Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reflections on Reading

Yesterday was such a big day in the world of children's and YA literature. As I thought about the results, I started thinking about my own reading and how much joy the ALA award winners and honors have brought me over the years. I might not always agree with the committees, but the winners/honors are always great literature.

Tonight, I meet with my children's literature class for the first time and I will share with them the opening chapter in Gary Paulsen's The Winter Room, a Newbery Honor Book. In the story, a young boy growing up on a northern Minnesota farm describes the scenes around him and recounts his old Norwegian uncle's tales of an almost mythological logging past. Here is the first chapter, titled, Tuning:

If books could be more, could show more, could own more, this book would have smells...

It would have the smells of old farms; the sweet smell of new-mown hay as it falls of the oiled sickle blade when the horses pull the mower through the field, and the sour smell of manure steaming in a winter barn. It would have the sticky-slick smell of birth when the calves come and they suck for the first time on the rich, new milk; the dusty smell of winter hay dried and stored int eh loft waiting to be dropped down to the cattle; the pungent fermented smell of the chopped corn silage when it is brought into the manger on the silage fork. This book would have the smell of new potatoes sliced and frying in light pepper on a woodstove burning dry pine, the damp smell of leather mittens steaming on the back of the stovetop, and the acrid smell of the slop bucket by the door when the lid is lifted and the potato peelings are dumped in--but it can't.

Books can't have smells.

It books could be more and own more and give more, this book would have sound...

It would have the high, keening sound of the six-foot bucksaws as the men pull them back and forth through the trees to cut pine for paper pulp; the grunting-gassy sounds of the work teams snorting and slapping as they hit the harness to jerk the stumps out of the ground. It would have the chewing sounds of the cows int eh barn working at their cuds on a long winter's night; the solid thunking sound of the ax coming down to split stovewood, and the piercing scream of the pigs when the knife cuts their throats and they know death is at hand--but it can't.

Books can't have sound.

And finally, if books could be more, give more, show more, this book would have light...

Oh, it would have the soft gold light--gold with bits of hay dust floating in it--that slips through the crack in the barn wall; the light of the Coleman lantern hissing, flat-white in the kitchen; the silver-gray light of a middle winter day, the splattered, white-night light of a full moon on snow, the new light of dawn at the eastern edge of the pasture behind the cows coming in to be milked on a summer morning--but it can't.

Books can't have light.

If books could have more, give more, be more, show more, they would still need readers, who bring to them sound and smell and light and all the rest that can't be in books.

The book needs you.

OMG, right? And just think...it's only the first chapter! I will read this aloud to my students and let the words wrap around them in hope that they keep these words close throughout the semester and their lives.

Monday, January 26, 2009

ALA Awards Announcement

Now that the big day has finally arrived and the ALA awards have been announced, it's time to see how I did with my goal of reading the winner BEFORE it was announced. Below is the list of winners and I've put an asterick in front of the title if I've read it:

Newbery Medal

* (yipeeee!) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins Children's Books

Newbery Honor Books
* The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
* The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle, Henry Holt and Company, LLC
* Savvy by Ingrid Law, Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group in partnership with Walden Media, LLC
* After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson, G.P. Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Books for Young Readers

Caldecott Medal

* The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes and written by Susan Marie Swanson, Houghton Mifflin Co.

Caldecott Honor Books
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee, Harcourt, Inc.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz, Farrar Straus Giroux
A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Michael Printz Award

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Printz Honor Books
* The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves, by M.T. Anderson, published by Candlewick Press.
* The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
* Nation, by Terry Pratchett, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.
Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan, published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Morris Award

* A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.

Morris Honor Books
* Graceling, written by Kristin Cashore, published by Harcourt, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Absolute Brightness, written by James Lecesne, published by HarperTeen/Laura Geringer Books
* Madapple, written by Christina Meldrum, published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books
Me, The Missing, and the Dead, written by Jenny Valentine, published by HarperTeen.

2010 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecturer

Kathleen T. Horning, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC)

Batchelder Award

Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., publisher of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano

Batchelder Honor Books
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., publisher of Garmann's Summer written and illustrated by Stian Hole, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., publisher of Tiger Moon written by Antonia Michaelis, translated from the German by Anthea Bell

Belpré Author Award

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle, published by Henry Holt

Belpré Author Honor Books
Just in Case by Yuyi Morales, a Neal Porter Book published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership
* Reaching Out by Francisco Jiménez, Houghton Mifflin Co.
The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, Children's Book Press

Belpré Illustrator Award

Just in Case by Yuyi Morales, a Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership Press

Belpré Illustrator Honor Books
Papa and Me illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, written by Arthur Dorros, Rayo, and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos illustrated by Lulu Delacre, written by Lucia Gonzalez, Children's Book Press
What Can You Do with a Rebozo illustrated by Amy Cordova, written by Carmen Tafolla, Tricycle Press, an imprint of Ten Speed Press

Carnegie Medal

Paul R. Gagne and Melissa Reilly, Weston Woods Studios, producers of March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World

Geisel Award

Are You Ready to Play Outside? written and illustrated by Mo Willems, Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group

Geisel Honor Books
Chicken Said, 'Cluck!' written by Judyann Ackerman Grant, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, HarperCollins Children's Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers
One Boy written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, a Neal Porter Book published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership
Stinky written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis, The Little Lit Library, a division of RAW Junior, LLC
Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator written by Sarah C. Campbell, photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell, Boyds Mills Press

Odyssey Award (asterick only if I listened to the book)

* The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, written and narrated by Sherman Alexie, produced by Recorded Books, LLC

Odyssey Honor Audiobooks
Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady, written by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren, produced by Listen and Live Audio, Inc.
Elijah of Buxton written by Christopher Paul Curtis, narrated by Mirron Willis, produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Random House Audio Publishing Group
I'm Dirty written by Kate and Jim McMullan, narrated by Steve Buscemi, produced by Weston Woods Studios, Inc./Scholastic
Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale written and narrated by Carmen Agra Deedy, produced by Peachtree Publishers
* Nation written by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs, produced by Harper Children's Audio/HarperCollins Publishers

Sibert Medal

* We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group

Sibert Honor Books
Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of the Past written by James M. Deem, Houghton Mifflin Company
What to Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! written by Barbara Kerley, illusrated by Edwin Fotheringham, Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Wilder Medal
Ashley Bryan, author and illustrator of numerous books, including "Dancing Granny," "Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum" and "Beautiful Blackbird."

Coretta Scott King Author Award

* Kadir Nelson for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group

Author Honor Books
Hope Anita Smith for Keeping the Night Watch published by Henry Holt and Company
Joyce Carol Thomas for The Blacker the Berry published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Carole Boston Weatherford for Becoming Billie Holiday published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Floyd Cooper for The Blacker the Berry published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Illustrator Honor Books
* Kadir Nelson for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group
Jerry Pinkney for The Moon Over Star published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
* Sean Qualls for Before John Was a Jazz Giant published by Henry Holt and Company

John Steptoe New Talent Award - Illustrator

Shadra Strickland for Bird published by Lee & Low Books

Margaret A. Edwards Award

Laurie Halse Anderson

The Schneider Family Book Award

Young Children
Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker and published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House

* Waiting for Normal, written by Leslie Conner, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

Jerk, California, written by Jonathan Friesen and published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group.

Overall, I didn't do so bad. I had read the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Morris, Odyssey, Siebert, Schneider Family Middle-Grade, and Coretta Scott King Author awards. And, I've read K.T. Horning's book, Cover to Cover, most of Ashley Bryan's work, and all of Laurie Halse Anderson's novels.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with myself and the award winners. I was suprised that Chains and Hunger Games didn't even get an honor. Both of these books deserved them IMHO. How about you? Were you pleased with the winners?

Congratulations to all of the winners and honors!

Now, on to this year's list......What are you reading right now?

PW's Starred Reviews

The Girl Who Wanted to Dance by Amy Ehrlich, illus. by Rebecca Walsh. Candlewick, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-1345-7
Both a haunting fairy tale and a parable for families separated by divorce or death, this lyrically rendered story also presents art as a vehicle for transcending pain. In a long-ago village, Clara lives with her silent father and loving grandmother, who tells her about her absent mother, a lover of music and dance. When musicians come to the village, Clara cannot resist their lure and slips away to the forest to dance with them at night; she comes close to joining them, but her father stops her—by coming out to the forest, recognizing his wife among the dancers, joining her briefly and forgiving her for leaving: “I understand you can’t come back.” Ehrlich (Baby Dragon) knows precisely how to turn description into the foundation of fairy tale (as Clara wades across a river, “the edge of her nightgown grew dark with water”), and her bittersweet ending barricades the story against didacticism. Working in a representational style, Walsh (How the Tiny People Grew Tall) adds lush paintings of an idealized old world, and her nighttime scenes glow. Ages 6-10. (Feb.)

The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4169-5940-3
In a trenchant romance, NBA finalist Caletti (The Fortunes of Indigo Skye) detonates a few stereotypes about love even as her 17-year-old narrator falls head over heels for Mr. Right. Quinn, raised by a mother whose favorite lecture is “All Men Are Assholes,” nevertheless feels loyal to her father, the eponymous Prince Charming whose self-centeredness harms the women he woos. She protects herself, she thinks, by making “good choices,” which, she belatedly realizes, “also meant other people’s choices.” But when she discovers that her father has stolen objects prized by each of his lovers and wives, she determines to return them to their rightful owners; it’s metaphorical as well as physical restitution. Joining up with a barely known half-sister, Quinn and her younger sister embark on a road trip; as the three meet the women injured by their father, Quinn also meets a wonderful guy, the antithesis of the supposedly safe boy she’d dated before; and everyone learns lessons in love. Interspersed throughout are monologues from the female adult characters (including Quinn’s grandmother and aunt, who live with her), which add both perspective and a large dose of wit. Caletti’s gifts for voice and for conjuring multidimensional personalities are at their sharpest. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. Harcourt, $17 (368p) ISBN 978-0-15-206609-3
Jinks’s signature facility with plot and character development is intact as she turns to the topic of vampires—as fans can anticipate, hers are not the romantic superheroes of the Stephenie Meyers books. Hers are a ragtag bunch: anemic, whiny, unattractive, they feed on guinea pigs (because they’re small, “their drained cadavers can be concealed without much effort,” and they breed quickly), and they turn for support to an idealistic priest. Nina, the narrator, is in her 50s, but was “infected” at 15 and chafes at being treated like an adolescent; she writes a sensational vampire series with a seductive, powerful heroine totally unlike herself, giving Jinks opportunity for comic contrasts. Throwing in delicious details and aperçus, the author works her way from the murder of one of the vampires to suspense and adventure of the sinister yet daffy variety beloved by readers of Evil Genius. The plot twists, more ornate than in previous works, ramp up the giddiness—and, perhaps, camouflage the corpses, blood and other byproducts of the genre. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-01110-0
Acute anorexia, self-mutilation, dysfunctional families and the death of a childhood friend—returning to psychological minefields akin to those explored in Speak, Anderson delivers a harrowing story overlaid with a trace of mysticism. The book begins as Lia learns that her estranged best friend, Cassie, has been found dead in a motel room; Lia tells no one that, after six months of silence, Cassie called her 33 times just two days earlier, and that Lia didn’t pick up even once. With Lia as narrator, Anderson shows readers how anorexia comes to dominate the lives of those who suffer from it (here, both Lia and Cassie), even to the point of fueling intense competition between sufferers. The author sets up Lia’s history convincingly and with enviable economy—her driven mother is “Mom Dr. Marrigan,” while her stepmother’s values are summed up with a précis of her stepsister’s agenda: “Third grade is not too young for enrichment, you know.” This sturdy foundation supports riskier elements: subtle references to the myth of Persephone and a crucial plot line involving Cassie’s ghost and its appearances to Lia. As difficult as reading this novel can be, it is more difficult to put down. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Congratulations to all of these authors!

Friday, January 23, 2009

LAST Newbery Round-Up

The countdown is ON...only three days until the big announcements! So, this is the LAST round-up of Newbery news before the big day.

Nina Lindsay at Heavy Medal gives us the Anatomy of a Mock Newbery based on her experience participating in the Mock Newbery at the Golden Gate library in Oakland. This is a really nice overview of the process this group followed along with a brief outline of their discussion of each Newbery contender. Sharon McKeller also discusses some other Mock Newbery results.

Fuse #8 gives us her predictions
on the Newbery and Caldecott.

Shannon Hale at squeetus writes a very interesting piece: What did the Newbery ever do for me?

Besides sales of the awarded book, this honor has affected me personally and professionally in a profound way. Wherever I go as an author, people introduce me as a "Newbery Honor author" (or quite often, as a Newbery Medalist or Newbery Award winner, which isn't true, but we don't need to nitpick). I have felt that title legitimize me. Winning the award shined a light on me and all my books that three years later hasn't faded a bit. For the layperson, even if they don't know what the Newbery is exactly, I've found they recognize the name and believe it is a significant honor.

This is a great post that you must read in its entirety.

Finally, The Reading Zone discusses her sixth grader's reactions to Chains and Diamond Willow and her thoughts on these books as Newbery contenders.

I still haven't finished all of the books on my list. I did finish Savvy and Alvin Ho, but I still have to read Diamond Willow and Porcupine Year. Plus, I'm way behind on the Printz list...so I'll be reading right up to the last minute. Hey, I did the best I could. How about you? Do you have your predictions? Are you ready for the big day?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In the Classroom Round-Up

The round-up today is of resources for classroom teachers.

After such an historic event of the inauguration of the 44th president, some teachers might like to have President Obama's inauguration speech to listen to as a class or to replay. Audible.com has a free download of the speech.

It's never too early to start preparing for Read Across America Day! Random House is offering a free activity guide.

Each month, the ReadWriteThink.org Calendar offers quick classroom activities, lesson plans, Web links, and texts pertaining to various reading–related and general interest events. Here is a sampling of the links for February:
February 2: Groundhog Day.
February 4: African American Read-In continues throughout the month.
February 9: Author Alice Walker was born on this day in 1944.
February 16: Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton was born in 1957.
February 27: Author John Steinbeck was born in 1902.

There also are links relating to other noted authors and events, and more. For further information, visit the website.

The Reading Zone announced the publication of Kelly Gallagher's newest book, Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. You can read the book free of charge on the publisher's website. Also, Kelly Gallagher is doing a series of blog tours for the remainder of the week into Monday. Visit The Reading Zone for all of the details.

You know that kid who loves Harry Potter books and has read them all three times but now wants to read more book like it? Never fear, What Should I Read Next? is here! Just go to this website, type in the title of a book you love and it will come back with a list of suggestions similar to the title you submitted. Pretty cool, huh?

Reale books is a website where you can download free software to create children's books and share them around the world. Check out this video of how teachers have used Reale books with kids.

Karl Fisch, the Director of Technology for Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado writes on his blog The Fischbowl about some of the ninth graders at his school are currently involved in a project based on Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. On Thursday, January 15th, the students discussed Chapter 4 (Design) of A Whole New Mind with Daniel Pink (see the wiki for the schedule of the discussions over the other chapters). This is a wonderful project and a great way to use technology to connect kids to the book's author and an authentic audience for discussing their reading. Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind, is a must read!

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation has issued its 22nd annual call for grant proposals. These minigrants support creative programs that promote children's love of reading. Past grants have funded ongoing pen pal projects, multicultural portrait projects, a variety of art projects, bookmaking projects, puppet projects, and more. The deadline for submission of proposals for the $500 minigrant award is September 15, 2009. Proposals are read directly after the September deadline, and announcements will be mailed out in early November. For further information about both the minigrant program and the work of Ezra Jack Keats, visit the Foundation's website. There you can also download a minigrant application form.

The Graphic Classroom announces the FIND A HERO! writing contest. Students in grades 3-6 should write about a real hero, someone from their school or life, someone who is a true hero in their eyes. The first place winner will star in an upcoming DC SUPER HEROES book right along with Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. Along with the student, his or her hero, the school and the principal will also be featured in the storyline. Contest runs through February 28. Entry forms are available here. Winning entries will be announced on March 15.

That's it for this time. Hope you find something interesting you can use in your classroom!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2009 Scott O'Dell Award Announced

"Laurie Halse Anderson has won the 2009 Scott O'Dell Award for Chains (S&S, October 2008), narrated by teenaged Isabel Finch during the Revolutionary War. Although Isabel and her enslaved five-year-old sister were to be freed upon the death of their mistress, the woman's heir sells the siblings to a new owner in New York City--that is the first of the betrayals that lie ahead, but also the beginning of Isabel's fight for freedom.

The award, established by O'Dell (best known as the author of The Island of the Blue Dolphins), is given annually to a meritorious work of historical fiction and includes a $5,000 prize. Chains was also a National Book Award Finalist, just like Anderson's debut novel, Speak (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999)."

Congratulations, Laurie!!!

Children's Literature Resource Round-Up

Wow! That's just about all I can say at the end of this day of inaugural events. I thought this Wordle posted by Daniel Pink was a beautiful depiction of Obama's speech today and a fantastic way to start this resource round-up.

There are lots of great resources in today's post.
HarperCollins is providing free online access to Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Coraline: the Graphic Novel Adaptation, The Graveyard Book, The Dangerous Alphabet and more! Yep, you read that right...FREE! Go. Check it out. Now.

Over at the I.N.K. blog, Kathleen Krull highlights several exciting 2009 nonfiction titles you will want to put on your wish list.

has an interview with Kathi Applet, author of The Underneath, which many think will win the Newbery.

Award-winning poet and educator Nikki Giovanni has a new book of poems focusing on love. The legendary writer talks about her 27th work, Bicycles: Love Poems on NPR.

Open Wide, Look Inside highlights two poetry books about counting: One Leaf Rides the Wind and Ten Times Better. Excerpts from each book and ways to use these books in the classroom are provided.

Read, Read, Read! posted a video of how the newly released Diary of A Wimpy: The Last Straw was printed and packaged. The video is rather long, but would be very interesting for kids to see how books are made!

AdLit.org is making available free for download the first three chapters of Walter Dean Myers' new book, Dope Sick. In Dope Sick, Walter Dean Myers breaks new ground and stretches the boundaries of realism to bring forth a tale of second chances, redemption, and the promise of hope. There is also a free Dope Sick reading guide and extension activities.

Author Linda Sue Park announced on her blog What I'm Reading the release of A LONG WALK TO WATER, a Breakfast Serials production. "Breakfast Serials takes a novel-length piece of fiction and syndicates it for publication in newspapers, one chapter a week. Here's a link to their site, where you can read two sample chapters of the story: A LONG WALK TO WATER featured on the Breakfast Serials website. A LONG WALK TO WATER is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a Sudanese refugee who fled his home village at the age of eleven because of war. Salva became one of the 'Lost Boys', immigrating to the U.S. in the 1990s. He is now President and Chief Operating Officer of the charitable foundation Water for Sudan."

Douglas Florian's new poetry book Dinothesaurus received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. On his blog, Florian Cafe, he has posted a poem from the book titled, Tyrannosaurus rex. Florian also posted a review of As Good As Anybody, written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon, a book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Recently, Lee Bennett Hopkins was named the winner of the prestigious National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for 2009! Tracie Vaugh Zimmer has an interview with Hopkins on her blog.

Publisher's Weekly reports the results of the 2008 Cuffie Awards: the “Off the Cuff” awards in which children's booksellers choose their favorite (and not so favorite) books of the year.

That's it for this week's round-up. Enjoy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

PW's Starred Reviews

From this week's Publisher's Weekly:

Same Same by Marthe Jocelyn, illus. by Tom Slaughter. Tundra, $15.95 (24p) ISBN 978-0-88776-885-9
Jocelyn and Slaughter (previously paired for Eats) strikingly introduce the concept of classification. Slaughter's graphic cut-paper compositions command attention with their paint-box–bright colors. The first spread, for example, shows an apple, a blue-and-green planet Earth and a tambourine, against fields of yellow, black and red, respectively, for stop-sign-like impact. “Round things,” reads the caption. The next pages show the tambourine again, now with a guitar and a bird. This spread is captioned “things that make music.” Always carrying forward one of the three objects from the previous spread, Jocelyn delivers the vital lesson that everyday objects fall into many categories. The concept is clear and the delivery attractive; a book like this is an essential part of the very young child's library. Ages 2–5. (Jan.)

The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber, illus. by Adam Gustavson. Tricycle, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-58246-256-1
When his mother invites a Union Army corporal—“a Yankee Jew” named Myer Levy—to join the family for Passover, Jacob is aghast: they're proud Virginia Confederates, and only 24 hours have passed since Lee's surrender. But Mother has tradition on her side: as she reminds Jacob, the Haggadah commands Jews to welcome “all who are hungry... all who are in need” to their seder tables. With a cinematic flair and rich, realist oils, Gustavson (A Very Improbable Story) depicts how a détente between North and South is forged—albeit tenuously—by the timeless values of faith, civility and chicken soup. Basing her writing on a historical incident, Weber makes an impressive debut. The fiercely held loyalties and enthusiasms of her 10-year-old narrator feel authentic, and her gift for dialogue—especially the Southern-Jewish inflections of Jacob's family—makes the pages fly. Above all, she deserves great credit for not forcing her characters to hug and learn in the final pages. “Well, that was something, wasn't it?” the mother says as the Yankee departs. Sensitively written and beautifully illustrated. Ages 7–9. (Mar.)

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-4169-7978-4
Florian's free-flowing, witty collection of poems and collages about dinosaurs is a giganotosaurus delight—perhaps his best work ever. The poems marry facts with a poet's eye for detail: the Brachiosaurus was “longer than a tennis court” and the Ankylosaurus says, “We like spikes and we like scutes/ (Bony plates we wear as suits).” Small experts will appreciate the “Glossarysaurus” at the end, but the heart of the book is in its humor, the spontaneity of both illustrations and poems, and Florian's slightly askew view of the Mesozoic creatures. A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton spews cutout images of things a T. rex might actually have eaten, along with a tumble of other things (newspaper clippings, a boot, a building), while the text ends with a great pun (“I find it terrific/ That it's T-rex-tinct”). The tiny (20-inch) Micropachycephalosaurus stares up at a huge display of his enormous name spelled out phonetically, in illuminated caps and as a rhombus. Art and text will encourage aspiring paleontologists and poets to parse these pages again and again. Ages 6–up. (Mar.)

Heartsinger by Karlijn Stoffels, trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-545-06929-8
At the “midday hour” on the same stormy day, two remarkable musicians are born in an unnamed land. Mee, the singer of dirges, can see inside a person's soul; Mitou, an accordion player, is the finest “merrymaker.” Dutch author Stoffels makes an impressive American debut as she adopts the mannered language of fairy tales. Hearing of Mee, Mitou feels certain that she is destined to meet him; as she travels to find him, Mee and Mitou each encounter individuals in need of their respective services. These characters' stories, cleverly interlinked, play on timeless themes of love, loss and rejuvenation, but fold in idiosyncratic elements: a queen gives birth between courses at a banquet (her neglected child is doomed to stare nonstop at her reflection: “Somebody has to look at me.... And if nobody will, then I'll do it myself”). Stoffels's prose can be overwrought (“The sight of the waves causes me pain. Even the roar of the ocean stabs my heart”), but her characters, especially the women, have a ferocity that belies the possibly precious tone, and readers who like love stories will savor the imaginative details. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers. HarperTeen/Amistad, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-06-121477-6
Using both harsh realism and a dose of the fantastic, Myers (Game) introduces an inner-city teen in the jaws of a crisis: 17-year-old Lil J is holed up in an abandoned building, believed to have shot an undercover cop in a drug bust, while police officers assemble in the street below. As he searches for a way out, Lil J is stopped by Kelly, an eerily calm vagrant who invites him to “cop a squat and check yourself out on the tube.” Kelly's TV not only plays scenes from Lil J's life but projects what will happen if he sticks with his current plan: suicide. Shocked, Lil J considers Kelly's question, “If you could take back one thing you did... what would it be?” Aided by Kelly's TV, Lil J revisits pivotal moments and wrestles with his fate. As expected, Myers uses street-style lingo to cover Lil J's sorry history of drug use, jail time, irresponsible fatherhood and his own childhood grief. A didn't-see-that-coming ending wraps up the story on a note of well-earned hope and will leave readers with plenty to think about. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

Congratulations to these authors!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Inauguration Resources Round-Up

I've been gathering links to resources on President-Elect Obama's inauguration and have listed them below.

Public School Insight has put together some resources to help educators and parents take advantage of this historic moment.

The Our White House Inauguration Celebration Kit for Kids!

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance’s Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out book and website overflow with stories, poetry, articles, and art about our presidents, our White House, and our history that will enhance any inaugural celebration you plan for the young people in your life. Some of the ideas and activities we suggest spring directly from the content and illustrations in Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, which you can find at your local library or bookstore—but many of the suggested ideas and activities can be used independently of the book. Although the inauguration is Tuesday, January 20, 2009, variations on these ideas and activities can also be used at home, at schools, and in libraries throughout Presidents’ month in February, and to complement other American history lessons, celebrations, and anniversaries throughout the year.

The Library of Congress provides links to The Lincoln Inaugural Bible, Chapter and Verse. The Library of Congress often provides Bibles from its vast collections for the use of Members of Congress during their swearing-in ceremonies. But it is not every day that a president-elect makes the same request for his inauguration. It is rarer still when that Bible is the same one upon which Abraham Lincoln first took the oath of office in 1861.

Horn Book's January monthly special focuses on books at all levels that feature the American Presidents.

Audible.com is providing free downloads of the inaugural speeches of presidents from 1933 to the present.

Through a joint effort between the National Education Association (NEA) and kidthing®, children all across the United States have a chance to share their hopes, dreams, and ideas with incoming U.S. President Barack Obama. To participate, kids send in their ideas in the form of letters or drawings by mail or e-mail attachments. The top submissions will be featured in kidthing's Dear Mr. President digital book, which will be unveiled in the kidthing store on President's Day, February 16, 2009. kidthing will offer this special digital book for free. A limited edition print will also be sent to the White House. Applicants must hurry: the deadline for submissions is January 20, 2009. For more information, visit the NEA website or the kidthing website.

Reading Rockets is hosting Letters from the White House, a national creative writing contest that encourages students in grades PreK through 12 to explore the useful arts of letter writing and journaling, to take a look at the history of our country, and to tap into their own creativity when they imagine and write about themselves as having a role in a past, present or future White House. Contest resources for educators and parents can help make this a fun and meaningful project for the classroom, after school program or for families at home. The contest will launch on January 20, 2009, Inauguration Day, with entries due on February 16, 2009, Presidents Day. Five finalists will be chosen in each competition level and a grand prize winner will be named in each level on April 30, 2009, the 100th day of the new presidential term.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Writing Tips and Advise from Authors

I subscribe to quite a few blogs and I admit that sometimes the number of posts I peruse each day can be daunting. Recently, I read a post in which the blogger decided to delete all of his blog subscriptions and start over with fresh perspective. His thinking was that he subscribes to the blogs of people who think just like he does, so the posts really don't push his thinking. And I admire that for him. But, I don't have that problem. I subscribe to a variety of blogs, but my favorites...the ones I look forward to each day...the ones that push my thinking, are those of children's and young adult authors. I don't know how they find the time to write such great posts and also such great books, but I'm glad they do.

I'm especially thrilled when these authors blog about their writing. I enjoy getting a glimpse into their writing practices, but I also benefit from the tips and advise I gain for my own writing and to also share with my students. So, I've decided to gather up these tips and advise and compile them each week and share them with you.

The first author's post is not really about writing. It's about reading...all kinds of reading. Shannon Hale's post "Let em eat pictures" was about how many parents encourage their children to stop reading books with pictures and move to books with only text. As a literacy educator, I get this question all the time. Especially about graphic novels. It was so refreshing to read Shannon's response:
The best thing in the world is hearing about that kid who didn't like to read, then read Rapunzel's Revenge in one sitting and now wants to read more. Those stories are the most satisfying of my career. I'm so happy there are so many age-appropriate graphic novels out there now. Don't fear them! Reading graphic novels is working two parts of their brains--they're learning to decode word symbols and picture symbols, creating a movie in their mind out of static pictures and words on a page. It's exciting and in no way immature.

In a follow-up post, "How to be a reader: Making yourself fully literate," Shannon writes, "I'd like to propose that the goal is not to have kids/teens/adults get to the point where we'll only read unillustrated prose novels, but to get kids/teens/adults confident in reading and literate enough to navigate this world." Hallelujah! Can I get an amen? In this post, Shannon talks about the importance of being able to navigate three different media in the information rich society we live in: prose novels, illustrated books, and audio books. I was so glad to read her thoughts about audio books. As you may know, I'm a big fan of audio books, but, as Shannon acknowledges, many teachers and parents think listening to audio books is "cheating." Shannon replies,
Listening to books read is a wonderful way to become more literate. For some reason, some people consider listening to an audio book "cheating" or "not really reading." Hogwash. Learning to absorb information given in audio is vital. Listening to an audio book is different than talking to someone on the phone. Following a story told aloud is developing a listening and comprehending skill that would serve us all well.

Ok. I feel better. Now, on to writing. Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of the YA novels Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone [among others]. Both stories are set in the same time period--in the future after a meteor hits the moon and disrupts its orbit--but each book is about what happens to a family in two different locations as a result of the catastrophic events that take place. Susan is now writing book three and discusses the difficulty of writing a sequel in her post "B3 turns fifty." Where do you get this kind of insight except from someone who has not only been successful writing a sequel, but is in the middle of doing it again!

Cheryl Klein, children's book editor extraordinaire, writes about the importance of voice in fiction in her post "Oy Vey: Voice, and Also Twilight." She writes, "...voice is to fiction as air is to life: It's simultaneously everything and nothing, essential to have and impossible to grasp, all-encompassing and absolutely individual." Voice is one of those essential elements that make or break a book for me and in this post, Cheryl analyzes the voice in Twilight. I never made it far enough into Twilight to have an opinion on the emotional aspect of the book which Cheryl writes about since I couldn't get beyond "it's not a good book."

Barbara O'Connor wrote a post about "Lessons from dead matter," which I thought was fascinating! The dead matter, or the notes and editorial comments from a manuscript that has been published, is from her book Greetings from Nowhere. I learned so much from this post. First, I would have thrown the dead matter in the garbage (after all, it's dead). But, obviously, that's not the kind of person Barbara is. She turned it into a learning experience. I think about all of the time teachers spend giving kids feedback on their writing only to have the kids throw the papers in the garbage (isn't that what I just said I would have done with the dead matter? oops!). Of course, for kids, it all depends on how the feedback is provided. Barbara's thoughts in this post would make a great series of writing workshop minilessons which would tie together beautifully if the teacher were also reading aloud Greetings from Nowhere!

Cynthia Lord, author of Rules, gives us a tour of her desk (which is NOT cluttered) in the first part of her post, Five Things on Friday. I love to see where authors work and Cynthia has her very own "writing house" in her back yard. Very cool!

Justine Larbalestier, author of the Magic and Madness series and How to Ditch Your Fairy started the year off with January is Writing Advise Month. She is taking questions about the writing process from readers and responding on her blog. She's written nine posts so far on such topics as characterization, backstory, plot similarities, point of view, getting ideas and getting unstuck. The depth and detail of each post is amazing. This is great advice for everyone, but I would think middle and high school teachers could use Justine's posts for relevant, real life examples when discussing these elements in reading and writing.

Thank you to all of the authors who take the time to share their thouhts about reading and writing. Keep 'em coming!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Newbery News Round-Up

Newbery buzzzzzzzzz is rampant! I am trying my best to finish the books on various lists. I finished Savvy and am now reading Alvin Ho. I'm listening to Little Brother on CD in my car and listening to Madapple on my I-Pod. How's that for multi-tasking, huh?

Below is a gathering of different discussions about the various impending ALA awards from different media sources:

Susan Patron, 2007 Newbery Medal winner for The Higher Power of Lucky, has written an article for the Los Angles Times, Don't Discount the Newbery, in which she talks about how children's books that deal seriously with serious issues can change readers' lives. From the article:
Winning a Newbery no doubt increased my book sales; it gave me a measure of fame. But it was well before I won it that the Newbery award transformed me, changing my child-self from nonreader to avid reader, introducing librarianship to me as a career, inspiring me to want to write children's books and to strive for good writing.
This is a must-read article! It hits on one of the biggest issues surrounding the Newbery this year-the popularity of Newbery winners among the audience for which they are intended: children! Several teachers have weighed in with their thoughts on the Newbery based on their own experiences/opinions AND those of their students.

Monica at Educating Alice, a fourth grade teacher in NYC, discusses her thoughts on the Newbery contenders and child appeal. I especially enjoyed reading (and agreeing with) her thoughts on Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.

Sarah at TheReadingZone, a 6th grade Language Arts teacher, conducted a Newbery unit with her students. At the end of the unit, she asked them to write their thoughts on whether Chains or The Underneath should win the Newbery. I loved reading the students' thoughts!

Franki, a school librarian, shares her thoughts at A Year of Reading. She relates a story of how she learned first hand about child appeal and the Newbery when Kira Kira won the award in 2005. Franki writes "A book I thought was lacking "kid appeal," KIRA-KIRA went on to be quite popular in the classroom--making its rounds as Katie [a student] talked it up. I also came to love the book and it is now one of my favorite Newbery titles."

Over at Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog, Nina Lindsay (former Newbery committee member) provides a description of what the Newbery deliberations look like:

Picture this: 15 members show up 8am on a Friday morning, with nothing but a confidential shortlist, a year's worth of notes, and some snacks. By Sunday noon they must produce a press release. There are breaks scheduled, but the discussion starts off with a bang and hurtles along at an unbelievable pace...probably spending no more than 8-15 minutes on a title, circling back round to others... The table is laden, with books and binders and junk food. There isn't a square of tablecloth visible. Members get up to stretch in the corners, taking care not to trip over the power and extension cords snaking through the room. The room starts to get a little musty, like an airplane. Is it day or night? Hard to tell often, and the meetings do go late: scheduled until 10pm, but often going later. My committee set up a coffee/tea bar in the room (electric kettle, cone and filter) so that we barely had to leave...and we did pretty much bounce off the walls! The energy is the room palpable. Certainly as the deadline approaches, passions flare in comparing favored titles against each other.

A "Heavy Medal" Mock Newbery was held at the Oakland Library and the results were just announced on the Heavy Medal blog: the Newbery went to The Porcupine Year by Louise Edrich with two honors going to After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson and Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. All three books have been on various lists, but not at the top, so this is somewhat of an upset!

For those of us not able to attend the ALA's midwinter conference where the award winners will be announced, Fuse#8 provides The Next Best Thing on how to watch the announcements live via webcast! Be there or be square:-)

The Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz receive quite a bit of talk with lots of "mock" award gatherings. But other ALA awards receive little or not attention at all. Kyra at Black Threads in Kid's Lit writes: "Do a blog search - is there any chatter on mock Coretta Scott King Awards for 2009? No librarians seem to be talking about the CSK awards? No bloggers? No book industry publications? I have not been able to find any, so decided to start a thread given the awards are coming out later this month." Click on the link above to find out Kyra's choices for the Coretta Scott King Awards and to share your thoughts with her.

Author Alma Flor Ada at Bookjoy! reported the results of the Mock Belpré award that was sponsored by the Heartland Chapter of REFORMA. Check out her post to find out the mock winners.

That's all the Newbery News I have for now. More as the big day draws closer!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Publisher's Weekly Starred Reviews

This weeks Publisher's Weekly includes the following starred reviews. Congratulations!

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-01321-5

Snow has been falling all night, and when a small rabbit awakens, he learns that kindergarten is closed, his mother can't go to the store, and his father's flight home has been canceled. “Mommy, we are all alone in the world,” he announces solemnly, and even though he's clearly safe and sound in an apartment with all the modern comforts, readers will understand his bittersweet feelings of isolation and solitude. Sakai (Emily's Balloon) takes a very different approach in these pages: focusing more on setting and mood than characterization, she turns each illustration into a vivid snapshot (Mommy on the phone with stranded Daddy, an outdoor hug before the dash back indoors). Against a palette of grays and muted colors, she uses the yellow of the rabbit's jacket or boots to focus the reader's gaze, and layers the paints to suggest the intimacy and coziness of the hearth, the eerie but irresistible starkness of a landscape transformed by snow. Ages 3–5. (Jan.)

Our Abe Lincoln by Jim Aylesworth, illus. by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-439-92548-8

Proving once again that they are a match made in picture-book heaven, Aylesworth and McClintock (previously paired for The Gingerbread Man) turn out a biography of Lincoln virtually guaranteed to hook readers. Adapted from a song popular during Lincoln's presidential campaigns, its verses can be sung to the tune of “The Old Grey Mare,” and tell of iconic or seminal moments in Lincoln's life: “Smart Abe Lincoln read late by the firelight/ Late by the firelight/ Late by the firelight/ Smart Abe Lincoln read late by the firelight/ Many dark nights ago.” McClintock brings in the storytelling magic: she shows costumed children on one side of a curtain in a school auditorium, an eager audience waiting on the other. As usual, her attention to detail rewards those who look closely: one of the actors pokes her face out from beneath the curtain, adults get ready to tie the beard on the actor playing Abe, and the expression on the boy playing the raccoon is not to be missed. Endnotes amplify each verse with relevant facts. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells, illus. by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, $16.99 (96p) ISBN 978-0-7636-3723-1

Inspired by a 200-word fragment written by one of Lincoln's sons, Wells (Mary on Horseback) introduces the legendary president through the perspectives of his youngest children, Willie and Tad. Nine years old when the book opens, in Springfield, Ill., Willie accompanies his father to Chicago, where, as Willie puts it, “spiffed-up men with soft hands” decide that Lincoln should run for president: “It's a derby race, and I've got a plow horse's chance,” Lincoln tells his son. The family vernacular will win readers quickly, as will Lincoln's readiness to indulge his boys and let them see him at work. Darkness enters gradually: on the train to Washington, Pinkerton agents whisk Lincoln off, in disguise (“a lot of shicoonery,” he tells the boys), to foil an assassination plot; the outbreak of war grieves Lincoln; and then the death of Willie in 1862 devastates Mary Lincoln. Wells ends as Lincoln and Tad return from a trip to Richmond, Va., at the close of the Civil War, and Lincoln orders the Union band to play “Dixie.” Rarely does a biography so robustly engage the audience's emotions. Final art, in color, not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior by Chris Bradford. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4231-1871-8

Debut author Bradford comes out swinging in this fast-paced adventure set in medieval Japan, the first in the projected Young Samurai trilogy. Twelve-year-old Jack Fletcher has gained a reputation aboard a British merchant vessel as an agile rigging monkey. But after Japanese ninja murder the entire crew, including his father, Jack is left alone and injured to cope with strange customs and indecipherable language. When he shows his fortitude and cleverness, however, a powerful samurai adopts him and sends him to learn the ways of Japan's warrior class. Jack's story alone makes for a page-turner, but coupling it with intriguing bits of Japanese history and culture, Bradford produces an adventure novel to rank among the genre's best. The intricate and authentic descriptions of martial arts contests will hold readers spellbound. Just as potent for many readers, though, are the outright hatred and prejudice Jack faces as a gaijin, or foreigner, while he attempts to master an elaborate code of honor. This book earns the literary equivalent of a black belt. Ages 10–up. (Mar.)

Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song by Ashley Bryan, photos by Bill McGuinness. S&S/Atheneum, $18.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-4169-0541-7

Well-loved illustrator Bryan's pictures and recollections tell of his lifelong devotion to making and sharing art. His Antiguan-born parents sang, kept birds and sheltered orphans; they showed him how to resist convention and survive defeat. Drawing every day, as a soldier during WWII he kept his art supplies in his gas mask (“There would have been a tumble of materials if I were ever in need of that mask!” he says). Bryan honed his skills, overcame racism and discouragement, and thrived throughout 20th-century tumult. While the text forms a single narrative thread, the busy pages are laid out scrapbook-style on bright, overlapping rectangles of color, old family photos next to artwork next to call-outs of Bryan's words in large type. Bryan brought elements of African art to award-winning collages and woodcuts; on his own time, he made (and continues to make) other treasures. McGuinness's photos show the artist in many settings on the Maine island he now calls home. A book for parents and children to enjoy together, Bryan's triumphant story will inspire artists of every age. All ages. (Jan.)

Chasing Lincoln's Killer: The Search for John Wilkes Booth by James L. Swanson. Scholastic, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-439-90354-7

The YA version of Swanson's bestselling Manhunt, this account of Lincoln's assassination and the 12-day search for his killer reads like a historical thriller, no matter that the narrative jumps among its locations and characters. As President Lincoln delivers victory speeches in April 1865, an enraged John Wilkes Booth vows death: “Now, by God, I'll put him through.” Every bit of dialogue is said to come from original sources, adding a chill to the already disturbing conspiracy that Swanson unfolds in detail as Booth persuades friends and sympathizers to join his plot and later, to give him shelter. The author gives even the well-known murder scene at Ford's Theatre enough dramatic flourish to make the subject seem fresh. While Lincoln lays dying, Booth's accomplices clumsily attempt to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward, and Booth talks his way past a guard meant to bar him from crossing a bridge into Maryland. In focusing on Booth, the author reveals the depth of divisions in the nation just after the war, the disorder within the government and the challenges ahead. Abundant period photographs and documents enhance the book's immediacy. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

Resource Round-Up

My goal is to make Monday Resource Round-up day. I'll collect the best of the resources for children's and YA literature from the blogs and websites I view each week and post them here. Let me know if you come across great resources, too, and I'll add them to the list.

Curriculum Connections, the e-newsletter by School Library Journal and TeachingBooks.net, is starting the year off with their own fireworks: new titles on the African-American experience, a string of author-read fiction excerpts, the inside scoop on Don Brown’s new titles for young readers, gut-wrenching novels in verse for teens, and a look at a professional title that may inspire you to rethink your next family-night program. Enjoy!

This month's NoveList School News, an e-newsletter by EBSCO Publishing, looks at the role of the school librarian as not only working with children, but also teachers. Features include: Spotlight which looks at the influential work of educator Lucy McCormick Calkins who developed a workshop approach to language arts instruction. In Best Practices, librarian and intellectual freedom advocate Pat Scales talks about the right to read. Professional Resources examines two great guides to reading comprehension that draw on a canon of reading skills that inform language arts curricula across the country. NoveList Strategies demonstrates how to find children's books about writing by distinguished children's book authors. With characters that can jump from stories into real life, the big screen adaptation of the popular fantasy Inkheart is a perfect fit for this month's theme. To find out what the hoopla is all about, go to Silver Screen. Another good match is Awards as librarian Kathleen T. Horning provides insight into the prize named after Charlotte Zolotow for a distinguished picture book text. In the News presents information about the upcoming Webcast that will herald the recipients of the esteemed 2009 Newbery and Caldecott Awards as well as other highly regarded children's literary and media prizes.

Booklist's online newsletter Read Alert inlcudes Booklist's Editors' Choice picks for 2008's outstanding titles in Adult Books, Books for Youth, Adult Books for Young Adults, Media, and Reference Sources.

Trica at The Miss Rumphis Effect reports the results of the 2009 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books which "celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults." Five winners were selected in three categories: children, middle grades, and young adult. Several of the winners are also candidates for the Cybils nonfiction awards.

The Children's Choice Book Awards: In association with the Children’s Book Council (CBC), Teenreads.com is giving you a very special opportunity to let your voices be heard by telling us your five favorite books of 2008. The five titles that receive the most “votes” will serve as the finalists for the CBC’s 2009 Teen Choice Book Award. Later we will tell you where you can go vote for them once the five finalists have been announced. The winner will be announced in May 2009. All you have to do is fill out the form found here between now and January 31, 2009. Your top five selections may come from the list provided or you can vote for titles not on the list.

Choice Literacy has a great article by author, school librarian, and blogger Franki Sibberson, The Year's Best New Read Alouds, in which she shares her favorite read alouds of 2008 for older students.

SLJ reports on an educational website MeetMeAtTheCorner.org, sometimes referred to as the “educational YouTube,” is geared toward kids ages 7 to 12, offering them three to four minute instructional and informational tours from a child's point of view through video podcasts.

Edutopia has a great article titled, Reading Round Table: Literature Circles Expand Thought by Alexandra Moses, that discusses books creates a full learning process for students.

Fuse #8 reviews Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (available February 1). I am a BIG fan of Shaun Tan for all of the reasons Fuse #8 writes about this book: "He’s not just writing new kinds of stories, but reinventing the very nature of short story collections, personal histories, sketchbooks, suburban metaphors, and on and on they go...The most obvious thing to compare to this, if comparisons are something we have to make, is The Twilight Zone. The last time suburbia got this skewered with the unknown, it was in that post-war Rod Serling era. Maybe history repeats itself." Read the full review to get the full concept, but I will have this book as soon as it becomes available!

Speaking of reviews of books that haven't come out yet, Douglas Florian posts the first review of his new poetry collection, Dinothesarus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings. The review, by Kirkus, begins: "In the fine tradition of Jack Prelutsky’s Tyrannosaurus Was a Beast, illustrated by Arnold Lobel (1988), a set of dinophile-pleasing verses penned by a poet with a rare knack for wordplay and silly rhymes finds apt visual setting fronting playful images of monsters rearing up from extinction to grin toothily at young viewers." Click on the link above to read the full review and to see a sample illustration from the book.

Shen's Books provides a link to an article about the research behind Linda Gerdner's Grandfather's Story Cloth that appears in the Internet-based journal, The Hmong Studies Journal. Grandfather's Story Cloth is about ten-year-old Chersheng who helps his beloved grandfather cope with his failing memory, brought on by Alzheimer’s disease, by showing him the story quilt Grandfather made after fleeing his homeland, Laos, during wartime. Linda Gerdner, a registered nurse dedicated to helping persons with Alzheimer’s disease and the family members who care for them, has also put together a set of discussion questions (and their answers) that address many of the difficult issues presented in the book.

The Brown Bookshelf reviews 12 Brown Boys, a short story collection for middle-graders by by first time children's author Omar Tyree that explores the lives of a memorable cast of 'tween brown boys. "12 Brown Boys is a needed book that gives African-American boys an important incentive to read – reflections of themselves." There is also a link to a Book Links article that offers more titles that celebrate African-American boys.

Finally, check out the movie trailer for Inkheart to be released on January 23rd. I enjoyed the audiobook, read by actor Brendon Fraser, who is also starring in the movie at Mo. He did a fantastic job of reading the book, but I'm not a big fan of his acting. However, Helen Mirren is a great actress who is playing the part of Elinor, so maybe there is hope!

That's it for this week. Happy reading!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wonder Rediscovered in Children's Books

I hesitate to post such a long article, but it is from The Chronicle of Higher Education (Dec. 19, 2008), to which many may not subscribe, and I think it would be a shame for you to miss it. Please take five minutes to read this peice by Andrew Martino, chairman of the English department at Southern New Hampshire University. It will put a "knowing" smile on your face!

Wonder Rediscovered in Children's Books


As a professor of world literature, I am in the enviable position of being able to do what I love and get paid for it. Quite simply, I am paid to facilitate discussions about books. Yet, since graduate school, I have found myself including on my syllabi fewer works of literature in favor of more "serious" works of literary theory. Each semester I spend less and less time actually discussing a book like Don Quixote and more time explaining why Marx or Foucault may be a valuable lens through which to interpret Cervantes. Correspondingly, my enthusiasm for literature has deteriorated little by little over the past several years.

It was in this cloud of literary malaise that I wandered one free afternoon to my local bookshop, searching for something, anything, to read that might take my mind off the serious literature I had been assigning in my classes. I thought I was looking for a 19th-century novel - a long one, in which I could lose myself for several days, if not weeks. As I strolled the fiction aisles, I found myself dissatisfied with the titles I was running my fingers across. I wasn't really in the mood for Dickens or Tolstoy.

In a fit of desperation, I made my way to the children's section to find something for my 4-year-old son. Recently my wife and I had begun the jump from pictures to more narrative-driven books, and I wanted to bring something home for us to read to my son before bed. As I searched for a suitable book, I was struck by the covers and titles of some of the young-adult books on display. I picked out a few almost at random and went to sit by a window. The first one I opened was Volume One of the Spiderwick Chronicles. I found myself hurrying to finish the first few chapters, to cram in as much as I could before I had to leave to teach a class. I bought the book to finish at home.

Later that night, after reading to my son about the exploits of Peter Rabbit, I once again took up the Spiderwick Chronicles. In less than an hour, I had finished the book and found myself eager to read the remaining titles in the series. It was a miraculous moment for me.

A self-styled literary snob, I began buying titles in the children's and young-adult section of the bookstore. I became an addict, and what's worse, I started to act like one. I would sneak into the children's section to look for something to read, all the while hoping that none of my students, or worse, one of my colleagues, would catch me buying young-adult fiction. After a few trips to the children's section, I became paranoid that the other parents (most of them with their children) would suspect that I was a potential threat. Here I was, a middle-aged man, alone in the children's section of the bookstore, frantically moving from shelf to shelf. Once, a little girl asked me a question, and after I answered her, I quickly bought my book and left the store. It was only several hours later that I realized my need to look as inconspicuous as possible made me look like I had something to hide. I began to feel like a pedophile lurking among the children's books. But I couldn't stop - my imagination was sparked.

Last spring, summer, and most of this fall, I was able to lose myself for a few hours each day in the story that I happened to be reading. I had not experienced the ferocity with which I devoured the books since my early 20s. When, during a class discussion on Gabriel García Márquez, I mentioned that I recently had read through the entire Spiderwick Chronicles, I received glares and looks of horror from most of my students. I could tell that I had fallen in their estimation. Right after confessing my addiction, I was driven to purchase The Golden Compass, James and the Giant Peach, and the Artemis Fowl series and read them in quick succession. I was hooked. From that moment on, I decided to keep my new obsession to myself; it became my own secret world. Later that summer, I moved on to the first few volumes of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Coraline, and Brian Selznick's magnificent The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

What is it about these books that captured my imagination so? As a young adult, I had found similar delight in fantasy novels, and I had loved comic books as a kid. At first it bothered me that I read young-adult literature so voraciously; I felt as if I was somehow betraying my profession. Yet as I continued to read, I discovered that I could finish several books in a week and still feel the same satisfaction that I felt after having spent weeks with one novel by García Márquez or Umberto Eco. I realized that what drew me was not just the superb storytelling but the speed with which I could get through the texts. It was a rhythmic experience I was encountering every time I opened a book.

In other words, the texts I was reading told their stories in an economical and exact style, without the unnecessary burden of digression or overexplication. These texts were similar to fairy tales or folklore in that they were written to be read in a relatively short amount of time. In Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino devotes an entire lecture or "note" to the values of quickness. One need not attempt to rewrite War and Peace or Gravity's Rainbow to achieve a work of epic proportions. James and the Giant Peach is an epic in miniature. The book contains several narrative elements that are in classical epics, yet they are much more concise. Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, while borrowing heavily from Kipling's The Jungle Book, alludes to the adventures of Odysseus and Aeneas in the underworld via Nobody Owens's life in the graveyard. The literature I was reading was every bit as complicated and thought-provoking as the texts I included on my syllabi.

It would be a mistake to say that these texts are simplistic. They contain all the complexities we look for in any well-written narrative. Specifically, the books I was reading contained three attractive aspects: Most of the stories were told in the second person; every story featured a child protagonist; and most of the books began with the death or disappearance of one or both parents. The child protagonists were especially interesting because they reminded me that children see the world much differently than adults. For children, everything is an adventure; every blade of grass, every stone, every walk to the grocery store offers the possibility of an exciting, new, and worthwhile experience.

I suspect that as we get older, our taste in books leans toward more-realistic narratives, ones in which we can find some glimpse of ourselves. Yet to deny ourselves the magic, the wonder of stories, simply because we are adults is sinful. In a postscript to his review of Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass, Michael Dirda writes, "Children's literature counts as some of the most imaginative writing anyone could want." By spending several months reading children's and young-adult fiction, I rediscovered not only what made me a reader in the first place, but also something essential about myself: my imagination. Reading "for fun" should not be just for children, but required of us all if we want to hold onto what makes us essentially human - our imaginations.

Andrew Martino is chairman of the English department and assistant professor of world literature at Southern New Hampshire University.

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 55, Issue 17, Page B28

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Brag Break!

I hope you don't mind if I take a minute to brag...The College of William & Mary (where I teach), was featured this morning on NBC's Today show when it was named the third best value in public education by the Princeton Review, which ranks the country's public colleges and universities in its annual list of the best bargains in public education.

I'm so proud!

Bob Graham Wins 2009 Charlotte Zolotow Award

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham is the twelfth annual winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book.

From Megan Schliesman, Chair 2009 Charlotte Zolotow Award Committee:

In a dramatic story that slowly unfolds in just a handful of carefully weighted words, Graham's picture book follows the fate of an injured pigeon. The marvelous visual storytelling accompanying the narrative includes full-page and double-page spreads and multiple panels on a single page that detail striking moments and affecting scenes. But what might have been an effective wordless book takes on even greater nuance and richness by the elegantly spare and emotionally charged narrative. How to Heal a Broken Wing was edited by Joan Powers and published in the United States in 2008 by Candlewick Press.

The 2009 Zolotow Award committee named five Honor Books:

How I Learned Geography written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz, edited by Margaret Ferguson, and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

How Mama Brought the Spring written by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Holly Berry, edited by Julie Strauss-Gebel and Donna Brooks, and published by Dutton

In a Blue Room written by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Tricia Tusa, edited by Samantha McFerrin, and published by Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, edited by Shannon White, and published by Eerdmans

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad written and illustrated by James Rumford, edited by Neal Porter, and published by Roaring Brook Press.

The 2009 Zolotow Award committee also cited eight titles as Highly Commended:

The Butter Man written by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli (Charlesbridge)

The Chicken of the Family written by Mary Amato, illustrated by Delphine Durand (Putnam)

The Cow That Laid an Egg written by Andy Cutbill, illustrated by Russell Ayto (U. S. edition: HarperCollins)

Dance with Me written by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (Candlewick);

Don't Worry Bear written and illustrated by Greg Foley (Viking)

Growing Up with Tamales = Los tamales de Ana written by Gwendolyn Zepeda, illustrated by April Ward, Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura (Piñata Books / Arte Público Press)

Hen Hears Gossip written by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Joung Un Kim (Greenwillow/HarperCollins)

Old Bear written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow/HarperCollins).

Established in 1998, the Charlotte Zolotow Award honors the work of Charlotte Zolotow, a distinguished children's book editor for 38 years with Harper Junior Books, and author of more than 70 picture books, including such classic works as Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (Harper, 1962) and William's Doll (Harper, 1972). Ms. Zolotow attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison on a writing scholarship from 1933 to 1936, where she studied withProfessor Helen C. White. The award recognizes outstanding writing in a picture book for children in the birth through seven age range published in the United States in the preceding year.

Members of the 2009 Zolotow Award committee were: Megan Schliesman, chair (librarian, Cooperative Children's Book Center, Madison, Wisconsin); Tammy Boyd (first-grade teacher, Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison, Wisconsin); Svetha Hetzler (head of youth services, Middleton Public Library, Middleton, Wisconsin), Tessa Michaelson (librarian, Cooperative Children's Book Center, Madison, Wisconsin) and Jolen Neumann (school librarian, Madison, Wisconsin).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Calling All Megan McDonald Fans

Candlewick Press and School Library Journal are sponsoring Megan McDonald's Totally Awesome IRA Sweepstakes, which carries a totally awesome grand prize--a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, from May 3-7, 2009, to meet popular children's book author Megan McDonald and attend the International Reading Association's 54th Annual Convention North Central. Two runners-up will received signed collections of both the Judy Moody and Stink series.
The sweepstakes is open to full-time elementary school teachers only and closes on January 15, 2009. To enter, visit the Megan McDonald's IRA Sweepstakes page on the School Library Journal website.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009