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November 2006
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Australia's Finest...Circus?

Compiling a list of various lists of the best 2006 children's books (got that?), I could find only one from Australia. Although I haven't given up, I feel bad that the Aussies are so under-represented. (The UK, meanwhile, has gone list-making crazy.) 

So, in compensation, I located this Melbourne circus who is currently visiting New York: Circus Oz. The New York Times' Lawrence van Gelder writes,

The hottest show in town is at the New Victory Theater.

That's because the grand finale of the latest Circus Oz presentation is a flaming extravaganza that raises the temperature by putting the torch to a bicycle, hula hoops, drumsticks and other props.

I doubt those other props involve books, but the circus surely sounds fun.

Now please excuse me while I go riffle through some Australian newspapers.

The Eating of Latkes: Hurray for Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah, y'all! The 8-day/8-night Jewish festival of lights begins this evening. My holiday reading recommendation is My First Chanukah, a sweet board book by Tomie dePaola. I like the card catalogue description, which I found on Amazon: "Describes the traditional celebration of Chanukah, including the lighting of candles on the menorah, the eating of latkes, and the spinning of the dreidl. On board pages." Latkes are potato pancakes, traditionally served on this holiday. Delicious!

If you have a favorite Hanukkah book, leave a comment, and I will add it to this post.

Update: The suggestions are rolling in. Bruce recommends Eric Kimmel's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins and Steven Schnur's Tie Man's Miracle. MotherReader praises The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes, by Linda Glaser, which Elaine reviewed recently.

Elaine points out two other titles by Eric Kimmel, The Magic Dreidels and Zigazak! A Magical Hanukkah Night. She also has good things to say about In the Month of Kislev, by Nina Jaffe; Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry, an easy reader compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins; Chanukah Lights Everywhere, by Michael J. Rosen; and a nonfiction selection, The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn.

Thank you to blogging pals Bruce, MotherReader, and Elaine for your excellent contributions.

Also, don't miss a review of Deborah Heiligman's Celebrate Hanukkah (National Geographic Society, 2006), over at the new blog Pixie Stix Kids Pix. (Welcome to the kidlitosphere.)

Farm School's Becky cites the All-of-a-Kind Family books for their Jewish traditions, including Hanukkah, and her own family enjoys Hanukkah Lights, Hanukkah Nights, by Leslie Kimmelman, and Shira's Hanukkah Gift (a.k.a., Kugel Valley Klezmer Band), by Joan Betty Stuchner, too.  Gracias, Ms. Sharp, for your list.

On the third day of Hanukkah, a shout-out goes to Jennifer, for recommending Hanukkah, O Hannukah, by Susan L. Roth; Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas, by Michael J. Rosen; and There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein, by Susan Sussman.

The fourth day brings some light from the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where Julie considers a brand-new version of I Have a Little Dreidel.

On the fifth day, we rested. No, we didn't! Because there were more books to read, from Wendy's  Hanukkah bibliography at Notes from the Windowsill to  Heather's  recommendation of Eric Kimmel's Chanukkah Guest, at FeatherBee.

And, finally, Genevieve suggests Stephen Krensky's Hanukkah at Valley Forge. In the comments, Genevieve writes, "It tells the story of George Washington meeting with a Jewish/Polish soldier who was lighting a menorah, and discussing with him the parallels with the Revolution -- another battle against a tyrant, by an outnumbered group."

Poetry Friday: "You Read to Me, I'll Read to You"

64631 You Read to Me, I'll Read to You captured my heart when my son brought it home from school this week. (Yay for second-grade teachers who send home books!) Written by the poet Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Michael Emberley, the picture book for beginning readers consists of Very Short Stories to Read Together. Each story is written in rhyming couplets for two people to alternate "stanzas" or read in harmony; color-coded text an its place on the page make it clear who is supposed to read what. Twelve lively pieces, plus an introduction and a conclusion, make up the book, which celebrates companionship and the joy of reading together. Michael Emberley's humorous art work adds just the right touch.

Here's an example from "The Snowman," which begins,

Hi Ho! Hi Ho!
The world is white!

                                                    Hi Ho! Hi Ho!
                                                    It snowed last night!

Under copyright fair use considerations, I can quote a few lines but not more than that. However, you can check out "The Two Mice," from the same book, at Mary Ann Hoberman's web site, and if your vision is better than mine, read one of the stories in its entirety.

There are a number of other books in this series, including Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together and  Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together. I'm new to these books, but I gather that they began with John Ciardi and Edward Gorey's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You back in 1962.  What a pair! I can't wait until tomorrow's trip to the library.

Wednesday Coffee Break, Dec. 13

The Diamond of Drury Lane, a début novel by Julia Golding, has won the Nestlé Children's Book prize. See the Guardian for details. Julia Golding has a blog, too.

Recommended reading: "Dividing Lines: Why the Book Industry Still Sees the World Split by Race," by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, at The Wall Street Journal. (Hat tip to La Bloga for the link.)

MotherReader suggests "21 Ways to Give a Book." Awesome list.

Cool broadcasting idea: Favorite holiday books at BookTalk: The Podcast, a venture by Renee of Shen's Blog. (Scroll down when you get to BookTalk.) You can hear one of the voices behind Seven Impossible Things.

Relaxed Homeskool reviews (and recommends) Baby Kong, a new picture book that stars homeschooled children.

Terrier: Beka Cooper # 1, by Tamora Pierce, is 30% off at The Cybils award fantasy/sci-fi nominee is even less expensive (this morning, at least) at Amazon. The blog Wands and Worlds says, "[Terrier] is a prequel to Pierce's Tortall series, but it quite stands on its own and you can enjoy it without having read any of the other books. I highly recommend this book; adults as well as teens will enjoy it."

Happy St. Lucia Day, everyone! As soon as I finish this post, I'm going to try blogger Karen Edmisten's  recipe for braided orange bread. Now, if only I had Melissa Wiley's book to go with it... (Thank you to By Sun and Candlelight for the link.)

Reading with a Second Grader 12.12.06

"Second grade is a dynamic year of growth and minimiracles," write teachers Jane Fraser and Donna Skolnick in their book, On Their Way: Celebrating Second Graders as They Read and Write (Heinemann, 1993). Their classrooms placed heavy emphasis on reading and creative writing.

At the beginning of the school year documented in the book, Fraser and Skolnick note, "The children who enter our classes have a wide range of abilities, from avid and experienced readers to reluctant ones...The...children ran the gamut from dependent and unsure to independent and competent. They had one thing in common: they loved to listen to stories."

My second-grader has some friends who read Harry Potter and some who like beginning readers with a few sentences and plenty of white space. It's all good. Here are some books we've been enjoying at home.

Aliens Are Coming! Meghan McCarthy's humorous account of the 1938 "War of the Worlds" broadcast. (Chicken Spaghetti review here.)

Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook. Certainly the goofiest cookbook I've come across, with excerpts and illustrations from Dr. Seuss's many books. Junior was mad for Biggel-Balls (cheese balls), which are quite easy for a child to make.

An Egg Is Quiet. A beautifully illustrated picture book about all kinds of eggs, from penguins' to sea turtles' to iguanas'. Surely this one is a prime Caldecott contender.

Volcanoes & Earthquakes. A Barnes & Noble "Discoveries" picture book. My son finds it fascinating. Natural disasters and all that.

Mama. A heartbreaking and almost wordless picture book by Jeanette Winter.  About a baby hippo who lost his mother in the 2004 tsunami but found a surrogate parent in an ancient turtle.

The Magic School Bus: Inside a Hurricane. A much-liked title from a favorite series that emphasizes the joy of science and learning.

If a Dolphin Were a Fish. Delphina the Dolphin imagines herself as a variety of sea creatures and birds, imparting some little marine bio lessons along the way. We laughed at the picture of a dolphin/pelican. Dolphican? Peliphin?

Dracula. An abridged early chapter book version of the Bram Stoker novel. Vampires!

Compost Critters. Another excellent book of photos by Bianca Lavies. Mold, earthworms, sow bugs up very close.

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Tip-top poetry and nature lore.  Each poem describes something and ends with a question like "What is it?" Children have fun guessing. The pictures and book design are first-rate as well.

Going Digital: Video Kids Lit

In addition to podcasts (example, Just One More Book!), the kidlitosphere now includes at least one vlog. I first learned of Bookwink, a children's literature video blog, through a two-part interview on School Library Journal's blog. Founded by former librarian Sonja Cole, Bookwink features many book suggestions for middle-grade readers and older. Welcome, Sonja!

Poetry Friday: Sea Stars

The first-grade class where I volunteer as a reading buddy is spending the whole year studying oceans and sea life. Do I have a book for them! The picture book Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems is a collaborative effort by two British Columbians. Photographer Margaret Butschler took the vibrant photographs first; Avis Harley then wrote short poems for each picture. From the acknowledgments, I gather that the photos were taken at the Vancouver Aquarium, and you'll see a Beluga whale, giant Pacific Octopus, and sea cucumber, among other creatures, as you turn the pages. A two-page section of thumbnail photos at the end provides additional information on each animal or plant.

One personal favorite is "My Good Points," about the Dungeness crab. ("A toe-pinching scrimmage/has damaged my image.") In the introduction to "Sea Stars," Avis Harley writes,

A photograph can be highly inspirational. I encourage you to look for an image that sparks your imagination and then write a poem about it. Use lines that are short, and play with words. Try to describe your subject in a way that no one else has thought of before.

What good advice for young readers. That's exactly what Harley did with "Sips of Sea," a tribute to the pipe fish. Although I don't have copyright permission to quote it, she has an original way of looking at this cousin of a sea horse. Some children will want to write poetry, and many will enjoy looking at the photographs and reading the poems, which are not much longer than captions. My second-grader can read these poems aloud, and I think the first-grade students will get a kick out out of the book, just as we have. Sea Stars makes a fine new addition to the  poetry-and-science shelf.

Note: For all Poetry Friday participants, leave a note, and I'll round up the rhyme crew later today.

Rounded Up: Poetry Friday December 8th edition

A hearty welcome to Poetry Friday goes out to the blog Educating Alice, where Monica has written about Talking Drums: A Selection of Poems from Africa South of the Sahara (selected and illustrated by Veronique Tadjo).

Little Willow presents a Shakespearean "Hokey Pokey." "I Hate the Way You Stare...," from the movie "10 Thing I Hate About You," gets the spotlight at Jenny Han's blog. You can see Osip Mandelstam's "Only to read children's books" at Big A little a. Tornados in North London? Michele commemorates the occasion with some winter poems at Scholar's Blog. Ho, ho, ho, for Christmas picture books written in verse at Blue Rose Girls.

Put on your listening ears because Richard Michelson's picture book Oh No, Not Ghosts! gets the podcast treatment at Just One More Book. Kelly Fineman offers Longfellow's "Snowflakes," while Liz B. gives props to Emily D. at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy. Paths in a wood--Robert Frost? No, Joseph Campbell; see Susan Taylor Brown's blog for details.

What Adrienne Thinks About two editions of  It's Snowing! It's Snowing! can be found at her blog. The book contains sixteen Prelutskies (love that coinage!). Winter is also on the mind at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, which gives a nod to Louis MacNeice's "Sunlight on the Garden." Lucille Clifton's powerful "listen children" beckons from A Wrung Sponge. More Christmas tidings from By Sun and Candlelight, who offers "Before the Paling of the Stars," by Christina Rossetti.

Farm School honors Emerson, with the post "The frolic architecture of the snow." Mother Reader recovers and shares Shel Silverstein's "Sick." Then the funny "Who Reads Your Manuscript," a poem for writers and editors, sees print at GottaBook. Meanwhile, author Mitali Perkins includes a Sara Teasdale poem from a draft of her new novel.  "The Snake," by William Matthews, slithers onto the page at A Year of Reading. Attention, penguin lovers: Journey Woman recommends Berkeley Breathed's A Wish for Wings That Work, her favorite Christmas book.

More to come, unless everyone else has gone shopping. Hmm, I think that's all. But wait! The Old Coot chimes in with "The Hippopotamus," by L. Sprague de Camp.

Greatest Science Books--and Other "Best of" Lists

This time of year means Best of 2006 for many magazines, newspapers, and blogs (go, Cybils!), but have you seen Discover's 25 Greatest Science Books of All-Time? Over at Critical Mass, science writer Rebecca Skloot pointed out the Discover article, adding her own suggestions of science books with high "readability." These are titles for grown-ups, not children, but perhaps scientifically inclined young adults would appreciate a book or two from either lineup.

Lists of best children's books of 2006 can be found at

* ALA stands for American Library Association, and YALSA for Young Adult Library Services Association (a division of ALA).

(A tip o' the hat  to Dr. Frank's What's-It for the link to Kirkus, and to Read Alert for the Parenting and Inside a Dog mentions. Kelly Herold contributed many of the links, via her fine lists and review round-ups at the blog Big A little a.)

3-D ABC: An Art Book Review

Cv_0761394567 Reading nonfiction picture books for the Cybils awards beats my stint at a charity golf tournament by, like, 100 per cent. (It helps to know golf if you are going to be a starter. Minor detail.) Consider volunteering for next year's Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary awards; I've discovered some gems in the process.

A thank-you goes to Lerner Publishing and Millbrook Press, who sent me 3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet, by Bob Raczka. My son took one look at the cover, a photo of Oldenburg and van Bruggen's gigantic "Spoonbridge and Cherry," and asked, "Where is that? I want to go there and see that!" Me, too. Me, too. (The sculpture is at the Walker Arts Center, in Minneapolis, a city I have long wanted to visit.) Enthusiasm from the get-go bodes well for a book, and Raczka's guide lived up to our expectations.

3-D ABC, for the older reader (7+) or a parent or teacher reading aloud, introduces children not only to letters and sculpture but also to artists and art terms. And it's fun, to boot. A short sentence or two on each page explains the full-page, full-color photograph of a sculpture, each of which is captioned with the work's official name, the artist's name, and the location of the piece. For example, the two-page spread for O and P reads, "O is for Obelisk" and further down the page, "P is for Pyramid." In a different color and font is the sentence, "Some sculptures look impossible." Pictured is Barnett Newman's "Broken Obelisk," in which an upside down obelisk seemingly balances on the point of a  pyramid. "Is that for real?" Junior asked. Yep, and you can see it at the Rothko Chapel, in Houston.

Raczka chose high-interest works for his book, and each piece provides a lot to talk about. In real life the author works as copywriter at an ad agency, though he studied art in college.  Commenting about an earlier version of this post, he gives full credit for the clean layout, which lets the art take center stage, to the folks at the publishing house. After reading 3-D ABC, I will look for Raczka's other Millbrook titles about art. This one was terrific.