Bunnies! Bears! A llama, a hamster, a couple of apes and holy crap I hope I am never face to face with a wolffish!
And in the end, a little girl who just wants a giraffe for her birthday. Enjoy!
Bunnies! Bears! A llama, a hamster, a couple of apes and holy crap I hope I am never face to face with a wolffish!
And in the end, a little girl who just wants a giraffe for her birthday. Enjoy!
I am home, at my kitchen table in the dimness of my house, birds and windchimes and helicopters (and the 12 o'clock boys) are all I hear, and my ears are still ringing from the din of a thousand conversations in the cavernous hollow ice cube that is the Javits Center in New York.
That's just me being metaphorical. My ears always ring like this.
But sure, let's do it. Let me put my thoughts in order, or at least jot them randomly into a blog post and see if I learned anything at BEA this year.
BEA, or Book Expo, is an annual book industry trade convention. Publishers and others stake out booths where they showcase their upcoming titles, sometimes by trotting out the authors to meet and greet and sign and press the flesh.
Poor authors. You just know some of them got into this game thinking that once they became successful they could just "eat cheese in a cave" as Rainbow Rowell said during her EXTREMELY funny speech at the Children's Book Author Breakfast. She is possibly not as shy as she makes herself out to be: "I made Nathan Lane laugh!" she marveled at one point during her talk. "The rest of you don't count."
(Nathan Lane was there as the moderator of that breakfast. He qualifies as moderator because he has a forthcoming Celebrity Picture Book about his French bulldog, Mabel.) (There is only one reason for celebrities to write children's books, and that is so that we can have a famously entertaining moderator at the Children's Book Author Breakfast. In past years I've seen Julie Andrews, Chris Colfer, Neal Patrick Harris, and Octavia Spencer.) (Colfer wins it, by the way.) (Even without singing.) (I know you were curious.)
The ALA Youth Media Awards were just announced about an hour ago. These honors are awarded by committees of librarians who read, evaluate, and discuss approximately a femto-jillion books in a year and decide which book in a given category is THE BEST of the year and which few are THE RUNNERS UP.
I generally don't comment on these awards on this blog because, like any other award, calling any given anything THE BEST in a year is ridiculous. YOU ARE THE BEST TOMATO. WORLD'S BEST JOKE 2014 IS WHAT EDDIE IZZARD SAID ON TWITTER NOVEMBER 13th. THE AWARD FOR BEST LEFT BOOB OF 2015 GOES TO KATY PERRY'S LEFT BOOB.
I also have found these awards to be kind of stuck in the mud. Historical fiction or relationship drama tends to get recognized while funny books are disregarded. Lotta "girl books" have gotten the Newbery, while the Caldecott has gone to a disproportionate number of men. Creators of color are under-represented, as they are in all of children's publishing, except in the awards that are specifically given to African American or Latino authors and illustrators, which often go to the same squad of (very talented and totally deserving) people every year.
Put it this way - when an illustrated prose novel (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) won the Caldecott Medal one year everyone went, "WHOA!!" And when a nonfiction book (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village) won the Newbery people all gasped. This is what has passed for bold in previous years.
This year's awards are something else, though.
Here I am back at work after a little Holiday holiday. I can see my tan hands on the keyboard and still don't actually believe that they were paddling through salt water a little more than a week ago. SIGH.
Before we get down to this big ol' stack of picture books I've devoured since returning (FROM THE CARIBBEAN HOLY CRAP), may I politely mention a series of posts on Pink Me's red-headed step-sister blog, Your Neighborhood Librarian. Children's literature devotees of legal drinking age may enjoy these posts featuring authors and characters from teen and young adult fiction. There's more swearing over there, but you're a grownup.
Speaking of swearing, let's have a look at the picture books that have caught my eye this chilly first week in January:
What the heck. Let's do this.
For some reason - it's not like I've got nothing else going on - I have been unusually aware of upcoming titles recently. I've spent a bunch of time on Edelweiss and Netgalley scanning publisher catalogs, and just yesterday attended the Book Buzz that the AAP put on at DC Public Library.
Reps from Scholastic, Penguin, Sourcebooks, Quirk, Tor, and many others gave a roomful of librarians a preview of what they've got coming down the pike.
Here are the books that I thought really stood out, plus books that weren't represented at the event that I know about and am looking forward to. These are in age order.
It's 2014, the centennial of the onset one of the bloodiest, most devastating wars in history. A war which should have taught the world the dangers of nationalism, military escalation, and imperialism. Well, we all know how that went.
On the UP side, the WWI centennial gives us (educators, parents, librarians) an excellent opportunity for engaging the kind of reader who connects with nonfiction, especially history, and especially the kind of history that involves guns. I'm not using the word "boys," but you know what I'm talking about.
My particular boys have been reading up on WWI because our family is going to Belgium for a bridge dedication. Their great-great-uncle did a heroic deed and then promptly died, making my husband's brothers and sisters the closest thing he would ever have to descendants. You can read about it here if you are so inclined. We will be touring battlefields and cemeteries and museums, and we have all been boning up just in case the plaques are all in Flemish.
Here are a few recent books for your WWI collection:
Do you mind if I take a moment to talk about Australians? I kind of have a need to talk about Australians (and their neighbors, New Zealanders). Just for a sec.
At the pool the other day I was pimping a book to my friend Marnie and her little girl. There we were, half-naked, bobbing in the water, and I'm throwing out book titles. I really need a life, or at least a second hobby.
The warmness, it is all around. I live in Baltimore, and a large percentage of our Gross Domestic Product this time of year (mid-April til October) is humidity. Humidity and 90-degree temperatures.
It's kind of ridiculous. I have spent an August weekend in New Orleans that was more temperate. I have crossed the Equator and been more comfortable. I have ridden in an open boat on the AMAZON and not chafed so badly. Camped in THE SAHARA. Hiked THE BADLANDS. I experienced nicer weather in THOSE PLACES. Where else have I been that's hot? MADURAI, INDIA. No, Madurai was hotter than this. I actually thought we were going to die in Madurai.
Nothing for it but to go to work, help kids with their summer reading assignments, and read picture books. What have I read this week that knocked my socks off? These books:
I know what you want. I see you. You come in to the library with that little-bit-panicked look in your eye: "Oh shit there's no school for like MONTHS and they're going to do nothing but play Minecraft and moan about being bored." Or pull scary crap like balance-beam on an 8-foot fence. YEESH.
I am right there with you. Milo is in the basement right this second watching those awful Sky Does Minecraft YouTube videos. Or porn. No I did not just write that. I take it back. Wait, let me just get him up here, I'll be right back.
He was practicing guitar. OF COURSE. God, I am so not ready for him to be a teen.
Anyway, you want book recommendations for your children so that they do not forget how to read / become glassy-eyed screen zombies over the summer. You want books that are IRRESISTABLE, books that they will plough through and then ask for the next. In short, you want series books, and you want series that have been out for long enough that there's no waiting for the next book.
I do this about quarterly, don't I - maybe I should make it a regular thing. Oh who am I kidding. One of the benefits of writing your own blog is you don't have to adhere to any schedule. Well, that and you can swear.
Froodle by Antoinette Portis
YES I like books by Antoinette Portis and NO I am not going to change my mind. Just like Crow is not going to fall victim to the silly craze sweeping through the yard. Little Brown Bird is supposed to say "peep." Cardinal is supposed to say "chip." THAT'S JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE. Until that malcontent Little Brown Bird opened his daggone beak and... WELL. I just want to come out and say I'm on Crow's side.
That Little Brown Bird. Damn hippie.
It can't be easy, right? Writing a cookbook for kids? I mean, if you're writing a cookbook, that means you are a good cook. You know your asparagus from your elbow macaroni, if you know what I mean. And here you are writing instructions for people who don't know what the salt looks like when you tell them to get it out of the cupboard.
IT'S THE BLUE CYLINDRICAL CONTAINER. CYLINDER. YOU KNOW, ROUND LIKE A... oh Christ I'll get it. SEE? THIS IS SALT.
Well there aren't a lot of shopping days left until Christmas, but the good news is that in these depressing final days, when the best that most stores can offer is a choice between Picked-over or Shopworn, your favorite independent bookstore is an absolute ACE at getting that brand-new book - or books - for you just about right away.
Let's place our order, shall we?
I have never been very good at all that best / best of / ten best BS. My little mind has trouble finding a common metric between different books. How can you say whether the silly and charming linear narrative of Sophie's Squash is "better" or "worse" than - for example - the dreamlike, lyrical Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue?
Which illustrations are better? DOES NOT COMPUTE.
I try, though - as previously mentioned, I'm a first-round Cybils judge and I will help pick a shortlist of the best picture books of the year, but oh I am so glad I'm not in the group that has to narrow it down to one.
Instead, I thought I'd run down the reading experiences that made the deepest impressions on me this year. GOOD and BAD. GET READY.
Dot, Clem, Ozzie, Ollie, Maya, Nalah, Loula, and Ripple. Henry, Dorothy, Francis, Betsy, Willow, Jemmy Button and Anna Hibiscus. Plus French film icon Jacques Tati and former Vikings defensive end Alan Page.
These are my new best friends. And they are just a very few of the main characters of picture books nominated for Best Picture Book in the Cybils Awards. Go on, take a peek at the nominations list. Wow, right?
It's a diverse bunch of folks - there's a dolphin, a dog, foxes, monsters, princesses, squirrels and more than one bunny. Loula is French, Noah and Na'amah are South Asian in The Enduring Ark, the Lucky Ducklings live in Montauk, the Tiny King is Japanese, and Anna Hibiscus lives in "Africa, amazing Africa." Jemmy Button was real. Mr. Hulot was the fictional alter ego of the real actor Jacques Tati.
...which is my way of saying oh my life - and my reading - has been HELTER-SKELTER for the past couple of months. Here's why - allow me to solicit your interest in some excellent upcoming events and ongoing projects:
2). I'm a facilitator at Enoch Pratt Free Library's biannual teen reading fest Books for the Beast (join us!). It's an all-day event (free lunch!) October 19th with super speakers and small group discussions. This year, we will be joined by RAINA TELGEMEIER! SHARON FLAKE! and ROBIN WASSERMAN!!
I want to read The Waking Dark so badly, but I have so much required reading right now, it's silly. You however should read that book, and then come to Books for the Beast and tell Robin Wasserman what you thought of it! It's supposed to be scaaaary!
3). I'm moderating the Sassy Girls panel at the Baltimore Book Festival September 29 (and this one you better get to, if you are my friend at all). My sassy authors (I wonder if any of them are old enough to remember Sassy? Did you know that some marvelous hipster angel is scanning all of her old Sassys and putting them online? Damn, I still dress like that half the time) anyway my sassy authors are:
4). Just announced! I'm a first-round judge for the Picture Books category of the Cybils Awards! Bring it on picture books YEAAAAHHH! Nominations are open to the public, and the online form will be up October 1!
5). I'm covering the Américas Award, given this year to Sonia Manzano for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, for School Library Journal's online newsletter. Sonia Manzano is also Maria from Sesame Street and that fact just fills me with love every time I remember it.
Also recognized this year by CLASP (the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs) are Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt, the hyper-award-winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Drummer Boy of John John, and In Darkness, which has been on my to-read list ever since I saw that weird cover. Any novel that features Toussaint L'Ouverture as a guest character vaults right up my list. Blame Madison Smartt Bell.
All this extracurricular activity has led to periods of binge reading during the last few months: graphic novels, funny realistic YA fiction, heartbreaking YA fiction, and rock'em sock'em middle grade/YA speculative fiction. Plus picture books, I'm always reading the picture books, but those I manage to run down in gang posts on Pink Me fairly regularly.
So now I'm going to try to binge-review. GO:
Man, I do love talking about books on the radio. Last week, the Marc Steiner Show needed a librarian for a segment about what kids are reading this summer, and I was lucky enough to be in the supply chain for that request.
I had never been to the WEAA studio at Morgan State University, and it was spacious, bright, and airy. Plus, it was extremely wild to conduct a conversation with That Voice. Marc has been on Baltimore radio for ever - he is smart, friendly, and uncompromising, and I've tuned in to his wave a thousand times I'll bet.
Enoch Pratt librarian Jessica Brown and I tag-teamed Marc with some great books we'd brought for the occasion. It was a great dynamic - Jessica and I propped each other up, collaborated, illuminated more than one side of some of the books discussed, and were mutually stumped when Marc brought up a book that sounds like a political parable about Jerusalem's West Bank.
Here's the audio of our talk:
I know it's a losing battle, keeping the place in some kind of tidy shape, and it's certainly not all the fault of my kids. The books, lord the books. But sometimes I am just in a GET IT ALL OUT OF HERE mood, and such is the mood that descended tonight.
I haven't had the time to read hardly anything lately, so as we picked up books and shelved them or put them in the Back to the Library bag, I got Milo (11) and Ezra (nearly 10) to talk about the books they've read.
Ezra: Battle Bunny is the result of a ten year old who just watched a whole lot of apocalypse movies making his mark on a cute little Birthday Bunny tale. It's terrifically funny - there's a picture on Battle Bunny's wall that shows a bunny mama leaning over a bunny baby and the ten-year-old added the words "Drink your poison."
As the kids were getting ready for bed last night, my husband pulled out Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun and flipped through it.
Unbored is a pretty great book - it has about a million unexpected and funky things for a kid to do: DIY Fiction! Farting Games! Make a Cigar Box Guitar! and it sits on our shelf until somebody pulls it out and has a little fun with it and then puts it back where it'll sit for another 6 months. That book makes a great gift (although if there's a second edition, I'd recommend the illustrations to be a little less hipster/retro. If it were me, I'd get Stephen Gilpin to do 'em. And I might spring for color.).
Anyway, tonight Bob found this page of questions from the 1922 Stanford Achievement Test, and just for fun started reading them out loud. I am always pretty amazed at the random stuff my kids know, and tonight I just had to ask - how do you know that?
So here's a sample of the questions from page 202 of Unbored, and how my kids knew the answers. VERRRY interesting, and a huge validation of leisure reading.
I just finished reading The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin. This is a damn fine book, a creep-up-on-you book. It has a devil-in-the-noonday-sun quality that many have compared to Roald Dahl. Me, I didn't see the Dahl in it so much - there's little to laugh at, for one thing - and I'd compare it more to creepy-banal British village horror. Love that stuff.
The main character in this book carries a heavy emotional burden, and the book, in addition to being a great, suspenseful fairy tale retelling, goes about hip-deep into the braided stream of villainy and its causes. There's a lot of Mayor Mills in Splendid Academy's Principal Trapp.
But look at that cover. Spunky blonde and tubby sidekick - looming, slightly comic haunted-house-looking building in the background? All that alliteration in the title? Does this cover make you expect emotional redemption as a theme?
It didn't for me anyway. I assumed, judging from the cover - and don't say don't do it, we all do it - that this was a book for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. I would have handed it to any kid who goes for the new Gothic Humor genre that we're seeing so much of. And don't get me wrong, some of those kids will like it - but it is not Gothic Humor. It's not terribly funny, and it goes very dark. It's a bit reminiscent of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, actually.
Weirdly, this is only one of many books I have read recently (and I have read about a dozen books in the past four days) (don't ask) (influenza B) (I don't recommend it) with a cover that is more than a little bit misleading.
Every year, the American Library Association honors the best in children's and teen literature with a suite of awards collectively known as the ALA Youth Media Awards. The most famous of these awards are the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, given to the "most distinguished contribution to children's literature" and the "most distinguished picture book," respectively. The Newbery is awarded to a book's author, while the Caldecott goes to the illustrator.
This year, I was there at the ALA Midwinter Convention for all of the excitement. When I came back, I went on the radio with host Tom Hall and talked a little bit about the awards - Laura Amy Schlitz called in! It was cool! But I have, as usual, MORE TO SAY...
Well, I read a hundred new picture books yesterday. I do that sometimes, just chew through a teetering stack of new ones. There's no time - no time! to write reviews, so here are my snappety-snap judgements and random associations. Aren't you glad I'm not on the Caldecott Committee like our friend Travis? Those guys probably have to get all reasoned and articulate, instead of, like, holding up a book in front of my colleagues and going, "Look! Ha ha!"
Hey ho it is time for me to haul a giant tote bag of beautiful and enticing books for the kids on your gift list down to Maryland's NPR station (WYPR 88.1 FM) and let Maryland Morning's Tom Hall pick a few he'd like me to talk about! Unfortunately, that segment got lost in the scheduling shuffle this year, so I'll have to make do with a list on Pink Me. NOT a hardship - on the Internet, I have unlimited air time!
So here are the books I am sticking in my Santa sack:
I’d love to call these “holiday” gift ideas, but the fact is, Hannukah gift purchasing is all but DONE. I missed that Galilean fishing vessel. So unless you give gifts for Kwanzaa or Yule (God Jul to you Dances With Chickens!), at this point, it’s all about Christmas. So what is the fat man going to bring the kids you love?
But whatever the impetus, I am on a deification kick right now. And just for the moment, just because these are the great picture books that have crossed my path recently, these are the effigies decorating my shrine:
Here's your latest list of great graphic novels for kids, courtesy of the legwork I did prior to a recent appearance on WYPR's Maryland Morning. This time, host Tom Hall and I were joined by author and librarian Snow Wildsmith (my idea!) for a talk about which graphic novels, how graphic novels, and, most importantly, why graphic novels for kids. Snow and I get all smarty-sounding at a couple of points there, I totally encourage you to listen:
I lead a pretty prosaic life. The biggest, hairiest, most mysterious creature in my life (no cracks about library customers, please, esteemed co-workers!) is our big orange cat, Babe. Named for Babe the Blue Ox, not Babe Didrickson Zaharias or Babe the Gallant Pig. But as mystifying as Babe's behavior sometimes is, he is depressingly accessible. He's no cryptid, in other words.
And sometimes you just need a little mystery. Ergo, Bigfoot...
So Ashley Spires put out this absolutely cute picture book a couple months ago, Larf, that is all about being alone - and that's ok - and reaching out to someone - which is also ok - but being nervous about it - understandable, and also ok - but then meeting someone nice anyway. Which is way ok.
Love Larf. Love Ashley Spires! Ashley Spires, in case you didn't realize, which I didn't, is the person responsible for that farting dreamer of a housecat, Binky (Binky the Space Cat). Every one of those books is a charmer, as is Larf. Larf is, contrary to what I think are most people's expectations about Sasquatches, rather a neat person. He folds his laundry and washes his dishes after he uses them. He wears a neat red scarf. He lives alone but he's not lonely. Not super lonely anyway.
The mountain range of books on our coffee table is a constantly shifting pile of bait for my boys. I bring books home from the library every day that I work - sometimes they place requests, but more often I just snag books that I think they'll like or that I am interested in looking at for this blog. The "leave it out casually and they will pick it up" strategy has been praised by many parents, and even endorsed by Judy Blume, and I can vouch for it as well.
Not so say there haven't been some hiccups, as when I found ten-year-old Milo reading Railsea by China Miéville, which I had pretty much brought home for myself. He is also a big David Macinnis Gill fan now, thanks to this practice.
Don't call me lazy. No, man, really you can't. I have been reading nonstop - just, I have other obligations, and the books I am reading are not for Pink Me. (Except for Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride, oh and The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, and Sons of the 613 by Mike Rubens - I've read those recently, I just don't have time to review them! Aagh! They're all great? Can I just say that for now? I promise there will be reviews later.)
Also, they all have great covers:
So, in the interest of actually performing some sort of informational service, which is all I've ever tried to do (insert pious expression and posture here), I brought out the Flip camera and asked my boys about the books on my coffee table. My boys are, after all, the target audience. And they read, oh Jesus they read like crazy!
Here's the big pile of books and an introduction to my reviewers:
Sometimes I complain that I have to read thirty books so that I can write some booklist, or fifty books because I'm on an award panel, or a hundred books for some committee... but from now on, I think I'll shut up.
Because I am pretty sure Snow Wildsmith and Scott Robins, who both write for SLJ's Good Comics for Kids blog, read 850 books in order to write this excellent compendium of, er, good comics for kids. Eight Hundred and FIFTY graphic novels, manga series, picture books, and beginning readers. Some with Smurfs in them.
Author breakfasts. Author stages. Autograph tables. Publisher pitches. There are a lot of vectors by which book information comes at you at Book Expo America (BEA), the three-day book industry droolfest that takes place at the Javits Center in NYC once a year. My little head is still spinning.
The beauty of BEA is that you are not only going to hear about the precious few books that each publisher has selected for Super Spangly Special Star Treatment, with giveaways and signings and strippers bearing cupcakes and a dedicated website and in-store displays... but you can also get your hands on the so-called "mid-list" titles, the books that are not expected to go best-seller but which will also find an audience. In the publishers' booths on the exhibition floor, they have copies of just about EVERYTHING they are putting out in the next season or even two.
So what did I see that I loved loved loved? A lot, if you go by what I came home with. I tried to be terribly disciplined and only take books that I wanted to review, or knew my boys wanted, or very much needed for our school library... and still I ended up with 57 books.
Do you know what I get tired of? I'll tell you what I get tired of. I get tired of these over-30 (or over-40, or even over-50) actresses calling me up on the phone, complaining about the parts they're being offered. "They keep sending me MOOOMS!!" Nicole will whine. "When it's so OBVIOUS I am still Sexy Secret Agent material!" Or it'll be Kristen Wiig: "Do I look like a MOMM to you?! Why don't they get Catherine O'Hara?"
Sigh. Catherine O'Hara is 57 years old. The poor woman's been carrying the "funny mom" baton since the late '80s - time for her to move on to "funny mother-in-law." Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen can't be expected to handle all those roles by themselves.
Although - it's kind of a fact, besides the gay moms and Kevin's poor mother, mom movie roles have been a bit lame lately. Movie moms generally are participating in some kind of horror story in which they have to protect their child/get back their possessed child/never had a child to begin with; or they are present only as comic obstructions to the teenager or adult male saving the world in some way. Julie White, the mom in the Transformers movies? Totally underutilized.
I would have liked to have met Maurice Sendak. As impatient and uncompromising as he seems to have been, he took this stuff seriously in a way that I feel like I recognize - and he knew it was all folly at the same time.
I will wager that almost every person involved with picture books has learned something from Maurice. I know I have. In the Night Kitchen taught me to look at all the stuff inside the pictures; Where the Wild Things Are, with its expanding and contracting picture area, taught me to look at the page as a whole; and his illustrations for the Little Bear books showed me that animal characters need not be cartoonish or unrealistic to be endearing.
It is a fitting coincidence, therefore - a random tribute - that this past week was a particularly good one for illustration in picture books. Here are the ones I brought home to share and savor with my sons, not a line of 'ordinariness' in any of them:
Ah, spring! My neighborhood is foaming over with dogwood and azalea, sketched pink scribbles of redbud branches and nodding lilac. Driving the kids to school is like a trip through some wretched YA fairy forest. Except it's also roadkill season, so the smashed rats and opossums on the side of the road give it a little gory, edgy aspect. Again, much like a lot of recent YA. Sigh.
I am totally, happily mired in reading for the YALSA committee I'm on, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (go nominate your favorite! do it now! I'll wait!), and I can't in all conscience post reviews of books we're considering for the list - but I can take a break from teenage immigrants and rock stars from time to time in order to cleanse my palate with a new book.
Here are some I have waiting in the wings for me:
And that's it! With Life: An Exploded Diagram, I have officially read all of the contenders in School Library Journal's Battle of the Books. I am ready to go public with my brackets, and, perhaps more importantly, with my predictions for how the BoB cocktail party that SLJ is going to throw for all the characters in the contender books is going to shake down.
(I made up this cocktail party, in case you were looking for your invite. Since it's imaginary, everyone is invited!)
I am not taking into account my thoughts about the inclinations of the individual judges, as Liz Burns has in her prediction post at A Chair A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy - that's just too much to get my tiny brain around. So I'm just plunging in. DEEEEP BREATH. Remember that I am crap at this.
Why does a kid read a biography?
A couple of reasons. The most common reason is the old "I have to write a book report on George Washington Carver." Boy do you want to find a peppy, well-illustrated biography of George Washington Carver for that kid. A decent book, written by someone who actually cares about and is interested in George Washington Carver, as opposed to a generic series biography written by someone who got the assignment in an email, will make all the difference for that kid.
The Groundbreaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America by Cheryl Harness. National Geographic Children's Books.
These Cheryl Harness biographies are just the right length for older elementary school students. Heavily illustrated by the author and loaded with extras like timelines and maps, they are interestingleisure reads but work for writing reports as well.
Some kids will read biographies by choice: either they're interested in the subject, and they're inhaling everything they can find about, say, Jimi Hendrix in every medium available; or they're that kid who only likes true stories. That kid deserves a subscription to the National Geographic Photobiographies series.
Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. Clarion Books. This impressionistic book about Jimi is notable for its wild mixed-media illustrations and for an afterword that addresses his use of drugs and alcohol without being judgemental or whitewashing the facts.
When I asked my friend Tracy, who teaches 3rd grade, if any recent biographies jump out at her as being particularly noteworthy, she shrugged. "The Harry Houdini book," she said, "but mostly I just enjoy reading the biographies that the kids write."
Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman. Greenwillow Books. Fleischman has also written a long-form kids' biography of Mark Twain, called The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West.
Tracy's response, though, is a great reason to encourage kids to read biographies. Barbara Kerley's The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy) is a lively portrait of the writer as an eccentric family man, and includes portions of the biography written by his (ultimately tragically ill-fated) daughter Susy. Ms. Kerley also includes a page of entertaining instructions for writing a biography yourself.
I've been asking around, and it seems to me a lot of people can remember maybe one biography that they read as a kid that made a big impression on them. For my husband, it was a book about an ice hockey player called Roger Crozier, Daredevil Goalie.
Crozier was a "daredevil" because for many years he didn't wear a facemask. I would say maybe he should have.
For me, it was Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, the story of six men crossing the Pacific on a handmade raft. Like-minded readers today might try Into Thin Air, The Perfect Storm, or a biography of an Arctic explorer.
Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson (Photobiographies)by Dolores Johnson. National Geographic Children's Books.
You never know who is going to inspire a young person. It's worth asking what they're interested in, what they want to be when they grow up, what fiction books they read.
A kid who likes funny fiction will love the nonfiction stories that children's author Jon Scieszka tells about growing up with his five brothers. I would like to note that I finally found a name that stumped Maryland Morning host Tom Hall - luckily, Mr. Scieszka's website gives us a handy pronunciation guide!
Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, by Jon Scieszka. Viking Juvenile.
People who like princessy books will love the light, wonderfully stylish drawings of Audrey Hepburn in the picture book Just Being Audrey. Her mother was a baroness! How come I never knew that?
Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos. Balzer + Bray.
Kid is thinking about law? Why not think big!
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Bonus for being bilingual!
By the way, Jonah Winter is a name to look for when choosing biographies for children. He's written picture book bios of all kinds of people, from Frida Kahlo to Hildegard von Bingen to Sandy Koufax. He comes by his interest honestly - his mother Jeanette Winter, with whom he collaborated on the Hildegard book and a book about Diego Rivera, also writes picture book bios to watch for. She has done Jane Goodall, Georgia O'Keeffe, Bach, Emily Dickinson and more.
Another terrific author who has something of a specialty in biographies for kids is Kathleen Krull. Wilma Rudolph, Jim Henson, Cesar Chavez and L. Frank Baum have each caught her attention. She also has written a series of lively collected biographies - books about musicians, presidents, athletes, pirates, writers taken in context. Look for books with "(and What the Neighbors Thought)" in the title.
Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt.
Emily Arnold McCully, who is probably best known for Mirette on the High Wire, for which she won the Caldecott Medal, also writes and illustrates terrific nonfiction. Manjiro: The Boy Who Risked His Life for Two Countries (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) tells about a Japanese boy who helped open up relations between Japan and the U.S. in the 1800's.
Which brings us to another important point about biographies written for children. What I just wrote about Manjiro makes it sound boring as dirt - but in the hands of a talented writer like Emily Arnold McCully, his story sings with pathos and adventure. The pictures glow and the characters come alive.
Biographies are written for children of all ages and reading abilities. Dan Yaccarino's book on the ocean environmentalist Jacques Cousteau has no more than two sentences per page, with bright, graphic illustrations.
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Second and third graders can handle a little more text: I love Keep Your Eye on the Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton by Catherine Brighton, about Buster Keaton's early years. The way this book breaks down Keaton's pratfalls and early movie-making process, it's hard not to want to try some of his tricks out for yourself.
I'm going to leave off with a book about a woman whose tricks you should maybe not try at home. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart is probably the best of many Amelia Earhart books written for kids. The story of Amelia's life is told in strong, well-paced chapters, but between each chapter we get the hour-by-hour account of her fatal flight and the subsequent rescue efforts. Author Candace Fleming has pieced together a great deal of research, and without speculating on the fate of Amelia and her navigator, allows us to imagine her voice desperately calling out over the radio in the empty Pacific.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming. Schwartz & Wade.
And be sure to listen to my conversation with host Tom Hall on this Friday's Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on Maryland's NPR station, WYPR 88.1 FM. If you're out of the listening area, audio of the segment will be online by the end of the day on Maryland Morning's website.
Providing reader advisory services to movie and TV stars may sound like it's all glamor and glitz - private screenings at Matt Damon's place, long walks with Taylor Kitsch, tequila shots with Cameron Diaz - but in reality, it's hard work. It's a year-round, always-on-call job that requires constant monitoring of tons of information sources. You should see my office - a dozen laptops and giant flatscreens feeding me 24-hour updates from Cynopsis Kids, Early Word, Rama's Screen, and the Hollywood Reporter.
But that's what it takes. What would happen if, out of the blue, Hailee Steinfeld chased you down in a hallway at NBC panting, "I have to read a science fiction novel for English but I hate science fiction!" It wouldn't do to flail around until you lamely suggest she reads Virus on Orbis 1. Nooo. That kid, she needs more action. Not so much character development. Black Hole Sun is the book for her. She'd be perfect as the voice of the AI that is the main character's advisor, conscience and best friend. Or she could be the kick-ass love interest Vienne.
Tune in to my wave as I provide book advice to the attendees of the 84th Annual Academy Awards from my perch by the bar at the Governor's Ball...
I feel like Tony Shalhoub's character in Galaxy Quest: "Heh heh," he chuckles, mentally adding up the squad of enemy alien soldiers guarding the [whatever], the rock monster the crew had encountered on a recent visit to a desolate planet, and the ship's transporter mechanism. "I just had this really interesting idea."
I've just done a little idle internal arithmetic myself. I read a lot, right? Mostly kids' and YA books. It's ridiculous. And it's gotten to be I kind of feel like I'm cheating when I take time out for the essentials: Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, September Vogue, and Go Fug Yourself. Your essentials may not be my essentials. There's room for all of us here.
But my consumption of gossipy fashiony stuff means that I do kind of keep an eye on the traffic at the intersection of these two interests of mine - namely, when YA (and sometimes kids') novels are made into movies. Like... Ooh there goes Oscar nominee Viola Davis again - she's going to be in the movie they're finally going to make of Ender's Game. Hm. I wonder just exactly where Viola Davis fits into Ender's Game. Ugh here's another mouth-breathing Hemsworth: which YA heartthrob part is he going to be panting all over this time? You know. Everybody does that.
And you can't help wondering, you know, if you somehow found yourself sharing a First Class row with say Brad Pitt (I could get bumped up, it could happen!), what would you end up talking about?
Do you follow the SLJ Battle of the Books? It's the kidliterati version of March Madness, pitting fiction against nonfiction, dystopic sci-fi against humor, graphic novels against verse. It's win or go home as a few elite judges (Lauren Myracle, Matt Phelan, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jonathan Stroud, among others! Wow!) debate the merits of 16 of the most highly-decorated and fulsomely-praised children's and young adult books of this year.
One of the things that I like most about the BoB brackets (besides the fact that you can call them BoB) is that the books are seeded in alphabetical order. This leads to some amusingly disjunct head-to-head beat-downs: the gritty Okay for Now versus the magic-tinged Wonderstruck, for example. It might also be the only place you'll see the sincere, informative Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans go up against the heartfelt-but-in-a-very-different-way Inside Out and Back Again.
For the first time this year, I am in prime position to follow along, having read more nine and a half of the sixteen contenders. I discussed many of the books in this year's battle in my Newbery Preview post - but the Big N has historically not conferred any advantage during Battle of the Books, past Newbery winners having gone down in early rounds. Here's the list, and it's on Goodreads too.
Whew! Glad to be done with the Newbery post! That award is so loaded, so hard to talk about without hurting someone's feelings. On to the Caldecott!
From Ice by Arthur Geisert
Why is it that, while Newbery conversations feel like minefields, Caldecott conversations feel like wildflower-strewn Alpine pastures? Is it because every artist whose work even gets mentioned in the same breath as the C-word is by definition inarguably talented? Is it because you get to look at pretty things while you're looking for examples, rather than getting paper cuts leafing through novels trying to find that passage where the author really nails it?
From Me... Jane by Patrick McDonnell
I think it's because it's a lot easier to put your finger on what you find worthy in a particular book's illustration program than it is to pinpoint what you like about a big piece of prose. You can say, "Marla Frazee is a wizard of the color black," or "The fat contour lines that Kevin Henkes uses make his shapes so accessible to little kids." And I think that unfortunately, Newbery conversations often switch around to what you didn't like about an author's characters or style.
From If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche
But I've spent some time cross-referencing the Cybils picture book finalists (fiction and nonfiction - on which panel I served this year) with the few Mock Caldecott lists that people dream up, along with all the illustrated things I've read this year, and I came up with a list of some books that I think are among the items the 2011 Caldecott Committee spent time talking about on their way to conferring one Medal and up to four Honors.
Don't take my word for it though (really, DON'T) - motor on over to your library and check out a huge batch of picture books so you can play along yourself! I'll be running down some of these books on the radio January 13 at about 9:40 am, on WYPR's Maryland Morning program. 88.1 on your FM dial in Baltimore, and online at www.wypr.org.
Oy, the book awards. Not the Nerdies, which are voted on by you the public; nor the Cybils, which have open nominations and then two panels of book bloggers as judges; and not the Maryland Black Eyed Susan Awards (nominated by school librarians, voted on by students), the Eisners, the National Book Award or the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, which I sure wish we had in the U.S.
Okay, remind me to not let Pink Me go dormant for more than a week ever again. This site became such a magnet for spam comments - casinos, antibiotics, generic Cialis, lonely girls, lonely girls in casinos taking generic antibiotics - oh I got it all, baby!
I hope your December has been reasonably uneventful. No inflamed joints, for example. Or impounded vehicles. I hope Christmas Eve didn't find you thirty feet up in a tree rescuing a stray kitten. I'd like to think that you are easing into the New Year in full possession of your voice and without intermittent fever and a hacking cough. Jury duty is for you but a distant bothersome memory, as is the veterinarian's office. You will have had no height-induced panic attacks nor fights with your loved ones and you will have made merry with all your good relatives, while the ones who are b-holes stayed away.
If not - if your holidays have included any of the above situations or b-holes, or if you're like me and the past week has included ALL OF THEM (AAALL OF THEM GOOD GOD LOOK AT THAT WHY AREN'T I DEAD?) - allow me to direct you to a suite of posts on another blog, posts which I recommend purely for their temporary palliative effect.
TEMPORARY. Nobody wants to see you pole dance.
Meanwhile, I am going to ease back into the business of thinking about children's literature by engaging in the time-honored activity of making a list. I can't call it Pink Me's Best Books of 2011, because I frankly can't think that hard. Not at this point. Can I interest you in a kitten? No, I'm going to call it Books I Would Buy in 2011.
There is a secret joy that librarians are allowed at holiday time. Although we are ardent in encouraging people to borrow, not buy, most of us... well, we're kind of into books. We can't help wanting to own them. And though librarians vary in the extent to which they successfully keep themselves out of bookstores - some don't even try - all bets are off when it comes to buying gifts for our family and friends.
I stopped in at WYPR's Maryland Morning to talk to host Tom Hall about this subject. I brought a great huge stack of books and asked Tom to pick out the ones he wanted to know more about. If you miss the broadcast, you can listen to our conversation on the Maryland Morning website by the end of the day. The station has also posted a list of the books I brought to the station, or click "Read more" to see an expanded version (book trailers! whee!).
It's Election Day here in Maryland - the midterm general election, not the primary, so there's not much hoopla. Oh, Maryland. Stay sweet. Anyway, the children are off school, and it's Tuesday, my day off, and it's a beautiful fall day, so I thought I'd catch up on what my boys have been reading.
They've both reached the point that they are reading for fun independently. And kind of a lot. It's great, but I have to say, a little scary. I bring stuff home from the library I think they'll like, and they read that stack in a weekend, and then start eyeing the review copies I get in the mail.
This is going to sound like a back-door brag, but I am legitimately worried that they're a little too erudite for their own good. Zhou, who is in grade 3, complained at a class book discussion a couple weeks ago that he thought the metaphor in the title of Jerry Spinelli's memoir Knots in My Yo-Yo String was insufficiently reiterated in the text. In almost those words. Right? That's an oy vey moment, for sure.
That bunny is a total evangelist, right? That app actually does things that the book can't do, and that is a book that does things that most books can't do. Pat the Bunny is the app that turns arms-crossed, grumbly librarians into wide-eyed murmury librarians. Bobo Explores Light (reviewed earlier) does that too.
"You're listening to Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station, good morning! I'm your host, Tom Hall... oh wait a minute, I can't be your host, Tom Hall - I'm only eight!"
That's right. I took my kids with me to the radio station yesterday when I taped a segment on you crazy, stunted adults who read Young Adult fiction. What's wrong with me? Didn't I know they would act like crazed monkeys and pull out all the wires and make fart noises into the microphones? (They were very well behaved, although there were fart noises, I admit.)
More to the point, what's wrong with you? Seriously, you're a full-on adult with a car payment and a job, and when you pick up a book, you're all looking for violence and mayhem, and allegory, and characters you can fall in love with, and dialogue peppered with witty insults and wordplay - what's that about? Why can't you just read your age-appropriate Literature or Fluff like you're supposed to? (This is also me being FACETIOUS.)
As I tried to organize my thoughts about what it is that adults see in YA literature - and it's a huge trend, believe me, you're not the only one - I remembered a recent conversation with a young woman looking for something to read. I asked what she'd enjoyed lately, and she said she'd really liked The Road (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature) and the The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (winner of the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original and inspiration for Snoop Dogg's Oh, Sookie).
Now, these two items have more in common than you might initially think, but still, it would be a biiig Venn diagram that managed to include them both. Trying to imagine the sweet spot between Cormac McCarthy and Sookie Stackhouse, my gaze naturally drifted to the Young Adult section.
Recently, I read a book written for grownups. It happens! Of course, the book I read was Nerd Do Well, the memoir of actor and comedian Simon Pegg, and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Star Trek) is nothing if not an overgrown eleven-year-old boy, so actually, the book didn't fall that far outside my usual purview.
It was a kind of so-so book, if you want to know. The fanboy confessional can often descend into aching self-importance (see also: Patton Oswalt), but there were some brilliant discussions of pop culture, criticism, and pop culture criticism (also see also: Patton Oswalt). Mostly about Star Wars. Simon Pegg has thought a lot about Star Wars.
As have we all, n'est-ce pas?
In my house, Star Wars is practically a family member. Storm troopers, clone troopers, Jedi, Sith, sand people - their costumes and powers find their way into every mode of imaginative play engaged in by my sons. I have fought my way to a grudging détente over what I still call the second three movies - we own them on DVD, but they cannot be watched while I am in the house.
(I mean, come on. In the second series of Star Wars movies, they named Leia's adoptive father "Bail." If that isn't telegraphing a certain abdication of commitment on the part of the filmmakers, I don't know what.)
Recently, I assembled all the Star Wars gimmick books in our house and got the boys to run 'em down. By 'gimmick books' I mean the engineered books - the DK Readers are not included in this review, nor are the nominally grown-up novels like The Thrawn Trilogy, The X-Wing Series, Jedi Academy Trilogy, The Han Solo Trilogy (I might read that), or The Bounty Hunter Wars.
(Click each thumbnail to see this photo assemble.)
Adult Swim at our pool is fifteen minutes, and I swear, that can be the longest fifteen minutes ever in the history of time. Longer than the fifteen minutes it took you to figure out the new remote. Longer than the fifteen minutes it took Jane Austen to describe who rode in which carriage on that crucial twenty-minute journey to the ha-ha. Way longer than the fifteen minutes you had to stand in line at the DMV, because at least then you could fantasize different options for blowing the building up.
NO you can't have more money for the snack bar.
NO you can't go to the baby pool.
NO you can't play Angry Birds on my phone with your wet hands.
Who likes saying no all the time? Not me. Far better to give the kid a seat in the shade, a cold water bottle, and a just-for-fun book to read. I asked all the kids who had assembled for my younger son's birthday party to grab a book and cram onto the couch for this month's Pink Me banner. Here, amid a long list of entertaining summertime reads, are the books that caught their eye: