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September 2006
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November 2006

Halloween Reading

Happy Halloween! The book of the day is Space Witch, by Don Freeman, the author of Corduroy. Tilly Ipswitch, Queen of Halloween, wants to spend the holiday frightening creatures on other planets with her pet cat, Kit. Together they concoct a "material as fantastic as plastic" to create a Zoom Broom for interplanetary adventures. They don't plan on getting, uh-oh, lost. First published in 1959, Space Witch came to us via a book sale, and you can see how the Mercury space program must have been an inspiration. The story is pretty silly (Kit thinks the Milky Way is for drinking), but Tilly's slightly mean-spirited hijinks (stuffing a reluctant Kit into the Zoom Broom, for example) never fail to entertain here at our house.


My mother and I never discussed my reading: that was not her way, and I was much too young then to know it was mine. The books she gave me were different from the books I read for school. They served no didactic purpose; they were offered to me simply for my pleasure, and—I sensed—for another reason I couldn't quite fathom but was glad to accept on faith. My mother was always cool and offhand; she had a horror of intrusiveness. But I knew the books she left me were markers along a meandering trail that she meant me to follow. I hoped when I reached the end I might find her there.

From the memoir Are You Happy?: A Childhood Remembered, by Emily Fox Gordon

Poetry Friday: The Friendly Four

006000759101_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_ Home from school for the summer, marooned with a baby brother and a sitter, seven-year-old Drum is bored. Then from a treetop perch, he spies a moving van in the neighborhood.

New family moving in down the street,
one man, two women, a parakeet.
But wait! I can't believe my eyes,
a girl who's just about my size.

Eloise Greenfield's picture book, written in verse, tells the story of Drum, his new pal Dorene, and the two other children, Louis and Rae, who join up for a summer of fun and friendship. The children play games, tell tall tales, get in trouble, and create their own town with cardboard, paint, and a lot of creativity.

An ode to simple childhood pleasures, The Friendly Four is a sweet book that begs to be read out loud in a classroom. Greenfield labels the lines with a character's name so that a reader knows who is speaking.

Like Kelly Bennett's humorous Not Norman: A Goldfish Story (illustrated by Noah Z. Jones), Greenfield's book depicts African-American children just living their lives. Another new book, Roni Schotter's Mama, I'll Give You the World (with art by Saelig Gallagher), is set beauty shop and features a multi-racial cast led by a dear little girl named Luisa. (Anne at Book Buds recently reviewed Schotter's picture book.)  All three titles are warm-hearted and endearing. I thought of something that the illustrator and blogger Don Tate told Cynthia Leitich-Smith in an interview last spring; I know others share Don's sentiments. He said,

I'd like to see more African American children's books with contemporary themes. Seems that so many books with African American themes are historical related, something to sell during Black History Month. Nothing wrong with historical books, our kids need to know about our forefathers, but what about books that speak to today's child in terms of right now or fantasies...or more tall tales?!

Food for thought, yes?

The Nearest Book

From Mental Multivitamin

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig around for that "cool" or "intellectual" book on your shelves. (I know you were thinking about it.) Just pick up whatever is closest.

Here's what I found:

Mom shrugs her shoulders at Georgia, who says, "I think I brought her to the right place."

I walk Georgia to her car, where she turns and holds me by the shoulders. "Baby," she says, "it's a tall order for you to have this kid around; she adores you. I wouldn't do it, but she's fragile and you're the only other person to have made good contact with her besides me, though I think your dad may have made a big inroad just now."

From the young-adult novel Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher.

Wednesday Pop Quiz

Get out your paper and pencils, and, if you must, you can cheat by looking at the answer key at the end of this post.

1.  "Knotty, paunchy, nutty, raunchy." Name that novel. Need a clue?

2. What makes a good second-grade book? Stumped? An answer is a click away.

3. What's #1 on Publishers Weekly's picture-book bestseller list? Hint: The author is Maurice Sendak.

4. Which brand-new movie features a character who is also the subject of the picture-book biography Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story? Tip: Clint Eastwood directed the film.

5. True or false? A phallic symbol adorned a review in The New York Times Book Review last weekend. If you're unsure, GalleyCat reveals.

6. Read the following, then answer the question below.

"It was almost Halloween, and [character name X] couldn't wait. She and her baby sister, Apple Dumplin', skipped through the leaves to Angel Cake's house."

This excerpt comes from
A. The new Richard Ford novel, The Lay of the Land;
B. Strawberry Shortcake: The Halloween Play;
C. The Bible?

(Amazon knows.)

7. As of Wednesday morning, which Cybils category has some 60 nominations already? (Holy cannoli.) The Cybils are the new Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards.

8. Essay question. In 3,000 words or less, agree or disagree with this sentiment: "The culture of prize-giving has gone mad. It has replaced the art of criticism in determining cultural value and shaping public taste." Do not use The Guardian as your source.

9. Which New Yorker writer holds the record for the most short stories published in one year? If you peek at "Ask the Librarians" at Emdashes before answering, you will lose 10 points on your grade.

10. Where can you find a dozen good spy books for kids? Pssst.

Bonus question:

Who said "The irony of my job is that I write for illiterates?"
(Hint: The person lives in Brooklyn, and, no, it is not Rick Moody or Katha Pollitt.)

Answer key
1. Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day; 2. "A Letter to Parents," by Robin Smith, in the current issue of The Horn Book; 3. Mommy?; 4. "Flags of Our Fathers"; 5. True; 6. B; 7. Young Adult Fiction; 8. See Jason Cowley's essay; 9.  E.B. White (James Thurber and John O'Hara are tied for second place); 10. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (October issue); Bonus: Mo Willems.

Thanks to Terry Teachout at About Last Night for the Emdashes link.

Fear and Fiction on the Upper West Side

On Saturday I attended the conference "Fear and Fiction: The Power of Children's Books and the Inner Life of the Child," sponsored by the Yale Child Study Center and London's Anna Freud Centre. Hosted by NYC's Bank Street College, the meeting featured talks by both children's writers and child psychoanalysts. 

Due to conference fatigue and the time needed to catch a train, I missed the last panel of the day, which was on young adult books. But my favorite group was the picture book posse: writers Martin Waddell, Robie H. Harris, and Mo Willems; and analysts Alicia F. Lieberman and Jenny Stoker. One of the speakers said, "Children's literature speaks to the heart and soul of psychotherapy." Alicia Lieberman commented that we can "learn more from the arts than any other means. Words and images hardly need explaining." The children's authors talked first; then the analysts offered their insightful interpretations.

Martin Waddell, who read beautifully in a lilting Irish accent, talked about his books Owl Babies and Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? He said that when you write for children, you always offer hope. Mo was very funny, and saw his book Leonardo, the Terrible Monster as being about failure rather than fear. (The analysts disagreed, politely). He was also blunt, saying, "Childhood sucks. Inherently. It has to do with how small you are." Robie H. Harris, who wrote Don't Forget to Come Back! (among many other books), reminded us not to be afraid of a child's strongest feelings. Indeed, the keynote speaker, Yale's Stephen Marans, emphasized the similar points. We often do not know a child's fears and sometimes forget to look at fear as a source of difficult behavior. A task of the analyst is to encourage the unspeakable [fear] to be spoken, and children's books often do this remarkably well. A parent's sharing of a book with a child and the shared acknowledgment of feelings in a picture book are important.

Overall, the conference provided the great privilege of being a part of a large group who prioritized children and their feelings and their health. I also had a lot of fun hanging out with Liz B. of A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy and her colleague Priscilla. It was inspiring to hear them talk about their work in libraries. Plus, I got to visit the famed Bank Street Books for the first time. A grand day in NYC.

Monica Edinger, of the new blog Educating Alice, was there, too, although we did not cross paths, alas. Here is her report. And don't miss Liz B.'s series on this conference either.