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Posts from November 2006

Cybils Deadline

The deadline for Cybils nominations is rapidly approaching! You have until midnight EST (about 2 1/2 hours from now) to make your nominations, if you so choose. One nomination per person per category.

The young adult fiction list is already up to 80, and I expect to post the full list tomorrow (subject to some last minute decisions about which book belongs in which category, etc.).

So, head over to the Cybils site and make your preferences known!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: November 17

Here are some children's literacy-related stories that caught my eye this week.

  • Have you heard that General Mills is putting children's books in Cheerios boxes, from November through the spring? They picked pretty good titles, too. "Minneapolis-based General Mills (NYSE: GIS) is also donating books to disadvantaged children at 50 reading programs via the First Book, an international nonprofit that focuses on children's literacy. Each child that participates in the program will be given twelve books."
  • The Centre Daily Times (PA) has a nice article about a community literacy outreach project "beginning its 10th year of providing a choice of a new book to each child, from infant up to age 16, served by the seven Centre County food banks." There are other programs like this, of course, but this article, by Dagmar Wilson, talks eloquently about why it's important for communities to give books to underprivileged children. For example: "A book is a gift like no other; it is a gift that lasts a lifetime. A single book can begin to shape a child's life. It can be a gateway to a more promising future and open doors that a child might not otherwise know existed." See the full article for more. 
  • In this guest column in The Johnson County Sun (KS), Dr. Dennis Cooley talks about why he participates in the Reach Out and Read program. He says "I'm in the program because I think reading is part of a healthy individual's life - and because low reading skills and poor health are related." He goes on to cite reports about the link between literacy and health - there is some definite food for thought.
  • I couldn't pass up a news article titled "Inspiring Youngsters to Read" in any case. When this one mentioned former Red Sox and Patriots players, it really caught my eye. In an article for the Framingham TAB (MA) Tyler B. Reed writes about a local program that brings dozens of adults, many of them famous role models (like Rich Gedman), to local schools to read with kids. ""What made the visiting readers unique, Wilson literacy specialist Brett Berkman said, is the different interests they each brought to the classroom... "It’s showing the kids that reading is important - sharing their love of reading," Berkman said." Sounds cool to me!

Happy Reading!

Cybils Young Adult Committee Recent Reviews

The Young Adult Fiction committee for the 2006 Cybils Awards has been hard at work weeding through the many nominations, reading books, and, when they can spare the time, writing reviews. These are the brave committee members who will be first whittling this list down the FIVE (the nominating committee's job) and then selecting a winner (the judging committee's job). Many thanks for all of their work so far, and all of their work to come! Links to their recent reviews of nominated titles are below.

Nominating Committee:

Judging Committee:

Here are links to reviews of YA nominated books written by Cybils YA committee members since the start of the awards process. This is NOT the complete list of nominations (and probably not the complete list of their reviews, though I tried). I'll be posting a full list of all of the nominated titles after nominations close on Monday. Currently the list is at 70 titles.

Happy reading

Mid-Week Visits: November 16th

I finally had time to catch up with what's been going on in the kidlitosphere for the past week or so (or most of it anyway - after going back about five days in Google Reader my eyes glazed over, and I had to stop). Here are some things that caught my eye:

  • This is pretty cool. Meet the Author USA is a website where you can find (at current count) 807 video clips of authors describing their own work. They assure us that "(t)he video clips are NOT reviews, they are NOT written by the marketing departments of publishers - these are authors speaking from their heart - to YOU." Three of the top 10 are children's or young adult authors, beginning with Markus Zusak talking about The Book Thief. I learned about this from A Fuse #8 Production, who learned about it from bookshelves of doom.
  • There's a report from Temple University that finds that traditional print books provide more parent-child interaction than electronic books, and are thus better for promoting early literacy. This isn't surprising, but it is nice to see someone studying the issue. Here's a highlight: "Parish-Morris noted that parents who read traditional books made more comments that related pictures or themes in the book to their child's real life in a way that might spur the child's imagination, or their short- or long-term memory. This is significant because children are more successful in school when they spend their pre-school years reading with their parents." I learned about this report from TadMack at Finding Wonderland (one of the tireless Cybils YA nominating committee members who are plowing their way through some 70-odd accepted nominations so far).
  • And for pure fun, Gotta Book's Gregory K. posts about a particular search phrase that brings people to his site, and it's ridiculously perfect. I'm not going to spoil it, though. You'll have to click through.
  • I also enjoyed Greg's post about reading to kids. If I can ever tame my travel schedule, volunteering to read with kids somewhere is very high up on my priority list. I appreciate Greg's reminding me of that. Tasha also comments on this topic at Kids Lit. Tasha is also a member of the Cybils YA committee, but her work won't start until judging time in January.
  • Nancy is well-known for posting quotes of the day over at Journey Woman, and they are always fun. But I especially enjoyed the ones that she posted in honor of Children's Book Week. I love the Madeleine L'Engle quote. Nancy is also a member of the Cybils YA judging committee.
  • E. Lockhart has a post about holiday gift books for teenage girls. I especially like this suggestion: "give the teenager something with a positive girl-power vibe". She also includes a list of recommended titles, most (or all?) of which are Cybils nominees. I would add Kiki Strike to her list, too. It definitely has that girl power vibe.
  • MotherReader has a new look and tagline to her blog. And the tagline is absolutely 100% perfect for her. Check it out.
  • Monica Edinger has an interesting post about the recent spate of Holocaust novels for children over at Educating Alice. She notes: "Why this urgency to introduce the Holocaust to young children? The plethora of picture books and middle grade fiction on the topic seems never ending. Book after book about horrible events with little to anchor them historically." She argues that kids aren't ready "to even begin to understand the Holocaust in history, in the way it really needs to be understood." There's some thoughtful discussion in the comments, too.
  • There are lots of fun memes going around, about which of the top 100 books people have read, and their early reading history, and so on. But personally, my attention was caught by The Question of the Week at The Longstockings: What is your favorite use of food in a children's (or YA) book? you can read answers here and here, and in between. I particularly bonded with Lisa Greenwald's reference to the cocoa and sandwiches in A Wrinkle in Time.
  • Just in time for fall, PJ Librarian talks about book jackets at The Magic of Books, asking "have you done anything different with a book jacket other than read and enjoy it?"
  • Bookseller Chick writes about books that are "gateway drugs". The idea being that with books "it is often the big-name, popular types that act as the gateway to get people to read." Her focus is on adult books, but there are clearly gateway books in the kidlitosphere, too. What are your favorites?
  • Did you see Mary Lee and Franki's interview in the School Library Journal blog? In case you don't know them, Mary Lee and Franki are two teachers who read a lot, and have hopes of having read this year's Newbery winner by the time that the awards are announced. They started the blog, A Year of Reading, to document this, but soon became hooked into the whole kidlitosphere scene. Their blog is home to the 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature. The interview tells how they got from a vague idea of a blog to where they are today.
  • And, just off the wires, M. T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 1: The Pox Party won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Thanks to Kelly at Big A little a for the information. I have to confess that just last night (before learning this news) I decided that I couldn't get through it. Something about the style, something about the pace - I don't know, but I fell asleep immediately every time I tried to read it, and I have abandoned it at page 100. I just have too many books in my to read pile to continue slogging through one that I'm not enjoying. So, I congratulate M.T. Anderson, but I've moved on to An Abundance of Katherines.

And that should be enough to keep anyone busy for a time. Happy reading!

What I'm Thankful for in Children's Literature

In honor of this month's Carnival of Children's Literature, host Anne-Marie Nichols of A Readable Feast has asked participants to write about "What are you thankful for in children's literature?". My initial thought on this topic was: "What am I not thankful for? I would be at a loss without children's books." But I took some time to come up with a few specifics:

  • To begin, I'm thankful to my parents and my grandmother for providing me with books from a very early age. Since I could turn the pages of a book, I've been able to entertain myself, and I've been privileged to visit numerous fictional worlds in the years since.
  • I'm thankful to Mrs. Tuttle, my elementary school librarian at Harrington School, for nurturing my love of books, and making the library a home away from home for me. If I had paid better attention to the feeling of home that Mrs. Tuttle's library gave me, I'm sure that I'd be a librarian now.
  • I'm thankful to authors like J. K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket and Rick Riordan, for writing books that get kids excited about reading. I think that by writing stories that grab kids' attention and don't let go, these authors (and others) have helped build a future generation of readers. The importance of this simply cannot be overstated. Kids who enjoy reading when they are 12 are much more likely to do well in school and to go on to college. They will even have better math skills. This means that they will have more options in life. And, if the reading habit stays with them, they'll never be bored, either.
  • I'm also thankful to the other children's and young adult authors out there who aren't selling millions of copies of their books (yet), and who keep plugging away, providing the world with treasure after treasure. I love knowing that there is a right book for every child, and that every day, my "to be read" pile offers untold wonders.
  • I'm thankful for the way that a shared love of children's literature has made me closer to many of the people in my life. I have particularly enjoyed talking about the Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket books with one of my nieces, and reading Shel Silverstein with another. I think that these books have helped bridge the 3000 mile distance between us. Similarly, children's books have made me closer to my 12-year-old friend in Austin, and to her mother, as the three of us share, discuss, and recommend children's (and now young adult) books. I've strengthened my connection with several of my friends who have children since starting my blog, because we talk about the books that their children are reading, or might enjoy.
  • I'm thankful for the new friends that I've made through this blog, people who share my irrepressible passion for children's books. This has been immensely comforting, because I always thought that I was a tiny bit odd to be an adult reader of children's books. (I may still be odd, but at least I'm not alone in this particular quirk.) The kidlitosphere has also been a gateway into interesting discussions, and rewarding new books and ideas that I would never have discovered on my own.
  • Finally, I'm thankful to Anne-Marie for giving me this opportunity for reflection. I highly recommend that all of you other kidlitosphere types take her up on this assignment. I've found it very rewarding.

Happy Children's Book week, and (for next week) Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Children's Book Week at First Book Blog

Katie Brown from First Book sent me the following announcement about First Book's plans for Children's Book Week. As I've been very remiss in my attention to Children's Book Week (due to a combination of Cybils-related tasks and work-related tasks), I thought I would at least share with you what First Book is doing.

"You may not have realized it when you woke up this morning, but this week, November 13-19, is Children’s Book Week 2006!

Organized by the Children’s Book Council (CBC), Children’s Book Week has been a tradition since 1919. The purpose of Children’s Book Week is best described through the words of Frederic Melcher, one of the visionary organizers of Children’s Book Week:

"Book Week brings us together to talk about books and reading and, out of our knowledge and love of books, to put the cause of children’s reading squarely before the whole community and, community by community, across the whole nation. For a great nation is a reading nation."

You can read more of the history of Children’s Book Week and this year’s activities by checking out the CBC’s web site.

This year, the CBC is celebrating Children’s Book Week by initiating a nationwide book donation program called the "Great Book Giveaway" and, in association with its members, will donate more than 100,000 books to charitable organizations including First Book.

In addition, First Book has partnered with Candlewick Press to celebrate Children’s Book Week and Candlewick’s 15th Anniversary with a book distribution and a series of podcast interviews with several of Candlewick’s award-winning children’s authors and illustrators. Be sure to watch for new podcasts being posted daily!

First Book is grateful to both the CBC and Candlewick Press for their support. We look forward to sharing the joy of reading at the heart of Children’s Book Week to children in need across the country!"

First Book is a wonderful organization that gives new books to children from low income families. They have a great blog, too! Stop on by and see how they're celebrating Children's Book Week.

Say Please!: Tony Ross

Say Please! is the sixth book in Tony Ross's Little Princess series, a set of brightly illustrated paperback picture books with very few words. In this installment, the young princess (who more resembles Max from Where the Wild Things Are than any ordinary fairy tale princess) is learning to say "please" when she wants something. She tends towards tantrums, with disturbingly red cheeks, but learns that if she wants dinner, or her stuffed animal, or to go for a walk outside, she must say please before anyone (the Queen or the General or the servants) will give her what she wants. Eventually, she learns her lesson well enough to pass it along to someone else (a funny-looking Beastie).

The illustrations in this book are a riot. The scene where the Princess wants her potty, and stands on her toes, with legs crossed, and a pained expression on her face, will be familiar to anyone who has known a recently toilet-trained child. Then the General and the cat stand at attention. On another page, there's a casually abandoned doll with a bandage on her face, and her head torn off. Ah, the callous indifference of youth! Overall, it's a simply story that makes a single point, but the illustrations make it enjoyable.

Book: Say Please! (Little Princess Books)
Author: Tony Ross
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Pages: 28
Age Range: 3-5
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

Check Out the Cybils Site

I'm so excited! My review of Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson, is the review of the day over at the Cybils site. This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I'm happy to see it getting more attention. Thanks, Anne!!

Also, I didn't have a chance to mention this over the weekend, because I was out of town, but the Cybils got a nice write-up in the Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf last week. Doesn't the logo look great? This led to many new nominations.

We're in the home stretch for nominations now (nominations close November 20th), so head on over to make your choices known, if you haven't done so already.

Kali and the Rat Snake: Zai Whitaker

Kali And the Rat Snake (story by Zai Whitaker, illustrations by Srividya Natarajan) is a classic tale of a misfit whose special talent eventually saves the day, set against a backdrop of modern rural India. Kali hates school, because he doesn't fit it. His father is a famous snake catcher, and Kali knows how to catch snakes, too (you see where this is going, don't you?). But after two months in school, Kali has no friends, and he fears that the other kids think that his tribe (of people who catch snakes for a living) is weird.

As we meet him, we learn that "Kali was getting used to things, but it was hard, and his walk to school grew slower and slower." He's ashamed to eat the foods that he loves, because he knows that the other kids find them unusual. (Fried termites!!). He eats alone.

But then Kali saves the day because of what he has learned from his father (saw it coming, didn't you?). And then everyone wants to be his friend. I found the ending a bit convenient (though I suppose a snake turning up at school in rural India is not unreasonable). But there are nice themes about people being unique, and about how one's own special talents can have a place in the world. The book includes a short glossary of Indian terms (food, money, etc), and offers a window into a culture that will be unfamiliar to most American readers. 

The lush illustrations match the story well. The first page shows an overgrown jungle, with a beam of sunlight shining through the overgrowth. The colors blur into one another, with lots of greens and pinks. The language of the book is poetic in cadence, without actually rhyming. For example: "Arms and legs flew, bodies ran, tumbled over each other, fell, and ran some more." The quantity of text on each page, and the school setting, makes the book more appropriate for older picture book readers.

Book: Kali And the Rat Snake
Author: Zai Whitaker, illustrated by Srividya Natarajan
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

Singing Shijimi Clams: Naomi Kojima

Singing Shijimi Clams is the tale of a witch, old and without her sparks, who brings home some shijimi clams for her dinner. She's taken aback, right before cooking them, to find find the clams snoring away. "Their shells were opened slightly, and their little bodies moved contentedly." Her cat, Toraji, tries to convince the witch that it's ok to boil up the clams because "(t)hey won't feel anything if you put them in quickly." But she can't do it, and witch and cat end up eating miso soup sans clams.

Eventually, the witch and Toraji start talking with the clams, and the clams cry when they learn that they aren't in the ocean anymore. The witch and Toraji have to undertake a major project to take the clams back to the sea. Along the way, the clams sing! "And every day, as the witch listened to the shijimi clams' sweet voices, she too began to feel happier, and less miserable."

I'm not such a fan of message books, and this one bears a pretty strong vegan message. But Singing Shijimi Clams is a lot of fun. The illustrations are deceptively simple, small black and white sketches rather than full page drawings. They convey the grouchy witch's gradual thawing, as she does something good for the clams. The cat is a riot, starting out callous, but by the end admitting "I will miss them when they go." The drawings of the little clams are priceless, with tiny faces, and lines to show movement and emotion.

This book grew on me. I thought that it was ok on the first read, but by the end of the second read I was quite attached to witch, cat, and clams. Because of the lack of color in the illustrations, and the relatively high text ratio, I think that this book will resonate more with kids on the older end of picture book range.

Book: Singing Shijimi Clams
Author: Naomi Kojima
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

Crazy Cars: Mark David

Crazy Cars by Mark David is just pure, unadulterated fun! It's a picture book, but with complex illustrations suited for older kids. Both Mheir and I noticed a strong resemblance to Dr. Seuss books (though Mheir also wondered if kids of this age are interested in cars, or if they only like trains and firetrucks). Each page features a ludicrous, over-the-top sort of car, with detailed illustrations that reward careful perusal. There are also witty little text asides that will entertain older kids or parents. Here are some examples:

  • The Windster is like a giant tricycle, with a series of sails and propellers to keep it moving in a breeze. It "comes with a handy spare set of maps."
  • The Luxury Resortster is a vacation destination on wheels, complete with white-water rafting, golf, and drink service. Readers will be glad to know that "Due to popular demand, the new deluxe model has all the features of the regular model but comes with brakes."
  • Also on the Luxury Roadster page is the note: "If you enjoy changing tires, you'll love the Luxury Roadster", accompanied by a tiny picture of a shell-shocked man surrounded by spare tires.
  • The Millispeed is a car that consists of many tiny segments connected together. "It will seem like you're getting places in no time. In fact, the front of the car will be at the shops before the back has even left the garage."
  • The Chefrolet cooks breakfast, and features both cow and chickens for providing raw materials. There is even entertainment for the cow, because "The best milk comes from contented cows, and nothing keeps your cow contented like round the clock Cow Channel."

You get the idea. I really loved this book. It brought me joy, looking at the exaggerated and complex illustrations, and reading the clever little asides in the text. I can see kids, especially boys, poring over this book, while their parents derive the occasional grin from the text.

Book: Crazy Cars
Author: Mark David
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

Happy Birthday Coco: Oneones

Happy Birthday Coco by Oneones is a picture book about a year in the life of Coco, who turns one at the start of the story. Coco is a small dog. We never see her human companions, but they clearly value Coco's presence in their lives.

This book is a gorgeous production with few words, thick pages, and soft colors. It includes occasional sheer overlay pages to add visual interest and complexity. For example, a translucent page with a faint net pattern overlays a picture of Coco playing with a tennis ball. A page showing the cage that Coco came home in has shiny reflective bars, like very narrow mirrors. Another page includes a cut-out of a word that can be read backwards or forwards. It's like the author is playing with the medium of picture book, just as Coco plays with balls.

The author is a graphic artist, and the book is more a visual delight than a narrative story. Coco's year passes as a series of incidents. She makes a friend, gets into trouble, loses her friend, plays in the snow, and goes for walks. The illustrations frequently reflect the mood of what's going on with Coco. For instance, there's an incident where Coco is yelled for misbehaving.

"Usually Coco likes to go for walks. After shouting, though, she just sits and looks."

The background is gray here,like a fog, and we can see clearly that Coco is sad. Coco is also sad when her friend goes away (presumably dying, though this is left vague). It's surprisingly profound for a picture book with so few words.

Overall, I found this to be an excellent, quiet sort of book. Happy Birthday Coco is well-presented, with subtle but meaningful messages about friendship and loss, and getting into trouble but still being loved. The book concludes "Coco will have many more sweet dreams, and many more friends, and many more happy birthdays." I certainly hope so.

Book: Happy Birthday Coco
Author: Oneones
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Pages: 56
Age Range: All ages (picture book)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Big A little a