Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Best Books of 2008 Lists: Yep, it's that time of year!

It's that time of year when "the best books of 2008" lists start appearing. Two such lists are SLJ's Best Books of 2008 and the CCBC's preliminary list of Choices 2009.

From the preface of the SLJ list:

Of the more than 5000 books reviewed in SLJ’s pages in 2008, the 67 books listed below stood out as having distinctive voices, singular vision, and/or innovative approaches. They include books for toddlers and preschoolers, terrific picture books and easy readers, and some highly original novels. Fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, humor, mystery, affecting family stories, and adventure all make an appearance.

SLJ also states, "It was an amazingly strong year for YA novels, several with hard-hitting, powerful themes. " I completely agree. As I looked through the list, I found that I had read all of the young-adult books list. I had not, however, done such a good job reading the nonfiction:-( How about you?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny 'Knucklehead', November 20, 2008 · Children's author Jon Scieszka has written two dozen children's books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and the Time Warp Trio series, but his most recent work is a memoir. Knucklehead, an autobiography for young readers, details Scieszka's experiences growing up in Flint, Mich., where he was the second-oldest of six brothers.

In one chapter, Scieszka writes about his own experience as a young reader encountering the "strange alien family" of Dick and Jane and wondering why the characters repeated each other's names so frequently.

"If Jane didn't see the dog, Dick would say, 'Look Jane, look. There is the dog next to Sally, Jane,' " Scieszka says. "I thought they were afraid they might forget each other's names, because they always said each other's names — a lot."

'Oh Man, Here's My Audience'

Dick And Jane never made Scieszka want to read, but Dr. Seuss's The Cat In The Hat and the funny parodies in Mad Magazine did. Later, when Scieszka was a graduate student at Columbia University, he began writing his own fiction. His heroes were Borges, Cervantes and Kafka — writers who played with language and new ways to tell stories.

After he got his degree, Scieszka brought his post-modern sensibility to a Manhattan elementary school, where he was teaching. He remembers telling the second-grade class about Kafka's Metamorphosis.

"[I said] 'What if a guy woke up one day and he was a bug? Wouldn't that be weird?' and they loved that," Scieszka says. "And I think that was the trigger that made me think … oh man, here's my audience. They're just a lot shorter than I ever thought they might be."

Scieszka started to write funny, twisted stories just like the ones he used to write in graduate school — this time with kids in mind. His first book, published in 1989 with illustrator Lane Smith, was The True Story Of The Three Little Pigs, told from the point of view of Al, the wolf who laments his "big bad" reputation. ("Hey, it's not my fault wolves eat cute little animals like bunnies, and sheep and pigs," Al says. "That's just the way we are. If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were big and bad, too.")

'You Just Want To Keep Reading'

Three years later, Scieszka's next book, a collection of contorted fairy tales called The Stinky Cheese Man, became a bestseller. He has since sold nearly 9 million books. Leonard Marcus, author of Minders Of Make-Believe, a history of children's literature, calls Scieszka "one of the funniest writers to come along for children."

"He has a way of reaching children by making them feel that they're part of the joke," Marcus says. "It was really refreshing for a lot of kids to feel that someone was making books for them. ... There's something wonderful about that for a child."

Sandra DiRe, a fifth-grade teacher at the Glen Head school in suburban Long Island, uses The True Story Of The Three Little Pigs to talk with her students about point of view and the nature of truth. She says the book is good for teaching because she's interested in it, and the children can relate to it.

Ten-year-old Carly Rovner agrees: "All [Scieszka's] books kind of connect, because all his characters are either running away from something or running to find something," she says. "But it's interesting along the way. ... You just want to keep reading."

'Painless Inoculation'

As the Library of Congress' first national ambassador to children's literature, Scieszka is on a mission to connect kids with books they like. He says the key to getting kids to read is not to force-feed them literature, but to let them read what they want — be it comic books, magazines or graphic novels — and eventually they'll move on to some great writing and great reading.

After the success of his twisted fairy tales, Scieszka wrote funny books that made math, science and history accessible. His Time Warp Trio series, which was adapted for children's television, is about three kids who travel through time. Scieszka says the initial idea for the series was to write something kids would want to read — then he realized he could infuse the books with history lessons.

"I thought, what a cool thing — just, like, have them go anywhere in history. And I can just plug this great historical knowledge, and use that, and kids don't even know it," he says. "It's kind of like a painless inoculation."

Scieszka says he's flabbergasted by his success, and feels lucky to get up every day and make up wild stories for kids.

"If the day gets really bad, I can always pull out fan mail," he says with a laugh. "Who else gets mail where kids write to you and say, 'Dear Mr. Scieszka, We were supposed to write to our favorite author, but Roald Dahl is dead. So I'm writing to you.' "

Read an excerpt from Knucklehead.

Is listening to an audiobook really reading?

A survey conducted by Recorded Books found that the biggest concern teachers have about audiobooks is that it isn't really reading.

I've written an article with my opinion, but I'd like to know what others think. Do you agree that listening to audiobooks isn't really reading? Leave a comment and let me know!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Final version of Reading First study released

Students in the $6 billion Reading First program have not made greater progress in understanding what they read than have peers outside the program, according to a congressionally mandated study.

The final version of the study, released November 18, 2008, by the U.S. Department of Education, found that students in schools that use Reading First, a program at the core of the No Child Left Behind law, scored no better on comprehension tests than students in similar schools that do not get the funding.

"It is a program that needs to be improved," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the department's research arm. "I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension." Read the article in The Washington Post online.

National Book Awards - 2008


WINNER: Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic) - Interview


Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (Simon & Schuster)

Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum) - Interview

E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion) - Interview

Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf) - Interview

Young People’s Literature Judges: Daniel Handler (chair), Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Carolyn Mackler, Cynthia Voigt.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paging Through History's Beautiful Science

A few months ago, I posted a review of the book, The Mysterious Universe, written by Ellen Jackson with photographs and illustrations by Nic Bishop (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), which takes an in depth look at the expanding universe. Of course, our understanding of the universe today is based upon the work of scientists of the past. A new exhibition of science books at the Huntingtion library in California called "Beautiful Science: Ideas That Changed the World" highlights many of the books that influenced or were written by some of the greatest scientist of the past.

The exhibition focuses on four areas of science: astronomy, natural history, medicine and light. Some of the books featured are Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, the book where Newton codified the laws of motion and gravity; Nicolaus Copernicus' De Revolutionibus, the description of a solar system which had the sun, not the Earth, at its center; and Petrus Apianus' Astronomicum Caesarium, a collection of strikingly beautiful, hand-illustrated star charts published in 1540.

NPR's recent broadcast, Paging Through History's Beautiful Science highlists the exhibit and some of these books. Several photos and videos highlight the books themselves. Absolutely fascinating!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Read Across America partners with kidthing

From Reading Today Daily:

The countdown is already on for the 2009 Read Across America celebration, which will take place on March 2. Each year, millions of people participate in this National Education Association-sponsored reading promotion event honoring the late Dr. Seuss. One of the resources offered for this year's celebration is a Read Across America calendar, with each month featuring a special book. You can access the calendar and other resources at the Read Across America website.

Through a partnership with kidthing, inc., selected books in the Read Across America calendar (or excerpts from the books) will be featured free downloables on a special site. November features Crossing Bok Chitto, an award-winning book by Native American author and storyteller Tim Tingle.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NYT Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008

Every autumn since 1952, the New York Times Book Review has invited a panel of judges to survey the year’s output of children’s books and to select the top 10 best illustrated. This year’s trio of judges were: author and illustrator Christopher Myers, whose Jabberwocky (Hyperion) was a Best Illustrated Book of 2007; Caroline Ward, Head of Children’s Services at the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, who recently co-curated the exhibition “Children Should be Seen: The Changing Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art”; and Luann Toth, Managing Editor of School Library Journal’s Book Review, who was a member of the 2002 Randolph Caldecott Award Committee.

Top 10 best illustrated books of 2008:

A Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet, written and illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson (S & S/A Paula Wiseman Bk.)

The Black Book of Colors, written and illustrated by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría (Groundwood)

Ghosts in the House!, written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara (Roaring Brook)

The Little Yellow Leaf, written and illustrated by Carin Berger (HarperCollins/Greenwillow)

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City, illustrated by Meilo So, with text by Janet Schulman (Knopf/Borzoi)

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, with text by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans)

Skim, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, with text by Mariko Tamaki (Groundwood)

Wabi Sabi, illustrated by Ed Young, with text by Mark Reibstein (Little, Brown)

Wave, illustrated by Suzy Lee (Chronicle)

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion/Jump and the Sun)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Can J.K. Rowling Save Christmas?

From Publishers Weekly, 11/10/2008:

With publishers and booksellers nervous about Christmas sales, a little $12.95 book might be the season's savior. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Harry Potter offshoot by J.K. Rowling, is being published by Scholastic on Dec. 4. This will be the first Rowling book to be published at the height of the holiday season; all her previous Harry Potters were published in the summer—and the timing, although ideal in the gift-giving sense, may present some logistical distribution challenges.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a slim collection of five stories, including “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” which appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will have to ship from wholesalers during the Thanksgiving rush. Ingram Book Group's director of merchandising Mary McCarthy says the logistics will be “challenging.” The company meets weekly to review orders and transportation to ensure that everything will go smoothly. Although she doesn't expect Beedle to sell at the same levels as Deathly Hallows—Ingram's initial order was roughly one-third of its initial buy for Deathly Hallows—it is still a major title.

McCarthy notes that the low price, the Potter connection and the “charity appeal”—net proceeds to Scholastic, Bloomsbury and Amazon are being donated to Children's High Level Group, the charity Rowling co-founded to improve the lives of marginalized children—will make the book “one of the highlights of the season.”

Bookseller Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., and buyer for BookStream, agrees. She views Beedle as a smaller Harry Potter—“but that's still a lot larger than 99.8% of the other fall frontlist titles,” she notes. Like McCarthy, Chittenden is taking considerably fewer copies than she did for Deathly Hallows; about 8% of her original order for the store, and about 20% for BookStream.

That dovetails with Scholastic's own first printing of 3.5 million copies, which is hefty but a lot less than the 12 million it laid down for Hallows. In that case, though, the bulk of the sales occurred the first week out of the gate. The trick for booksellers will be to keep the Beedle magic going throughout the holidays and beyond.

Read the rest of the story here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Review of The Hunger Games

I recently read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and loved it! The starred review below by Megan Whalen Turner appeared in this week's Publisher Weekly:

If there really are only seven original plots in the world, it's odd that “boy meets girl” is always mentioned, and “society goes bad and attacks the good guy” never is. Yet we have Fahrenheit 451, The Giver, The House of the Scorpion—and now, following a long tradition of Brave New Worlds, The Hunger Games.

Collins hasn't tied her future to a specific date, or weighted it down with too much finger wagging. Rather less 1984 and rather more Death Race 2000, hers is a gripping story set in a postapocalyptic world where a replacement for the United States demands a tribute from each of its territories: two children to be used as gladiators in a televised fight to the death.
Katniss, from what was once Appalachia, offers to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, but after this ultimate sacrifice, she is entirely focused on survival at any cost. It is her teammate, Peeta, who recognizes the importance of holding on to one's humanity in such inhuman circumstances. It's a credit to Collins's skill at characterization that Katniss, like a new Theseus, is cold, calculating and still likable. She has the attributes to be a winner, where Peeta has the grace to be a good loser.

It's no accident that these games are presented as pop culture. Every generation projects its fear: runaway science, communism, overpopulation, nuclear wars and, now, reality TV. The State of Panem—which needs to keep its tributaries subdued and its citizens complacent—may have created the Games, but mindless television is the real danger, the means by which society pacifies its citizens and punishes those who fail to conform. Will its connection to reality TV, ubiquitous today, date the book? It might, but for now, it makes this the right book at the right time.

What happens if we choose entertainment over humanity? In Collins's world, we'll be obsessed with grooming, we'll talk funny, and all our sentences will end with the same rise as questions. When Katniss is sent to stylists to be made more telegenic before she competes, she stands naked in front of them, strangely unembarrassed. “They're so unlike people that I'm no more self-conscious than if a trio of oddly colored birds were pecking around my feet,” she thinks. In order not to hate these creatures who are sending her to her death, she imagines them as pets. It isn't just the contestants who risk the loss of their humanity. It is all who watch.

Katniss struggles to win not only the Games but the inherent contest for audience approval. Because this is the first book in a series, not everything is resolved, and what is left unanswered is the central question. Has she sacrificed too much? We know what she has given up to survive, but not whether the price was too high. Readers will wait eagerly to learn more.