Jul 17, 2008

Food for Thought

Jane Brocket reveals her Top 10 Food Scenes in Children's Literature in the Guardian."I spent my childhood revelling and luxuriating in lovely descriptions of meals and picnics and treats, and found that it was the taste memories that lingered on long after the details of plots had faded from my mind. Children's literature contains a feast, a banquet, a menu gastronomique of treats and delicious foodstuff; this is my top 10 evocative, mouth-watering and memorable food moments from the past."
Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the link.

Jul 12, 2008

What to See?

A while back Cinematical posted about “Children’s Books that Need to Be Filmed Immediately.” I have no issues with the choices and I’d especially like to see Jackaroo on film. But these are some titles we’d REALLY like to see at the movies:
The Giver
Seven Professors of the Far North
Mysterious Benedict Society (but not animated)
Gypsy Crown
Weetzie Bat
Now, which actors do you suggest?
The movie I’m waiting for? Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 – August 6!

Jul 11, 2008

Molly's Bookshelf

I promised Molly I would write about some of her favorite books. First up is Katie Loves the Kittens, written and illustrated by John Himmelman, due in September 2008 from Henry Holt (9780805086829). I don't laugh out loud at many books but I did with this one! The words and pictures work together perfectly, telling a fine story with on the mark canine and feline behavior.
Katie's owner, Sara Ann, happily brings home three kittens, and Katie LOVES them right off. She's totally unable to contain her enthusiasm and scares them witless. She tries to behave and be quiet but she just has to be with them, she can't help herself. Katie frightens them again. Sara Ann scolds her, she berates herself, she's so sad she goes to sleep. What happens when she wakes up? You'll have to read for yourself. Cartoony drawings with lots of white space put Katie and the kittens center stage and simple lines explode with expression and animation. I felt so bad for Katie I just wanted to scoop her up and give her a hug. The final illustration is a delight! Molly gives this one 5 wags.

In The Nine Lives of Dudley Dog by John and Ann Hassett, published by Houghton Mifflin (9780618811533), Sister wants a cat for her birthday but gets Dudley instead. He takes off during the party and proceeds through a series of perilous adventures, just scraping by with his life. The same refrain ends each close call "Do you think you have nine lives like a cat?" That night a cat -- looking very much like Dudley and wearing Dudley's collar -- returns to Sister. Her birthday wish came true. Hmmm. The Hassetts are definitely inventive picture book makers. My four-year-old niece pointed out the forshadowing in the cover illustration -- she got it right away! Three wags from Molly
Molly is a rescue dog, so she insisted I write about A Home for Dixie: the True Story of a Rescued Puppy written by Emma Jackson with photographs by Bob Carey. It's available now from HarperCollins (9780061449628/tr; 9780061449635/lb.) Emma tells us the heartwarming story of how she and Dixie got together and outstanding photos (lots of closeups) extend the story. Realistic and emotional but not cloying, this is a great addition to Molly's Bookshelf. Five wags.

Tupelo Rides the Rails
Written and Illus by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin (9780618717149) Available now

Another special dog finds a worthy home. Tupelo, abandoned by the side of the road with only her sock toy, Mr. Bones, courageously trots off in search of a place – “Everyone belongs somewhere” she says. She meets up with the BONEHEADS (Benevolent Order of Nature’s Exalted Hounds Earnest And Doggedly Sublime), listens to their stories, and observes their ritual bone-burying and wishes to Sirius, the Dog Star. A hobo named Garbage Pail Tex (wearing a shirt that reads ‘Going Places’) shepherds the dogs to Hoboken by train and he and his friends help find homes for the pooches. All except Tupelo. (Oh, my heart.) A full- bleed illustration shows Tupelo alone holding Mr. Bones in her mouth, the huge night sky above with Sirius shining in the distance. She makes her wish and is reunited with a good friend and finally finds her place. This folkloric story mixes up dogs, stars and trains and the power of the journey in a unique way, full of luscious language and subtle humor. And there’s so much to look at! Sweet uses watercolor and mixed media in full page illustrations, smaller sequential frames and extended foldouts. There are extras too – ancient star maps on the endpapers, a timeline in dog-years of dog heroes including Argos, Stickeen and Lassie, and information about Sirius. Five wags and a loud Arooooo!

Back Again

The current discussion on the CCBC listserv is all about blogging and has given me the kick in the pants I needed to get back here after too long a break. So I'll take a look at some of the notes I've crammed in my blog folder, pull out books I've read and begin writing.

Apr 21, 2008

Running Running

My sister, Bonney, is running the Boston Marathon today for the third time. I've always been right there, watching her progress at different points along the route, but this year we're keeping track vitually, and our images of the day come from webcasts. I've completed all these work tasks -- writing, phone calls, emails -- I've also had lunch and walked the dog, and my sister is still running. Running as part of the American Liver Foundation's Run for Research Team, running to raise funds and awareness of ALF's research efforts and especially running for difference live donor transplants made in her life. It's a great thing she's doing and I'm riveted by every update.
I thought I'd mention some books about marathons for kids, but you know what? There aren't many. There's a nonfiction picture book, The First Marathon: The Legend of Pheidippides by Susan Reynolds, published by Albert Whitman. I remember a photo in Sue Macy's terrific Winning Ways that showed a man going after Katherine Switzer, the first woman to officially enter Boston's race in 1967 (though it wasn't until 1972 that women were "allowed" to enter.)There must be more. Judging from the excited reaction I see from kids watching the marathon I think it would make a good story.

Apr 18, 2008

A New Look at Authors and Illustrators for Children

I hadn't been to the Authors and Illustrators for Children site for awhile so this was my first look at their redesign. It's great! I like it. I was led there by a post at Seven Impossible Things about a new campaign named This I Dream, art and essays of dreams for children. Essays by Viginia Ewuer Wolff and George Ella Lyon begin the series and you can see a list of future participants. Powerful stuff.

Apr 16, 2008

Nim's World

Last week we went to see the new movie, Nim's Island, based on Wendy Orr's book from a few years back. I loved the book and was anxious to see how it translated to film. Plus, I've been waiting about 30 years to see Jodie Foster in another kid's movie - but that's another story.

It was fabulous! VERY well done, well acted and quite true to the book, if memory serves. It really felt like those old live-action Disney movies I loved growing up - Escape to Witch Mountain, Candleshoe, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I've missed those, and I love that Walden Media is doing such a great job with taking children's books and making movies of them. I have many suggestions for them if they'd like to contact me!

Yesterday the sequel to Nim's Island arrived - Nim at Sea (Knopf). Hooray! I sat right down and read it through. It had the same "touch" as the first one - action, humor, fun, adventure - and all the characters are back, too. It's great fun to see Nim leave the island and go out in the world, tasting hot chocolate and pizza for the first time and making friends her own age.

I love Kerry Millard's pictures, the interior black-and-white sketches that illustrate the story, too. They really add to the delight of the book.

Apr 14, 2008

On the Wing

Monarch and Milkweed
by Helen Frost and illus. by Leonid Gore
Atheneum/S & S, hardcover, $17.99
ages 4-8

A couple of years ago I did a project for an author who had written a children’s book about butterflies and so I have more than a passing knowledge of the many butterfly books out there, worthwhile and not so.
Monarch and Milkweed is special for many reasons – its story; the masterful pairing of text and art; the book’s design. Listen to the beginning – yes, read it out loud – “In a patch of dirt behind an old red barn,/ Milkweed stretches into warm spring air./ Its roots reach deep and wide,/ its stem points to the sky. (Next page) Monarch spreads her wings and rides the wind --/ past white and yellow daisies, across a creek,/ heading north.” And that lyricism continues throughout as the story describes the symbiotic relationship between host plant and butterfly, neither overshadowing the other. The illustrations of acrylic and pastels are mostly full page, with some spot art contributing to the book’s pleasing design, and in a larger-than-life scale that pulled me in. The natural colors are muted and there’s a textured effect (from the type of paper?) that I really liked. (The cover image distorts the color some.)
The author’s note tells us the story begins with the final generation on one northern journey and ends with a monarch in the next generation, as that monarch is leaving Mexico to begin the journey north the following spring. In addition, the endpapers illustrate the monarchs’ migration patterns north and south. Monarchs continue to fascinate us because of their beauty and mystery. While this title illuminates that mystery for young ones, it also retains some of nature’s wonder.

Apr 6, 2008

The Return of Anne-girl

I don't mean to say that I can compete with the Japanese, but I am a tremendous Anne of Green Gables fan. Have been, ever since a friend told me at age 16" "Read this book. You'll like her - she's a lot like you." I did. And she was. I went on to read every thing Lucy Maud Montgomery had written, whether it was about Anne or not, and was pretty much thrilled by it all.

Lots of my friends know this, so when it was announced that a "prequel" was being written, in honor of the 100th year anniversary of AOGG's publication, they began asking what I thought.

What I thought was, "I'm not sure I WANT to read a prequel." Two unrelated episodes kept me from it, at first: when the third PBS Anne movie came it, it was so god-awful and different from those first two lovely movies, I felt wounded. Also, I had eagerly dived into the Peter Pan sequel last year only to find I could NOT finish it. So, hoping to keep my Anne memories intact, I didn't intend to read it.

Then fate intervened, and my good friend Lisa handed me the galley of the book and said "I want to know what you think." Not intending to read it was one thing, but when it's sitting right here in front of me...OK, so I opened it up. And pretty much didn't put it down until I finished it.

It's wonderful! Budge Wilson did a magnificent job pulling various clues and threads from the Montgomery books, and weaving them together to imagine what Anne's life was like before she came to live with Matthew and Marilla: her lovely parents, their tragic death, her various "foster homes"...but she also imagines new characters, and Anne's connections to them, that absolutely ring true. She really captures Anne's voice, and her descriptions read uncannily like Montgomery's. What a tribute the book is.

I can't imagine that anyone who loves Anne wouldn't like this book - it's as if we discovered an unpublished Anne manuscript in Montgomery's attic. By the end of the book, all I wanted to do was dive right into the originals and read them all through again.

Mar 24, 2008

Get Along, Little Doggies

Buster goes to Cowboy Camp
By Denise Fleming
Henry Holt

I read this book out loud to our road dog Molly to see what she thought. She loved the colorful pictures, and she always likes to look at other dogs, but I have to say she wasn't fond of the subject matter in this one. It's about a cute dog named Buster, whose owner is going away and so decides that Buster will go to "cowboy camp" at Sagebrush Kennels. (Molly doesn't even like to IMAGINE being away from us two - her pack).

Well, Buster doesn't like the idea either, and he is lonely and homesick at first...but guess what? He smiles at another dog one morning, eats some breakfst, does some canine arts and crafts and plays some games - before the reader can say "Yee Haw!, Buster is having a fantastic time.

Obviously kids can relate to this toddler-type separation anxiety, so it's a great book for that, but it's also just a good solid story to read aloud. And I can tell that Denise Fleming had great fun doing the pictures, showing the dogs playing Buckaroo Ball, gathering sticks for a fire and "paw painting" their very own "Wanted" posters.

Mar 21, 2008

SO Not the Cheerleading Type...

but somehow,the pull of this book was irresistible - actually, there are two of them out already. The series is called The Squad, and the book I just finished is called Perfect Cover. I almost put them aside because of the cheerleader logo, but I'm glad I took a second look - they're fast, fun and really cool.

Toby Klein, the main character, is also NOT the cheerleading type, so she's very surprised when she gets an invitation to try out for the varsity squad. Turns out the squad is also the Squad, a special group of underage operatives working for the government. After all, it IS the perfect cover - who would expect a group of cheerleaders to be smart, articulate, strong and devious? And they want Toby to be their new hacker.

So Toby accepts the invitation, and suddenly her life as a combat-boot-wearing loner is over...the other girls give her a makeover, new glittery clothes and some awesome new tech equipment, and she's ready for her first assignment.

The author, who has her master's from Cambridge University, was a former competitive cheerleader, so I guess she knows her stuff. Anyway, I really thought her writing was fun and funny - she brought all of the girls to life without turning any of them into cliches - Toby's voice is especially droll as she is both aggravated and intrigued by her new life and friends.

Oh, and apparently you can "meet the squad" at www.meetthesquad.com.

Mar 17, 2008

Third One's the Charm

The day's half over here in MST and I'm just getting around to posting a review for Nonfiction Monday. However, I discovered that my first choice, Women Daredevils was already included in the roundup (well done Fuse#8!)and my second choice, Pale Male as well (likewise A Patchwork of Books). So I cheated a bit and grabbed a previously-written-but-not-posted-on-the-blog-review.

Little Lions, Bull Baiters and Hunting Hounds: a History of Dog Breeds
written and illustrated by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson
Tundra Books
Ages 7-12

This richly illustrated overview documents how world history and culture, geography and human needs have shaped the many domesticated breeds we know and love today. Over fifty breeds are discussed and pictured, grouped by four main categories, according to their original purpose. Within the categories – hunting, herding, working, and companion – many well-known breeds appear as well as more unusual ones. Did you know that Puli, whose thick coats form cords like dreads, will jump on top of sheep and run across their backs in order to get to the other side of the herd? Or that Neapolitan Mastiffs were used as gladiator dogs in ancient Rome, but now make a gentle, loving family pet? Along with the interesting descriptive histories are beautiful paintings of the breeds in their natural surroundings. This book is great for browsing whether it’s because you love dogs or you’re thinking of adding a dog to your family.

Mar 16, 2008

You've Got to Take the Good with the Bad

Here's the good part: I close the book with a satisfied sigh, the book being Guinevere's Gift, by Nancy McKenzie (Knopf). I loved it from first page to last; it was exciting, the characters were very real, and it TOTALLY rekindled my adolescent obsession with all things Arthurian.

The bad part? It's the FIRST BOOK in a QUARTET. AARRGGH! Months and even YEARS until I find out how it ends. Well, of course I know how it ENDS, but not this particular author's version.

I did find out that she's written some adult books about Guinevere, so off I go to Changing Hands Bookstore when we get to Phoenix, our next stop. They might help ease the pain until the second book comes along.

Mar 13, 2008

Stars in My Eyes

My Friend, the Starfinder
written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Atheneum/Simon and Schuster
ages 4-7

I've been reading George Ella Lyon's stories for a long time and so many of them are "keepers" for me, both picture books and longer novels. I love her use of language -- the way her poet's voice comes through -- and her unique characters always come alive for me through her words. Anyway, you can tell I'm a big fan and her newest picture book leaves me tingling.

In it a young girl has a good friend – they dance together and she listens as the old man tells incredible stories from an old green porch. “The stranger they were/ the truer he looked/ and I believed every one.” Her narration is straightforward, though never letting go of wonder, as she tell readers about the time he found a falling star “. . . warm and smooth/ as an egg straight from the hen” and another time a rainbow “. . .color pouring/ over him/ cool/ warm/ striped/ air”. Gammell’s illustrations are some of his finest, using splatters, drops and washes of bright colors on the pages showing the elder and the girl contrasted with black and white pages infused with light on the pages illustrating the finds he made as a younger man. Read and hold tight to stories, friendship and wonder. Read it out loud.

Oh, one more thing. There's a real Starfinder in George Ella's life whom she talks about at the end of the book.

Mar 12, 2008

My Girlfriend's Newbery Book

We're sitting in the children's section of the public library in Springdale, Utah while we're camped at Zion National Park...it's a fantastic library, and would be even if it didn't have this amazing canyon view from the window.

I noticed just now that the book in my direct line of vision is E.L. Konigsburg's The View From Saturday (Simon & Schuster)...I think of that book as "Laurina's Newbery book" since that was the winner the year she was on the Newbery committee. I first met Laurina only a few weeks before the announcement, and I remember nagging her relentlessly for a hint.

At the time (and still today!) I think I wanted to be on the Newbery committee almost as much as I wanted to write a Newbery winner and was endlessly curious about the process of choosing one...I'm still curious, because apparently there's a vow of silence involved since Laurina is still clammed up about it 11 years later.

Speaking of the Newbery Medal, I have this idea that I'd like to read or re-read every Newbery book while we're on this journey. To that end, I've just finished (for about the 12th time) Miracles on Maple Hill (Harcourt). What a gem! So delightfully old-fashioned, and yet I'd forgotten that the reason the family moves to the farm is that the father has come home from war, and he is mentally exhausted - sadly, there are probably children today who can relate to that all too easily.

Anyway, I loved it so much! The illustrations are by my beloved Beth and Joe Krush, who have illustrated too many of my favorites to mention, like Gone Away Lake, the Borrowers...I got to meet the Krushes once because they lived in Philadelphia at the time (and they may still) and I'm afraid I gushed quite a bit and probably overwhelmed them. I really do enjoy illustrations in my middle grade books!

Mar 10, 2008

Nonfiction Monday Review

Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer
Written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
Frances Foster Books/FS & G
Ages 8-10
Map, author’s note, chronology, bibliography

I'm joining the many bloggers in Nonfiction Mondays, a roundup found at Anastasia Suen's blog Picture Book of the Day.

Art and story present a portrait of one of the great explorers of the west. A series of brief chapters (a full page illustration and facing page of text) relate in straightforward language Powell’s early life as the son of an abolitionist preacher; his home-schooling by a self-taught naturalist and growing love for the outdoors; his late teens and 20’s spent teaching and as a student of the natural sciences; time fighting in the Civil War and losing an arm; and his first trip to the Colorado Rockies leading a university field trip. A second trip to the Rockies and exploration of the Upper Colorado led him to his plan for exploring the river’s unknown canyon. Preparations and then the exciting, dangerous journey make up the second half of the book with dramatic paintings adding to the adventure and capturing the unique landscape of narrow canyon walls and river rapids. Excerpts from Powell’s writings add another historic layer and also personal nature to the story. After 99 days, 1000 miles and 500 rapids Powell and his remaining crew of five men arrived at the mouth of the Virgin River in Arizona. He made a second expedition down the Greene and Colorado Rivers, later served as the first director of the Bureau of Ethnology and Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

I’m writing this at a campsite in Zion National Park with the Virgin River 20 feet behind me. It’s a different canyon with different challenges and explored earlier than the Grand Canyon but it lends some perspective on this incredible feat and I acknowledge as the author does, the courage, determination, and strong need to explore the unknown that these men had to complete such a expedition in small wooden boats.

Mar 9, 2008

The Issue of Issue Books

All throughout my career in children's bookselling/publishing, I have heard and read many debates about so-called "issue books" - yes, of course they are necessary, but are they good literature? Why do we want kids to read them? Etc...I could always see both sides of the issue.

I have just finished a book called Dear Author: Letters of Hope that nudged me more towards the "pro" side of issues books. Edited by Joan Kaywell, it contains real letters from kids to authors of many books dealing with everything from anorexia to being gay to abuse and rape. Almost every letter writer mentions how the character in the book they're writing about went through exactly what they've gone through, and they talk about how much it helped them to read the book. I had tears in my eyes for most of the time I was reading it - to think that somehow, magically, the exact right book found its way to the exact right kid.

The replies from the authors are wise and caring: Chris Crutcher, Nancy Garden, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jerry Spinelli and 2 dozen others share their own lives, words of advice, and much encouragement. I was tickled at how many of the kids also wanted to know what happened to the kids after the books ended, as if they were real people - but of course they want to know how their own story turns out.

Mar 8, 2008

The World of Children's Literature

While in Tucson during December we noticed a small announcement in a local paper about two traveling exhibitions of international books published for children and teens. So we dusted ourselves off and drove over to the university for the one day only chance to view the IBBY International Honour Book Exhibit which includes books representative of the best writing, illustration and translation in children’s literature from 57 nominating countries in 44 languages and Children Between Worlds, a special exhibit from the International Youth Library in Munich. WOW. It was my first experience with international books on a large scale – tables of books arranged by continents, each title with accompanying signage describing the book. I purchased the exhibit catalog
IBBY Honour List 2006 and took some notes as I wandered the exhibits.

There were many picture books I wished to READ because the art really struck me and/or the story sounded so captivating/fun/inventive/original/wildly different etc. I held an Egyptian picture book printed in Arabic and felt a thrill as I thought of children reading and connecting with the story. I fell in love with a small paperback of Greek nature poems with lovely drawings and watercolors. I thought of how I shy away from books published in other languages and later released as English translations. My children’s book experience is so decidedly American!

I didn’t have as much time to spend with the smaller exhibit of titles chosen by librarians at the International Youth Library to help promote understanding between cultures.

Kathy G. Short, Ph.D., through her work with IIBY, was responsible for bringing these exhibits to Tucson. I'm glad she did.

Fantasy Time

What is it about fantasy that is SO gratifying, especially when you’re sick? I spent the last few days watching The Lord of the Rings on DVD, and reading Libba Bray’s The Sweet Far Thing, the last in the trilogy that was begun in A Great and Terrible Beauty and continued in Rebel Angels. Oh, and I didn’t move for most of one whole day, tangled up in an advance galley for Airman, by Eoin Colfer.

I haven’t read the Artemis Fowl books but now I have to say that I might have to give them a go because I loved Airman SO much! OK, so I am a pilot and love anything to do with flying (Kenneth’s Oppel’s Airborn comes to mind), but it isn’t just that. I am dazzled and in awe of Colfer’s ability to craft this entire civilization based in the Saltee Islands, complete with a scientific king, a modern princess, a horrible villain, aeronauts, spies...oh, and a daring prison escape! (I am fascinated by prison stories, and especially by escapes. Blame it on a Scholastic paperback I had as a child called Great Escapes).

It felt really gratifying to “finish off” the Libba Bray series, as it always does when the author has tied up all of the loose ends and you get to find out what happens to everyone, people you’ve been involved with for years now. Even when I got exasperated with Gemma, Felicity and Ann for behaving like absolute teenagers, I still cared about their fates.

Speaking of long term fictional relationships, I tried to listen to the new Tamora Pierce novel, Magic Stones, which is only available in an audio version right now, and I just didn’t like it. The production was fabulous, as all Full Cast Audio’s are, and the story was grand, too – but I just didn’t like the main narrator’s voice so I decided to wait until the book comes out and finish it then. I guess I’ve just known Tamora’s characters for so long, and heard my own version of their voices in my head, to settle for someone else’s idea – even though I read an interview that said it was the narrator’s voice that prompted Tamora to have this be an audio first! Maybe I’m just not an audio person...

Oh, and after watching all of the movies, I think it’s time to reread some Tolkien.


OK, so I know I said that as a former bookseller I was often tempted to sell books by saying “this is a great boy book,” but honestly, starting with Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island and the Hardy Boys, I was a girl who mostly wanted boy books...there just weren’t many books that seemed to be for BOTH boys and girls (one that comes to mind, though, is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, because the main characters were Claudia AND Jamie).

I’ve recently read a few books that have both a boy and a girl as main characters, and although this might have forced me to be more creative in my bookselling career, I’m happy to note the trend – see below:

Steel Trapp: The Challenge, by Ridley Pearson, Disney
I wanted to like this book more than I did – I do love thrillers – but it somehow just missed for me. One thing I did like about it was the friendship between the main character, a boy nicknamed Steel (he has a photographic memory, a mind like a “steel trap”) and a girl named Kaileigh, who’s also a science geek. They put their scientific minds to work to solve the mystery of a kidnapped woman.

The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd, David Fickling Books.
When Kat and Ted “lose their cousin Salim, on the London Eye (a gigantic ferris wheel and tourist attraction), they find themselves working together to find out what happened to him. I like the “siblingness” to their relationship, which is fractious on the surface but warm underneath. And Ted, the narrator, is afflicted with a condition that is never named (but readers will guess is probably Asperger’s) that gives him an obsession with weather and a unique way of interacting with his familiy. He is a funny, likeable kid.

Gollywhopper Games, by Jody Feldman, Greenwillow
Part Willy Wonka, part The Mysterious Benedict Society, this book is not quite as clever as those two but still lots of fun. When the Gollywhopper company sponsors the Games as a publicity stunt, Gil Goodson is determined to participate and WIN, to avenge his father, who wrongfully lost his job at Gollywhopper the previous year. The boy/girl angle is the source of some friendly cooperation/competition between Gil and Lavinia – they have puzzles to solve together before they get to the final rounds where they will face each other. I loved the subplot and relationship between Gil and his dad, and I really liked Gil: he is a standup guy and someone you’d like to be friends with.

Like Fannie Flagg, but for Children

In my opinion, Deborah Wiles is the Fannie Flagg of children’s books. She writes with that same humor (OK, a bit more G-rated) about those same people in those same Southern towns...even when writing about death or some other heavy issue you find yourself laughing at the names, the small-town habits, the gossip. I loved The Aurora County All-Stars (have you read another book recently that combines Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with Negro League baseball?) and it was nice to revisit Ruby Lavender and the Snowberger family, who I had come to love in her earlier two books. Can’t wait for more!

I Want to Be Leonard Marcus When I Grow Up

Why? Well, he’s an extremely nice guy, for starters. And he gets paid to read children’s books, review children’s books, and write books about – well, children’s books. As a matter of fact, I think we should make Leonard a job offer – he certainly does fit the profile of the average We Love Children’s Books employee.

Maybe you can tell I just finished reading Golden Legacy, a fantastic coffee table book that Leonard has written for all of us aficionados. It’s fascinating! Clearly he had access to the Golden Books archives – there are many fantastic photographs of the publishers, authors and illustrators; covers and interior art from many of the books, and other ephemera from the long history of Western publishing.

There’s also (and Leonard has always been good at this!) plenty of publishing “dish” about the various players involved, and that’s really what makes this book shine. Anyone in publishing will be intrigued to read about the entrepreneurship of Edward Wadewitz (founder), the partnerships formed (Disney and Simon and Schuster were key players), the angles played by Sam Lowe (the guy who talked Kresge and Woolworth into bringing these books into their stores) and the very talented and dedicated editors and educators who were determined to make these affordable books available.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is the sense of history it gave me about the children’s book publishing world. Like many of my friends in the business, I never really planned on spending my career here – what I mean is that I never studied any of this in school, and so I love it when I can get an overview of the world that has taken me over….thanks, Leonard (I am blowing you a virtual kiss).

Leonard Marcus website

Digging into Tunnels

There are certain publishing people whose opinion I will always listen to, and Barry Cunningham is one of them. We got to meet Barry a few years ago when he was squiring Cornelia Funke to the Educational Paperback Association’s annual meeting, and he was fabulous in every since of the word – a great and funny conversationalist and world traveler with a wicked smart eye for a good book (don’t forget, this is the man that discovered a new writer named J.K. Rowling.)

So anyway, Barry is pitching a new book for his imprint at Scholastic, Chicken House, and he says inside the front cover of the advance galley that “reading Tunnels gave me the same thrill I got from page one of Harry Potter.” Plus, I am fascinated by subways and underground people (remember Slake’s Limbo?) so it was moved to the top of my reading pile.

Do I think it’s the next Harry Potter? No way. But it was brilliantly original, with all of the right elements for what we used to call, when I was a bookseller, a “great book for boys.” Dr. Burrows and his son Will are amateur diggers, spending their free time exploring what’s under their feet…separately they discover that there is an entire world down there, run by a strange sect with evil plans. It’s solid science fiction, but it has an edge of horror to it that I don’t enjoy, but kids probably will. My only real complaint is that the end really does leave you hanging, and Barry says that the sequel, Deeps, isn’t coming until 2009!

Oh My Darling Clementine

I think it would be a blast to write a story starring Clementine, Ramona Quimby, Judy Moody and any of the other irrepressible elementary school heroines. The result would be kind of like a junior version of Cynthia Voigt’s Bad Girls, with each girl putting on their most mischievous airs.

Oh, and throw Lilly (she of the purple plastic purse) in there, too, because
I just read a manuscript of the next Clementine book, (thank you, Harcourt!) Clementine’s Letter, and I couldn’t help thinking of Lilly….when Clementine finds out that her teacher may be leaving them for the rest of the year, she isn’t happy, because she is “in the sink” with him, and understands his rules. Like Mr. Slinger with Lilly, Clementine’s teacher truly “gets” his student, and there’s a special bond between them.

I like the urban setting of the Clementine books (that reminds me, we should invite Eloise to this party too) and how real everyone seems, especially Clementine’s friend Margaret, who clearly represents the OCD crowd and yet manages to add humor and believability to the story.

The I-Can’t-Find-a-Good-Book-to-Read Cure

When I was about 11 or so, I used to read the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books out loud to my two sisters, and we just could not believe how magic and clever she was. (Our favorite problem child was the girl who would not take a bath, and in short order Mrs. P-W had vegetables growing out of her ears).

Apparently Betty MacDonald’s daughter Anne, found a never-before-published Mrs. P-W story and so voila! - the forthcoming Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle!, which includes the “found” story and 7 others. I’m happy to report that it’s quite lovely – the children are as misbehaving as ever and the parents are forced to turn to Mrs. P-W for advice, resulting in the Won’t-Brush-Teeth Cure, the Picky-Eater Cure and the Never-Finish Cure. I think I need to send a copy to each of my sisters, who have 6 children between them.

I've Got a Golden Compass

You know you've gotten the perfect Christmas gift when you're still loving it 2 months later...one of my favorites this year was the Alethiometer Holiday Ornament that Laurina gave me...having just seen the movie (which I liked!) and resolved to read the books again, I was doubly excited to receive it. It really does look like the one in the movie, which I thought was very realistic and matched the one I had created in my mind. So, feel free to send your questions to me and I’ll get back to you with the answers.

I Love a Good Library

Laurina is much better about using the library than I am...I’ve gotten lazy over these last 20 years of being a book reviewer, because I get so many books sent to me that there’s always something to read, so I never actually need to go to the library to find something.

But since we started our trip and are trying to visit libraries wherever we go, I find myself amazed at all of the changes made since the last time I hung out in a library. For starters, do you know that they now allow food??!! Well, some of them, anyway, in designated places.

When we visited the Phoenix Public Library’s Central branch, we stumbled into the Teen section, which resembled a clubhouse more than a library (except, of course, that there were books all around the walls.) There was a large group of computers, every one occupied by a teen and several more looking over his/her shoulder. All of them were drinking sodas or eating snacks! And there was a line of kids waiting to play Guitar Hero on the giant screen in a small theater-type section. Needless to say, there was a lot of chatter and no “shushing.” The times, they are a-changed. I was happy to see that the very large graphic novel section seemed to be extremely well used as most of the books had obviously been read many times.

Before we left the library we stopped in the children’s section, of course. They were hosting a display of the original art for The Berenstain Bears Out West. You know, it’s easy to dismiss the Berenstain Bear books, the way folks used to dismiss the Golden books – mass market, a bit preachy – but lately I’ve been reading (and reading, and reading) them to my niece (she’s 4) and my nephew (he’s 2) and they both love them. So anyway, the paintings were beautiful!

Picking Up Where We Left Off

We haven't posted for a few months but now that some big projects and conferences are behind us we're eager to begin writing again. It's a perfect day to play catch up. We've been camped at Zion National Park for 2 weeks now and every day there's the tug of sunny days and the most majestic scenery pulling us outdoors away from our laptops. Today though, clouds, strong winds and threatening rain have kept us indoors, all cozy with the Watchman above.