Previous month:
September 2007
Next month:
November 2007

Boo. And Happy Halloween.

596pxhalloween_derry_2005Happy Halloween! Seven books from the Halloween hit parade here at our house:

Little Witch's Big Night, an early reader

Corduroy's Halloween, a lift-the-flap picture book

Too Many Pumpkins, a picture book in which pumpkins lead to community

The Runaway Pumpkin, picture-book goofiness

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat, more of the above

The Hallo-wiener, in which a dachshund saves the day

Space Witch, from the creator of Corduroy (out of print)

"Derry Halloween" photograph from Wikimedia Commons.

Adventures with "The Snake Scientist"

In addition to re-reading some old Halloween favorites, my son and I are slowly working our way through The Snake Scientist, by Sy Montgomery. The 48-page title from 1999 is part of Houghton Mifflin's "Scientists in the Field" series, which recently issued Loree Griffin Burns' Tracking Trash. The snake scientist, one Bob Mason from Oregon State, studies the red-sided garter snakes who hibernate by the thousands in pits in Manitoba. In her book A Gathering of Garter Snakes, the former National Geographic photographer Bianca Lavies looked at the same phenomenon. Several years ago I read the Lavies book aloud repeatedly at Junior's request. He picks up our local garter snakes with ease. If they're spending the winter massed in our yard somewhere, I have no doubt that he will find them.

Montgomery's Snake Scientist is a photo-rich picture book for older readers, 10 to 14, and contains almost more text than my 8 year old's attention can handle, even in a read-aloud situation. But we keep going because the subject is fascinating. And I've pretty much agreed to a field trip to Manitoba some spring so that we, too, can be scientists in the field and watch the snakes come out of hibernation.

What snake-loving kid can resist the following intro?

You hear them before you see them. One a quiet day, as you approach one of the dens at the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba, Canada, you can hear a rustling like wind in dry leaves.

It's the sound of thousands of slithering snakes.

When you look over the fence into the shallow limestone pit, at first it seems as if the ground is moving. But it's not the ground—it's 18,000 red-sided garter snakes!

Other books in this series which caught my attention include The Tarantula Scientist, The Bug Scientists, and Swimming with Hammerhead Sharks. I'm planning ahead: no field trip for that last one.

Links: Professor Mason; Sy Montgomery interview at Paper Tigers; article on Snake Scientist photographer Nic Bishop at The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books;  Manitoba Conservation/Snakes of Narcisse Wildlife Management Area 

Top o' the Monday Morning, October 29th

In "Gail Leaves the Office, Part I," author and blogger Gail Gauthier writes about Connecticut's Rabbit Hill festival of children's books. (I had the pleasure of meeting Gail there and chatting with her ever so briefly.)

This week brings an announcement of the Booktrust Teenage Book Prize in the UK. Novels by Theresa Breslin, Kate Cann, Mal Peet, Philip Reeve, Meg Rosoff, and Marcus Sedgwick are on the shortlist. See Tom Gatti's article in the Times for additional details.

"Rush, Little Baby: How the push for infant academics may actually be a waste of time—or worse," by Neil Swidey, at the Boston Globe. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

"All Souls: The Frida Kahlo Cult," by Peter Schjeldahl, at The New Yorker. (The piece does not concern kids' books.) By the way, there are a number of Kahlo biographies for children; one's a picture book illustrated by Tomie dePaola. A toy company even makes a Frida Kahlo action figure; she's part of a set that includes Warhol, Dali, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

Attention 398 fans: the Aesop Awards were given to these books for children: The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea and Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War. "Aesop Accolades" went to Solomon and the Ant and Other Jewish Folktales and Tatanka and the Lakota People: A Creation Story. The Children's Folklore Section of American Folklore Society sponsors the prizes. News via the Child_Lit Listserv. (398 is the Dewey Decimal number for  folklore books in the library.)

Robert's Snow, Week 3, The Blizzard Continues

Robertssnowlogo2007 Robert's Snow is an online charity auction to raise funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More than 200 children's book illustrators have decorated wooden snowflakes that are being auctioned off. In support of the endeavor, a number of children's book blogs are featuring individual artists involved in the Robert's Snow project. Blogging for a Cure started in mid-October, and continues for the next several weeks. To see all the snowflakes in one place and to find out how to bid, visit the official site of Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure.

This week's schedule of blog features follows after the jump.

Continue reading "Robert's Snow, Week 3, The Blizzard Continues" »

Poetry Friday: Natasha Trethewey's "Pilgrimage"

Natasha Trethewey's poem "Pilgrimage" is my choice for Poetry Friday. She writes for adults, not children, but teenagers are certainly up to this particular poem. It's about Vicksburg, Mississippi, which is on the Mississippi River. As you probably know, the fall of the city during the Civil War marked a turning point because the Union Army then gained control of the river, dividing the South as well. There's a national military park in the rolling hills on the west side of Vicksburg; 17,000 Union Army troops are buried there. 17,000. "This whole city is a grave," Trethewey writes.

Trethewey, a native of Gulfport, Mississippi, won a Pulitzer this year for Native Guard, the collection in which "Pilgrimage" appears. The publisher, Houghton Mifflin, offers a podcast of Trethewey reading from and talking about the book.


Vicksburg, Mississippi

Here, the Mississippi carved
            its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
            Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
            as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

To read the entire poem, go to Poets.Org, the web site of the Academy of American Poets.

Update: Monica Edinger, who blogs at Educating Alice, told me that Natasha Trethewey was an artist-in-residence at the Dalton School in NYC last spring.  Monica, who teaches fourth grade there, kindly gave the link for a podcast in which Natasha Trethewey and some of the children recite their works. Thanks, Monica!

Literary Safari rounds up all the Poetry Friday posts on this last Friday in October. (Where did the month go?)

Putting the Roar in Read-Aloud

A nearby city celebrates Read Aloud Day each fall, which is a grand tradition. Parents, grandparents, and volunteers like me head into public-school classrooms with picture books, and the children really look forward to it.  A committee selected the titles in advance and chose Michelle Knudsen's Library Lion for the third-grade. That's where I read, and Library Lion was a good fit for the eight year olds. I learn a little something every time I read to groups, and, really, I'd like to get a lot better at it. This time it was Let Them Roar. The reader in the class across the hall did just that. The Library Lion character roars inappropriately in the library before he learns the ropes. The children really liked the book and I could have involved them even more by allowing them to roar in the right places. You do have to play it by ear; these third-graders were part of a small class, where roaring would not have led to chaos.  Next time I'll remember to insert a bit of interactive theater into the experience.

Robert's Snow: Marion Eldridge & Shanté Keys

Shante_snowflake_front_2 Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure is an online charity auction of some 200 snowflake art pieces created by children's book illustrators. The proceeds from the auction go to cancer research at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Won't you put in a bid? They make excellent, one-of-a-kind gifts. Visit the Robert's Snow/DFCI web site to see the particulars about buying the snowflakes.

Marion Eldridge's snowflake, Shanté Keys (left), goes up for auction starting Monday, Nov. 19th. I am so pleased to feature it here at Chicken Spaghetti as part of the Blogging for a Cure initiative.

Marion Eldridge has illustrated over 40 books for children. She has worked for both trade and educational publishers. She has a daughter, Kate. Marion lives in  Massachusetts with her husband, Paul, and their little dog, Tam-O-Shanter, who keeps Marion company while she is working.

In addition to adorning a snowflake, Shanté Keys stars in Shanté Keys and the New Year's Peas (Albert Whitman & Company, 2007), which Marion Eldridge illustrated and Gail Piernas-Davenport wrote. Their joyful picture book celebrates family, community, and diversity. It imparts a few facts about New Year's customs in different cultures as Shanté goes from neighbor to neighbor looking for a missing ingredient for her family's feast. (Eating black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year's Day is an African American and Southern U.S. tradition.) Marion and I chatted via email recently.

1. What were some of your favorite childhood books?

I loved The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. I still have a copy, though not the one I had as a kid. I've remembered it vividly my whole life. My parents did save some pop-up books that were mine when I was little. One is called Playtime in Action. Another is Christmas Time in Action. They are quite elaborate pop-ups of whole scenes. Very impressive! Both were illustrated by William Kemp Tilley, with a copyright by Walter P. Phillips. I'm so glad my parents saved these for me! They are a lot of fun and bring back many warm memories. They are quite a contrast to the books that kids have now!

Shante_cover_from_whitman_2 2. Children are going to love Shanté Keys and the New Year's Peas. With its bouncy, rhyming text, the book is such fun to read aloud. I can imagine a kindergarten class chanting along. Shanté herself is adorable and looks someone you'd want to be your friend. Did you use a model or have someone in mind when you created the illustrations of the little girl Shanté?

I love the bouncy, rhyming text too! And I'm so glad if you'd like Shanté to be your friend! I feel the same way. I would miss her and the other characters in the book, but they share my studio now. It's great having them around! I didn't use any models or reference photos for Shanté or the other characters. They came completely from my imagination—with inspiration, of course, from the text. For me, creating the characters is one of the most fun parts of illustrating a story. In general, I just try to observe people a lot and occasionally browse through photographs online to get ideas, but then I put it all aside and just draw.

3.  Here's an image from the book. Would you tell us about this picture? What's going on at this point in the story?


This was a terrible moment for Grandma, but a fun scene to illustrate! It's the moment when Grandma realizes that she's forgotten the black-eyed peas! As written by Gail Piernas-Davenport in the book:

"Mercy!" cries Grandma.
"I'm weak in the knees.
I cooked lots of food,
but forgot black-eyed peas!

"Chitlins, baked ham,
macaroni and cheese,
Greens and hot corn bread,
but no black-eyed peas!"

It's a dramatic scene—everyone shocked and surprised! But, I tried to soften the blow a little for Grandma by putting Shanté's Dad's arm behind her as though he is offering support.

4. Are there going to be further adventures of Shanté Keys? She's a natural for a series.

There are no plans that I know of. Of course, that is up to the author, but I would love it! For now, Shanté is participating in Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure. Gail had some wonderful things to say when she found out that Shanté was involved in Robert's Snow. You can read about her reaction on her blog, Writing from the Lemonade Stand. I just loved what she had to say!

Thank you, Marion. Readers, don't forget to click over to the Robert's Snow site and bid in November! Featured at other blogs today are snowflakes by Carin Berger, at Chasing Ray; Sophie Blackall, at not your mother’s bookclub; Erik Brooks, at Bildungsroman; and Brian Lies, at Greetings from Nowhere.


Monday Morning Miscellany, October 22

La Bloga talks to novelist Junot Diaz. The piece is a longer version of an interview that ran in the San Antonio Express-News.

Neil Gaiman's television and radio plans, at The Independent.

Coming up this week in Westport, CT: the Rabbit Hill Festival of Children's Literature.

J.K. Rowling outs the Harry Potter character Prof. Dumbledore; the blog Oz and Ends comments.

In case you missed it last week, Alex Ross wrote about the online state of classical music, including blogs about the same, in an interesting piece for The New Yorker. Ross is the magazine's classical music critic, and blogs at The Rest Is Noise.

PEN American Center sponsors a tribute to the late Grace Paley on Tuesday, November 6th, in NYC.

Children's Book Week is coming up November 12th-18th. The Children's Book Council, a trade organization of publishers, supplies the details. Reading the CBC's newsletter "Hot off the Press," I spied a new book I'd love to get my hands on: Russell Freedman's Who Was First? Discovering the Americas.

The New York Public Library's John Peters recommends scary stories, at School Library Journal. You'll find books for children from kindergarten age on up through high school.

Blogging for a Cure: Robert's Snow, Week 2

The blizzard of festive snowflake art continues. Through November various blogs will be featuring individual children's book illustrators' snowflakes from the Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure online auction. The snowflakes themselves are a bit more than 5 inches big. Proceeds go to funding cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The first round of bidding starts in November; see the Robert's Snow web site for complete details. Grab a pencil and paper, and be prepared to make a wish list! On Tuesday, artist Marion Eldridge visits Chicken Spaghetti as part of the Blogging for a Cure effort, so stay tuned.

Today's Featured Snowflakes

Matthew Cordell, featured by “LindaBudz” at Just Like the Nut
Maxwell Eaton III, featured by Darla at Books and Other Thoughts
Roz Fulcher, featured by Sheri Goad at Goading the Pen
Susie Jin, featured by Stephanie Ruble at sruble’s world
Susan Mitchell, featured by “MsMac” at Check It Out


Continue reading "Blogging for a Cure: Robert's Snow, Week 2" »