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October 2005
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December 2005

NYTBR 100 Notables. Talk Amongst Ourselves.

The Columbia Journalism Review Daily dissects the New York Times Book Review's "100 Notable Books of the Year," and finds that one out of every six was written by a Times staffer or regular  contributor to the paper. Paul Leary reports,

Around this time every year, major newspaper and magazine editors from sea to shining sea -- which is to say, all the way from Sixth Avenue in Manhattan to Tenth Avenue in Manhattan -- assemble their staffs for brainstorming sessions to compile the obligatory "Best of" lists. Such lists are, of course, an entirely subjective selection of what were the most important or influential books, movies, or music of the year -- hence the annual squabbles that these lists spawn among the chattering classes each holiday season.

Muchas gracias to for the link to the CJR.

Picture Book Slump?

Recently Publishers Weekly reported on slowing sales of picture books, saying "Gone are the days when parents eagerly await the next Maurice Sendak or Chris Van Allsburg." Since yours truly is eagerly awaiting the next Kevin Henkes, I don't find that to be true, but overall, Judith Rosen's article is well worth reading. There's a kind of he-said, she-said thing going on with publishers and booksellers; my favorite quote concerns  Shirley Mullin, the owner of the Kids Ink bookstore, in Indianapolis:

Still, she finds too much repetition in the marketplace, like sappy and sweet books for four- and five-year-olds. "How many ways can you say I love you?" she asks. "What we need are more Where the Wild Things Are. It's tough, fun and real."

Holiday Books, Year's Best, and So On

  • Looking for a present? See the holiday gift guide, at NPR.   
  • The author Esmé Raji Codell names her 2005 recommendations on her web site, Planet Esmé. Adults may know Codell for the excellent compendium How to Get Your Child to Love Reading while children may recognize her Sahara Special and Sing a Song of Tuna Fish.
  • Susan Faust considers Codell's latest, Hanukkah Schmanukkah, in a San Francisco Chronicle review called "Converting Yule Classics for Hanukkah," but Lesléa Newman's The Eight Nights of Chanukah fares better. Last weekend, the Chronicle chose its gift books for children, among them Allen Say's picture book Kamishibai Man; it's being lauded left and right.

That may be it for me with the holiday gift guides. All the newspapers and magazines will be publishing them. I'm really not that big on buying Christmas-themed books; the kids' section at the local Super Duper Chain Bookstore, currently bursting with such confections, contributes to my unease with this season's too-muchness. Why, yesterday one of those pop-up books even reached out and swatted me with a peppermint stick.

Best of the Year, #1

It's only three days after Thanksgiving, and some folks have strung the holiday lights, bought their Christmas trees, and compiled their Best Books of the Year lists. Sheesh. Am I behind. And no, I didn't storm Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. on Friday morning, either.

Luckily, as I said, others are on top of their game. Here are the best children's books of the year from Black Issues Book Review, which covers books by black authors. (Scroll down on the BIBR page; the list and capsule descriptions come after the adoption books and the bookstore bestsellers.) The audiobooks sound good, too.

More Lilly Next Year

Fans of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse and other Kevin Henkes picture books will be glad to hear that Lilly returns next March in another starring role. In Lilly's Big Day, her favorite teacher gets married! I, for one, can't wait.

Recently a friend told me she wanted to write a children's book and asked for advice. I told her to take Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse and  study it page by page (and take notes) to see  how Henkes does it. And, of course, to read, read, read other picture books by a range of authors. But Henkes is a master, and one can learn a lot about craft by examining his story's structure.

"The Philharmonic Gets Dressed"

Imagedbcgi_3Happy Thanksgiving! Here is a treat for all you picture-book fans.    

From The Philharmonic Gets Dressed:

It is almost Friday night. Outside, the dark is getting darker and the cold is getting colder. Inside, lights are coming on in houses and apartment buildings. And here and there, uptown and downtown and across the bridges of the city, one hundred and five people are getting dressed to go to work.

First published in 1982, Karla Kuskin's  book is such fun that our family is hoping to attend a Young People's Concert by the New York Philharmonic. We won't be able to see the orchestra members putting on their clothes, but because of Kuskin's words and Marc Simont's funny pictures, we'll know a little more about what happens behind the scenes. The picture book is set up so that children (especially ones who don't know recognize the word "philharmonic") will be guessing about what exactly these 105 people dressing to go to work are actually going to do. This witty, clever way to learn about the orchestra will likely be one of our favorites this year.


Junior announced yesterday, "Me and Elizabeth hate November." (Elizabeth is a dear chum of his.)  Why? I asked him, thinking he'd say something about the dreary weather. "Because there's no Halloween and no candy, and we don't like that." So, there.

Here's a happier way to look at the eleventh month of the year, although it still doesn't involve sweets: November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Manhattan's  Spence Chapin social services agency operates a Book Nook online, with suggested titles for babies through teenagers.  One of the recommendations is The Best Single Mom in the World, by Mary Zisk. The author is  profiled by a Princeton, NJ, newspaper today. Given their creativity and focus on books, I enjoy reading several homeschool blogs, even though we're not homeschoolers ourselves, and  Hopewell Mom School is one run by a single adoptive  mother.


The Your Fairy Bookmother blog, which is maintained by a children's and young-adults'  librarian, considers the myths of Thanksgiving. Bookmother believes that as multiple new perspectives emerge about Thanksgiving, the old (outdated) version will fade. I'm not so sure, but the librarian's take on the matter makes for an interesting post.

A current exhibit at the living museum Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, focusses on the Wampanoag people, who lived in the area when the English colonists arrived and are still there today. Over at the blog Bartography, the author Chris Barton recommends Diane Stanley's picture book Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation.

On a silly holiday note, my son Junior likes Alison Jackson's zany There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie.

Mowgli in the Snow?

Thumbing through the reviews yesterday, I was most interested in two new novels about the years Rudyard Kipling spent in Vermont. Who knew? I sure didn't, although if I had read the Kipling entry at  Wikipedia, I would have. Kipling even wrote The Jungle Book while living there, in  Brattleboro.

At any rate, The Chicago Tribune  gives a favorable mention to Kitty and Mr. Kipling: Neighbors in Vermont, by Lenore Blegvad (illustrated by Erik Blegvad). Mary Harris Russell writes of this book for intermediate readers (ages 7-10):

Neighbor Kitty, who is 8 when the Kiplings arrive at a farm down the road, is curious about everything and dreams of a larger world. Lenore Blegvad does an excellent job of conveying how the native Vermonters feel their distance from the Kiplings, who, for instance, "dress for dinner" every evening.

Victoria Vinton's debut novel, The Jungle Law,  concerns the same era in Kipling's life, and Art Taylor at The Washington Post gives it high marks. Written for adults, The Jungle Law, like Kitty and Mr. Kipling, features a child at the center of the story.  Taylor says,

Vermont remains a far cry from the jungle of Mowgli, Bagheera and Shere Khan, but The Jungle Law traverses both worlds with ease and shows how the Law of the Jungle, which "all the animals followed in order to live peaceably side by side, in relative good faith and order," applies to people as well.

I believe that you'll need to register for both the Trib and the Post.