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August 2006
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"Open Season": The Music

I don't usually talk about children's movies here, although my family and I see a few from time to time. Last summer's "Cars" was cute. But I had no idea until I heard a tune on the radio that Paul Westerberg had done 9 of 12 tracks on the CD for the new animated film "Open Season." I'll leave it to Rotten Tomatoes to round up the critical takes on the flick, but Paul Westerberg! Dude, I'm so psyched. The track I heard, "Love Me in the Fall," is so rockin' and reminds me a lot of the Replacements, Westerberg's old band. Talking Heads' "Wild Wild Life" is on the soundtrack, too. Junior is going to be so embarrassed when his mom starts dancing in the aisles at the movie theater.

Poetry Friday: Mary Ann Hoberman

Mary Ann Hoberman was one of the names bandied about (by bloggers)  for the recent Children's Poet Laureate title, but that went to Jack Prelutsky.  Hoberman's first book for children, All My Shoes Come in Twos, was published almost fifty years ago, and her latest, I'm Going to Grandma's, sees print next spring, with many books in between. That's a remarkable career.

So, today I thought others might like to read some of Hoberman's work at her web site. I especially liked "To Make a Garden": "To make a garden, all you need/Is just a single simple seed." And speaking of gardens, I want to go live at Mary Ann Hoberman's house. Just look at her own gardens. Beautiful.

Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy has a cool post and a list of everyone participating in Poetry Friday today.

Banned Books Week: Our First Adventure with Captain Underpants

The police chief, looking quite angry, marched over to Captain Underpants.

And just who the heck are you supposed to be?" the police chief demanded.

"Why I'm Captain Underpants, the world's greatest superhero," said Captain Underpants. "I fight for Truth, Justice, and all that is Pre-Shrunk and Cottony!"

Back in 1997, The Adventures of Captain Underpants, an "epic novel," launched Dav Pilkey's  hugely successful series, the same series that turned up on the American Library Association's "most challenged list" for 2005. Would I use Captain Underpants to teach etiquette? No. But "anti-family content, unsuited to age group, and violence"? I just don't see it.

Just as the cover promised ("action, thrills, laffs"), Captain Underpants made me laugh, and it made Junior laugh, too. Over a couple of sittings, he would read one page, I'd read the next. We are Cut-Ups fans from way back, and the fourth-grade Captain Underpants boys, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, are indeed a couple of cut-ups, even bigger pranksters than James Marshall's Spud Jenkins and Joe Turner. Starting with writing their own comic books (which get banned at school), George and Harold get into a number of convoluted adventures.

Pilkey puts cartoony drawings on every page and includes a bounty of silliness. If your sense of humor runs toward "Austin Powers" and "Talladega Nights," you're sure to enjoy the Captain. Needless to say, if you're a 7-year-old boy, this one is a shoo-in. As you'd expect from a work with "underpants" in the title, the book contains  some bathroom humor, but not nearly as much as I'd assumed before previewing it. Captain Underpants activities, including coloring pages ("Wedgie Power!"), can be found on Dav's site.

Scholastic, the series' publisher, recommends the books for ages 7 to 10.

Prelutsky New Kids' Poet Laureate

Via Big A little a, I just learned that Jack Prelutsky was named Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation yesterday. You can read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's short interview with Prelutsky, who lives on Washington's Bainbridge Island. (Congrats to the P.-I. and reporter Cecelia Goodnow  for getting that piece up so quickly!) Also see a Poetry Foundation article.

Cat Correspondence

Recently I contacted the feline authors from Three Cats Write about their blog, where they are serializing a novel. They kindly  e-meowed me back with answers to the questions inquiring minds want to ask.

How did you meet the children's authors you live with? Did they give you the idea to write an on-line children's novel?

Asta: I come from a writing family and live with author, Mary Nethery. She says I was born to be a writer. She even has a picture of me when I was just a kit, cuddled up with a book—it was kismet.  Actually, if truth be told, I'm the one who did the inspiring.  I'm named after the terrier in the "Thin Man" series (slightly embarrassing to be named after a dog, but it gives me character).  I, in turn, inspired her to create a fictional cat named Asta who appears in her adventure novels. "Inspirational" is my middle name.

Jemima: I'm a popular romance writer so I never considered writing for children until my editor suggested it. The author I live with, Natasha Wing, is a children's book writer though. She probably influenced me a teensy bit. I mean, if you saw her lifestyle—she works mornings, hangs out with her friends, takes naps and doesn't have a boss—you'd see why I chose to be a writer.

Apollo: I met Barbara Kerley when she took my writing class, "On the Beat: The Writing of 50 Ways to Kill a Mockingbird."  She was looking for a cat, and I needed somewhere to crash when I wasn't in Hollywood.  So I moved in.  It's been very convenient.  We even use the same computer; she types by day and I type at night.

How did the collaboration work?

Asta: I tell you, we've downed a lot of brie and fish crackers together during all those meetings to plot out the story. We rotate meetings at each other's homes. BTW, my office is quite a mess right now—she's having it feng shui-ed.

Jemima: We each wrote the chapters that would be best told by our character's point of view. We then met a few times a week to edit them and make sure our writing styles blended.

Apollo: In meetings, on the phone, through emails, I even sent out a carrier pigeon or two.  WORK was the operative word.  The whole process from idea to completion only took five months.  We worked hard!

Why did you choose to publish the novel on a blog? Will your blog be published in book form?

Jemima: We wanted to use a current technology that delivered our work immediately to the public. We wanted it to be visually interesting, and hoped that the blogging community would pass the word around.  Buzz, buzz, buzz!

Apollo: But we are also going to shop the story around to traditional book publishers.  Too few books are written by cats—we want our story to reach the widest audience possible.

Asta: Intrigue . . . it's all about intrigue.  It was fascinating to consider how a blog might deliver a novel to readers, and what advantages it might have.  One unique advantage, of course, is that it allows readers to interact directly with the authors.  I love fan mail.

Lunch with Book Buds

What fun to meet a kindred spirit and fellow fan of children's literature! Today I had the pleasure of having lunch with Anne, of Book Buds. She was visiting relatives in this corner of New England, and so I got to meet my first in-person kid-lit blogger. I really enjoyed chatting about writing, books, kids, you name it. Come back soon, Anne!

I look forward to meeting more of the kidlitosphere crew at the upcoming "Fear and Fiction" conference in NYC. I'll be the one with the book in my hand. Oh, wait. That describes the rest ofl y'all, too, doesn't it?

Wednesday Happenings

Field Day, a nature-study blog carnival, is up at running at By Sun and Candlelight. My post  "Snakes on a Blog" is included. (Thanks, Dawn!) Put on your hiking boots and head over.

Three new authors are serializing their novel on a blog. It's the first time I've ever seen a writer identified as a "hefty stray" in his bio. Go visit Three Cats Write.

In case you missed the interview yesterday (as I did), Maurice Sendak talked to NPR's "Morning Edition" about his new book, Mommy?, a pop-up collaboration with Arthur Yorinks and Matthew Reinhart.

Blogger Little Willow is taking names for a list of sassy sidekicks from children's literature.

Snakes on a Blog

In the front of our house we used to have some overgrown boxwoods that housed a garter snake family. They enjoyed sunbathing on top of the bushes, and I suppose they lived somewhere underneath. Being rather shy, they usually zipped away at the slightest sound from us. One of the highlights of Junior's life was when our plump orange tabby cat caught one outside and brought it in, alive, for our viewing pleasure. In a moment of creative panic, I swept the snake back out with a broom, to the great disappointment of boy and cat.

Since we re-landscaped a bit, I have not seen the garter clan as much, but Junior did find one of their sloughed-off skins in the garden this summer. I didn't know about his discovery until I spotted it lovingly arrayed on the back of the living-room couch. At that point  I strongly suggested that the yard was a better place for the skin. Out it went.

But here is a herpetological item that I am happy to keep indoors: the book Why Do Snakes Hiss? And Other Questions About Snakes, Lizards, and Turtles. Written by Joan Holub, this beginning reader is full of interesting reptile lore (oooh, spitting cobras, cool) and features some good-looking photographs and illustrations. The Dial Easy-to-Read book is rated a Level 3, for "reading alone, harder words, longer text." The print is still fairly big, and there's enough white space so that the pages don't look at all distracting. Lots of kids  enjoy nonfiction more than fiction, and a book like this one has a nice chance of engaging a nature-loving reluctant reader, too.  For the younger child, Why Do Snakes Hiss? makes a good read-aloud.

(For some resources for reluctant readers, check out Elizabeth Kennedy's page on the subject at

Manga! A Guest Column by TangognaT

Fond of a good palindrome, the blogger known as TangognaT is the author of the first library blog I ever read. I've been a fan ever since.  TangognaT writes frequently about manga, graphic novels, and comics, all wildly popular with children. I am so happy that TangognaT is Monday's guest columnist. Take it away, T.!  —Susan

It can be difficult to find good comic books and graphic novels for children aged 12 and under. Fortunately several publishing companies have recently started comic and graphic novel lines aimed at young readers. I’ll present several short reviews of kid-friendly comics from a variety of publishers.


Tokyopop started a series of “Manga Readers,” short works that are to regular manga what chapter books are to novels. All the books are produced originally in English; they are not translations of manga titles previously published in Japan. The line is rated for children from ages 8 to 12. Two of the inaugural manga reader titles are:

Kat and Mouse: Teacher Torture, by Alex de Campi and Federica Manfredi.  Kat relocates to New Hampshire when her father accepts a job as a science teacher at a boarding school. Most of the kids at her new school seem stupid and stuck-up, but she quickly becomes friends with Mouse, a fellow “cool nerd." When someone starts sabotaging the science classroom, Kat and Mouse use their skills to unravel the mystery. The art is very appealing and de Campi writes her characters with a great sense of humor, making Kat and Mouse a fun read for any kid who enjoys a detective story.

Zapt! by Shannon Denton, Keith Giffen, and Armand Villavert, Jr.  Although Armand is bullied and picked on at school, his life takes a turn for the extraterrestrial when he is suddenly warped out of the school bathroom and into the headquarters of the Pan-Galactic Order Of Police where he is inducted as a new recruit. Will he survive space pirates and giant robots? How can he work for an organization named P.O.O.P? Will he be able to get back to Earth before he misses school picture day? Zapt! is funny and features plenty of action.

The web site for Tokyopop’s Kids Manga is


Scholastic’s Graphix imprint features graphic novels based on popular series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Goosebumps. Graphix is also the new home of Jeff Smith’s Bone and a new series by Chynna Clugston called Queen Bee.

Bone, by Jeff Smith. Bone is a long running fantasy series that was originally issued in black and white. The Scholastic editions feature new colored artwork. The cousins Fone Bone, Smiley Bone & Phoney Bone get lost in a new world and quickly get caught up in an epic struggle of good and evil. Along the way they meet a princess, rat creatures, a dragon, and a mighty strong grandma. Jeff Smith’s art is reminiscent of classic cartoonists like Walt Kelley and Carl Barks. Kids who enjoy epic fantasy will be captivated by Bone.

Queen Bee, by Chynna Clugston. Queen Bee is set in one of the most treacherous environments known to mankind—middle school. When Haley transfers to a new school, she decides to leave her nerdy image behind. She decides to study how to be popular, and becomes one of the trendiest girls at her new school. But whenever she gets upset, objects around her move because she doesn’t have good control over her power of psychokinesis. When a new girl named Alexa starts becoming more popular than Haley, she doesn’t know what to do. Queen Bee has slapstick comedy, manga-influenced art, and retro pop cultural references.

Goosebumps. This book features three adaptations of previously published R.L. Stine novels. So, the plots are exactly what you’d expect from a graphic novel called Goosebumps. One of the things I appreciated about this title is the selection artists with wide-ranging styles showcased the versatility of black and white comics. Not having the comics in color actually made them look more moody and atmospheric.

The web site for Graphix is

First Second

First Second is a new graphic novel line from Henry Holt and Roaring Brook Press. It just launched recently, but it is clear that their graphic novels have wonderful production values and great artistic merit. First Second graphic novels are targeted at a variety of age ranges and several of their books are meant for young readers.

Sardine in Outer Space, by Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfar. Sardine travels through space on the ship Huckleberry with her piratical Uncle Yellowshoulder and her friend Little Louie. They frequently run into the villain Supermuscleman and manage to beat him every time. Other adventures include a visit to the disco planet and the dreaded No-Child-Left-Behind-School-II. The illustrations are colorful and filled with whimsy. Kids will enjoy all the extra details in the art, which features plenty of ooze, aliens, and parrots wearing sunglasses.

The web site for First Second is

I hope that this mini-tour of kid friendly comics has given you some new ideas to add to your reading list!


Absolutely. Thanks a million for being a guest columnist!