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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When I’m Not Reading, There’s This

I’ve been very excited to see readers from Russia, Ireland, and Canada in the past few weeks. Please keep sharing!

Vintage Clothing

ImageSpring has finally triumphed over this long, chilly winter. I know this because my formerly gray car is now yellow. Although I love the change of seasons, I dread trying to find clothes to wear in my meager wardrobe. At the end of every season, I put my worn-out warm or cool clothes away and take comfort in the belief that by the time I need them again, I will be so much thinner and richer that I will go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. I don’t know why I keep on believing this, but I always do. And here I am, still broke, but 25 pounds lighter, not really ready to invest in a bunch of new clothes and not able to afford it if I were. I have found a few things that I couldn’t fit into last year, so that’s good. Someone at work told me that Oprah has an entire room devoted to each size that she flits through. I wonder how many rooms she uses for closets?

My Baby Is Burdened with Guilt

ImageI get about a thousand reviews a month sent to me at work to consider for the tender little ones of our county. For those of you who are interested in the youngest generation, here are some of the latest titles in board books for your toddlers: Les Misérables and War and Peace. Oh, yes. After announcing the titles to anyone within earshot of my computer at the library, I promptly deleted them from the vendor’s order cart. There is also an entire board book series based on classic titles. I cannot begin to express my disdain for parents who are so breathlessly terrified that little Abercrombie may not get into Yale that they begin World Literature classes while he is still in diapers. Cultural literacy is inculcated at this age by Mother Goose and Little Red Riding Hood. There’s enough there to keep all of you sleep-deprived for months. You can teach Abercrombie grace and redemption à la Jean Valjean by administering proper punishment and forgiveness the next time he thwacks his sister Honoria over the head with his toy train.

The Netflixian Report

ImageLately, David and I have jumped into White Collar, a series that had been recommended to me by two friends, but since I’m pretty stubborn, I’m just getting around to it. We love it. I think it’s currently in its fourth season, so lots more to look forward to. If you’ve seen Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, you get the gist. Super-smart criminal ends up working for the FBI because they can’t figure out how to stop him otherwise. Interesting cases, great ensemble casting, and big, blue eyes.

The Treadmill Went Flat

So, I fought my way down 25 pounds and got stuck. I think the reason is that our treadmill has lost its “incline” feature. I used to have a good time setting goals for myself and really working up those hills. Walking on the flat surface is just not as fun nor as effective. David took the cover off the motor part of the treadmill, so now I can see everything moving when I walk, which is kind of scary. No, we are not accepting amusing theories as to why our treadmill may not be able to lift up anymore.

The Greatest of These Is Love

ImageDavid had taken on a second job for a while so that we could have a regular paycheck on his side and get some debts paid off. He would get up at 6:00 with me, as usual, and leave just after I did to get to his office. If he came straight home, he would get home just after I did in the evening, but he usually went out to show houses and got home between 7:00 and 8:00. In either case, he went right to his laptop and cell phone and worked until 10:00 or 11:00 at night, then got up to do it again the next day. Weekends, too. I missed him so much. Even when he was here, we couldn’t even talk or watch a TV show together. Eventually, it didn’t work out on either side, and now I have my husband back. You know what I learned? Money may always be a struggle for us, but not everyone is blessed to have someone they want to be with all the time. Life is short, and days are finite. Spend all the time you can with the people you love.

Hand the Crown to Bill

ImageI am coming right along with my smart phone. I recently went to the Verizon store, where the woman fixed my phone by turning it off and turning it back on. Oh. Although she was my age, she kept calling me “dear” and “honey,” but I was nice to her anyway. Then she told me that I could call Google customer service for help on the app. that wasn’t working. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “But it’s a free app. Is the tech support free, too?” She assured me that it was, so when I got home, I pulled up GooglePlay, put in my contact info, and hit send. My phone rang while it was still in my hand. Eerie. This very nice guy named Jim asked for my first name and a bit about my problem. Jim then introduced me to Bill, who deals with music issues, and it was all very chummy. Bill got it all fixed up, very patiently and kindly. He didn’t even act like he wanted to call me “honey” or “dear,” and they never put me on hold.  You know how some people fret that Google is taking over the world? Even though I will miss having a surname, I say: How soon can we make this happen and how can I help expedite the process?

There Was a Truck?

ImageMy husband is such a sport that he will read young adult books that I push at him, although we don’t always come away with the same experience. Recently, he read the complex and painful Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (see review, below), and became most animated at the part where Ari gets a ’57 Chevy pickup truck for his birthday. A red one. David was most pleased for Ari and would be happy to see one of these land in our driveway some birthday. He also read Twilight and went to the movie with me (told you he was a sport), but he got very upset during the movie. We all did, I suppose, but while the rest of us were appalled by the cartoonish makeup and campy acting, David was outraged that they gave Bella the wrong truck. It was the wrong make, the wrong model, and the wrong year. I’m sure that the producers were betting—correctly—that not a single teenage girl in the audience would notice, but I had to ask Mr. ADHD to stop talking about it in the theater. He tried, he really did, but every time a new scene showed the pickup, David had to blurt out, as quietly as possible, “That. Is. The. Wrong. Truck!”

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