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June 2007

Spouting Off About Whales, and Squirrels

Every once and a while (okay, fairly often) a children's book pops up that everyone but me seems to know about. One of the first-graders at the Maple Street School chose Simon James' Dear Mr. Blueberry at a book fair, and she and her teacher were singing its praises. The title was vaguely familiar, but I had no idea the picture book was about a whale.

School Library Journal recommended the 1991 book for beginning readers, summarizing,

It is summer, and Emily discovers that a whale is living in the pond in her yard. Eager to learn more about this amazing animal, she writes a series of letters to her teacher, Mr. Blueberry, asking for information about whales and their habits. The humor of the situation lies in Mr. Blueberry's replies. He sends Emily some details, but he is also quite adamant that whatever is in her pond is not a whale since they live in salt water. Nevertheless, both Emily and readers know that indeed there is a whale in the pond, and the proof is the amusing, full-page watercolor cartoons.

So, we have a new one for the library list.

My son is currently reading Busy, Busy Squirrels, a nonfiction book of straight-forward text ("Squirrels are furry, bright, lively little animals that are very busy") and photos (including squirrel teeth up close, ew) by Colleen Stanley Bare. It's a no-nonsense companion to more whimsical, fictional work like Melanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel and Don Freeman's Earl the Squirrel.

8 Things Meme

Here's a meme for y'all, sent to me by Big A, little a, Wild Rose Reader, and Scholar's Blog.  (Two years ago I had no idea what a meme was. Ah, how time flies.)

For this meme, each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1. I am always seeing shop-lifters at the Gap. Maybe I should have been a store detective.
2. Like Kelly H. at Big A, little a, I love Indian food. During my  years in Manhattan, a very small restaurant on 6th St. called Prince of India used to be a hang-out for Mississippi expatriates.
3. For my final paper in high school, I wrote about the separatist movement in Quebec. Said paper began, "'Where is Quebec?' one may ask."
4. I tape-recorded myself singing "The Way We Were," and if I could ever lay my hands on it again, I'd podcast it because it's so incredibly bad. I cried with laughter when I found it years later.
5. One of my favorite books as a kid was The Secret Garden. Another was Harriet the Spy.
6. I like all Southern food like black-eyed peas, grits, pimiento-cheese sandwiches, squash casserole, and fried okra. Pierogi, too, but that's not Southern.
7. I saw the Rolling Stones at Shea Stadium, and experienced the free Paul Simon concert in Central Park with 1 million of my closest friends. I liked the Stones much better.
8. My favorite bicycle was a yellow Sting Ray.

I am tagging these blogs:

Shaken & Stirred
A Wrung Sponge
Here in the Bonny Glen
Charlotte's Library
Journey Woman
Karen Edmisten
Finding Wonderland
Kat's Eye Journal

Tuesday Coffee Talk, May 29th

1. Miss Fuse has news: A Fuse #8 Production is moving to School Library Journal for a paid blogging gig. Congratulations to Betsy Bird, the voice behind the curtain at Fuse 8.

2. Confessions of a Pioneer Woman posted the most complete recipe for chicken spaghetti casserole I've ever seen. With photos. Awesome.

3. After last week's Carnival of Children's Literature, here's some more on multicultural lit. Saturday's piece at La Bloga was an interview with Theresa Howell, a children's book editor, about authenticity. René Colato Laínez asks Howell, "What does a manuscript need to have in order to be multicultural?" Howell answers,

Too many stories for children depict characters from the dominant culture. A multicultural manuscript tells the stories of characters outside of the mainstream. These manuscripts tell stories of people from wonderfully diverse cultures. They help readers look at the world from different perspectives.

4. See also "Questioning Cultural Stereotypes," an essay by Radhika Menon, the managing editor of a small publishing house in India. Menon writes,

The reality, then, is that the focus on multicultural publishing has not translated into authentic and inclusive literature from all cultures. The reality is also that the parameters of what is acceptable in multicultural publishing are set by big, successful, western publishing houses – the rest of the world must follow unquestioningly.

Link via Educating Alice and Writing With a Broken Tusk.

5. First it was a best-selling series of children's books. Now it's a singing and dancing extravaganza? "Magic Tree House: The Musical" premieres at the Warner Theatre, in Torrington, Connecticut, in September.

Poetry Friday: Mary Ann Hoberman's "Fish"

My first-grade chums in a nearby city have learned about the ocean and marine life for almost an entire year. (One of their creative teachers applied for and received a grant for their studies, which supplement all the other material first-graders need to learn for state benchmarks and so on.) You should hear how much they know! This Poetry Friday selection is something I shared with a couple of them yesterday, at my weekly visit to their school: "Fish," by Mary Ann Hoberman. It starts,

Look at them flit

You can read the entire poem at the Poetry Foundation's web site; the work originally appeared in Hoberman's book The Llama Who Had No Pajama, which poetry maven Elaine at Wild Rose Reader has recommended. There's a kind of magic in Hoberman's economy of words.

Around my house, we're also fond of Hoberman's "Rabbit," which you can find in the anthology Poetry Speaks to Children.

You'll find all the other kidlitosphere Poetry Friday participants at A Wrung Sponge today.

"Silly & Sillier," by Judy Sierra

We are wearing out the pages of Silly & Sillier, Judy Sierra's collection of folktales from around the world. A friend of Junior's gave it to him for his fourth birthday, and we've been reading it ever since.  It's also popular in my son's second-grade class. The teacher has read them all twenty stories over the last year.

The picture book is billed as a "read-aloud" and for good reason: the tales are full of humor and drama, and include funny sound effects.  A storyteller could have a field day. I could see adapting a story into a puppet show, too. Kids would love acting it out. "Toontoony Bird," from Pakistan, offers at least ten roles; it begins,

In the eggplant garden, Toontoony the Tailor Bird danced and sang, toon-toon-a-toon-toon, da-eee! Toontoony wasn't watching where he was dancing. He stepped on a thorn, and the thorn stuck in his foot—oof! That hurt!

In the introduction to Silly & Sillier, Judy Sierra writes about repetition and how hilarious that can be to kids. The repetitions also add a rhythm to the stories, which children remember. Sierra points out, "But these seemingly silly tales are also offering important lessons. Good is rewarded and wrongdoing is punished. The smallest and least significant creatures prove to be the most helpful friends—or the most fearsome enemies."

The watercolor and pen & ink illustrations by Valeri Gorbachev remind me a bit of Ed Koren's shaggy creatures, though more controlled in their loopiness. Animals star in many of the tales, and Gorbachev renders each one with individuality: among others, a singing lizard, a pancake-eating fox, and an enormous chick named Kuratko the Terrible.

A capable seven-year-old reader could read these to himself, but the extensive text on some of the pages would make it difficult for younger children without as well-developed skills to do so. Each story is four or five pages long. Silly & Sillier has long held a Chicken Spaghetti Seal of Approval.

Carnival of Children's Literature No. 14: The Fiesta Edition

Let's start the week with a fiesta! This carnival's theme is multicultural literature, and we have a number of posts on that subject and on multinational lit, plus a grand mix of other topics, too. Muchas gracias to everyone for the wonderful submissions.

The Chicken Spaghetti fiesta takes place in the Lone Star State. Get aboard the party train, y'all. This fiesta is rrrolling.

Postersmall On with the Books! Reading! Writing! First stop is San Antonio's Fiesta, a ten-day celebration and "the biggest party and greatest community benefit in the state of Texas."

HipWriterMama was about to attend author Grace Lin's birthday party, and HWM's Vivian reminds all of us about Robert's Snow. I know I speak for everyone here when I say, "Full speed ahead, Robert! We are wishing you well." (Grace's husband, Robert, is starting a new clinical trial treatment for cancer.)

Lots of reading beckons at the website  PaperTigers: Grace Lin's "The Extra Adjective: How I Came To Terms with Being a Multicultural Book Author," interviews with Kimchi & Calamari's Rose Kent and Weedflower's Cynthia Kadohata, and much more.

Mitali's Fire Escape spreads the good news about an award for Kahani, a literary magazine for South Asian kids in the U.S.

Don't miss Pixiepalace's thoughtful essay on multicultural literature and the need for "fantasies...with black and Asian and Hispanic and generally non-white heroes."

Devas T. Rants and Raves! extols the picture book We!, "the story of mankind. It's our story — all of us! — from our birth in Africa to where we live presently, all over the world." (Congratulations to Devas T.'s proprietor, Don Tate, on his own book deal, too!)

"I hate the way 'multiculturalism' is taken up, most of the time," says Ask Amy, who hopes for further discussion.

A Wrung Sponge is delighted when she reads Julius Lester's Tales of Uncle Remus.

Say hey to the three librarians of the Ya Ya Yas, one of whom was inspired by Parker Posey in the movie "Party Girl" (don't ya love it!), when you read their post "What Do You Want to See in Books with an Asian American Protagonist?"

Book Nut's review of Caddie Woodlawn launched a thought-provoking conversation.

The bilingual picture book Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Soñar Juntos gets the nod from MotherReader, who says, "Every public and school library should own it."

Check It Out shares her ideas for great reading with a post on folktales from around the world.

The protagonist in Crissa-Jean Chappell's Total Constant Order struggles with mental-health issues; Jen Robinson's Book Page previews the upcoming young-adult novel.

205pxbig_red_bottle  The fiesta travels on. Grab a soft drink in Waco, home of the Dr. Pepper Museum and the city where both Dr. Pepper and Big Red (America's #1 red soda) were invented.

Scholar's Blog recommends a fantasy novel originally written in German and "beautifully translated into English" : The Wave Runners, by Kai Meyers.

You'll find thoughts about Cinco de Mayo as well as a book recommendation at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Speaking of fiestas, author Sam Riddleburger presents "Five Great Parties in Kids Books."

In honor of Justine Larbalestier's winning the Andre Norton award (for science fiction and fantasy), Not Your Mother's Book Club sends along an interview with the Aussie novelist.

Kids Lit reads and recommends Hiromi's Hands, the picture-book story of a young sushi chef.

AmoxCalli is running a series called Classics of Kidlit, and Rosemary Sutcliff's Mark of the Horse Lord, about a gladiator in second-century Britain, is "non-stop action," according to Liz B.

How 'bout a tale? Stories from Papi shares an original work, "Problem with Grackle."

Book Book Book attends "an incredible children's literature conference" where one of the highlights was a double presentation by the author Cornelia Funke and Anthea Bell, who translates Funke's novels from German into English.

My Domestic Church enjoys the Scottish setting of The Far Side of the Loch, which was written by kid lit carnival founder Melissa Wiley.

What hath Shrek! wrought? Bartography wonders.

Texas_star_2Another big Texas party is the State Fair in Dallas. (Isn't that ferris wheel awesome?)

Adaptations of classics featuring only one-syllable words? Kidding, right? Nope. The Millions explains.

Hoo, boy, things get explosive when Bookwink talks about volcanoes.

 Upper Fort Stewart considers the "transformative effect" of children's books, squeezing in a mention of Harold Bloom.

"Ever wish for an intelligent take on 'Valley Girl'?" asks Becky's Book Reviews. She's got a YA novel for you.

Liz In Ink is thinking poems. "What is poetry anyway?"

Saints and Spinners makes us laugh with Revenge of the Carrot Seed.

Head over to  Library Stew for some resources for summer reading. (And discover what she thinks of Watership Down.)

Miss Erin interviews Sarah Beth Durst, whose first novel was published this year.

The Poisoned Crown, the concluding novel in Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal fantasy trilogy, surprised A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy with its "wow" of a conclusion.

Book banning and censorship are the topics of Bildungsroman's post "The Bermudez Triangle: Too Cool for School?"

A book killer is on the loose at Big A, little a, and, aw, doesn't he have the most innocent face?

The best-kept secret in American education? Tune in to the new blog A Picture Perfect Education to see what it is.

199601t I'm hungry. Are you? I'm making a bee line for the Westfest in West, "the Czech Heritage Capital of Texas." We'll dance the polka and dine on kolaches, the delicious Czech pastries.

Community art takes center stage at Zee Says, with "Teen Program Idea: Library Art Trading Cards," which was inspired by the ever-popular Post Secret.

 Kat's Eye muses about the insights she gained after attending her daughters' spring art and music show in her post "Wild About Art and Music."

Ooh, scary. Wands and Worlds rounds up daemons.

A celebration of spring poetry is happening at Wild Rose Reader, where you'll find oodles of ideas to celebrate the season in a verse-ful way.

Help GottaBook solve a mystery: was a poem on the blog plagiarized? Why? Whodunnit?

You'll encounter "Epidemic, Pandemic, Plague, and Disease in Children's Books" at Semicolon.

A two for one deal: Seven Impossible Things talks with the blogger behind The Excelsior File.

Before cooling off at Austin's Barton Springs, I'll wrap up this fiesta with a recommendation for an art-filled bilingual book about a Mexican American family in South Texas. It's here at Chicken Spaghetti.

Bye, y'all! Adios! Hope you had fun! Next month's carnival is at A Year of Reading.

Thank you to the Fiesta San Antonio Commission for the poster image, Surachit for the Big Red bottle image (Creative Commons attribution-sharealike 2.5 license), RadicalBender for the ferris wheel photo (GNU Free Documentation License), and the Westfest Polka Festival for its photo.

Reading and "Cronyism"

From an editorial in the Baltimore Sun:

A report released last week has reinforced that the reading improvement program that has been part of the federal No Child Left Behind law has been awash in cronyism and conflicts of interest.

That reading program is called Reading First. I have no first-hand experience with it; I don't know if the city school where I volunteer uses it or not. But, boy, is the news infuriating. The program involves $5 billion in grants.


On a lighter note, two of my reading buddies at the Maple Street School think the cheerful picture book Green as a Bean is grand. Karla Kuskin's imaginative poem, featuring sunny new illustrations by Melissa Iwai, captured their imagination. ("If you could be soft / would you be the snow / or twenty-five pillows / or breezes that blow...") Whenever a book gets students talking directly to it, I consider that a success. One of the children even had to go show Green as a Bean to his teacher and tell her proudly, "I read this book!"

It's such fun being with children who are learning to read, and there are students in every school who could use a little extra help. If you've ever thought of volunteering, start now. Even this close to the end of the academic year, many schools would welcome volunteers. I just love it. The experience is priceless.

Jeopardy (Chicken Spaghetti Version)


1. Monday, May 21st.

2. The Edge of the Forest.

3. The Illustrated History of the South Pacific.

4. "It should be said: Kevin Henkes is a genius."

5. Margret Rey.

6. BookExpo America.

7. BookExpo America.

8. Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy.

9. Seattle Children's Theatre, June 5th-August 31st.

10.  What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones.


1. When does the 14th Carnival of Children's Literature happen at Chicken Spaghetti?

2. Which online children's lit journal has a brand-new edition?

3.What is the title of the book that won New Zealand's best children's book of the year?

4. How did Bruce Handy start his review of A Good Day in the New York Times Book Review?

5. Which of Curious George's creators was born on this day in 1906?

6. Who says that it "loves bloggers," and then adds, "Editorial press representatives must register through our Public Relations Department. Press badges are granted to editorial press only..."? (Editorial aside: I don't really get this. Does the term "editorial press representatives" include bloggers or not?)

7. Where can you find a panel on June 2nd called "The Crisis in American Book Pages," moderated by the National Book Critics Circle Pres., John Freeman?

8. What's #1 on Publishers Weekly's picture-book bestsellers list?

9. Where can you see a version of Mem Fox's picture book The Green Sheep, in a dramatic production created for toddlers?

10. Which book was referred to as "soft porn" recently when it was "restricted" in Wisconsin? (via AS IF! Authors Support Intellectual Freedom)

Calvin & Hobbes & Blog Reviews

My seven year old, a second-grader, is a mover and a shaker. Oh, sure, he likes his art projects and his Legos, but most sedentary activities are not high on his list of priorities. Our water bill and the miniature canyons in the flower beds ("Mom! I made a river!") give evidence of the elaborate engineering projects that he favors over homework during the after-school hours. (I am considering getting a rain barrel, so that he will have his own reservoir of cost-free h2O.)

One homework requirement is 15 minutes of reading each day at home. After his waterways experiments, Junior enjoyed reading picture books, particularly with his dad or me or his grandmothers, but he was not a bookworm. Until Calvin & Hobbes. I remembered a mention of Bill Watterson's comic-strips about the boy and his toy tiger; Camille, over at the blog Boot Moot, recommended them some time back. ("It continually amazes me that guys and girls cannot remember their multiplication tables but can recite entire pages of Calvin & Hobbes dialog and strips from memory.")

I found a C & H compilation at Junior's school library and left it out for him stumble upon. (To judge from its raggedy cover, I see it's one of the school's more well-loved volumes.) Upon discovery of this treasure, Junior sat down and read for an hour and a half.  He'd seen and liked the comic before, but he really claimed this one as his own. Although I kept my elation to myself, I was thrilled that he found something he loved enough to read independently. An hour and a half: I almost fainted. Anyway.

Camille's recommendation, part of a post called "Books That Guys Love," is something that I wouldn't have found in the book review section of a newspaper. After all, Watterson stopped writing the comic almost twelve years ago. Book review sections consider new titles—ones that adult reviewers think will appeal (or not) to children. I understand that; it's what I do in my reviews of new books, too. Camille, a school librarian, knows which books get checked out over and over; children talk to her about what they like and don't like. That valuable perspective is one of the many ways in which blog reviews supplement reviews in the mainstream media. I am grateful—and so is the local bookstore. After discovering such a great book, Junior needed a copy of his own, of course.