Author Visits! May 21, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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Just a couple of photos here from recent author visits at Politics and Prose, one of the other independent bookstores here in DC. They are probably the most high-profile independent, regularly hosting people like Michael Pollan and Maya Angelou, as well as political figures such as the Clintons and Mrs. Obama. As well as evening events for the general public, they offer morning visits for local schools, which anyone can sit in on. This has been a great way for me to catch authors like the Steads, who I wouldn’t meet otherwise.
Charles Vess is, along with Arthur Rackham, one of the few illustrators I know who I believe sees fairies in the same way that I do. From his collection The Books of Ballads, to his gorgeous Oberon and Titania in the ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ of Sandman, Vess excels at depicting lush nature scenes and mischievous fantasy characters. He generously shared artwork from his latest middle-grade project The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint and patiently listened to a bunch of boisterous fourth graders give ideas for his sketchpad. He gamely created many of them, from the valiant (dragons and griffins) to the slightly absurd (a duck and a flying hot dog).
I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity a few days later to meet Elizabeth Wein, the author of what was hands-down my favorite YA book of last year, Code Name Verity. Wein, who lives in Scotland and is a pilot and a knitter, to say nothing of a Phd in Folklore, was an entirely delightful speaker, who shared several artifacts that she used as research (a facsimile of Pilot’s Notes truly brought Maddie’s story to life) including a silk map scarf that she modeled and mittens that she had made herself. She really does talk a lot like Verity in the novel, with literary references galore like a fountain of words. Wein also discussed several of her favorite books–apparently she considers everything she writes to be in some way a reflection of A Little Princess, which I can start to see being true for CNV. When I got my book signed, I asked if she had read the Hilary McKay sequel to A Little Princess, called Wishing for Tomorrow, which led to a quick discussion on how much we love McKay’s Casson family series and that she had sent an ARC of her latest to Wein’s daughter. There really is nothing better than learning that your favorite author is just as much of a fangirl as you are. I can’t wait to read Wein’s new book coming out in September, Rose Under Fire.
F&G’S! Spring Edition May 17, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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It’s been over two months since I last did a post on F&Gs (bookseller speak for ‘Folds and Gathers,’ the preview copies of picture books), so clearly now is the time to get excited about new picture books coming our way. Here are some of the delicious goodies you can expect to see on library and bookstore shelves in a few months.
With bold photographs and an exhaustive list of types, Sayre introduces the reader to many delicious nuts–the seeds we eat. From a photo of coconut that had my mouth watering to close-ups of rice and beans that made me want to stick my hand into the pictures, Sayre draws the reader in with engaging visuals along with short, punchy text. Great for use as an intro to a lesson on seeds or food, with excellent additional information at the back, including on nut allergies.
As any three-year old will tell you, there can never be too many books about planes. George Ella Lyon starts off with an overview of planes and their various parts, going through a list of fun words that little ones will quickly learn to recite along with the reader. From there Ms. Lyon details the different kinds of planes out there and the various jobs they can do. She finishes with a look at the experience of riding in a plane from take-off to landing, making this a good choice for parents who are preparing a child for his or her first flight.
My first thought after finishing this book was that its protagonist would have been good friends with Miss Rumphius. Based on a true story, it chronicles the life of Kate Sessions, who used her scientific skills and love of plants to transform the gardens of dry San Diego in the early part of the 20th century. With a text punctuated by short, affirmative sentences and illustrations by Jill McElmurry that harken back to Barbara Cooney, this is a great addition to the many wonderful picture book biographies out there for young scientists.
Click, Clack, Boo! by Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin
There can never be too many Halloween books. Even before Neil Gaiman started his tradition of All Hallows Read, I was stockpiling a set of scary and not-so-scary books to read to my class each year. I am slightly sad that I will not have a group of eager third graders giggling at this new title, which reunites the beloved characters of the Click Clack Moo farm for a Halloween party. Even Farmer Brown, who hates Halloween, eventually gets in on the fun.
This is a great addition to any artist or art teacher’s library. Winter, who has profiled many other artists in her books, turns to Henri Matisse here, focusing on the end of his life and his beautiful paper cutouts. Smaller paintings that show his earliest artistic efforts evolve into multi-page spreads as Matisse, stuck in bed or a wheelchair finds new ways to satisfy his imagination. A book that is as inspiring as it is beautiful.
What started out as a sweet story about a little bunny’s birthday has turned into a tale of Evil Plans, agents and megatron bombs thanks to the doodling of an unnamed reader (I suspect Mr. Barnett, as Mr. Scieszka is old enough to know better. Then again, maybe not.) The many crossed out words, additional sentences and word bubbles make this a bit hard to decipher at times, but I’m sure kids will love it. They may need to explain to their parents however that “Really, the book came like that!”
Anything by Ashley Bryan is a treat for both eyes and ears. This new story is text-heavy for a picture book, but clever rhymes and otomotopeia keep the reader engaged. Bryan’s usual bright colors and thick brushstrokes give us a mischievous hero whose run-ins with various giants teach him the meaning of fear. Fortunately, there is Grandma to make sure everything turns out ok in the end.
Baby Bear sees Blue was one of the most stunning picture books of 2012, and this is a more than worthy follow-up. As Mama Bear patiently explains each sound and sensation, Baby Bear counts the animals of the forest around him, making this a perfect read-aloud for the classroom as well as for bedtime.
Did you ever wonder what Santa’s early childhood was like? Turns out the Claus family wasn’t that happy with their life at the North Pole. It makes sense–endless snow, lots of chores, too many children. Doesn’t Florida sounds like a much better place? According to this new book by Jon Agee, yes, except for the youngest child, whose ability to direct reindeer and elves meant that he was willing to stick around. This is a laugh-out-loud picture book perfect for the holidays or any time of year.
I Love Little Books May 13, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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Everyone knows the old adage about not judging a book by it’s cover. But what about judging one by it’s size?
I have always had a bias towards small things. From toys (dollhouses) to pets (mice), I was fascinated by all things miniature as a kid. This eventually had a rather profound effect on my bookshelf, which was often difficult to tell apart from my doll’s bookshelf. In no particular order, here are some of the little books that I loved as a kid, most of which are still in print and just as fascinating to kids today.
The venerable author-illustrator of Peter Rabbit created all her books in a size appropriate for children’s small hands, making her detailed watercolors that much more delightful for the reader. One of my favorites as a child was The Tailor of Gloucester, with it’s tiny embroidery and china patterns, to say nothing of the delicate mice characters. The other was The Pie and the Patty Pan, which includes lots of food and descriptions of milk and butter, various pies and pie dishes, as well as odd unfamiliar rooms such as the larder. Even now, I am still curious as to what a patty pan looks like, as I don’t think I have ever seen a real one!
This series was possibly the first time I wrote my name in my books (can’t say it was the first time I wrote in books, as a copy of Angelina Ballerina proves otherwise) and the seven titles show my handwriting getting steadily more legible from age 4 to about 13. Jill Barklem’s community of mice who live in the hedgerows of England has remained a favorite world even as I moved on to Middle-Earth and Tortall. Named for the seasons, the original four books are Spring Story, Summer Story, Autumn Story and Winter Story. Subsequent titles focus on journeys to the ocean (Sea Story) and the mountains (The High Hills) or take place during special celebrations (The Secret Staircase, Poppy’s Babies). But all the titles feature the self-sufficient mice each fulfilling their individual role in the community, alongside such innovations as flour and dairy mills rendered in precise detail. The botanical details were amazing to a city kid and any time I was even remotely near the country, I would scan large oak trees and thickets of brambles, hoping for a glimpse of a mouse gathering seeds. Later, I would imagine houses and cities of my own and inspired by Barklem’s artwork, try to illustrate my ideas of cutaway views inside trees and mountains.
Another nature driven, even more fantastical world than Brambly Hedge, were the gardens of the fairies in the various Flower Fairies titles by Cicely Mary Barker. I vividly remember being introduced to these books by my friend Emma when I was six or seven; I insisted on playing fairies immediately and Emma later gave me one of the books to keep. Similar to Brambly Hedge, there is a title for each season, along with Flower Fairies of the Wayside and A Flower Fairy Alphabet. First published in the 1920′s, they have grown in popularity and there are many collections and additional titles and paraphernalia that you can buy for little girls who love magic wands and fairy dust. However, it was the gorgeous watercolors, with fairies of all shapes and colors, that drew me in (the poems that went with the drawings I could take or leave. I usually only read the ones with pictures that I REALLY loved). It was also a much more interesting way to learn about different kinds of flowers, especially slightly obscure British ones (tansy, cowslip) that would later be referenced in other books I read. This series connected my love of fairies to the world around me and the flowers I could find in the garden.
Friends and Animals: New Early Readers May 8, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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April was a good month for readers age 6-8 (or anyone who likes a good story, for that matter). Here are a couple of new Early Reader titles.
Radiating good humor, a love of pancakes and rock solid friendship, the duo Bink and Gollie have won many fans with their first two books Bink & Gollie and Bink & Gollie: Two for One. I’m sure everyone will be sad that the latest installment of their adventures; Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever will be their last.
Writers Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee spin three final tales with themes of dissatisfaction and searching, accompanied as always by Tony Fucile’s delightful illustrations. Gollie finds a picture of a relative wearing a crown and decides that she will be queen, prompting Bink to retreat until she comes back down to earth. Bink decides that she is tired of being short and sends away for a Stretch-O-Matic machine, with predictably wacky results. As in the previous volume, which also gave each character a feature story before bringing them together, the final tale follows their quest to become world record holders. In my book, however, they are and always have been champions.
Welcome to Silver Street Farm
I was already sniffling over the final Bink & Gollie book, so it was lucky that the same shipment brought a brand-new Early Reader series that I can look forward to now. Nicola Davies, who is one of my all-time favorite animal writers, makes her chapter book debut with this new series.
Meera, Karl and Gemma have been friends since kindergarten, where they all ignored the toy city and buildings and focused on the farm animals instead. Now that they are older (the book never gives an exact age) they still dream of having their own farm in the city. When Meera discovers an abandoned railway station called Silver Street, she is convinced that the dream can actually come true. With the addition of two poodles who turn out to be lambs, some ducklings and a guard dog who likes jelly beans, the group is well on their way. But with the city council looking to build a new parking garage, will the station be demolished before the animals even get there?
With short chapters, charming illustrations and a fun wish-fulfillment story, this is a perfect new series for animal lovers age 6-8. Fans of Mercy Watson, Anna Hibiscus and the Cobble Street Cousins will love the kids in this books. I’m looking forward to many more books about Silver Street Farm in the future!
Those Dangerous Vegetables May 5, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Classroom Books.
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It’s always nice to find a brand-new picture book that provides the perfect companion to an older classic. It’s even better when the two together create a framework for a great classroom writing activity! As soon as I read How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, a new book by David LaRochelle, I immediately thought of The Secret Knowledge of Grownups, by David Wisniewski. I had already used Wisnewski’s book for several read and think aloud activities when I was doing my school librarian internship. This new tale just gave me even more ideas.
Martha refuses to eat her green beans every Tuesday, despite her parents’ assurance that they “…are you good for you” and “…will make you big and strong.” Martha’s conviction that green beans are bad is proven one day when a gang of mean green beans (led by a mustaschioed giant in a cowboy hat) marches into town and begins to terrorize the green-bean eating populace. Eventually they capture Martha’s parents, leaving her alone in the house to eat junk food and watch television. However, as other book characters have discovered, losing your parents often has the uncomfortable side effect of making you miss the, so Martha, accompanied by her dog, sets off on a rescue mission. And when the mean green beans scoff at her threats to eat them, she shows them that she means business. The fantastic illustrations by Mark Fearing punctuate the buildup of the story perfectly, making this a great read-aloud or classroom book.
In The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups, David Wisniewski explains the real reasons why grown-ups tell you to do things like eat your vegetables or not do things like jump on the bed. It was the eating your vegetables tale (the real reason: so they don’t take over the world!) that popped into my head when I first read How Martha Saved her Parents from Green Beans. The brilliant part of the story, I think, is that the child has to do something she didn’t want to do (eat green beans) but she was still right about them being bad! It’s the perfect combination of a comeuppance for both parent and child. The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups works on a similar structure of requiring the reader to consider two truths at once; the ‘truth’ behind each parental rule as well as the greater truth that no, many of these are probably not true.
But they could be true, which is what makes both these books such a great jumping off point for writing. Many teachers have used Wisniewski’s books as a writing prompt, sharing some or all of the text and then asking students to brainstorm their own parental rule and the real, wacky reason behind it. I might go further and share LaRochelle’s story, then ask students to swap rules and write a short story where a character has to deal with the reality behind the rule, whether it is green beans or rampaging mattresses awoken by children jumping. After all, everyday things can be deadly. Just ask the green beans.
Review: Eleanor and Park May 3, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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With all the current pop culture trends of vampire books and movies where love is destined and always works out in the end, it is easy to forget sometimes that first love doesn’t always last. Sometimes, the odds are stacked against you.
Eleanor and Park, the protagonists of a new young adult novel by Rainbow Rowell, know this all too well. Both are adept at navigating the hierarchy of their homes and schools: Park doesn’t speak up when the mean kids bully people at the back of the bus and Eleanor takes her baths right after school, while her stepfather is still at work. Both are misfits in their neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska of the 1980′s. Park is half-Asian, obsessed with comics and music, but never quite macho enough to please his father. Eleanor–big, with wild red hair and crazy clothes– is back with her family after a year of living with strangers after being kicked out by her stepfather. They end up sitting next to each other on the bus and eventually begin to share music, comic books and finally, personal history. As they fall in love, they will make mistakes, fight for time and space to see each other and finally–because sometimes the world and life just get in the way– have to try and let each other go.
The main characters are the great strength of this book. As a whole, the book is a little wordy and at times I questioned whether all the switching points of view between Eleanor and Park was really necessary. The 1980′s setting worked well, but wasn’t quite as vivid and clear as in other recent books (I’m thinking of The Miseducation of Cameron Post in particular). Despite being written in third person, it felt like a first person book, as each section focused in so specifically on the actions, thoughts and feelings of the two main characters. Because we are getting the story from their point of view, other characters feel flat and at times superfluous. There is absolutely no sympathy for Eleanor’s stepfather and even her mother is hard to understand. Park’s parents go through more of an arc as they gradually learn about and come to accept Eleanor, but we barely see his younger brother, to the point where it feels like the only reason he is there is to make Park feel inadequate.
Eleanor and Park are characters with an endearing combination of snark and romanticism. Eleanor, who rolls her eyes at Shakespeare, saying “Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they want” also thinks when looking at Park “There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat that makes me want to let him open doors for me.” Park, for his part, jokes about Star Wars while also telling Eleanor how much he loves her freckles. Readers will go back to this book again and again, hoping that the ending is just a little happier the next time around.
From the Fabulous Books of Mrs. E.L. Konigsburg May 1, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Analysis, Quotes.
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A tribute to one of our greatest authors in the form of the wise words that she slipped into so many of her books. As a kid, I probably couldn’t have quoted you any of these lines, but I definitely read them and over many years, their ideas and philosophy have sunk into my brain. While most people point to authors such as Elise Broach and Blue Balliett when looking for Konigsburg comparisons, I actually see her as having a more profound influence on Rebecca Stead and Holly Goldberg Sloan. In order of publication, some thoughts to consider from a writing master. Enjoy!
“Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.”
–From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
“Festival, he explained to Salai, is like lightning. It has no history and it has no future. It lights up everything for a brief second. It passes. It leaves nothing of itself save its effect. The lightning itself is never there to be pawed over by future generations. A pageant, dear Salai, gives an artist a chance to zigzag through time like lightning, like a wild irresponsible thing.”
–The Second Mrs. Giaconda
“Well, darling, a true scientist is not an algorithm. He is an artist, not a mechanic. Both are seekers of truth. The truth may be poetic in one case and factual in another but if you are going to be merely logical and merely mechanical, you will never be a star. Just as an actress has to think as well as feel, a scientist must feel as well as think.”
–Up from Jericho Tel
“She thought that maybe–just maybe–Western Civilization was in a decline because people did not take time to take tea at four o’clock.”
–The View from Saturday
“Friendship depends on interlocking time, place, and state of mind.”
–Silent to the Bone
“They are telling me a story. A story full of sense and nonsense. They are saying that if life has a structure, a staff, a sensible scaffold, we hang our nonsense on it. And they are saying that broken parts add color and music to the staff of life. And they also say that when you know that your framework has been built right and strong, it’s all right to add color to it, too. The towers are saying, there is no why–only a why not. That’s what the towers say to me.”
“Uncle Alex had said that you can’t stop history from happening because the entire past tense is history. But the future is choices. And the choices of a single person can change future history even if that person is underage and does not have a driver’s license or credit card.”
–The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
Review: Again! April 30, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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It is clear from reading Emily Gravett’s delightful new picture book that bedtime stories and toddler tantrums become slightly more dangerous when you are dealing with a dragon. I was captivated by this book in F&G form when I first saw it back in the fall, and the finished work is even more fun.
Gravett usually works with limited text and unusual animals as characters and this book is no exception. The spunky little dragon only speaks a single word throughout the entire story: “Again!” His parent is a little more verbose, reading (and re-reading) the favorite book identified only by a red dragon on the cover. As the night goes on and the child keeps demanding “Again!” readers will notice that the story in the book changes little by little, until the parent has fallen asleep. This of course, only enrages the small dragon further, which slightly disastrous results for the book (remember that dragons breathe fire, and you can probably guess the outcome).
Gravett’s pencil and watercolor illustrations perfectly complement the sly humor of the text, with the expression on the parent dragon’s face going from indulgent to long-suffering, to flat-out exhausted. Gravett plays cleverly with color, contrasting the red dragon in the bedtime book with the bright green of the parent and child. Of course, as time passes and emotions run high, you can bet that the little dragon will not stay green very long. The hand-lettered text of his cries perfectly reflects the frustration of someone who is NOT tired and wants to hear the story just one more time. Small listeners will sympathize with him, even as they gently touch the results of his rage in the back cover of the book. This is a great choice for a read aloud, bedtime or anytime story.
Review: Stardines Swim High Across the Sky April 27, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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One of my go to poetry books for children has always been Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky. Even kids who claim to ‘hate’ poetry and roll their eyes through my dramatic renditions of Emily Dickinson or Langston Hughes will chuckle and go “Oh cooooool….” at the silly animals created by Prelutsky. Now he is back with a new book written in the same form: Stardines Swim High Across the Sky, graced with incredible illustrations by Carin Berger.
Stardines is in some ways slightly more sophisticated than Scranimals. While the earlier title mostly focused on combining animals together or animals and plants (Broccolions, Potatoads), these creatures’ names comment on their characteristics, such as the rather messy Slobsters (…Their sense of decorum/Is woefully small/SLOBSTERS don’t have/Many manners at all…) and the erudite Braindeer (…With endless perseverance/They serenely mill about,/ Reflecting on the universe/And figuring it out…). The heightened language may be a stretch for some younger readers, making this a good choice for a read aloud, class discussion or bedtime story.
Fortunately, even if children might not always be able to decipher the words, the illustrations are stunning enough to fill hours all on their own. Carin Berger has created a shadowbox diorama for each creature, photographed them digitally and added such engaging touches as straight pins, labels and paintbrushes to the endpapers. In the style of such surrealist masters as Joseph Cornell and Max Ernst, Berger uses sheet music, advertisements, and constellation maps to depict Prelutsky’s fascinating creatures. My favorites are probably the Planda, with his paper fountain pen and his long list of precisely numbered images or the Bardvark, an inkpot standing on a stack of books and sporting a feathered hat and paper ruff. Readers will want to get to know them all.
Top 5 Things I Learned from E.L. Konigsburg April 24, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Analysis, Nerd Line.
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The world lost a fabulous writer when Elaine Lobl Konigsburg died this past week. I first fell in love with her work when I read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in third grade, a love that only increased after reading A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver and The View from Saturday. She was the writer who, with her 2005 title The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place made me really sit up and think “Hey, lots of the writers I loved as a kid are still writing books. And there are even more new children’s authors now…maybe I should pay more attention to them.” Nearly ten years later, I’m working in a children’s bookstore, writing this blog and reading obsessively. Thank you for all your fantastic work, E. L. Konigsburg. Here are the top five things I learned from reading your stories.
5. A love of long titles.
I think the shortest title Konigsburg ever wrote was Father’s Arcane Daughter. Her first two books, which were awarded the Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor in the same year (the only time that has happened) were From the Mixed-up Files… and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and me, Elizabeth. To this day, I prefer the long, involved title, as evidenced by my current puppet play, which I titled The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet. I like to think Konigsburg would approve.
4. Museums are magical places.
Like most kids, I resented being dragged to museums unless 1. It had things for you to do (preferably pulling a gigantic soap bubble around yourself) or 2. It had a dollhouse to look at. From the Mixed-up Files changed my opinion however, and since reading it, I have grown to love any and all museums, if only because I look at each installation of a bed and wonder what it would be like to sleep there. Probably impossible, in todays world of security cameras, but I can still dream.
Claudia has Jamie to help her conquer the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Winston has Hilary to help him puzzle out the mystery of their sister Caroline. Connor has Margaret Rose to help him pull words out of his silent friend Branwell. As a child, my next youngest sibling Danny was my constant ally in games of pretend and as we grew older, we have had the great fortune to stay close, while bringing our sister Ana and youngest brother Jack into our schemes and plans.
2. Friends are found in unexpected places.
A recurring theme in all of Konigsburg’s work is that you never know who will help you and become your friend. It could be the person next to you on the bus, an old lady you’ve never met before, a strange girl who keeps showing up at the same hotels as you or even the group of kids who used to torment you at summer camp. I try to keep an open mind about everyone who comes into and goes out of my life, as you never know when they might hold the key to a mystery.
1. Always be yourself.
Whether you are convinced you were born to live in luxury or to sing onstage, Konigsburg’s characters proclaim themselves loud and clear to their world. From her books, I learned to never be ashamed of who I am, who my family is or what I love. If there is a grand theme to her entire body of work, I think it is that by working together and staying true to ourselves, children can help others and change the world. A great legacy to leave for all readers.