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ANSWERS: London Children’s Lit Quiz September 27, 2013

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I promised answers and here they are!

1. Portobello Road, London. Featured in Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton and the subsequent Disney movie.  Ana wouldn’t stop humming the impossibly catchy song about it most of the week we stayed there.

2. Cromwell Road. In the classic Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild, the Fossil sisters live on this road and walk to the V&A museum to see the dollhouses. I don’t think there are any dollhouses there today–they’ve all been moved to the Museum of Childhood at Bethnel Green.

3. Russell Square. Another Streatfeild reference. Madame Fidolia’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, which is featured in Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, Movie Shoes and Traveling Shoes is located in the square.

4. Chester Square. Clara Wintermute, one of the heroines of Laura Amy Schlitz’s Newbery Honor winning book Splendors and Glooms lives here, near Victoria Station.

5. Red Lion Square. Another dancing school, this time the Dominick Ballet School from the slightly cheesy Drina series by Jean Estoril is located in this square.

6. Outer Circle of Regent’s Park. The Dearlys from 101 Dalmations, by Dodie Smith, live here on the edge of the park.

7. Round Pond, Kensington Gardens. Pretty much everything in Kensington Gardens has some connection to Peter Pan, but I was actually thinking of Susan Cooper’s more recent title Victory. The main character Molly and her family have a picnic there.

8. Mummy room, British Museum. Ok this was sort of a cheat. Ana wanted me to take a picture of it because of a quote from I Capture the Castle, also by Dodie Smith. When narrator Cassandra tells her stepmother Topaz that her father has been visiting the British Museum and so can’t be having an affair, Topaz replies “As if that proves anything…People do nothing but use it for assignations. I met him there myself once, in the mummy room.”

Review: Yes, We Are Latinos! September 23, 2013

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Yes! We Are LatinosI’m used to the expressions of surprise and wonder the first time people hear me speaking Spanish. 

Says the character Lili in the new poetry collection Yes! We are Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. While the demographic group ‘Hispanic’ is one of the fastest growing in the United States, what does that term really mean? The popular stereotype of ‘Hispanic’ as seen in television,  movies and literature rarely matches the vast depth and variety of Latino heritage. For readers who want to learn more about their ancestry or are simply curious about this community, here is a beautiful collection of first-person poems that celebrate Latino culture.

Ada and Campoy introduce us to (fictional) girls and boys from all over the United States. They have roots in just about every country in Central and South America, as well as Spain and the Caribbean. Some have grandparents from Asia, while some trace their roots to indigenous peoples of North America as well as the great Meso-American civilizations. All of them are proud to be Latino, as they struggle with various challenges–learning a new language,  hoping for legal status,  standing up to bullies making fun of a name (and well-meaning teachers who say “If you would let us call you Joe or Mike, it would let you blend in”). They also celebrate their heritage in many different ways–from Ladino songs to New Mexican wood carvings. I saw  aspects of my own life and story in these poems and I’m sure many other readers will feel the same way.

David Diaz pairs each poem with a black and white illustration of the speaker; stylized silhouettes that reward closer examination of their creative use of negative space. Each poem is also followed by a non-fiction section with further information about Latin-American history. Here is background on the Spanish conquest, the Spanish-American War and the Spanish Civil War, along with more contemporary issues such as undocumented immigrants and migrant farmworkers. All are presented in straightforward, child-friendly language and a list of additional resources is included at the back.

While this is clearly a fantastic resource for Hispanic Heritage Month, and schools with large Latino populations, I hope that classrooms and libraries will also use it as a day-to-day resource as well. It would make a fantastic read-aloud or inspiration for poetry-writing project with both elementary and middle school students. This is a special book that deserves a wide audience. I’m excited to share it with lots of people!

Finding Narnia at the British Museum September 21, 2013

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What do you do when the museum you’re at is insanely crowded and you can’t see over the heads of all the tourists to the cool artifacts?

If you’re me and Ana, you wander toward less crowded spaces, look at random cases and start talking about children’s books. And as we made our way through the vast labyrinth of the British Museum, we started to see a few items that looked familiar. Had we read about them? Not exactly. But more than one object made us think of the Narnia series, and we started trying to recall others. Here is what we came up with. Now I want to try and do the same thing with a museum here in DC!

Susan's horn! From PRINCE CASPIAN and WARDROBE. From around the year 1100, Savernake Forest, in England.

Susan’s horn! From PRINCE CASPIAN and WARDROBE. From around the year 1100, Savernake Forest, in England.

The bracelet that turns Eustace into a dragon in DAWN TREADER. Late Bronze Age, from Buckinghamshire, England.

The bracelet that turns Eustace into a dragon in DAWN TREADER. Late Bronze Age, from Buckinghamshire, England.

Peter's sword! From WARDROBE and PRINCE CASPIAN. It was made around 1250 in England or Germany.

Peter’s sword! From WARDROBE and PRINCE CASPIAN. It was made around 1250 in England or Germany.

In PRINCE CASPIAN, finding a stray chessman is a clue that the Pevensies have found their way back to Narnia. These are some of the Lewis chessmen, from medieval Scotland.

In PRINCE CASPIAN, finding a stray chessman is a clue that the Pevensies have found their way back to Narnia. These are some of the Lewis chessmen, from medieval Scotland.

Finding Lucy's diamond bottle of healing cordial from WARDROBE proved difficult. The best we could do was this cruet set from London, 1878. We probably would have had better luck over at the V&A.

Finding Lucy’s diamond bottle of healing cordial from WARDROBE proved difficult. The best we could do was this cruet set from London, 1878. We probably would have had better luck over at the V&A.

A London Children’s Lit Quiz September 19, 2013

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One thing that has never gotten old about London is the thrill I get looking at a street sign or a map and recognizing the name of a place connected to a book I’ve read. These are real places! It never fails to amaze me.

So here are eight places from various children’s books (except the last one, which isn’t a setting but is referenced in said book). Some are famous, some are obscure. Can you identify all eight books? If so, let me know in the comments. I’ll post the actual answers here in a week or so (yes, I’m acting as if someone besides my mother will actually attempt this silliness. Don’t destroy my illusions!) Have fun!

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6.  The Round Pond, in Kensington Gardens.

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7. The Outer Circle of Regent’s Park.

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8. The Mummy Room in the British Museum, Bloomsbury.

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Books I DID Buy in the UK September 17, 2013

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So once Ana and I landed in London, I will point out that she was the one to start our rash of book-buying.  In big-box stores (Waterstones), renowned independents (Blackwells), small stores with their own imprints and of course the ubiquitous charity shops, especially Oxfam, we went a little crazy. Ana wrote on her blog that I shop for books the way other women shop for clothes: continuously, and I cheerfully admit it.

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Quite a few of the titles above are plays; the Royal Court Theatre sells scripts of its current season for three pounds, a deal too good to pass up. Others are additions to collections of a particular series or author; the Brambly Hedge series and books by Cicely Mary Barker. I found a paperback edition of Keats, which I had been looking for for awhile, another set of Scottish folktales and David Almond’s latest picture book, which I’ll review more fully soon.

I bought two memoirs, both published by tiny presses run by independent bookstores in London. A London Child of the 1870’s which I picked up to satisfy my love of Victorian history, is published by Persephone Books, a press dedicated to publishing “forgotten fiction and non-fiction by unjustly neglected authors.” Almost all the books are by women. The other book is Blue Remembered Hills, a beautiful account of childhood by Rosemary Sutcliff. Sutcliff is one of my favorite historical authors and I was thrilled to find this title at the charming store Slightly Foxed, in Gloucester Road. I am a reader who loves knowing details about my favorite authors and this memoir has them in abundance, with the precise sensory details that Sutcliff excels at. Hooray for London’s fantastic independent bookstores!

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Books I Didn’t Buy in Spain September 15, 2013

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We didn’t end up seeking out bookstores in either Barcelona or San Sebastian. But in the coastal city of A Coruña, the place our ancestors came from, we did find some large and small stores to explore. A few titles I found, and comments:

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These dreamy, lush pictures reminded me of the work of Rebecca Dautremer that we saw in France.

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Two more animal books, along with the standout I saw–Bandada, by David Daniel Alvarez Hernandez and Maria Julia Diaz Garrido. The detailed spreads in muted tones recall Shaun Tan’s seminal work in The Arrival. I was intrigued to note that the Spanish term for picture books is ‘Albumes ilustrados’ or ‘Illustrated albums.’

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Galicia has its own regional language along with Spanish (Galician, or galego) and I was interested to see that quite a few titles have been translated from English as well as from Spanish into Galician, including this one from Australia.

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It’s a new Red Balloon! But in Spanish, and not set in Paris. Still, the title immediately grabbed me. It’s similar to Antoinette Portis’ Not a Box, with simple shapes transformed into various objects using imagination.

Books I Didn’t Buy in France September 13, 2013

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Ana and I set off for Europe this summer with only 3 books each. Neither of us owns a Kindle or other electronic reading device, so those three titles had to sustain us through France and Spain. Despite my lack of language skills (in French at least), I knew I wanted to take a look in local bookstores and see what new picture books are being published there today. Ana considered it her duty to keep me from adding to the backpacks we were carrying, so all I took was pictures. Here are some titles that caught my eye.

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Rebecca Dautremer’s lush colors in L’amoreaux, delicate brushwork in Le pecheur et le cormoran, and the main character in Elzbieta l’ecuyere who reminded me of Crockett Johnson’s work.

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These three titles all share unusual animal characters, as well as a bold graphic sensibility to the illustrations. Will someone please translate them into English?

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The one that was hardest to leave behind. It’s about a little girl whose book is coming apart and so she goes to the bookbinder to get it fixed. At least, that’s what I understood with my very minimal French. The story reminded me a little of the Linnea books, but the illustration style shares elements with greats such as Emily Arnold McCully. Beautiful!

Dulce Dolmum September 11, 2013

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pic1We are back home again–Ana in Charlottesville to start her junior year of college and me in DC to start rehearsals for my next project. We had an absolutely wonderful summer and I’ll be posting lots of pictures and thoughts in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here is a picture by Binette Schroeder, a German author whose work I discovered while we were in Munich.