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July 2007

Young Adult Fiction Lollapalooza

The Summer Blog Blast Tour ought to be a State of the Union for young adult fiction: 16 bloggers will interview27 authors who write for the YA market. Organized by Chasing Ray's Colleen Mondor, Blog Blast kicks off tomorrow with Finding Wonderland's interview of Gene Yang, who won the 2007 Printz award for his graphic novel American Born Chinese.

The entire Summer Blog Blast Tour schedule is available at Chasing Ray.

Poetry Friday: Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats

Do you remember the catalogue called A Common Reader? Now defunct, and in bankruptcy (as I read on Wikipedia), it was a delightful compendium of reading recommendations, including a variety of children's books. Several years ago Junior's beloved Grandma ordered Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats (Margaret K. McElderry, Simon & Schuster, 2001) from A Common Reader for him, and the picture book continues to occupy a place of honor on his bookshelves.

I mention Mrs. McTats here on Poetry Friday because it's a rhyming picture book. It's also an alphabet book; the cats' names begin with letters from A to, well, I won't tell you because I don't want to spoil the plot. The author is Alyssa Satin Capucilli, who also wrote the Biscuit series of beginning readers.

Mrs. McTats is a cat magnet. At first she lives in a cozy cottage with one kitty named Abner, for whom she buys fish at the market. "But when she got home,/there came a scratch on the door,/and in walked two cats./Was there room for two more?" Of course there is. Basil and Curly are just the beginning. In Joan Rankin's watercolors, each cat is quite different from the others, and the lovable, zaftig Mrs. McTats welcomes them all.  If we ever end up with a feline called Toesie, you'll know the origins of the name (#20 in the McTats household). Junior still thinks that's the funniest name for a cat ever.

Thank you, Grandma!

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at The Simple and the Ordinary.

Deal With It!

In the next few weeks the fifth-grade girls who wrote DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women will be reading and signing their book at several places in NYC, their hometown: Morningside Heights' Bank Street Books, on Wednesday, June 20, from 5 to 7, and Harlem's Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe, on Saturday, June 30, from 4 to 6. Yes, that's right, fifth-graders!  Here is an excerpt from the press release, which can be found on the book's web site:

Every day... ten fifth grade girls from different backgrounds came together with teachers from all over New York City from to write what is now DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women. The Extended Day Girls came to school 40 minutes earlier than their classmates to write many different pieces, such as memoirs, letters to friends, stories about sibling rivalry, and poems to describe where they’re from, to incorporate into DEAL WITH IT!

The Extended Day Girls worked hard on their writing pieces, which is now available for the world to read. None of the girls will get any money off of this endeavor (all money goes to their school’s visiting authors fund). All they want is to see their writing in the world so it can show kids what young girls can accomplish.

Wow, congratulations!  And thank you to Ms. Shubitz, their teacher, for writing and telling me about the book.

Eating Books

The only vegetables Junior likes are potatoes, strawberries, and watermelon. Oh, and frozen blueberries.

Right. I know. Those last three. Are not.

You see the problem.

I'm always of the opinion that a good book can solve any dilemma. You'd think I'd be disabused of the notion by now. Please. No. I Believe in Books.

So, it is with happiness that I discover in the morning's New York Times an article about children's nutrition over the summer. (Not that the school diet of hot dogs, hamburgers, and bagels with cream cheese will be hard to replicate, mind you.) In her "Personal Health" column, Jane Brody writes,

A simple and beautifully illustrated new book by Steve Charney and David Goldbeck, The ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond, is one good way to interest youngsters in these most nutritious foods, which are readily available, and tastier, in the summer. Part 1 is a series of easy-reader alphabet poems about common and uncommon produce, from apples to zucchini and including (wild) xemenia for the “X” page. [I added the Powell's link because I like to see the books.]

Well, all right. There is hope.  If  Junior reads the right book, he will make healthier choices.

There is no hint of doubt in my voice. Please.

I suppose if by slim chance that remedy does not pan out, I can throw another book at him, or rather at myself. Brody also mentions this one:

The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine. The book includes simple make-ahead purées or clever replacements that can greatly improve the way children eat — not to mention the rest of the family. [Powell's link added by me]

I've not read The Sneaky Chef, but I'm thinking the "make-ahead" is key. It could even be "make- ahead-and-hide-in-refrigerator-so-child-does-not-see," but I could be wrong. I bet one recipe involves kale. Just a thought.

But, as I said, I am hopeful. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

The Evening News, June 11th

Ohmigod, ohmigod, the venerable New York Times Book Review has entered the lit-blogging ring. Everybody say howdy to Dwight Garner and Paper Cuts: A Blog About Books. (news via GalleyCat, of course)

Michael Rosen is the UK's new Children's Laureate, and he's making headlines already.  See "New Children's Laureate Slams Educational Policy," in the Guardian. (news via Big A, little a)

In the interview department, Julie Danielson, of the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, talks to School Library Journal's Practically Paradise blogger,  Diane Chen. [added Tuesday morning]: Then 7 Imp chats with Adrienne from What Adrienne Thinks About That. (Find out about Adrienne's new book in the interview.)

Hit the trail and hike over to a late spring Field Day, a blog carnival about sharing nature with kids, at By Sun and Candlelight.

A Fuse # 8 Production, run by NYC librarian Betsy Bird, has officially set up camp at School Library Journal, her new online home.

MotherReader's final tallies for the 48 Hour Book Challenge are up. The winners are Midwestern Lodestar, who read 20 (!) books, and Finding Wonderland, who read for 32 hours.

Several YA authors—Cecil Castellucci, David Levithan, James Lecesne, Bennett Madison, Wendy Mass—contributed essays to the new anthology Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys. I happened on the book at the library, and decided at 11:30 last night to start it. Good reading, with one exception, so far. (The exception being the unnecessary, condescending beginning of Ayelet Waldman's piece.)

Book Challenge Final Report

"No one could assert that government officials set out to 'create' segregated schools [in Hartford, CT]. But they abetted their creation simply by siting and building schools to fit the racially and economically separate setup that discrimination had created. Even though segregation wasn't desirable, it became a given in the education of thousands and thousands of the city's children."

from The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial, by Susan Eaton

I'm about a quarter of the way through the 350-page book, quoted above, that I chose for MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. The beautiful weekend weather, a party, a movie, and hanging out erased my competitive drive. Drop by MotherReader's blog and click the links (on the right) to see other readers who racked up thousands of pages. Cool. Congratulations! Meanwhile, The Children in Room E4 is excellent.

48 Hour Book Challenge

I've begun MotherReader's second annual 48 Hour Book Challenge. Weekend activities are going to prevent me from winning, but don't we all appreciate the chance to talk about reading! 

I've started with a book for adults: The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial, by Susan Eaton. So far, it is excellent reportorial nonfiction. Eaton writes about a classroom in a school in a poor neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut. The class is taught by an excellent teacher, and one of its star students comes from the direst of circumstances (parents in jail, crowded apartment, siblings in foster care, lack of money).

In her book Eaton addresses the Sheff vs. O'Neill legal case that challenged the de facto segregation of the schools in Hartford and its surrounding suburban communities. Eaton looks at Hartford history to understand why certain ethnic groups were concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods. The drying-up of manufacturing in the city obviously did a great deal of harm to its economy as well.

The Children in Room E4 is set in Connecticut, but speaks to nationwide educational problems. Based on what I've read so far, I highly recommend it. The personal stories of the star teacher and star student give the book narrative drive.

As the weekend goes by, I'll try to share some passages here.

Reading Suggestions from 7 Year Olds

Two first-graders from the Maple Street School, where I volunteer, recommend the following books. You will notice a theme, I think.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus

Junie B. Jones Is a Graduation Girl

Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth

"She's funny," they say. I agree.


Random House's Junie B. Jones page (with information about the Stupid Smelly Bus Tour)

"Plus Also, She's Funny," by Pam Coughlan, at The Edge of the Forest (August 2006)

Best Books for Babies 2007

Each year Pittsburgh's Beginning with Books Center for Early Literacy chooses the cream of the crop for the very youngest readers-to-be. The 2007 winners (all of which were published last year) are as follows:

Mama's Day

Whose Toes Are Those?

Easy Street

Welcome, Precious

Look at You! A Baby Body Book

Look at the Animals

Wee Willie Winkie

Hush, Little Baby

Cheep! Cheep!

Baby Cakes

You'll find an article about the awards at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bird Books for Children

Img_0131 School ends in just a couple of weeks, and I am so looking forward to summer. We'll have plenty of time for beach days, hikes in the woods, growing tomatoes, participating in the library's "Around the World" program, and bike riding. I asked my son if he'd like to learn about anything special this summer, and he said, "Yes. Birds."

With an eye toward new (to us) books, I'm compiling some links here for our summer of birds (although it's likely to change to fish or crabs or pill bugs at any given time). I thought these might be helpful to others with kids interested in the same subject. We will read a few and save some for other seasons, too.

You'll find lots of good information at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" site.

From's Birding/Wild Birds section, here is a list of "Top Five Bird Books for Children":

Birds (National Audubon Society's First Field Guides)
Backyard Bird Watching for Kids: How to Attract, Feed, and Provide Homes for Birds
Hawk Highway in the Sky: Watching Raptor Migration
Watching Our Feathered Friends suggests Take a Backyard Bird Walk and Stokes Beginner's Guide to Birds, Eastern and Western editions.

Many homeschooling families recommend the Burgess nature books, so I'll add The Burgess Bird Book for Children to the list.

Two child-friendly bird guides from our shelves are Bird Calls, an interactive book that younger kids in particular will enjoy, and Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song.

In my Internet searches, I also spotted Laura's Birding Blog, by Laura Erickson, the author of 101 Ways to Help Birds and  Sharing the Wonder of Birds with Kids. If you read along in Erickson's blog, you'll see that a child named 101 Ways to Help Birds as his favorite book. It's written for adults, but evidently just fine for younger advanced readers.

At the Cornell Ornithology Lab's online store, I found what looks like a must-have: The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible (also written for adults).

Loree Burns, a scientist and an award-winning children's book author, left a comment here that her family enjoys The Boy Who Drew Birds, a picture-book biography of John James Audubon. Also, back in March, the blog Big A, little a and readers also rounded up many books on birds, with suggestions for fiction, nonfiction, and even poetry. Don't miss the list there.

I'm submitting this post to the late spring Field Day, a nature blog-carnival at By Sun and Candlelight on June 11th. The carnival's focus is on enjoying the natural world with kids. Submit somethin'!

Photo: Upside down starling in winter, by Junior