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Weekend Reading 3/30/06

Tomorrow I will be schmoozing and seeking autographs at a kid-lit festival, so here is a little of this, a little of that about the world of children's books.

  • New Zealand Herald: Margaret Mahy wins the Hans Christian Andersen prize.   
  • Newsweek: Beverly Cleary turns 90. 
  • Scripps Howard News Service: Karen MacPherson looks at Lilly's Big Day, and interviews its author, Kevin Henkes.
  • Publishers Weekly: The trade mag chooses Time's Memory, by Julius Lester, as the book of the week. 
  • CBC Magazine: Christopher Paul Curtis issues "Three Absolutely Immutable Rules for Good Writing."
  • The Guardian: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the book of the year in Great Britain. Anthony Horowitz's Ark Angel picks up an award, too.
  • In the Bookroom: Library Journal launched a blog last fall. A belated welcome, y'all!
  • Mitali's Fire Escape: Mitali Perkins talks about "authenticity in storytelling."
  • GottaBook: Gregory K. says, "Poetry: it's not just for April any more..."
  • Jen Robinson's Book Page: Jen begins Scott Westerfeld's Uglies-Pretties-Specials trilogy. (Specials comes out in May.)

SLJ's Book of the Week

A neat little feature of School Library Journal's online edition is the book pick of the week. For March 27th, the choice is a picture book, The Boy Who Loved Words, written by Roni Schotter and illustrated by Giselle Potter. Trot over to SLJ, and read the review.

Another good picture book with big words—well, one big word, at least—is Veronica, by Roger Duvoisin. The story of a hippopotamus who wants to be "conspicuous" was recently re-issued by Knopf, and Duvoisin's illustrations of  a big-bottomed hippo in the city are hilarious and endearing. If you love picture books, you'll want this classic for the home library. Don't forget Duvoisin's Petunia, too.

Last week's SLJ book pick was Kathleen Krull's biography of Isaac Newton, which the San Francisco Chronicle was digging, too, as I mentioned yesterday.  The week before that was The Book Thief.

New Carnival Coming

The third Carnival of Children's Literature takes place next Monday, April 3rd, at the blog Semicolon. The deadline is Saturday, April 1, at 6 p.m. A blog carnival is a roundup of links to posts on a particular topic, and if you have a blog post relating to children's literature,  you should click here to see how to submit. Join the fun! The third edition's theme is poetry.

Previous carnivals of kid lit took place at Here in the Bonny Glen and here in the Chicken Spaghetti. Look at those carnivals, and you'll get the picture.

Science Bios and More

Reviewer Susan Faust puts some science biographies under the microscope, and they hold up well. Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, she studies the following books, which are geared toward fourth and fifth graders.

In the same issue of the Chronicle, Susan Faust also considers these topics:

Clap Your Hands Say Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak. That's the name of the hour in kid-lit reviews. The Australian author, seen a couple of weeks ago on "Good Morning America,"  wrote The Book Thief, and the newspapers are all over the young adult novel, which is narrated by an unusual character—Death.  The publisher Knopf describes Zusak's new work this way,

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

Today the critic Janet Maslin at the New York Times said, "Markus Zusak has not really written Harry Potter and the Holocaust. It just feels that way." Yee-ouch. She added that The Book Thief is "loaded with librarian appeal," and I don't think she means that as a compliment, either. However, the San Francisco Chroncile said, " Zusak's writing is at times marred by some postmodern tricks—inserting asides in boldface, some cloying commentary by Death—but, overall, his style is lyrical and moving." Newsday liked it too, noting, "There is lasting horror at the heart of Zusak's novel, but there is also hope, humor, decency—not to mention piercing moments in which books bring people together in a 'quiet gathering of words.' "

In Australia, The Book Thief was published as a work for adults.

Weekend Reading 3/23/06

Remember how in college the weekend started on Thursday? Tomorrow will be a blogging holiday at Chicken Spaghetti, so here is the weekend reading a bit early. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and dive in! Don't worry about the splash...

  • Enough with the "mommy wars" already, at the Forward
  • No reading 'til 2nd grade? An emphasis on art and nature? A Waldorf School profiled, in the Newtown (CT) Bee
  • Caldecott winner The Hello, Goodbye Window elbows Fancy Nancy aside for #1 spot on picture-book list, at Publishers Weekly
  • Coyote chase in Central Park, in The New York Times
  • A  profile of "most challenged" kids' books  author Robie H. Harris, courtesy of the Scripps-Howard News Service
  • Free printable book plates by famous UK illustrators, at My Home Library
  • A musical "Sarah Plain and Tall," plus travelling productions, at TheatreworksUSA
  • The movie "Curious George" reviewed, at The Horn Book
  • 2005 publishing trends, at the Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Includes "picture book lows and highs."
  • A science teacher who is not permitted to use the "e" word (evolution) and is not permitted to tell his students how old rocks are, at the Arkansas Times

Dragon Books

Imagedbcgi_4Last weekend Amanda Craig reviewed new dragon books in the Times, of London. She looked at Carole Wilkinsons's Dragon Keeper ("the most captivating children’s book I’ve seen so far this year") and Angie Sage's Flyte ("jolly, freewheeling stuff"), and mentioned other dragon stories, too, singling out Dick King-Smith's 1994 Dragon Boy.

Some favorite dragon lit at our house  includes the picture books Ignis, by P.J. Lynch, about a dragon who cannot breathe fire; The Library Dragon, by Carmen Agra Deedy, about an overzealous librarian/dragon transformed by the attention of a child (á la the Grinch); and a beloved 1970 item picked up at a book sale, Gumbel: The Fire-Breathing Dragon, by Seymour Fleishman.  In that one, a lonely homeless dragon finds companionship (and employment) with a Boy Scout type of group; he heats their lodge.

We also own the appealing beginning reader Good Night, Good Knight, by Shelley Moore Thomas, in which a knight needs to tuck three chirpy little dragons into bed, as well  as Ruth Stiles Gannett's classic chapter book My Father's Dragon (but haven't yet read it) and a hand-me-down Disney video of The Reluctant Dragon, in which the beast is a super-fey poetry-lover. Although I'm ambivalent about the video (is Disney sympathetic with the dragon or making fun of him?), I'm interested in reading Kenneth Grahame's original book.

In case anyone is just now returning from the Land of No TV,  I'll also point you to the popular (and then some) PBS series "Dragon Tales," which has spun off into videos, books, and DVD's. Along with "Arthur,"  "Dragon Tales" is one of our first-grader's favorite shows (and he doesn't even know the program has an  "educational philosophy").

Misunderstanding dragons seems to be a common theme.  What other dragon books do you and the children you know  like? I haven't even come close to a full dragon round-up! You can mention them in the comments section, below. Because of spam problems, the comments are now moderated and won't show up immediately, but I promise to check often.

Bug World Voyeurs

155971892701_scmzzzzzzz__1Lots of sweetsie stories about animals line the bookstore shelves, but part of the fun of nature books lies in looking at the icky, creepy offerings that Mother Nature lays out for us.  From "square pill-shaped poop" of pill bugs to pits of writhing snakes to the wasp who grows up  inside a  ladybug and eats its way out, nature books can give a curious child a glimpse of a teeming world at a safe distance.

That wasp factoid comes from Starting Life: Ladybug, written by Claire Llewellyn and illustrated in a colorful, photo-realistic style by Simon Mendez. The book is all about the life cycle of a ladybug. Having read many books about the cute  insect, we appreciated the egg-larva-pupa story and the inclusion of the dark side of the ladybug's existence. Very informative and easy to read (with adult help), with enough ick factor to spice things up, Starting Life: Ladybug made us curious to look for more in NorthWord Press's "Starting Life" series, which also includes Butterfly, Crocodile, Duck, Frog, and Tree.

The poop talk and snake stuff referred to in the first paragraph come from I'm a Pill Bug and A Gathering of Garter Snakes, respectively, both of which I reviewed in the recent issue of the online kid-lit magazine The Edge of the Forest. (Click on "Picture Books.")

Starting Life: Ladybug. NorthWord Press, 2004. ISBN: 1-55971-892-7.

Flying High with Bessie Coleman

Indexaspx_1A while back, the author Chris Barton talked about the good cocktail party conversation one can have after reading children's non-fiction. Case in point: Fly, Bessie, Fly, by Lynn Joseph, is the story of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American aviator in the United States. Born in Waxahachie, Texas, in 1896, Bessie wanted a life that soared beyond small-town, cotton-field drudgery and the co-existing prejudice of the era—the kind of institutionalized racism that meant a young girl and her sister must stand in the "colored" line to buy carnival tickets. Schools for black children didn't even open until the cotton harvest was over.

As soon as she was old enough, Bessie Coleman headed for Chicago and later, France, because flying schools in the United States refused to admit African-Americans. The girl from Waxahachie was determined, though, and she went on to become the United States' first black aviator.  Supportive family and friends helped and encouraged Bessie along the way. In her day, she was quite famous.

Joseph tells a fascinating and ultimately inspiring  story, ably illustrated with watercolors and pen-and-ink (on full pages) by Yvonne Buchanan. For a picture book, the text is somewhat lengthy, and for that reason, I would use it as a read-aloud for six- to-nine-year-olds.  (You can paraphrase as you go along if you're reading to younger children.)  The book ends on just the right note: at a Chicago air show in 1922, soaring over relatives and friends, Bessie looked down from her plane and thought, "Ma was right...We are all born the same under God's eyes." (Definitely a Kleenex moment for this reader.) I highly recommend Fly, Bessie, Fly, which I "discovered" in a Black Books Galore! guide. Lynn Joseph's and Yvonne Buchanan's picture book even landed on an FAA reading list.

Fly, Bessie, Fly
written by Lynn Joseph; illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1998
ISBN: 0-689-81339-2