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Welcome, Readers!

Welcome to Chicken Spaghetti, and a huge shout-out to Typepad for featuring this blog today. Thanks, y'all! I'm Susan, and I write and edit Chicken Spaghetti, which is all about kids' books, with an occasional digression. Or two. I named the site after my favorite casserole—isn't that how everyone else names theirs? (Spinach Lasagna, anyone?)

I worked on the editorial staffs of magazines for many years, wrote a gift book about Elvis, and reviewed plays for the now-defunct online guide New York Sidewalk. I live in New England with my husband and our son, Junior, who's in the second grade. Reading books with Junior and enjoying other people's blogs are what led me to create Chicken Spaghetti.

I'm glad you're visiting. Stay around a while, and come back soon. Tomorrow I'll even post my favorite chicken spaghetti recipe. And I'll be talking about books, of course.

Announcements (fffffffh, ffffffh, crackle, crackle)

The seventh Carnival of Children's Literature will take place at Wands and Worlds on September 23rd. Deadline for submissions is tomorrow, September 15th. For details, go here. If you're new to blog carnivals,  Wikipedia can help you out with this definition,

A blog article that contains links to other articles covering a specific topic. Most blog carnivals are hosted by a rotating list of frequent contributors to the carnival, and serve to both generate new posts by contributors and highlight new bloggers posting matter in that subject area.

There's a nature-study carnival on the horizon at By Sun and Candlelight; the previous two were lots of fun and brimming with good ideas for enjoying the outdoors (and indoors: think books!) with children. Deadline is Monday, September 25th."Field Day: The Early Autumn Edition" goes up Wednesday, September 27th. Info here.

With the idea of helping out librarians making out next year's summer reading lists, MotherReader is asking for your top books of the year so far. I haven't yet gotten to compiling ours, but check out MR's blog for the skinny. This is when a list of the books we've read would come in handy. If I had such a thing. She wants 'em by Wednesday, September 20th.

Babies Like Reading, Too

Every year Beginning with Books, a Pittsburgh literacy organization, convenes a panel of experts who recommend new titles for babies and toddlers. Karen MacPherson, of the Scripps Howard News Service, wrote a feature about the latest selections, all of which were published in 2005.

Beginning with Books Center for Early Literacy
"10 Best Books for Babies and Toddlers" by Karen MacPherson
Chicken Spaghetti's "Books for Babies: Hold the Eliot" (about last year's list)

Banned Books Week: Coming Soon!

Circusposterkids_1Banned Books Week is coming up September 23-30. The American Library Association, the week's sponsor, tracks the titles that people try to remove from schools and public and school libraries.

#1 on the 2005 Most Challenged list is It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris. Here are the Top 10 challenged books, courtesy of the ALA. The press release also includes the reason for the book's challenges.

1. It's Perfectly Normal, "for homosexuality, nudity, sex education, religious viewpoint, abortion and being unsuited to age group"
2. Forever, by Judy Blume, "for sexual content and offensive language"
3. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, "for sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group"
4. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, "for sexual content and offensive language"
5. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher, "for racism and offensive language"
6. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds, "for sexual content"
7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones, "for sexual content and being unsuited to age group"
8. Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey, "for anti-family content, being unsuited to age group and violence"
9. Crazy Lady!, by Jane Leslie Conly, "for offensive language"
10. It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie H. Harris, "for sex education and sexual content"

Thanks to the American Library Association for the poster image. You can even vote for your favorite banned book over at the ALA's web site.

Newsweek Looks at First Grade

Newsweek addresses something worth thinking about: "The New First Grade: Too Much Too Soon?" Peg Tyre's article concerns the pressures put on young elementary school students. I've certainly noticed the trend. Tyre writes,

In the last decade, the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and more like SAT prep. Thirty years ago first grade was for learning how to read. Now, reading lessons start in kindergarten and kids who don't crack the code by the middle of the first grade get extra help. Instead of story time, finger painting, tracing letters and snack, first graders are spending hours doing math work sheets and sounding out words in reading groups.

The ideas trickle down, affecting  nursery schools, too. I've heard of parents getting nervous about kindergarten and enrolling their four-year-olds in more "academic" programs instead of play-based preschools. Some children thrive in such environments, of course, but are we as parents helping drive the trend that Tyre writes of? I don't think we can chalk all of it up to testing.

That said, when the kids do go to college, they'd better not order a term paper over the Internet. Charles McGrath, at The New York Times, grades a few.

Five Years Ago

Today Quiet Bubble, who lives and blogs in Jackson, Miss.,  cites a Slate article that asks, "Has art helped you make sense of 9/11?" QB answers, and asks others for their responses, too. Here is my take.

In August of 2001 I finished Richard Yates's novel Revolutionary Road, and was so overwhelmed that I even gave away the collection of his short stories that I had bought earlier in the year. No more Richard Yates for me, I thought. Set in the fifties, Revolutionary Road is the story of a couple in a Northeastern suburb, whose relationship is blown to smithereens. Grim, at times funny (well, perhaps accurate in its depiction of suburban mores), and upsetting as all get-out,  Revolutionary Road capped off my summer's reading in 2001. I was ready for a break after that.

Then September 11th. I read hardly anything for a month after that except the newspaper. I called. I e-mailed. My friends and former colleagues in New York were okay. Every day I read the New York Times' capsule portraits of the dead. I read that feature for as long as it ran. A year? I don't even remember. I cried as I read.

The crisp September air, the clear blue sky and, later, its silence explained nothing, although I kept looking up as if I would see answers. Except for children's books to my son, I read very little fiction for a long time afterward. I read memoirs instead. They didn't explain anything, either, but they were easy to read. As the mother of a toddler, I liked easy-to-read.

A year and a half later I picked up Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. Not a memoir but a nonfiction account of  a poverty-stricken group of people, told from the point of view of the folks themselves. Finely written in novelistic fashion, Random Family was both unsparing and sympathetic. LeBlanc's chronicle of desperation and the occasional ray of hope did explain some of the inner city. In contrast to the memoirs, it was about someone else, not the author, and that wider viewpoint, the interest in the bigger world, appealed to me.  It did not concern 9/11 at all, but I slowly began to read more widely again after that.

9/11 still does not make sense. But I do hold onto the ray of hope, even though I can't always see it in the sky.

Poetry Friday: Linsey Abrams

In honor of Poetry Friday and in memory of 9/11, I chose Linsey Abrams's prose poem "The New Century" as my selection today. Linsey is the founder of Global City Review and the director of the graduate writing program at City College, in New York; she also taught at Sarah Lawrence, where I took a summer seminar with her some years back.   

The poem begins,

Living in New York, you think you've seen everything.

Here is the link to read the rest.

Jose Limon Bio Honored

The picture book biography José! Born to Dance, which I reviewed forThe Edge of the Forest last winter, won some cool honors recently: the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Award (see the article in the Texas State University Star) and the International Latino Book Award. Congratulations to author Susanna Reich and illustrator Raul Colón!

A group of professors at Texas State created  the annual Rivera  prizes eleven years ago to highlight children's books that accurately portray the lives of Mexican-Americans, with the thought that the group was under-represented in literature for kids. Rivera himself, a university chancellor and an author, was the subject of Tomás and the Library Lady, a wonderful picture book by Pat Mora; Raul Colón did the art for that one, too.

The International Latino Book Award is sponsored by Latino Literacy Now. That group also presents the Latino Book & Family Festival at various cities; the next one takes place October 14-15 at the Fairplex in Pomona, California; there's one in Cicero, Illinois, in November. (Aside: that festival web site needs some updating; always call ahead for details.) Ximena Diego rounds up all of the ILBA winners at Criticas.

Wish List

Reading around the blogosphere, I get a case of the "Oooh, I want that!"s; sometimes the book/video/CD could be for me, sometimes for Junior. (Junior's dad, the readingest man I know, seems to find his own material.) Here are a few reviews that caught my eye recently:

From Farm School: The audio version of E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World, and "Building Big," a DVD with David Macaulay.

From A Fuse # 8 Production: Elisha Cooper's new picture book, Beach.

From Fairrosa's Reading Journal: Beverly Cleary's Ramona books.

From Twice Bloomed Wisteria: Oxford's The World in Ancient Times series.

From Loree Griffin Burns: A Life in Books: Caroline Arnold and Richard Hewett's non-fiction picture book Baby Whale Rescue.

From Redneck Mother and Bartography: Jennifer Armstrong's The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History. Actually, I ran out and bought this one already, and read Junior the story of Boston's Great Molasses Flood of 1919. I knew he'd like that particular tale! (By the way, Jennifer Armstrong is a blogger, too.)

From MotherReader: A picture book by Richard Michelson, Oh No, Not Ghosts! (MR also mentions a number of other appealing new titles.)

From Homeschool Diary:  Alice Outwater's Water: A Natural History. For adults; very interesting. I'm reading it now. (Lots of other good books in this post, too.)

From Planet Esme: Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook, sixth edition. I didn't know there was a new one until I read it on Esme's blog. A tremendous resource, just like the previous five versions! I already had to dash off to the bookstore for this one.