’t like it.  Goose doesn’t want to go, but then loves it! Hills is the author of the How Rocket Learned to Read series.

Jasper & JoopTorben Kuhlmann- Lindbergh. A mouse decides to build a plane to escape the new mousetrap. Detailed artwork in saturated watercolors.

Olivier Dunrea- Jasper & Joop. Adorable, simple, little stories about ducks and geese who might remind you of your toddler. Lots of white space behind vividly colored waterfowl. The series begins with Gossie.

Just. So. Fun.

I Am OtterSam Garten- I Am Otter. When a stuffed animal’s owner grows up, Otter decides to open a toast restaurant, but when nothing goes as planned, she blames Giraffe. Hilarious, with plenty of humor for the grown-up reading it aloud.

Alexander Steffensmeier- Millie and the Big Rescue. Millie is one mischievous cow. In this episode, she gets stuck in the top of a tree while playing a game of hide-and-seek. The series begins with Millie Waits for the Mail. Great artwork.

Daddy's ZigzaggingAlan Lawrence Sitomer- Daddy’s Zigzagging Bedtime Story. What’s a daddy to do when he has a girl and a boy who want stories? What about truck-driving aliens who burp fire with a purple unicorn who bakes cupcakes? A wild and rollicking bedtime for all.

Jennifer Gordon Sattler- Pig Kahuna Pirates! In this sequel to Pig Kahuna, pig brothers Dink and Fergus are excellent sibling role models as they play pirates on the beach. Picture book pigs rock.

Keiko Kasza- My Lucky Birthday. Another book about a terrific pig, although this one may end up as an alligator’s birthday dinner. Sequel to My Lucky Day.

Jeff Cohen- Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut Ever. As an older sister, I can attest that the desire to improve—and thereby totally wreck—your younger sister’s hair is universal.

Wordless Wonders

Tortoise and the HareAaron Becker- Quest. Remember Harold and the Purple Crayon? Here is a girl with a red marker, but instead of line drawings, Becker uses beautiful, detailed paintings to take readers on a Journey (2013) and then a Quest (2014).

Jerry Pinkney- The Tortoise and Hare. Award-winning artist Pinkney fills the pages with paintings in this “retelling” of the Aesop’s Fable. Let your children tell the story as they drink in the artwork. See also the Caldecott-winning The Lion and the Mouse.

Well, That’s Different

Battle BunnyJon Scieszka- Battle Bunny. A deconstructionist take on Little Golden Book-type picture books. The artwork shows a sweet picture book scribbled in, erased, and defaced in order to tell a more exciting tale from a little boy’s perspective. Pictures by Mac Barnett. Between these two guys, you can’t expect anything traditional.

Molly Schaar Idle- Tea Rex. Cordelia is a no-nonsense little girl who sets out to domesticate a T-Rex by teaching him tea party manners.

Hervé Tullet- Press Here. An interactive book with no moving parts! This 2011 book started a trend of books that use digital concepts, but unplug kids from electronics. I handed these out to a room full of adults and watched them tapping the book, turning it upside down, and shaking it, totally engrossed. Coming in September: Mix It Up!

N.D. (Nathan) Wilson- Ninja Boy Goes to School. A little boy uses his ninja skills in order to succeed in—and escape from—school. Not quite socially acceptable. The author of 100 Cupboard’s first picture book.

Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen-The Dark. Portrays “the dark” as an entity that lives in a boy’s house. He is afraid of it until they make friends. Can Lemony Snicket do anything ordinary? A bit frightening, so use discretion.

When the Wind BlewAlison Jackson- When the Wind Blew. Nursery rhyme characters and conventions get all mixed up when the wind blows, and it’s up to the Old Woman Who Lives in the Shoe and her many children to straighten everything out again. Great fun for children who know their nursery rhymes. Refreshing: a generously proportioned heroine and a happy home with more than 1.8 children.

Did I miss your favorite new finds? Please feel free to add them to the comments so that we can all enjoy them.

Disclaimer: This series of articles, as indeed all of my articles, are written entirely on my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Family

If One Is Good, More Is Great! Picture Books, Part Three

How Do DinosaursReaders love series. You do. I do. Once you fall head over heels for your favorite characters, you have to know what they’re up to now. Whether you like gritty crime novels or cozy village mysteries, there’s always another case to solve, although how Jessica Fletcher found so many murder victims in little Cabot Cove is disturbing. I think I’d move.

Children are no different. If you enjoyed giving a pig a pancake (Laura Numeroff), you’ll probably like to give a moose a muffin. If you needed to know how dinosaurs say goodnight (Jane Yolen), you’ll probably want to know how they get well soon. If the formula works well for your kids, keep the fun going. A series is a sure thing. Pete the CatOnce you find a hit, it’s such a relief to know that there are many happy bedtimes in your future! Fancy Nancy (Jane O’Connor), Curious George (H.A. Rey), Olivia (Ian Falconer) and Pete the Cat (Eric Litwin/ James Dean) are some of the best characters out there. Even Madeline (Bemelmans), Thomas the Tank Engine (Awdry), and Babar (de Brunhoff) were the stars of series in their day.

When I run a report of the 100 most popular picture books in our library system, I have to read past the 70th title before I find a non-series book. Isn’t that shocking? Pity the new author trying break into publishing these days! As a book selector, I am always on the lookout for original new work, and finding a gem is exciting. Of course, next year, that gem could turn out to have been the first of a series, too.

Not all series are intentional. Sometimes an author writes a new book that is just so popular that the readers want more, so first there is a sequel, and if that goes well, it could go on forever. As we all know, some series run out of gas and become formulaic. When publishers find a cash cow, though, they will keep on milking until it’s dry!

So, at what point does a series become a “commercial series”? Since all publishing is done for profit, I suppose they are all commercial in a sense, but you know that when you can purchase the video, the lunchbox, the action figures, and the t-shirt, you’ve got a commercial series on your hands. Television and merchandising for children are incredibly profitable, and the vast majority of publishers for children today are part of a large media conglomerate. Dora the ExplorerMany television characters become a brand, and they wrap themselves in wholesome flags of education so that, as a parent, you can be proud to purchase their products for your kids.When I was in Minneapolis a few years ago, we went the Mall of America and saw a three-story-tall balloon of Dora the Explorer—inside the mall!

You may remember from the first part of this article that the very earliest books for children, back in the late 1800s, were didactic little tomes written to admonish children to behave properly. Flash forward to today and look at the messages in many of the commercial series, whether television or books. “Save the planet” may be number one. How many times does your child have to be told to recycle? That’s so boring! Parents can model that behavior and kids can participate in family life and then go play. I completely reject the popular idea that children should educate their parents. Anyone who thinks that children are more virtuous than their parents has never seen a toddler playgroup when the mommies get lost in their conversations. Someone always ends up screaming, and the mommies go home and drink wine. And it doesn’t get any better as they get older, as anyone who has read Lord of the Flies can tell you. God gave humans long childhoods so that their parents would have time to civilize them.

Arthur's Off to SchoolProbably the second most common theme is liking school and behaving well in class. “Back to school” stories are sure hits every year. Commercial series are very big on molding good citizens. We all want good citizens, but how about well-rounded, curious, thoughtful, creative, happy children? Perhaps there’s not much separating today’s commercial series from those dreary first books except the brightly colored pictures. Each child is a brand-new, original human being, not just another brick in the wall.

OliviaShould you avoid commercial series altogether? Absolutely not! Olivia is adorable, and her original books are brilliant. Just be aware that the new ones that have come out since the TV show are different, and you may want to pay attention. Dora and Diego are model little people, and a bit of that is a good thing. If your kids love Team Umizoomi, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Yo Gabba Gabba, or any one of a dozen more TV shows, and you worry that they’re not reading, if you can hook them into books with familiar characters, go for it. Your kids’ friends are going to talk about characters that they see on TV, and it’s fine for your kids to know them, too, so that they can chatter along.

Hardy Boys ChumsI certainly read series books, and I’m sure you do, too, but you know how a steady diet of chick-lit or spy thrillers can make you sick after a while. We all need something more nourishing. C.S. Lewis said it best in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when he revealed that Eustace was the way he was because he had read all the wrong books. When my son was a certain age, he wanted nothing but Hardy Boys mysteries. Now, we all want the lads to solve mysteries with their chums, but after months of them, his reading progress started to flatline. Time to find something new! Next time, we’ll look at some of the great new picture book titles coming out that will delight you and your children. Some of them are in series!

Disclaimer: This series of articles, as indeed all of my articles, are written entirely on my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Family

Classics & Caldecotts: Picture Books, Part Two

Honey for a Child's HeartClassic picture books are those that we all remember from childhood— and our parents and grandparents may even remember them from their childhoods. They provide more cultural cohesion than Common Core could ever hope to do. No one has to legislate or prescribe picture books; we all love them and ask for them over and over again.

My two favorite resources that I used as a mother for finding excellent books are Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt, and Books Children Love, by Elizabeth Wilson. Both of these guides are written from a Christian perspective, and may be well-known to you already. My copies are old and generously marked-up, but they are available in ever-updated editions, as well. Even though these books, especially Honey for a Child’s Heart, have extensive lists of picture books, they are only a jumping-off point. There are wonderful new picture books coming out every day, so be sure to weave new and old into your reading lists, just as you do for yourself.

Although fairy tales and Mother Goose are not picture books per se, they are such a part of our oral and written traditions as a society that they provide rich fields of inspiration for artists, so most of us tend to experience them in gloriously illustrated picture books. Older children may learn Andersen’s or Grimm’s Fairy Tales in a larger, picture-less book, but a first taste of these terrifying tales on Dad’s lap is much friendlier. As adults, we expect others to know what we mean by “the big, bad wolf” or “turn into a pumpkin” without explanation. There is so much assumed knowledge in a culture, and a large part of it comes from the shared experience of childhood stories. Be sure that your children are introduced to this rich heritage.

Real Mother GooseCertain editions of these stories have almost become the industry standard. We love, for example, The Real Mother Goose, illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright, but the Rosemary Wells or Tomie de Paola editions, as well as many others, are also lovely. Marcia Brown’s retelling of Stone Soup, originally published in 1947, was probably familiar to your children’s grandmother. Paul Galdone is one familiar illustrator who has made individual books from many Mother Goose rhymes, as well as folk tales and legends. Little Red HenGaldone is a reliable author for The Three Little Kittens, The Three Little Pigs, The Little Red Hen, and many other classic children’s tales. Other more formal illustrators of folk and fairy tales include K.Y. Craft (try Cinderella) and one of my favorites, Trina Schart Hyman (try Little Red Riding Hood). Some fairy tales may be found in the picture book section of your library, but others will be in J398.2, with Mother Goose in J398.8. Ask the library staff for help. I always did, and found many treasures that way.

Peter RabbitOther original picture books have found their ways into our hearts, as well. Beatrix Potter, for example, is the beloved English author of the small books about Peter Rabbit and his friends. Both the words and the illustrations are by Potter, and we can’t imagine naughty Peter or his good little siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail any other way. How many children have fallen asleep to Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and how many parents have been unable to finish reading Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit from weeping?

Curious George“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” and you know that I mean Madeline, your child’s introduction to international living. The monkey who lives with the man in the yellow hat is, of course, H. A. Rey’s Curious George, and the creature who says “I speak for the trees!” is The Lorax. Dr. Seuss has other picture books freighted with meaning, as well, including Horton Hears a Who!: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Mike MulliganSome of our favorite picture books when my son was growing up were those by Robert McCloskey, especially Blueberries for Sal. McCloskey wrote such gentle tales that even the scariness of the mother bear was not too much for a young child. Make Way for Ducklings inspired the sculpture in the Boston Public Garden, showing a simpler time when even a big city could come to a halt for a feathered family. The picture book that probably garnered the most re-readings in our house was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton. For boys, what’s not to love? Noisy construction equipment, a dare, a race against time, and the love between man and machine. For Mom, a happy, quiet ending right before bed.

LocomotiveThe Caldecott Award, beginning in 1938, has been awarded to the artist of the most distinguished picture book of the year. While there are many fabulous picture books on the list, it is important to note that the award is for the artist, not the author. Even when this is the same person, the book is being lauded for the illustrations, not the story. This past year’s award, for example, went to Locomotive, by Brian Floca, and while it is luminous and brilliant, it is a nonfiction title for slightly older children and would not make a great bedtime story. Castle, by David Macaulay, which won an honor in 1978, is another excellent nonfiction Caldecott book. Locomotive and two of this year’s honor books, Journey and Mr. Wuffles were all favorites of mine. Sick Day for Amos McGeeOne of the sweetest books ever is A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Erin Stead, which won in 2011. I remember closing the book and hugging it the first time I read it. I also love The Lion and the Mouse, a wordless book by Jerry Pinkney, from 2010, Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems, an honor book in 2005, and Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, by Doreen Cronin, from 2001.

St George and the DragonRapunzel, by Paul Zelinsky, in 1998, Puss in Boots, by Fred Marcellino in 1991, and Fables, by Arnold Lobel in 1981 are wonderful examples of fairy tales and traditional tales retold with new illustrations. My beloved Trina Schart Hyman won for the intricate Saint George and the Dragon in 1985, and the two Robert McCloskey titles discussed above won in 1949 and 1942. You may also recognize titles like Where the Wild Things Are, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and other stories no child should miss. Click on the link above and start checking off your list.

Read to Your BunnyLooking over these titles reminds me of how much longer picture books used to be. You should be aware that storyteller-librarians have to choose picture books with less text and livelier stories than they did when you or your parents were little. Since children’s television became the huge market that it is today, children’s attention spans will not allow them to sit and listen to long stories or those without bouncy rhymes or funny jokes. If you’d like to do the world a favor, raise children who can follow a story to the end, using their imaginations and soaking up the language. Less screen time and more listening will bless us with deep thinkers, and we all know we need more of them! Rosemary Wells says it best: “Read to your bunny.”

Speaking of children’ television, the next article will include that favorite of children’s publishers, commercial series, also known as: “Well, at least they’re reading something.”

Disclaimer: This series of articles, as indeed all of my articles, are written entirely on my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Family

Picture Books, Part One

Auguste Reading to Her Daughter CassattThere are few more beautiful and enduring experiences than reading a picture book with a beloved child on your lap. Cuddling up at the end of the day with a toddler in footie pajamas, peacefully reading a favorite story for the sixth or seventh time, only to hear, “Read it again!” at the end, is not only heartwarming, but more valuable than it appears on the surface. Picture books are the literature of young children’s books, and they form a large part of our cultural literacy.

Picture books are created to be read aloud to a child, although they may be read again by an older child, as well. Board books, besides making excellent teethers, are created to safely teach children the rudiments of holding books, turning pages, moving from left to right, in addition to learning the concepts and simple stories contained within. Later on, beginning readers are especially written with controlled vocabulary and large, simple fonts in order to teach children to read. While one may occasionally find exceptional writing in beginning readers, by and large they tend to be didactic, with the story taking a back seat to the instruction.

Picture books, though, are stories. In all societies and throughout all ages, stories have been told to inculcate cultural values and to lead children into what it means to belong to the human family. They may be simple, domestic tales of daily life familiar to the child, or they may be set in fantastical worlds where children defeat terrifying beasts and return safely to their beds. Picture books can have complex language and advanced vocabulary, or they may have just a few perfectly chosen words on each page. Either way, they introduce little ones to the beauty and power of the written word.

Pirates Don't Change DiapersThemes in the best children’s stories both explain the visible world to them and widen their horizons, without ever having to leave Mom’s lap. Many stories reassure kids that they are loved and safe, teach them that they should be kind to one another and share their toys, and reinforce life’s comforting routines and rhythms. In more exciting tales, risky situations are often acted out by animals to create a bit of distance, and even wild animals like bears are depicted as soft and bumbling. Other stories show scary scenarios—from the first day of school to being captured by pirates—with the young heroes finding confidence to gain control over their worlds. Books provide vehicles to practice succeeding in difficult situations before they happen. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to defeat those pirates if the child had not been sword-fighting in books for years!

Owl and the PussycatUntil the late Victorian age, children were treated as miniature adults in the western world, so there were no books for children, and even after that, the first books for kids were dreary, didactic tales written to promote good behavior. There are valid reasons that most of those screeds are only seen in university classes on the history of literature, while the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear is still popular today. It seems that a newly illustrated version of “The Owl and the Pussycat” comes out every few years. Even today, many cultures do not have books that we would consider picture books, but instead their books for young children have tiny little illustrations tucked into yards and yards of text. Some of the most popular picture books today help to develop a pint-sized sense of humor, from amusingly silly to screamingly funny, and like a Pixar movie, there are bits that will only be appreciated by the accompanying adult.

In order to do justice to this great form of literature and to have room for some title recommendations, I plan to treat several different types of picture books separately. My next article will be about classic picture books, including fairy tales and Caldecott winners. After that, I will discuss the phenomenon of the commercial picture book series—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Finally, as a librarian and children’s book selector, I get to see everything new that’s coming out, and I want to let parents in on some of the best new picture books that I’m reviewing and purchasing at our library so that they can make better use of their limited time on library visits. After all, it’s hard to make good decisions when you can’t find your five-year-old and the two-year-old is wrapped around your leg, since you’ve had to remove her from the stroller so that you could fill it with books. I’ve got your back.

Disclaimer: This series of articles, as indeed all of my articles, are written entirely on my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing: BEA #4

ImageMy very first conference at Book Expo America this year was called “Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing.” I was glad to find this on the itinerary, since inspirational children’s titles have been a growing hole in our collection. Many of the older titles are phasing out, and the reviewers don’t provide a lot of information on new offerings. Perhaps they just don’t know much about this niche market, and I have to admit that I am not always a big fan of what’s coming out of most of the Christian publishing houses these days. Of course, most Christian publishing companies are now part of huge secular corporations. Zondervan, for example, is a subsidiary of HarperCollins. This workshop gave me a lot of great information that will help me to make some solid new selections for the library system.

As a Christian, it really bothers me that an inspirational sticker on the spine almost guarantees that there will not be a literary award sticker on the front. We are not talking about the Bible or C.S. Lewis here– and there are notable exceptions– but most books written expressly for the Christian market are formulaic and mediocre. This is true for both fiction and nonfiction. In adult books, fiction is full of prairie romances and treacly chick-lit. The nonfiction marketing game is to get a megahit self-help book that instructs the reader to repeat this prayer, turn around three times, and click his heels together so that God will give him everything his heart desires. Once the publishers find the hit title, they repackage it for each little demographic: a pink one called Heel-Clicking for a Mom’s Heart, a boldly-colored one called Cool Heel-Clicking for Teens, and a primary-colored 365 Family Devotions for Heel Clickers. Ah, capitalism.

100 CupboardsNot that there are no great Christians writers out there. There are, but many of them are not writing under Christian publishing contracts, and I imagine that it’s for the same reason that many Christian musicians would rather release their music with a secular music label: they just don’t want to fit their creativity into someone else’s box. Marilynne Robinson and Annie Dillard are winning Pulitzer Prizes with MacMillan and HarperCollins, and Nathan Wilson (Douglas Wilson’s gifted son) and Mitali Perkins are writing excellent children’s books with Random House. Christian authors do sometimes write for specifically Christian publishers, of course, but I hesitate to name names, since it is inevitable that I will miss someone wonderful. Eric Metaxas wrote his masterpiece, Bonhoeffer, with Thomas Nelson, and Andrew Klavan writes teen thrillers with them, as well. Ted Dekker writes truly terrifying tales for Worthy Publishing, another Christian outfit, and many others are noted below. I am eager to discover new writers who will raise the level of the craft for all of us.

In any case, on a Thursday morning, I walked a few blocks up 35th Street to the Javits Center for the very first official day of Book Expo America. The Javits is this enormous glass building that takes up six city blocks and is surrounded by construction zones. Just before 11:00, I walked what seemed like several miles down the stairs and into the conference section of the building for a workshop called “Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing.” The four panelists were representatives of Zondervan, Thomas Nelson’s children’s division (called Tommy Nelson), and Big Ideas. You remember Big Ideas: they produce the adorable VeggieTales stories.

Zondervan logoThe Zondervan representative spoke first, and she was very instructive on Zondervan’s many imprints for children. Their new teen line, Blink, is intended to be a “clean reads” selection of titles. Clean Reads are not supposed to be as evangelistic as traditional inspirational titles, but a Christian parent can feel good about handing one to his or her child. There may be religious characters in the story, but converting the reader is not the goal of the book. In the past, the emotional conversion scene was de rigueur, and often felt somewhat forced. Sometimes teen inspirational titles had such gritty characters and plot lines that the delicately reared Christian child could learn about shocking issues that they had never known existed, even though the library had placed an inspirational sticker on the spine. The point of the book was to lead teens from all sorts of situations to Christ, but the sticker would keep the goth/drug-addicted/gang member reader from ever picking up the book. Once the Christian parent figured out the content of the series, their children would never read them, either. Talk about narrowing your audience! Season of WonderWith Clean Reads, though, the parents know that there will be no sex or profanity in the book, so it is safe for their kids. If your kids are already believers, that may be all you need. I have purchased several Blink titles already, just because of the good reviews. They have themes and plots that will be enjoyed by today’s teens. Check out Lisa Tawn Bergren’s “Remnants” series, for example. As a matter of fact, check out everything by Bergren; she’s a terrific author. I love her “River of Time” series, published by David C. Cook. We have her titles in ebook, as well.

On a younger level, Zondervan has the Faithgirlz imprint. This line is more obviously Christian than Blink, with cute, girly covers intended for upper elementary and tweens, whatever that is. (I have a niece who thought she was a tween when she turned nine.) For boys, they have the new series “Game Face,” with the first title, Snap Decision. The cover shows a guy-friendly football huddle. Teen and younger girls will also enjoy the series “Soul Surfer,” based on the life of Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost her arm to a shark several years ago. We just received Hamilton’s nonfiction title, Body & Soul: A Girl’s Guide to a Fit, Fun, and Fabulous Life. Very nice. There are many more series and authors by Zondervan, including Sally Lloyd-Jones’ exceptional Jesus Storybook Bible, so I am a dedicated customer.

Thomas Nelson logo

DreamtreadersThomas Nelson publishes the very popular books by Wayne Thomas Batson. If you’re not familiar with them, these are fantasy or swashbuckling tales, probably targeted for boys twelve and up, but since girls are broader readers, they may like them, as well. The covers are fantastic. Frank Peretti, Jerel Law, and Jason Lethcoe are other popular Thomas Nelson authors for the same age range.

Tommy Nelson has the corner on the Heaven Is for Real children’s adaptations, and they are the publishers for Max Lucado’s beautiful picture books. I Love You All the SameJust last week, the library received the big board book, I Love You All the Same, by Donna Keith. This lovely title features a family of bears—all different kinds of bears. It is the sweetest story of interracial adoption that I’ve seen for the very littlest children. I know so many Christian families who have adopted children from many ethnicities, and this book is perfect for them and for all of their friends. Kudos to Thomas Nelson.

Big Ideas, or VeggieTales, is producing video content more than anything else, but there are books that are based on the video stories. True, you don’t get the fun songs and silly voices, but if your kids already love the characters, why not get them reading with Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato? Great Big Veggie StorybookI was delighted to find that VeggieTales is making a comeback! Mike Nawrocki, the man who is the voice of Larry the Cucumber, was on the panel and gave us an unexpected and convincing demonstration of Larry’s voice. They plan to bring out beginning readers for the “I Can Read” imprint, as well as books of prayers and My Great Big Veggie Storybook. I hope to be able to purchase these soon for a new generation of Veggie lovers.

After the workshop, I wandered around the exhibitor space— thousands of square feet on the third floor—and found Shadow Mountain Publishing. It turns out that I have been buying their books by Brandon Mull and Obert Skye for years without realizing that Shadow Mountain is a Mormon-based publishing house that prints “clean reads” and what they call “value-based” books for all ages.13th Reality I can say that their staff at BEA were the nicest and most helpful of all of the publisher reps. that I encountered, followed closely by DK—but only after the DK reps. found out how much money I have to spend. Shadow Mountain also publishes the popular new “Janitors” series and the phenomenal James Dashner’s “13th Reality” series. They have a few cookbooks, most notably The Romney Family Table. Not a Christian publishing presence, but a safe choice for children’s fiction.

To cover all faith-based publishing, I would have to include the wonderful Jewish voices out there, as well as emerging Muslim children’s writers, but that is for another day. This workshop and the resulting research have helped to guide me to great new titles for the library, and I hope this article will help parents to some new reading experiences for their families. It is encouraging to know that there are still Gideons out there, beating out the wheat in the winepress.* Let’s find them.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article, while brilliant, are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer, my church, or anyone else.

*Judges 6:11

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Christian Life

How to Tell a Librarian from a Banker: BEA #3

ImageAfter the SLJ Day of Dialog, I practically ran to the Princeton Club for the Third Annual BookExpo America Children’s Librarians’ Dinner, presented by SLJ and the Association of American Publishers. I spent the week in fear that I would not be able to get where I needed to go on time. Just for full disclosure, I was pretty intimidated by the idea of the Princeton Club, particularly since the dinner would be held in the James Madison Ballroom. I had emailed the coordinator, Becca Worthington, to make sure that I did not need to dress up. She assured me that ball gowns were not required. Still, I pictured a dark-paneled interior with older men in suits, sitting around drinking and reading newspapers. I was right about the paneling.

Needless to say, I was ridiculously early for the dinner, and the doors to the Madison room were locked. Becca and Chris Vaccari, of Sterling Publishers, were on the second floor, sitting at a table covered with name tags and brochures. They graciously told me that there was a bar on the third floor where I could wait, or I could go to the first-floor lobby, where there were comfortable seats. I chose the lobby, where I checked all of my email and sent a few texts before I saw the sign that said, “No Cellphones.” Men's dress shoesBored, I took the elevator to the third floor, hoping that I’d see a few librarian-looking faces, but the bar was full of older men in suits, sitting around drinking. So I went back to the second floor, where Becca and Chris were telling well-dressed gentlemen that the Hedge Fund Managers’ meeting was in the Alexander Hamilton room across the hall. (How appropriate!) Soon, two other librarians, Jen and Lisa from Connecticut, arrived and we took the three seats while Becca and Chris dealt with the dinner details. We quickly became skilled in directing the right people to the right room, preventing hedge fund managers from hovering over the table. Evidently, there exists a universal longing for a name tag. Sharp suit? Alexander room. Sensible shoes? You’re one of us. I only saw one woman arrive for the Hedge Fund Management meeting, and we knew that she was not a librarian because of her almost non-existent skirt. She would have been fired if she’d tried to put books on a bottom shelf in that outfit.

Walking shoesLibrarians have a look. No, not the cardigan and cat’s-eye glasses, but we do not look like financiers. Oh, adult services librarians can sometimes pull off that look that says, “I’ve been sitting in a café in Paris for months, drinking, smoking, and writing incomprehensible poetry.” It’s not true, of course; they’re just pale. Children’s librarians, though, look more like disheveled elementary school teachers. Perhaps avant-garde teachers, maybe Montessori, but still. We have lots of degrees, but not in fashion design. We have tons of opinions, especially about education. We are bookish, and we like it.If You Want to See a Whale

We began reading the program for the evening, and I mentioned that, although I really admired Phillip and Erin Stead, I did not know how they were related. Husband and wife? Father and daughter? Sister and brother? Lisa immediately picked up her phone and said, “Well, let’s see.” While she scrolled around the internet, the rest of us chatted and shooed away bankers until a small group of people came up whom Chris seemed to recognize. They congregated in front of the table while he handed them very special nametags, and I thought, “Aha! Our speakers!” In the meantime, I had forgotten about Lisa looking up the Steads, and suddenly she piped up, “They are husband and wife! It says so on Wikipedia.” Chris turned around and we both smiled at Lisa and tried delicately to point to the Steads. Lisa was having none of it, being completely engrossed in her new information. “It says here that they’ve been married since 2005!” Finally, I gave her a little nudge, and motioned to the Steads. “Huh?” “That’s them.” She looked up. “Oh!” And she proceeded to turn fifty shades of pink. No worries. They never heard.

ImageFinally, we were able to move into the James Madison Ballroom, a beautiful room filled with large, round tables, ceiling-to-floor bookshelves lining several walls, and every chair filled with a bag of brand-new books and galleys. Rachée and her colleague from Philadelphia sat to my left, and then Jackie from Tumwater, Washington. There were several more, and those of us who were early rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine and began digging through our goodie bags. Rachée and I continued the conversation about diversity in children’s literature that had begun at the Day of Dialog, and Jen told me about the YA fiction blog that she and her seventh graders write at Ellington Middle School. It is so impressive! You can visit them at http://blogs.ellingtonschools.org/larkin/ .

During dinner, we enjoyed another panel of phenomenal authors. These seven writers were able to speak to us one at a time, beginning with National Book Award finalist Adele Griffin, who described her artistic process in the new book, The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. Ms. Griffin was followed by two transgendered young people, Arin Andrews and Katie Rain Hill, who shared their stories in their two books, Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal. Caldecott honor-winning author John Rocco shared hilarious stories about his new picture book, Blizzard, and then the Steads stood up to talk about their two new picture books, Sebastian and the Balloon and If You Want to See a Whale. As they approached the podium, I leaned over to Lisa and murmured, “I hear that they’ve been married since 2005.” She laughed. B.J. NovakLastly, TV and movie star, B.J. Novak, talked about his new book, The Book with No Pictures, which looks exactly like a picture book, but– as advertised– with no pictures. I am the most disappointing fan for TV and movie stars. I know a few people, but I draw an utter blank on most names. Hopefully, others in the crowd were more attentive.

At the end, the authors signed their books, and I swore that I would just take a nibble of dessert and then leave it alone. It was chocolate mousse covered with a chocolate shell. I did not leave it alone. Rachée and I shared a cab back to the New Yorker, where I fell into bed for a few short hours.

The next day was Thursday, the first day of Book Expo America! Yes, that’s right. I’d had all of these experiences, and BEA had not even officially begun.

1 Comment

Filed under Books and reading

Wednesday Was Incredible: BEA #2

ImageAfter my power breakfast of leftover corned beef and chocolate cheesecake (see yesterday’s blog) on my first full day in New York, two of my colleagues and I headed over to the McGraw-Hill building. Janet and Tracy were going to the Library Journal Day of Dialogue, and I was attending the School Library Journal Day of Dialogue. Even though I am a public librarian, SLJ is a premier source of reviews and information on children’s books. They have a wonderful blog, Fuse #8, and during the awards season, I read their Newbery, Printz, and Caldecott blogs with the kind of breathless anticipation that other people have for Dancing with the Stars.

Image

Jacqueline Woodson

Walking through the reception area filled with breakfast foods (all carbs!), I entered a dimly lit, cool auditorium. The seats were cushy, too, and after my late bedtime the night before, I knew that I would need lots of coffee. Jacqueline Woodson was speaking, and even though I have liked her work since the Newbery honor-winning picture book, Show Way, I realized that I did not understand the depth of her talent until now. She has a fresh, friendly face and she speaks as lyrically as she writes. She said that her stories come to her in verse, in chunks with lots of air around them, which is the white space. Ms. Woodson was talking about the new memoir of her childhood, Brown Girl Dreaming, which she signed for us later. If you are not familiar with her work, be sure to look her up. She has written everything from picture books to young adult novels, all of exceptional quality.

ImageNext there was a panel discussion about wordless picture books by four famous authors: Aaron Becker, Raúl Colón, Molly Idle, and Bob Staake. Naturally, they are all great artists, and they talked about why they made a decision not to use words. One of them had even submitted his book with words originally, and his editor said, “You know what? It doesn’t need them.” Bob Staake said that having pictures by themselves put the burden on the reader to make up the story. Aaron Becker wrote one of my favorite picture books of last year, Journey, and has followed it up this year with Quest. I highly recommend them. More on picture books in a future post.

Kat Yeh SLJ

Kat Yeh

After a break, the next panel was on diversity in middle grade fiction, a continuing concern in children’s publishing. The authors were Kwame Alexander, Coe Booth, and Brenda Woods, all of whom are African-American, Raúl Gonzalez, Latino, and Kat Yeh, who is Chinese. Not very balanced, but perhaps representational. Kat Yeh was adorable. As the only Asian on the panel, she made a point of leaning into her microphone with a big smile to insert “or Chinese!” into any discussion of minority groups, just in case we forgot about Asia. The Truth About Twinkie Pie is her debut novel, coming out in January. You can bet that I will buy it for the library and read it myself. The discussion brought up questions such as, “Why are all African-American stories in gritty, urban settings?” and “Why are Latinos always gang members?” The conclusion of the discussion is that we do not need to divide ourselves into little groups, since we are all part of the human experience, but we should have diverse thinking, so that we could imagine all sorts of people having these experiences. This sort of thinking could open up the world for a child, breaking him out of his expectations. At the question and answer time, I raised my hand and asked what they thought of our library system’s use of an African-American sticker. Even though the initial intention of this sticker was probably good, I was worried that it was not getting the book to the right reader, but was rather keeping the book out of everyone else’s hands. They all deplored the idea of a sticker the same way that they hated bookstores shelving all of the minority books in little cubbies tucked away. They said that we would have to sticker all the books to be consistent, and the moderator asked if we labeled all of our “white” books. Kat Yeh said, “And Chinese!”

LindberghNext came a panel of representatives from seven publishers, pitching their favorite books of the season to us. These big-screen presentations by knowledgeable people who love their products always make me want to yell, “Yes! I want 40 of each!” In other words, they’re quite effective. Next came lunch—a salad with grilled chicken! This diabetic didn’t have to pick the innards off a sandwich or wrap! We had extra time, so I wandered around the exhibitor’s room, which is a different kind of buffet: all the new books in galley form, ready to be scooped up and read by the buyers. At the end of the day, I realized that I had taken too many and had to put some back. We had to pay for our own shipping, and it cost one colleague $48 to ship just one box. In the end, I took home just a few signed galleys and a signed hard copy of the extraordinary Lindbergh, by Torben Kuhlmann, a very nice young German man who needed help with the American spelling. I encourage you to seek out this picture book, whether your children are budding engineers or artists.

After lunch, we listened to Garth Nix tell us about his upcoming Clariel, which is a prequel to his famous series that begins with Sabriel. This Aussie author told us a long, enchanting tale that turned out to be completely false, which set us up for the next panel.

Image

E. Lockhart

The first afternoon panel’s topic was unreliable YA narrators, a very hot theme these days. The fabulous authors were Jodi Lynn Anderson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, E. Lockhart, Barry Lyga, and Meg Wolitzer. Ms. Wolitzer, who is perhaps better known for her adult novels, was a hoot. Her new YA novel, Belzhar, is being highly touted by Penguin, so I did take one home. Speaking to the theme, E. Lockhart and others discussed how adolescence is a time when children begin to realize that everything that adults have always told them is not necessarily true, and that there may be different kinds of truth and doubt, and so it is natural for their literature to reflect this. I finished Lockhart’s new book, We Were Liars, by the time I got home to North Carolina, and I highly recommend it. Review to come. She signed it with the book’s motto: “Please lie about this book—E. Lockhart.” Her name is Emily, by the way.

The afternoon publisher’s panel starred Little Brown and Company’s brilliant rep., who could moonlight as a stand-up comic. At one point, she groaned, “And don’t ask me how my books meet Common Core standards. Every time somebody asks me about Common Core, an angel dies in flames.” The entire room burst into applause. It seems that the only people who don’t hate Common Core are school boards and textbook publishers.

ImageThe last panel of the day was called “Storied Lives,” and featured picture book biographies and memoirs. The venerable Lois Ehlert started off with her colorful autobiography The Scraps Book. She says that her grandson enthused, “I want to be just like you someday: making nothing out of something.” Dubious praise, but she’ll take it. Chris Raschka presented his Cosmobiography of Sun Ra (a jazz musician), Peter Sís talked about The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Raina Telgemeier featured Sisters, the latest installment of her graphic novel memoir that began with the award-winning Smile. Lest you think that they work in a bubble, the most impressive element of this panel was the authors’ enthusiastic, sincere praise of each other’s work.

Afterward, we moved into the exhibitors’ room and lined up for author signings, because all readers are fans of authors the way other people are fans of rock stars. Well, we are fans of theirs, too, but authors are the best. I didn’t stay long, because I was headed to the SLJ Children’s Librarians Dinner, but that is another story.

Looking back, I realize that Wednesday was the best day of the week for me, professionally speaking. There was so much information from authoritative sources, all concentrated in my own area. Book Expo was all mixed together, but the SLJ Day of Dialogue was especially for children’s librarians. Great speakers, excellent venue, and careful planning made this my most valuable BEA day.

Other posts won’t be this detailed, but the day was packed! Stay tuned for more!

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are entirely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Quotes may be approximate.

Leave a comment

June 3, 2014 · 6:33 am