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June 2005

Scientific Americans

What’s the American equivalent of the Aventis prize? (Check the post just under this one for info on the Aventis.) Perhaps it’s the National Council of Science Teachers’ awards to the outstanding trade books for children. A parent, aunt, uncle, grandma, or friend can do well by using its shortlists as a gift guide. You can tell from the NTSC descriptions  which ones sound preachy and which ones sound fun. Anything that mentions garbage, for instance, is something that would go over big at our house. Here are some that I have read aloud to whoever will listen; I found most of them at the library.

From the 1997 lineup. Compost! Growing Gardens from Your Garbage, by Linda Glaser, with colorful watercolor illustrations by Anca Hariton. Glaser’s picture book inspired us to create our own compost pile. Our fat raccoon neighbor is grateful for the salad bar. One day, I hope, the garden will be, too.  All About Deer, written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky. From Caterpillar to Butterfly (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science series), by Deborah Heiligman; and Bat, by Caroline Arnold.

1998. Lightning, by Seymour Simon. Illustrated with vivid photographs and a little too scary for our kindergartener, this one may be better appreciated later on.

2000.Tornadoes, by Seymour Simon. Again the terrific photos but a little too engaging. After this and “The Wizard of Oz,” Junior was having tornado nightmares. Another one to save for first or second grade. 

2003. Honeybees, by Deborah Heiligman. One of our favorites, so we bought it. You can’t have enough discussions about bees, ants, and spiders.

2004. Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Food Web, by Victoria Crenson, with beautiful watercolor illustrations by Annie Cannon. From years of beach-going, my son knows horseshoe crab carcasses well, so Crenson’s story was of great interest. I had to shorten the text a bit as I read. A much better book than its dry title would indicate.

The Budding Scientist?

In a funny and honest  article from the Guardian, writer Tim Dowling considers science books. He brings home a heap of them for his kids and includes several listed for the Aventis prize, a U.K. award. Dowling writes,

Looking over the Aventis shortlist, it seems that the magic formula for attracting children is common knowledge. All the books are large in format and slim, with eye-catching graphics and lots of boxed-off text. Each has the look of a mildly disappointing birthday present.

My youngest child, who is five, regards all books with suspicion. When presented with six shortlisted science books, he burst into tears and stormed out of the room, although he later came back and snatched the one about earthquakes off the pile.

Big City Trip Report

This past weekend Elroy, Junior, and I  made the long trek from New England to New York to visit the Children's Museum of Manhattan (where the Magic School Bus exhibit has now closed) and to meet a friend for lunch.  (Scroll down to the "Honk, Honk" post.)

The first floor of the museum is devoted to a Dr. Seuss exhibit, where one is directed to "un-shlump the Borfin," among other activities, and where one can read couplets like "While a Bolster blows bloops on a three-nozzled bloozer!/A Nolster blows floops on a one-nozzled noozer!" It's not the fault of the Children's Museum of Manhattan that Dr. Seuss irritates me. (I will not like it/No, I won't/I will not like it/See, I don't.) BUT Junior enjoyed the Seuss stuff, and unschlumping the Borfin is his idea of a good time. There are plenty of buttons to push and levers to switch and, heck, the exhibit is book-related so I shouldn't complain.

Junior was happy enough to drive the Magic School Bus in the museum's basement (oops, make that lower lobby); more buttons and levers and the weather-related gadgetry intrigued him. What he loved, though, was the City Splash Outdoor Water Play out back of the first floor. He could have spent hours there. Instead, I dragged him by the collar back to the  Magic School Bus weather station to study the maps. Just kidding. He played at City Splash a long, long time. You'd think the child had never seen a hose.

You know what the moral of this story is. I'm not even going to say it.

No Midlife Crisis for Harold and the Purple Crayon

0060229365Happy Birthday, Harold! Still skipping along  on the children's-book beat, NPR's Jennifer Ludden talks to none other than Maurice Sendak about  Crockett Johnson's classic, which is 50 years old. (Current Amazon sales rank, #855, up from 1470! )

Sendak illustrated the new re-issue of Ruth Krauss's Bears; you can read a good piece about it (via Kentucky.Com  and the Miami Herald). The late Ruth Krauss was married to Crockett Johnson, and she collaborated on a number of books with Sendak. (I'm going to jump on the opportunity to mention the Sendak retrospective at the Jewish Museum, in New York, again, too.)  Furthermore, as evidence that the 76-year-old Sendak is everywhere this spring, often paying homage to his friends Krauss and Johnson, he wrote about the pair and their book The Carrot Seed in the March/April issue of Horn Book, the esteemed children's literature journal. Sendak began,

There is no doubt in my mind that The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson was a remarkable breakthrough book. The terrible war ended in 1945 and this harmless-looking book was published at the same time — harmless-looking perhaps, but revolutionary in content.

Smut? Did somebody say smut?

"If you want to peddle smut with society's approval, children's books and sex ed is where it's at," says syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin. Goodness me. What brought this on? A young-adult title called Rainbow Party, by Paul Ruditis. Good ole Powell's bookstore gives a synopsis:  "Exploring an issue brought to the public's attention on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show,' this novel looks at teens' participation in sex games, and what happens when these kids do not fully realize the consequences of their actions."

Highlights from the Sunday Papers: May 29th

A kids' summer reading bonanza at the San Francisco Chronicle rounds up  titles for everyone from the chewing-the-board-book age to young-adult hipsters.

  • Forest of the Pygmies, by Isabel Allende.
  • Picture books about dogs (and cats)That New Animal, by Emily Jenkins, with pics by  Pierre Pratt; Puppies! Puppies! Puppies, by Susan Meyers, illustrated by David Walker; Good Dog, poetry by Maya Gottfried and paintings by Robert Rahway Zakanitch; and Romeow and Druliet, by Nina Laden.
  • Runny Babbit, by Shel Silverstein.
  • Lost in America, by Marilyn Sachs.
  • Kai's Journey to Gold Mountain: An Angel Island Story, by Katrina Saltonstall Currier, illustrated by Gabhor Utimo.
  • Books about dads, for younger readers. Papa, Do You Love Me?, by Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee; Father's Day, by Anne Rockwell, pics by Lizzy Rockwell; Daddy Cuddles, a board book by Anne Gutman and George Hallensleben.
  • Eye-catching picture books by San Francisco-area authors. Stanley Mows the Lawn, by Craig Frazier; Chato Goes Cruisin', by Gary Soto, illustrations by Susan Guevara; and Miss Bindergarten Has a Wild Day in Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate, pics by Ashley Wolff.
  • Prom stories, including Prom, by Laurie Halse Anderson; 24 Girls in 7 Days, by Alex Bradley; and Mosh Pit, by Kristyn Dunnion.
  • Sequels and spin-offs. Shredderman: Meet the Gecko, by Wendelin Van Draanen, pictures by Bryan Biggs; Judy Moody Declares Independence, by Megan McDonald, illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds; and by the same team, Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, about Judy Moody's brother.
  • Rose and Riley, for the  beginning reader, by Jane Cutler, with pictures by Thomas F. Yezerski.

In the Washington Post, Elizabeth Ward reviews three books for older readers: The Enemies of Jupiter, by Caroline Laurence; Summer's End, by Audrey Couloumbis; and Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, by Sally M. Walker. Plus, Ms. Ward takes a look at two picture books—Bruno Munari's Zoo, by Bruno Munari (a re-issue of "one of the most striking picture books of its time" [1963]); and The Shopping Expedition, by Andre Amstutz, with illustrations by Allan Ahlberg. (Registration required.)

An American book, Lobster Boy, is the (London) Sunday Times' children's pick of the week. Rodman Philbrick's novel for nine- to twelve-year-olds  was published here under the title The Young Man and the Sea.

New Laureate for Children Named

Of course, it isn't in the United States. Why even consider something like a Children's  Laureate when we can argue about filibusters and bop people over the head with  picture books (picture books, for heaven's sake) for cheap political  points? Awww, we're  not for censorship, ma'am; we're for fambly values. (See "When the Wind Comes..." post.)

At any rate, chiz to Jacqueline Wilson, who has just been named the new children's laureate in the U.K. Her books (like Bad Girls and Double Act) are popular here, and  are million-sellers across the pond. (For more about Wilson's breakout Tracy Beaker series, click here.) The Guardian says,

[Jacqueline Wilson] has also been given a special Childline award in recognition of the manner in which she deals with challenging subjects in her work, especially through the Tracy Beaker stories, which focus on a 10-year-old girl who lives in a children's home. With subject matter ranging from death and divorce to depression, bullying, and dysfunctional families, Wilson's novels pull no punches but are softened with humour, quirky detail and, always, an underlying feelgood factor.

I like this idea of a Children's Laureate. How about one  for our country, too? I would love to hear more sane, positive talk about books and literature for kids.  Let's give it some thought.  Anybody with me?

P.S. If you happen to find yourself at the Hay Festival on June 2, you can catch up with Ms. Wilson and the illustrator Nick Sharratt in person. We're sorry to report that Katharine Holabird's  Angelina Ballerina programmes (how's that for proper British?) are sold out. Tickets are still available to the Wilson/Sharratt segment as of 5/26. The Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts Limited takes place in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, and runs from May 27 until June 5.

Meanwhile, those of us unable to attend can ponder the goings on from afar. Don't you  like the following greeting? I'm always game for a holiday party, especially one with art argument and books. I'm serious.

Welcome to our eighteenth Festival. Hay is a market town in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It has 1,500 people and  39 bookshops.The Festival is a spectacular holiday party and an opportunity to indulge your tastes for the finest books,  food, comedy, music, gardens, art argument, conversation and literature. The ideas and stories flow freely.

London Calling

The Sunday Times' children's book of the week is  Face Value, a murder mystery set in the fashion world. Reviewer Nicolette Jones gives  a thumbs up to Catherine Johnson's book for teenagers:

...the book is peopled, like the city [of London], with characters of spectacular variety: black, white and mixed race, high-living, low-living, politicised, apathetic, ugly and beautiful.

Swooping In

Wow, that was fast. A couple of kids-book collaborators  in Arkansas have jumped on the recent news that  the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, long thought to be extinct, is alive and pecking in the  Razorback  State.  Author Terry Roberts Luneau says modestly of  Big Woods Bird,

The target age for the book is 3 and up. We tested it on some 4-year-olds and it seemed to work well. It has animals so younger children can relate to it.

I haven't seen the book and so can't comment on its quality, but if I could I'd link every Ivory Bill item that came along. It's such a great story, and the Arkansas folks are right: it has tremendous kid appeal. For background on the bird news, see the helpful  site at Cornell University, ornithology headquarters.