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August 2007
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October 2007

Reading Around, 9/25

September 29th-October 6th is Banned Books Week. The American Library Association, which started the whole idea, is planning several initiatives at MySpace, Second Life, and Facebook. (You did not just hear me snicker. That would be really adolescent. Gah! Stop it!) ALA's "most challenged" book of 2006 was And Tango Makes Three, a delightful picture book about two male penguins who hatch an egg together. Come to think of it, Zinnia and Dot, two hens in a book I wrote about a few weeks ago, do the same thing, and nobody banned them.

The September edition of the online kid-lit journal The Edge of the Forest is up. Lots of good reading, as usual.

The Hartford Courant reports that the Connecticut Book Awards were handed out recently. Among the honorees were several people with connections to children's literature: Morton Schindel, founder of Weston Woods (which adapts picture books into short films), Lane Smith (John, Paul, George & Ben), and Barbara McClintock (Adèle and Simon).

Alan Greenspan interviews O.J.? See "Greenspan and Simpson: On Writing" at The New Yorker for details. Ha!

The Flock, Wings & James Marshall

Imagedbcgi_2 A few weeks ago I wrote about Bossy the chicken and her reluctance to free-range solo. Bossy is just one of my backyard flock of four, which is led by Petunia. The group also includes Loretta, who may be a rooster, but is permitted very little slack by the others, much like a first-grader on a school bus with all fifth graders. Fuzzy the Blue Orpington completes the crew, and she is becoming quite a beauty. If Fuzzy cared, she could possibly swipe Petunia's chieftain role, but Fuzzy is a free spirit.

Anyway, free-ranging. I've discovered that the girls like to go out as a group. What fun is going to the mall by yourself? I suppose it's like that. They don't go far, and they all stay together. Sometimes they run/fly/skedaddle back to the coop. Which is fine, because it's not that easy to get them back in, unless they are of a mind to do so. After school Junior likes to let them out to free-range while he sits outside and does homework. So far our September afternoons have been mild and sunny and full of chickens. It suits us pretty well.

I like to mention picture books featuring barnyard fowl on Saturdays, and today I chose Wings: A Tale of Two Chickens, by the late James Marshall. Here is what Marshall's editor Regina Hayes had to say:

Almost all of Jim’s books included some spectacularly dim-witted characters, and I felt he had a particular affection for  them and gave them the best lines: the Stupids; the Cut-Ups; the wonderfully dumb chicken, Winnie, in Wings: A Tale of Two Chickens. Winnie meets a fox who introduces himself in “a silky voice,” reassures her that “plump is nice,” and declares at the end, “Unhand that chicken! She’s mine!” Winnie  is rescued by her sister and given an informative book to read. “’Oh, my stars!’ cried Winnie. ‘Mr. Johnson was a fox!’” It is so deadpan that it’s hard to say what’s so funny, but many lines from Wings became bywords around the office, where Jim was a great favorite.

That's from a profile of Marshall in The Horn Book's July-August 2007 issue. Hayes wrote it in honor of Marshall's winning this year's Laura Ingalls Wilder medal, which "honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children," according to the Association for Library Service to Children, the award's administrator.

Poetry Friday: Paul Muldoon

GalleyCat  reports that Alice Quinn is stepping down as poetry editor of The New Yorker. The poet Paul Muldoon will take her place. Born in Northern Ireland and currently a professor at Princeton, Muldoon won a 2003 Pulitzer for his collection Moy Sand and Gravel. Publishers Weekly called him "the best, most-honored Irish poet of the generation after [Seamus] Heaney."

Until I read the biography at his web site, I didn't know that Muldoon is also the author of several books for children, including Reverse Flannery: Magical Tales of Ireland, The Last Thesaurus, and The Noctuary of Narcissus Batt. Muldoon also wrote the preface for the Modern Classics edition of Irish Folk and Fairy Tales, which was compiled by William Butler Yeats. The first three seem to be from UK publishers only.

My library has a copy of Muldoon's book The End of the Poem, a collection of lectures (given at Oxford) about individual poems by Yeats, Dickinson, Ted Hughes, Heaney, and others. I have to put my name on the hold list, though. Someone beat me to it!

So, Friday's poem is Muldoon's "As," which you can read at the Poetry Foundation, from Moy Sand and Gravel. To see what other verses arise in the kidlitosphere today, look to the Poetry Friday roundup at Sara Lewis Holmes' blog Read Write Believe. Sara is the author of Letters to Rapunzel, a novel for 9 to 12 year olds.

Read-Alouds: Upping the Ante

"There's no reason to feel...that we must always read aloud to little children from 'easy' books that they can 'understand.' If  we are reading something we like, with great expression and pleasure, a child may well like it, at least for a while, even if he doesn't understand all of it. After all, children like hearing adults talk, even though they can't understand much or most of it. Why not reading as well? Once, when teaching first-graders, I decided to try reading aloud to them something more difficult than the very simple stories they were used to. My choice was The Odyssey for Boys and Girls, by A.J. Church—a book I loved when small, but which many teachers would feel was much too advanced or difficult for first-graders. This class, however, liked it very much, and on subsequent days asked me to read more of it."

from How Children Learn, by John Holt (revised edition, Perseus Books, 1967, 1983)

When I read Holt's book last spring, the above quotation intrigued me.  On the one hand, it proves one of my pet theories: people are often talking about themselves, no matter what their ostensible subject. Holt's example just happens to be a favorite book from his childhood. The message seems to be that he, unlike those pedestrian other teachers, is willing to try something different. Ho-hum.

On the other hand, I think his idea has merit. First grade, for example, is all about learning to read, and much of the material does fall into Holt's "very simple story" category by necessity. That's why read-alouds by teachers, school librarians, and parents are so important. Audiobooks, too, can provide more advanced storytelling and vocabulary in a fun way. Some children will like to hear science books read aloud; even though they don't understand all the specifics, they may get excited about the overall ideas.

Things to Read While Pretending to Work, 9.18.07

On Sunday, The New York Times Book Review considered children's books, with two new readers by Mo Willems getting some lukewarm praise. Picture books about school, as well as other new titles, are part of the mix, too.

Blog news: say hey and welcome to Crooked House, written by Stephany Aulenback, a former contributor to Maud Newton's site. Don't miss the "Beckett for Babies" post.

Irritating trend alert: Baby discos, in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Nation's Katha Pollitt shares her 5 must-have books for reviewers, at Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle's board of directors. Neither Pollitt nor Cynthia Ozick, who handed in her list last week, mentions any books by Updike, unlike others in the "Critical Library" series.

The Cybils Awards, and Other Announcements

A few announcements:

1. What are the best children's books of 2007? It's that time of the year again—time to gear up for the Children's and YA Bloggers Literary Awards, a.k.a the Cybils. If you write about children's books at your blog and have an interest in volunteering on an awards committee, go to this post at the spiffed-up Cybils web site. Soon all readers—bloggers and non-bloggers—will be able to nominate their favorite titles, too.

2. The next Carnival of Children's Literature takes place at Charlotte's Library on September 26th. The deadline for submissions is Friday, September 21st. Use the submission form linked at the Blog Carnival site.

3. The September Learning in the Great Outdoors blog carnival is going on right now at Alone on a Limb. You'll find lots of great ideas for enjoying and studying nature with children, plus some beautiful photographs of monarch butterflies.

Poetry Friday: Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst's "Some Things Don't Make Any Sense at All" gave me a laugh this morning, so having met that criteria, it's my choice for Poetry Friday. You can riffle through the archives at the Academy of American Poets' web site and find several other poems that Viorst wrote for children. Viorst's name was linked at the article "Serious Play: Reading Poetry with Children," which offers a number of online reading suggestions and references. Very handy.

Now I must go see what poetic thoughts the other children's literature bloggers are thinking today; Hip Writer Mama has the roundup of all things verseful. To find out more about Poetry Friday (what is it? how did it start?), see this article at the Poetry Foundation. All are welcome.

Go forth and rhyme.

Robert's Snow 2007

From the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast:

By now, you have probably read the very sad news of the death of Robert Mercer, Grace Lin’s husband, at the end of last month, due to cancer.

You may remember from [Seven Imp's] May ’07 interview with Grace that she was the driving force behind the Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure fundraising effort after Robert was initially diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma and after writing Robert’s Snow (Viking Books; 2004) soon after that diagnosis. The fundraising effort entailed the auctioning off of special snowflakes, created by children’s book illustrators, whom Grace had gathered together in the name of raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI).

Read more about the 2007 Robert's Snow fundraiser at Seven Impossible Things, and find out how you can help out.

Reading with the 3rd Grade, 9/12

Our son's third-grade teacher sent home a friendly, informative letter after the first couple of weeks of school, telling the parents what the class had been up to. I was especially glad to see the list of books she had been reading to the students, so I thought I'd post them here. Maybe the kids in your life would like them, too. Thanks, Miss Nelson*!

Being a Scientist (I don't know this one.)
The Library, by Sarah Stewart; art by David Small
Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka; art by Lane Smith
The Minpins, by Roald Dahl; art by Patrick Benson
Odd Velvet, by Mary E. Whitcomb; art by Tara Calahan King
The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, by Mike Thaler

At home, Junior avidly read Beverly Cleary's Socks, via a book-on-tape narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. He followed along in the book as he listened. I heard bits of the story, about a beloved pet cat who must adjust to a new baby's arrival, and thought it sounded fun. School Library Journal gave a a thumbs-up to both Cleary's "hilarious" chapter book and Harris's rendition.

* Not her real name.