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December 2006
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February 2007

Caldecott Guessing

Today I hazard a few guesses about the Caldecott awards. The Caldecotts, which honor illustration, will be announced on Monday, January 24th, and one hopes that one can see a webcast announcement of those and the Newberys live. The hyperlink does not work today, and in fact says the webcast is full (um, meaning please?), but try it Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard time. That's the official announcement time.

The American Library Association is the force behind the Caldecotts and Newberys, as well as the Printz (young adult literature), Pura Belpré (for Latino writers and artists, next given in 2008), and the Coretta Scott King (African American writers and artists) prizes. (Incidentally, the author Mitali Perkins has a good post about ethnic book awards at her blog, Mitali's Fire Escape.)

I am linking web sites of the illustrators, so that you can see more of their work. Where I could not find personal sites, I linked the publisher. I chose my selections from the Cybils shortlists and did not even get to the 100-something picture book fiction nominations, though I'd have to squeeze in Arthur Yorinks', Matthew Reinhart's, and Maurice Sendak's Mommy? from that list.

These Caldecott contenders (in my mind, at least) came from the Cybils nonfiction picture book nominations:

1. Aliens Are Coming! written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy
2. An Egg Is Quiet, illustrated by Sylvia Long and written by Dianna Aston
3. Mama, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
4. Marvelous Mattie, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

The next group of guessing-game possibilities came from the Cybils poetry award nominations:

5. Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, illustrated by Carin Berger and written by Jack Prelutsky
6. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, written and illustrated by Adam Rex
7. Jazz, illustrated by Christopher Myers and written by Walter Dean Myers (link: Reading Rockets)
8. Tour America, illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson and written by Diane Siebert

American Library Association, your web site drives me crazy. Put a link on the home page for these awards and label it clearly. I said this last year, and alas, you ignored me. [Edited to note: The ALA did put a link on its home page for the awards on 1/22. Thank you!]

Poetry Friday: The Snowflake Sisters

C_0689850298 Two snowflake siblings ("One was large and one was small, / One wore fleece and one wore lace") embark on big adventures in J. Patrick Lewis's rhyming picture book. Blown by "a mighty night wind," they accompany Santa on his toy deliveries, watch the ball drop at Times Square, almost get squished on 42nd Street, and finally land in Central Park.

"Along the sidewalk drifts and peaks,
They had a ball for weeks and weeks!"

In The Snowflake Sisters, Lewis tells a companionable story, well-suited for a preschool 4s class and young readers, although the Christmas references may limit its audience somewhat. I enjoyed the cleverness of the poet's concept—the passage of winter as related by two observant ice crystals—and especially liked Lisa Desimini's paper-collage illustrations. They're a joy: she uses a wide variety of colors and textures, fragments of subway maps and New York Times headlines, and clips from the New York Post and New York magazine. Creative and inspiring, her pictures may prompt young artists to scissor up the local newspaper and make some wintry scenes themselves.

When it started snowing yesterday, our friend the kindergarten teacher and her class ran outside with black construction paper and magnifying glasses so that they could examine the snowflakes. Our friend recommends putting the paper in the freezer if you get a chance beforehand, so that the flakes last longer; the black background makes it easier to see them. In Lewis's book, the sisters stay around until "the splendor-ender, Spring," but winter makes a promise that it will bring them back again next year.

Our snow has melted this morning, but I hope the snowflake sisters pass by here again. We will be waiting. The paper is in the freezer!

P.S., If you want a subway map of your own, visit New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Kelly, at Big A little a, rounds up all the Poetry Friday posts today.

Maplewood Libraries Stay Open

A couple of weeks ago the library board in Maplewood, New Jersey, considered closing two libraries during the immediate after-school hours because of the uncontained rowdiness of some of its middle-school patrons.  (A middle school  is right across the street from one library.) However, the  Maplewood powers that be convened and came up with some solutions. Library Journal reports,

Indeed, in Maplewood, the issue appears to be resources. Mayor Fred Profeta, who was dismayed at the board's decision, directed some $220,000 to expand a once-a-week church program to three days a week and to keep the middle school gym or cafeteria open after school. A consulting firm, Global Pact, will meet with students to help develop alternatives to hanging out at the library. The city offered to fund security guards, which the library has been reluctant to deploy.

I am heartened that the community responded to the problems in a positive way. Publicity from a front-page New York Times article (no longer available for free online) undoubtedly helped, as Library Journal points out.

USM's Children's Book Festival

If I visited my home state from March 28th to the 30th, I would make a beeline to the Children's Book Festival, at the University of Southern Mississippi. (When you're in Miss., you can just say "Southern," if you want to sound hip.) Southern is home to the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, and this year's shindig celebrates the 40th anniversary of the festival.

Among the kid-lit bigwigs scheduled to pop up in Hattiesburg are Eve Bunting, Russell Freedman,  Lee Bennett Hopkins, Joyce Carol Thomas, Coleen Salley, Janet Stevens, and Scott Cook. Leonard Marcus will deliver the Ezra Jack Keats lecture. (The de Grummond Collection houses the papers of Keats, the renowned author and illustrator of The Snowy Day, Peter's Chair, Whistle for Willie, and many other books.)

Happy 40th anniversary to the festival!

Dickens, Great Books, and So On

For people who read a lot about children's reading choices, Janine Wood's article "Please, I Want Some Dickens" in the Christian Science Monitor will sound familiar, as will the structure: get an idea in your head, don't tell anyone, and then bop everyone for not agreeing with your unspoken idea.

Influenced by William Bennett, Jr.,'s  guide The Educated Child, Wood wants her preteen son to read some Dickens. But why don't more people read Dickens? She goes to the library and sees mostly titles about "contemporary social issues." Then, it's off to the bookstore, where she finds only Gossip Girls and books about "intergalactic battles," yadda, yadda, yadda.  Wood makes disparaging remarks about a bookseller who mentions romance and chick lit to potential buyers. "I felt as though I were at Wal-Mart instead of the bookstore," she writes. And, of course, the bookstore employees don't measure up because they, too, have not read Dickens lately. I guessed they missed William Bennett's memo.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, say, about an inch, and suggest this: the subtext of this kind of piece is always "I'm smarter than you are." Which is too bad, because toward the end of the  article, Wood makes some good suggestions for creating more interest in the classics. One resource is the Great Books Foundation. That group offers a Junior Great Books series, which I checked out online. I was tickled to see Daniel Pinkwater's Blue Moose included in the second-grade anthology, along with Beatrix Potter's Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, Howard Pyle's Apple of Contentment, Kipling's How the Camel Got His Hump, and a number of folktales and other works. I have not seen or ordered these Junior Great Books, but they sound fun. Fun is good, and so are new places to find good reading.  So, thank you, "Please, I Want Some Dickens," for that.

Teaspoons of News, January 16th

The January issue of the online children's literature magazine The Edge of the Forest is up. I look forward to reading all of it, including Franki Sibberson's piece about children and leveled reading. On Sunday night we had two college-aged visitors, and I was surprised that Junior was telling them about which level books he read; I didn't even know that he noticed. He added something like, "Well, I have some Level 1's that I like, but they're in my room," as if he needed to hide them. Now I realize that he and all the children in his classroom know exactly what level everyone is reading. Franki refers to "level mania" in her article, and I can see why.

The Association for Jewish Libraries announced the Sydney Taylor awards for children's books last week. The picture book Hanukkah at Valley Forge, written by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Greg Harlin, won in the younger readers' category. There are even more winners and honorees, and you can see all of them at this PDF file, on the AJL site. (Hat tip to A Fuse # 8 for the news.) Author Cynthia Leitich Smith reviews another book in the Taylor list, Brenda A. Ferber's Julia's Kitchen , and shares additional comments about these prizes. Finally, one of the honorees is Esme Raji Codell, of PlanetEsme fame.

In the Not Kid Lit department, the New Yorker's Nancy Franklin talks to novelist Patricia Marx (who used to write for "Saturday Night Live") about what's funny and other matters.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King

Imagedbcgi_7 "Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together."

Those are the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and they are reprinted in Martin's Big Words, written by Doreen Rappaport and gloriously illustrated by Bryan Collier, who used water color and cut-paper collage. Their book, a relatively short picture-book biography, makes a good introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. "Use your words," young children are often told; they'll understand the power behind Martin's words when reading this fine Caldecott honoree from 2001.

As you can see from the cover (pictured left), the publisher, the Jump at the Sun division of Hyperion, went with the decision to let Collier's portrait of King take the entire front of the book unadorned. The writer's and illustrator's names appear on the back.

Poetry Saturday: The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems

191007_28_06large_cover Here in New England, it's a cool, rainy day, a perfect one for enjoying some poems by the fire. I asked poetry enthusiast Becky Sharp, who blogs at Farm School, to tell us about a recent favorite,  The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems. Thank you, Becky! By the way, the publisher is sponsoring a classic poems contest for children, so do take a look.

Artist Jackie Morris, who compiled and illustrated the recent Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, says about the  project, "The book will hopefully be a doorway through into the world of poetry for children discovering poets for the first time and  for those familiar with the poems to revisit them. What makes these  poems classic is that they speak through time with a truth, a strength  and integrity. They can be read and reread and still some new insight can be grasped, a new pleasure from the turn and roll of a phrase."

And what a magical doorway it is. In The Barefoot Book of Classic  Poems, Ms. Morris has compiled 74 timeless poems by some of the  best writers of the English language, and then added her own luscious, evocative paintings to make one of the top poetry books for children of  2006.

The colors of Ms. Morris's paintings are sometimes jewel-like and vibrant, other times watery and limpid, always luminous, romantic, and  adventurous. Many of the poems rate the lavish treatment of a  double-page spread (each gets at the very least its own page), which  not only makes the reader stop to consider the work, but then draws the  reader first into the picture and then, lastingly, into the words.

I  never paid much attention to Lilian Moore's little poem "Until I Saw the Sea" while it was crammed at the bottom of the page in the older Random House Book of Poetry for Children next to a sepia-tone drawing of a pudgy girl at the beach. In Ms. Morris's hands, the poem gets a stunning painting across two pages that brings out the true lyric quality of Moore's lines, the pure astonishment and delight of a child upon finally meeting the sea. 

Wordsworth's "Daffodils" sweep across  another two pages; the effect was enough to make my nine-year-old daughter gasp with pleasure and plunge right into the poem. Ms. Morris's illustrations are brilliant, warm, and equally appealing to  younger and older readers, especially those in the latter group who enjoy reading Tolkien, Pullman, and other fantasy; and younger readers  keen on knights, castles, wizards, and pirates will be drawn in, too. My seven-and-a-half year old son took one look at the cover, mentioned  that it rather reminded him of the beginning of the battle scene in the  recent Narnia movie, and sighed, "I wish I could ride a tiger." Then he proceeded to look for the accompanying poem in the book (there  isn't one, but he was more than satisfied to find Blake's "Tyger" burning bright). My always-questioning youngest, age six, claims for his own Robert Clairmont's "The Answers," illustrated with what looks  very much like a six-year-old lying on the back of pig and surrounded  by other barnyard animals:

The Answers
by Robert Clairmont

"When did the world begin and how?"
I asked a lamb, a goat, a cow:

"What's it all about and why?"
I asked a hog as he went by:

"Where will the whole thing end, and when?"
I asked a duck, a goose and a hen:

And I copied all the answers too,
A quack, a honk, an oink, a moo.

There are lots of old childhood friends in here, from Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Louis  Stevenson, Rachel Field, and Vachel Lindsay to Walter de la Mare, A.A.  Milne, and Lewis Carroll, but there are also quite a few new ones, new because they aren't usually included in most children's anthologies:  Stevie Smith, Kathleen Raine, Sylvia Plath, Isaac Rosenberg, and Thomas Love Peacock (a name certainly designed to appeal to a child). One poet, E.V. Rieu, often included in collections of children's poetry but probably a cipher for most North Americans who aren't classicists,  is accorded the honor of setting the tone for the volume with his poem "The Paintbox,"

"Cobalt and umber and ultramarine,
Ivory black and emerald green—
What shall I paint to give pleasure to you?"
"Paint for me somebody utterly new."

Jackie Morris has indeed painted something new, with both her paints and the poets' words.  She has put together a gorgeous book of poetry to give pleasure to children and the adults who love them, making many  classic poems seem utterly new and, even, modern.

Becky Sharp farms, home schools, and reads all sorts of things, including poetry with her children and husband in western Canada.

"The Lovely Bones" Survives Challenge in CT

I recently mentioned a challenge to Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones. A parent wanted it off the shelves at a Westport, CT, middle-school library. According to the Westport News, "[Westport] Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon has denied a request to remove" The Lovely Bones from the middle-school library "following a report by a committee appointed to review the book."

The Westport News article, which is not online, also says that while Landon acknowledged that the book was for mature readers, he cited the book's inclusion on the American Library Association's 2003 list for young adults aged 12 and older and The Lovely Bones' appearance on several Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)/Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) lists. (ALSC and YALSA are divisions of the American Library Association.)

The parent who objected to the book was not available for comment, according to the newspaper.

Items of Interest, Jan. 12

A Scholar's Blog puts a fun idea on the table: a group discussion of Susan Cooper's novel King of Shadows. It will start on February 6th. More info here. The book's reading level seems to be from age 9 on up, so I"m pretty sure I qualify. (Did I hear an "and then some" from the peanut gallery? Hey, watch it.)

A new Carnival of Children's Literature takes place at Big A little a on January 20th. The deadline for submission is Monday, January 15th. Details here.

The bloggers at Seven Impossible Things interview each other. It's a hoot. The Cybils awards page is also running profiles of the judges in the various categories.

A Fuse #8 highlights another Best of the Year list today. Click over and see.

The upcoming Newbery prizes have many of the children's book bloggers guessing. Teachers Mary Lee and Franki offer their shortlists at A Year of Reading.

Kelly at Big A little a is rounding up the Poetry Friday posts today.