Previous month:
January 2008
Next month:
March 2008

Poetry Friday: "Oh, Theodore!: A Book of Guinea Pig Poems"

Imagedbcgi Oh, dear. As if chickens, goldfish, and a cat weren't enough, the resident third-grader is now begging for a guinea pig, and Oh, Theodore! is directly to blame. Susan Katz's short poems and Stacey Schuett's adorable acrylic paint and goache illustrations create some of the most appealing guinea-pig propaganda since Love and Roast Chicken, a trickster tale from the Andes.

At its heart, Oh, Theodore! is about what it means to care for and love a pet. Told from the point of view of a nine or ten year old boy, the series of poems begins with the guinea pig's arrival as a shy, scared fellow ("But Theodore/just hides/under the hay.") and follows along as Theodore blooms under the sweet solicitude of his new owner ("He's my fuzziest friend./And I'm his biggest.") Children will get a good idea of both the chores and the rewards of pet ownership.

I first heard of Oh, Theodore! at Laura Purdie Salas's blog, where she wrote a short review. (Click here for that piece.) Salas, a children's book author and a poet, pointed out that Katz's poetry is free verse, saying,

That's not very common. Most poetry for preschool and primary grade kids is rhythmic and rhyming. That's fine—they love rhythm and rhyme! But it's also great for kids to see that not all poetry has to rhyme. It makes poetry much less intimidating for them when they want to try writing their own. And it saves us all from countless poems about the power of the flower, etc.

Meanwhile, uh-oh. After multiple readings of the book, I started combing through the "Small & Furry" files at, which lists available animals at shelters around the country. Junior isn't the only one susceptible to some good poetic propaganda.

Poetry Friday is a weekly tradition at some of the children's literature blogs; for a full explanation, see this article at the Poetry Foundation. The roundup of today's posts can be found at Writing and Ruminating, the blog of Kelly Fineman. This just in: the podcasters at Just One More Book!! talked about Oh, Theodore!, too. Yay. Here's the link to their entry.

"Things Fall Apart" at 50; Achebe Honored

Chinua Achebe's classic novel about Africa, Things Fall Apart, turns fifty this year. Last night Achebe appeared at NYC's Town Hall, in a tribute sponsored by the writers' organization PEN American Center, among others. He was interviewed recently by the Village Voice. Until I read the Voice article, I didn't realize that the Nigerian-born author lives in the U.S. and teaches at Bard College. And I'm glad to hear kids are reading Things Fall Apart; I'd been thinking that it would be a good fit for teenagers. Achebe told journalist Carol Cooper,

 The number of children who are reading Things Fall Apart in high school has increased enormously, especially among the students who take my classes. For me, that's a very good sign. Because this generation has a lot of responsibility waiting for it. And how they link up with others their age in distant places may well determine how our civilization survives in this century.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, you'll find another good piece, by Peter Monaghan, which situates Things Fall Apart, and other work by Achebe, in a literary context. If you're not familiar with the novel or the author, this article is a good place to start.

Free Poster, National Poetry Month 2008

If you're a teacher or librarian, you can request a free poster for National Poetry Month (otherwise known as April) from the Academy of American Poets. Details here. (Delivery takes three weeks. That's why I'm mentioning it now.) Everybody can sign up for a poem a day, sent via email; the works come from new books of poetry. (I've done this before. Little surprises every day during April. Loved it.) The Academy has also declared April 17th as the first national Poem in Your Pocket Day. Hmm. That gives me some time to think about which poem I'll choose.   

Nonfiction, Freshly Minted

It's fun to dig around the Internet and turn up some new books. Here are a few nonfiction titles that piqued my curiosity. Any feedback is welcome, since I've not seen a one of them. (Some of these may be due out later in the year.) I hope the inter-library loan system is ready for a big batch of requests.

Looking Closely Along the Shore, by Frank Serafini (Kids Can Press).

Looking Closely Through the Forest. Same author, publisher.

On My Block: Stories and Paintings by Fifteen Artists, a multicultural anthology edited by Dana Goldberg. (Children's Book Press).

Maple Syrup Season, by Ann Purnell. (Holiday House).

What To Do About Alice? (a biography of Alice Roosevelt), by Barbara Kerley. (Scholastic).

The Brook Book, by Jim Arnosky. (Dutton).

I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields. (Henry Holt).

The McElderry Book of Greek Myths, by Eric A. Kimmel. (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster).

All Aboard: A Traveling Alphabet, by Bill Mayer. (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster).

Delicious: The Life and Art of Wayne Thiebaud, by Susan Goldman Rubin.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. (Roaring Brook Press—PDF file).

Each Monday, Anastasia Suen, a children's book author and blogger, collects blog posts on nonfiction for kids; see today's edition here.

Sunday Afternoon Surfing, 2.24

I like to do the New York Times' crossword puzzle, but occasionally (okay, more like every Thursday through Sunday), I need a little help. I recently found out about the blog Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle. Parker gives some answers, offers opinions, and runs a cool site.

The 2008 Lee Bennett Hopkins poetry award was announced a while back. Carole Boston Weatherford's Birmingham, 1963 took the top prize. Cybil winner This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness, by Joyce Sidman, and Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems, by John Grandits, made the honoree list.

Last Saturday I was lucky to catch Monica Edinger's presentation at the Donnell Library Center in NYC. The fourth-grade teacher, Newbery judge, and blogger at Educating Alice talked about fantasy literature. A Fuse #8 Production provides an excellent summary.  Next up in the Donnell's ongoing Children's and YA Literature Cafe series is YA editor Sharyn November. (The date's in March, but I can't track it down. Maybe someone will pop up with the info.) [Edited to add: Monica E. says that it's March 15th. Thanks!]

Some new blogs to see:

  • I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids). Posts from nearly 20 children's authors.
  • Literate Lives. Book talk from a school librarian and an elementary-school teacher.
  • Creative Literacy. A mom/teacher/kid-lit enthusiast.
  • Literacy Is Priceless. Early literacy resources for parents and teachers.
  • 100 Scope Notes. A library media specialist with a good sense of humor.

Passionately Curious, the blog of a second-grade teacher, is rolling along again, documenting 30 days in the life of a very literary second-grade class.

Poetry Friday: "The Secret of Me," by Meg Kearney

I met Meg Kearney briefly at last fall's National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference, where I was part of a panel on blogging. Publishers took over a vast exhibition hall at NYC's Jacob Javits Center, and I had stopped by the booth of Persea Books, which published Kearney's young-adult novel-in-verse, The Secret of Me (2005; paperback edition, 2007).

Lizzie McLane, a teenager and the book's central character, knows she wants to be a poet, loves her parents, and wants to find out more about the circumstances of her adoption. She would especially like some information on her biological mother. But in Lizzie's family, which includes an older brother and sister who were also adopted, discussions about birth parents are brief, at best, and Lizzie has internalized the idea that there's something shameful about being adopted. In the course of the novel she moves away from that idea, toward a healthier sense of self; she's helped out by her friends and her Irish-ballad-loving dad, in particular.

I found The Secret of Me quite touching and hope there's a sequel in the works. Kirkus Reviews said about the book, "Not only will adolescents feel expertly sensitized to issues of adoption, they will get a good dose of real poetry with unique and inspiring language so often sacrificed for story in this genre."

At the end of the book a reader will find an autobiographical essay as an afterword and sources for more reading on both adoption and poetry. At her web site, Meg Kearney provides a teacher's guide for the novel, which focuses on reading and writing poetry. She also links to two of her poems (for adults) that Garrison Keillor read on his "Writer's Almanac" radio program.

To see what other bloggers are thinking about on this snowy Poetry Friday, read the roundup of entries at Big A, little a.

Books on Vacation

This is winter vacation week in our town, and you know what that means, right? An expedition to the library to stock up on reading material for the eight year old. (And later in the week, a skiing day trip and ice skating.) In Sunday's book bag were

Runny Babbit, by Shel Silverstein. Silliness from a favorite author of Junior's.

Ghosthunters and the Muddy Monster of Doom, a chapter book by Cornelia Funke. I've read aloud others in the series, and conveniently leave them lying around, in the hopes that Junior read ahead a bit. (The strategy does work on occasion.)

A Platypus, Probably, by Sneed Collard. Nonfiction picture book.

Fireworks!: Chemical Reactions, by Isabel Thomas. Roller Coaster!: Motion and Acceleration from the same series also looks good. These kinds of books come from an educational publisher, so you rarely see them in the bookstore.

The McElderry Book of Aesop's Fables, retold by Michael Morpurgo. A possibility for independent reading.

Poetry Friday: Rewriting

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County just won a Cybil award for best fiction picture book of 2007. Its author, Janice N. Harrington, is a poet—not to mention librarian and storyteller. I linked to one of her poems (for grown-ups) a while back on another Poetry Friday. Don't miss this interview with Harrington, who is working on a book of children's poetry (yay!), at The Brown Bookshelf's 28 Days Later feature. Here's a clip:

Don Tate [interviewer]: What about your road to publication. What were the highs and lows?

Janice: Re-writing, re-writing, and more re-writing. With my first children’s book, I had to learn the concept of “arc,” that a story has to have a change or conflict or transformation. In Chicken Chasing, my greatest challenge was closure. Okay, I got the reader here—now what? There was a moment when I threatened to drown myself in a bucket of Kentucky nuggets out of despair.

One poet who has written many books for children is Nikki Grimes. In the "Poems to Go" section of her web site, where she provides a writing prompt for kids, Grimes says that she loves prefixes. "The minute you stick one on a word, the meaning is slightly altered," she says. Her poem there is about writing poetry, and includes the lines, "Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite/is the rule."

Grimes' novel Bronx Masquerade is the February selection at readergirlz, an interactive web site for teenagers, with a discussion forum at MySpace.

Vivian at HipWriterMama is rounding up the Poetry Friday posts today.

Cybils Awards for Books Published in 2007

Cybilslogo Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood...Lightship...The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County...The True Meaning of Smekday...Book of a Thousand Days...Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel...The Professor's Daughter...A Crooked Kind of Perfect...This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness...Boy Toy.

That's the Valentine's Day parade of Cybils winners! See the blog of the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards for details

Award Guessing

February 14th sees the announcement of the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards  (the Cybils). Who will win? I'm going to take a few guesses. Tomorrow will prove me right or wrong.

Middle Grade and Young Adult Nonfiction: Tracking Trash

YA Fiction: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Fiction Picture Books: The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Nonfiction Picture Books: Lightship

Poetry:  Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village

There are, of course, several more categories of finalists, all of which are listed at the Cybils blog.