5 Things I Like About "Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat"


1. The art. Collage! It's so very cool, incorporating stamps that author-illustrator Philip Christian Stead has collected since he was a kid, and lots of cut paper, as well as lettering from antique toy letterpress sets. It's equally cool to learn exactly how he does it: at the blog Seven Impossible Things, Stead gives a step-by-step guide that will have aspiring artists headed out the door for supplies. Really, if your favorite kid likes art, share the Seven Imp post with him or her.

2. The theme.  “After all, a big boat needs a big crew," i.e., friends can make all 
the difference. When Jonathan’s parents trade his teddy bear for a toaster, Jonathan takes sail in a Big Blue Boat to find his bear, Frederick, who “could be anywhere in the whole wide world.” On his travels, Captain Jonathan assembles an unlikely crew—a mountain goat, an old circus elephant, and a whale—who each have a unique skill to contribute.

3. The story. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat makes a good read-aloud, ideally suited to preschool 4's and kindergarten classes.

4. The setting. At sea. On a huge steamship. Oh, those oceanic hues. Lovely.

5. The homage. The illustrations call to mind the work of Ezra Jack Keats. Published almost fifty years ago, Keats' The Snowy Day was the "first modern full-color picture book to feature an African-American protagonist," as the Jewish Museum points out in its current exhibition "The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats." Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat also features a child of color.

In a new-book display at a nearby library, all the other books with nonwhite main characters concerned grim historical experiences. In an essay about the 2010 year in publishing, some experts at the Cooperative Children's Book Center* asked, "Where are picture books featuring contemporary African American children (Hooray for A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams!) Why are we asking the same questions today that were being asked thirty years ago in terms of stagnating numbers?"

 Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat was my nomination for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award in the fiction picture book cateogry.


Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat
by Philip Christian Stead
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2011
32 pages

*Link to article referenced:  "Thoughts on Publishing in 2010," by Kathleen T. Horning, Carling Febry, Merri V. Lindgren, and Megan Schliesman. CCBC Choices 2011

What Are Your Favorite Kids' Books of 2011?

What are the best new children's books you've read this year? Go, nominate them for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award! The Cybils are taking nominations until October 15th; then, two panelists of judges for each category will choose winners. Anyone can nominate; you don't have to be a blogger. 

Eligibility rules—for the books, ebooks, and apps—are here.


Oh, That Dratted Louisa May Alcott

In Lucretia's [Lucretia Jones, Edith Wharton's mother] view, books could be dangerous. Not only were they full of bad people, they were full of bad English. Especially children's books. Louisa May Alcott was so sloppy with her grammar in Little Women that Lucretia was appalled. A few children's books—such as George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin and Charles Kinglsey's The Water-Babies—met Lucretia's standard. But adult books were grammatically more correct and therefore safer. So from that time on, Edith [aged 7 or so] was permitted to read only adult classics approved by her mother.

from The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton, by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge (Clarion Books, 2010)

51CYIGDFe2L._SL500_AA300_ Helicopter parenting, 1860s upper-crust-NYC style! Some things never change; I was reminded of the picture-book brouhaha from earlier this fall. Of course, now I'm itching to go back to Little Women and try to figure out what riled up Lucretia Jones. To judge from what Connie Wooldridge writes, though, it wouldn't take much.

Edith Wharton survived her upbringing and went on to write such fine novels as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence and many other books and short stories.

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is a nominee for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award (a Cybil) in young adult/middle grade nonfiction.

The Bat Scientists


They are certainly not cute,


but they're important.

The Bat Scientists, a Scientists in the Field book by Mary Kay Carson, makes a good case.

"'We can't just help the most popular animals and save ecosystems,'explains Merlin [Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International]. Bats play an important role in so many ecosystems. They eat insects, pollinate plants, and spread seeds. Whether you like bats or not, the plants and animals of many ecosystems depend on them."

The Bat Scientists, with photography by Carson's husband, Tom Uhlman, is a Cybils middle grade/YA nonfiction nominee. Children aged ten or so and older are the target audience for the popular Scientists in the Field series, but grown-ups will find plenty to like, too.

Note: The bat photograph is not in the book, but from Wikimedia Commons. Taken by Mnolf, "Whiskered Bat (Myotis mysticinus)" appears here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Book details:

The Bat Scientists
by Mary Kay Carson, with photography by Tom Uhlman
Houghton Mifflin, 2010
80 pages

Quite a Few Nature Books for Kids, or Spying at the New York Botanical Garden


Loyal Chicken Spaghetti readers know that I like to take pictures of book displays. (On a similar post last summer, a few others confessed to doing this, too. My people!) Yesterday's family outing to the charming holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden gave me an excuse to hang around its gift shop, acting like a spy and taking pictures with my shoe phone.


Store displays are great ways to get recommendations. I spotted a mix of fiction and nonfiction, including Big Yellow Sunflower, by Frances Barry; Bugs in a Blanket, by Beatrice Alemagna; The Grouchy Ladybug and The Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle; I Love Dirt: 52 Ways to Help Your and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature, by Jennifer Ward; Snow Is Falling, by Franklyn M. Branley;  The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss; a new edition of The Secret Garden, illustrated by Inga Moore; The Practical Naturalist, by Chris Packham; Blue Potatoes, Orange Tomatoes: How to Grow a Rainbow Garden, by Rosalind Creasy; and NYC books like Old Penn Station, by William Low, and I Love N.Y., by Christoph Niemann.

Continue reading "Quite a Few Nature Books for Kids, or Spying at the New York Botanical Garden" »

Runaway Slaves, Candy Bombing, Bucking Horses: It’s Nonfiction Monday

On Mondays a number of the children’s book blogs offer posts about nonfiction for kids. (See the 11/15/10 roundup of links at In Need of Chocolate.) Because of reading for the Cybils awards, I have given over October and now November to books for tweens and teens. The following are from the list of middle grade/young adult nonfiction nominees; all three are well-documented and indexed, with suggestions for further reading and research.

Prior to this Cybils season, I wasn't that interested in visiting Colonial Williamsburg, but now I'm raring to go and drag the family with me. Reading books about the American Revolution is totally responsible. Margaret Whitman Blair's Liberty or Death concerns slaves who had run away from their owners and joined the British during the Revolution. The author did some of her research at Colonial Williamsburg, focusing on Lord Dunmore's all-black Ethiopian Regiment. All loyalists, including the runaways, were promised land after the war, but the patriots' victory precluded that. Three thousand black loyalists ended up in Nova Scotia and, from there, a smaller group, still in search of their rewards, settled back in Africa, in Sierra Leone, where their descendants live today.

Another military-affiliated book, set nearly two centuries later, is Candy Bomber, by Michael O. Tunnell. This title is a great  way to introduce kids to the Berlin airlift (1948-'49) and the beginnings of the Cold War. Stationed in Germany as part of the American effort to bring food and fuel to West Berlin during the Russian blockade, Air Force pilot Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen came up with the idea of dropping small parachutes of chocolate and gum. These were gifts for the children of Berlin, who began to wait for his flyovers and the “bombs” of treats. Many recipients drew pictures and wrote letters to thank him and the others involved in "Operation Little Vittles," and Halvorsen became a hero, not to mention a representative of the U.S. as a friendly, kindhearted counterpoint to the Soviet Union. Halvorsen's ties to the Berlin kids have continued to the present.

The last title today has to do with broncos, not war. Montana resident Sneed Collard III wrote The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale for children who go to rodeos or want to learn more about them. About the annual event in eastern Montana, the author says, "While other auctions and rodeos have come and gone, the Bucking Horse Sale has helped keep Western tradition and culture alive for more than sixty years." With enthusiam, excitement, and colorful photos, The World Famous Miles City depicts bull riding, mutton busting (in which children ride sheep), and two kinds of bronc riding (saddle and bareback), and more. Needless to say, you won't find much here about animal-rights organizations' objections to rodeo.

The books:

Liberty or Death: The Surprising Story of Runaway Slaves Who Sided with the British During the American Revolution
by Margaret Whitman Blair
National Geographic Society, 2010
64 pages

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"
by Michael O. Tunnell
Charlesbridge, 2010
110 pages

The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale
by Sneed Collard III
Bucking Horse Books, 2010
64 pages

Rescuing Parrots

9780618494170 Kakapo Rescue:
Saving the World's Strangest Parrot
Text by Sy Montgomery; photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin, 2010
80 pages

The creative team of Sy Montgomery (writer) and Nic Bishop (photographer) is highly regarded in the children's book world for previous collaborations in the Scientists in the Field series, like Quest for the Tree Kangaroo (2006) and The Tarantula Scientist (2004). This time around, the two turn the lens on the kakapo, a flightless parrot in New Zealand. Spending part of nesting season at the kakapo's remote island home, they document the heroic efforts of conservationists, scientists, and volunteers to ensure that the species survives.

At the risk of sounding very un-scientific, I have to say that the fat green parrots are adorable; I was happy to read at Kakapo Recovery, a website mentioned in the book, that there are now 122 in the world. That number is up from the 87 when Montgomery and Bishop left the New Zealand island.

Kakapo Rescue has been nominated for a Cybil award, along with two other 2010 Scientists in the Field titles, The Hive Detectives and Project Seahorse (reviewed here). [Correction 11/21: There are four Scientists in the Field books nominated this year; the other one is The Bat Scientists.] The reading level for all is about fifth grade and older.