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February 2008
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April 2008

Literary Bits

750pxpulaski_skyway_full_view The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announced its annual Golden Kite awards earlier in March. Top honors went to Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate; Muckrakers, by Ann Bausum; Pierre in Love, by Sara Pennypacker; and Little Night, by Yuyi Morales. (news via School Library Journal)

Items about Margaret Seltzer and her fake memoir, Love and Consequences

The original Winnie-the-Pooh is on the move, and A Fuse # 8 Production documents his departure from his longtime home (NYC's Donnell Library Center).

I send a big, fat "thank you" to the San Francisco Center for the Book and its blog, Teacher Features: Thoughts on Bookmaking with Kids, for the kind words about Chicken Spaghetti. Look at those cool dragons!

Image: Pulaski Skyway, Hudson County, New Jersey. Taken 1978, Historic American Engineering Record.

"St. Patrick's Day," by Mary Cantwell

Irish_clover St. Patrick's Day
by Mary Cantwell
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1967
40 pages
for ages 8-12

From the same era as Corduroy, which I wrote about last week, this little book tells about St. Patrick and the latter-day parades in his honor on March 17th, the day he died. Cantwell goes back to Roman times to trace the full history of the Catholic saint. He was born in the late fourth century, and as a boy, was captured by pirates and taken from England to Ireland as a slave. I'm sure many of you know all of this, but my son and I didn't.  Some of the narrative—as in a heavenly voice speaking directly to Patrick, helping him escape—a reader will have have to take either on faith or with a grain of salt, but all in all, I found the book a handy introduction to a much-loved holiday. Patrick returned to Ireland as a bishop, and his main contribution, she writes, was "saving the Romans' learning for the world." I liked the vintage three-color illustrations of the parade in New York, the same one Junior insisted he needed to attend rather than school this morning. (Maybe next year.)

St. Patrick's Day was part of a 1960s series called Crowell Holiday Books, and you can find lots of former library copies on Ebay and Alibris. Aliki penned one on United Nations Day that I'd like to see; Ed Emberley illustrated another on Flag Day. Mary Cantwell, a longtime editor at Mademoiselle, also wrote a trio of autobiographies, American Girl, Manhattan, When I Was Young, and Speaking with Strangers, now all collected in one book (for grown-ups), Manhattan Memoir.

Note: On Mondays Anastasia Suen, a children's book author, rounds up posts about nonfiction for kids, at her blog Picture Book of the Day. The March 17th compilation is here.

Poetry Friday: "Sea Stars" (A Re-Run)

Writing about Sandra Markle's Octopuses reminded me of Sea Stars, a book of poems I mentioned on this blog a while back; here's that review.


The first-grade class where I volunteer as a reading buddy is spending the whole year studying oceans and sea life. Do I have a book for them! The picture book Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems is a collaborative effort by two British Columbians. Photographer Margaret Butschler took the vibrant photographs first; Avis Harley then wrote short poems for each picture. From the acknowledgments, I gather that the photos were taken at the Vancouver Aquarium, and you'll see a Beluga whale, giant Pacific Octopus, and sea cucumber, among other creatures, as you turn the pages. A two-page section of thumbnail photos at the end provides additional information on each animal or plant.

One personal favorite is "My Good Points," about the Dungeness crab. ("A toe-pinching scrimmage/has damaged my image.") In the introduction to "Sea Stars," Avis Harley writes,

A photograph can be highly inspirational. I encourage you to look for an image that sparks your imagination and then write a poem about it. Use lines that are short, and play with words. Try to describe your subject in a way that no one else has thought of before.

What good advice for young readers. That's exactly what Harley did with "Sips of Sea," a tribute to the pipe fish. Although I don't have copyright permission to quote it, she has an original way of looking at this cousin of a sea horse. Some children will want to write poetry, and many will enjoy looking at the photographs and reading the poems, which are not much longer than captions. My second-grader can read these poems aloud, and I think the first-grade students will get a kick out out of the book, just as we have. Sea Stars makes a fine new addition to the  poetry-and-science shelf.


Those kids did like Sea Stars, and I remember several of the girls ooh-ing and ah-ing over a photo of a sea otter.  I'm working with a new group of first graders now, and they, too, would happily listen to these poems read out loud. First, I'd also take in a few similarly themed picture books to share before going directly to Sea Stars. Going over some vocabulary would be good, too. We might talk about words like "scrimmage," "carnivore," "scarlet," and "crimson."  A little groundwork never hurts.

The roundup of other Poetry Friday blog posts is at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup, and she has a theme: the lyrics of Bob Dylan. I'll let others wax poetic about him.

Sandra Markle's "Octopuses" + Outstanding Science Books for Kids

Cv_0822560631 Octopuses
by Sandra Markle
Lerner Publishing, 2007
40 pages
Age range: 8-12; younger for read-aloud
ISBN-13: 978-0-8225-6063-0

Just because it has eight arms doesn't mean an octopus's life is easy. Sure, growing back a tentacle when necessary is helpful, but much of its existence is spent on the lam from predators. This nonfiction picture book for older readers even shows an oh-so-pretty coral snarfing up a baby octopus. When an octopus isn't escaping or hiding from something, it's looking for a meal. Dead dogfish shark, anyone? Focusing on the eat-or-be-eaten nature of an octopus's life gives the information a dramatic arc, and readers find out fascinating facts about what the strange-looking creature does to protect itself.  A prolific science and nature writer, Sandra Markle conveys her subject matter in a clear, straightforward style, and the book, part of a series called "Animal Prey," features large color photos throughout, which correspond well with the text. 

The National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council cited Octopuses—and 31 other titles in 8 categories—in the brand-new 2008 edition of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. A great resource for parents as well as teachers and librarians, this list is one that many of us anticipate with glee every year.

A hat tip to The Miss Rumphius Effect for NSTA book-list news.

Astrid Lindgren Award to Sonya Hartnett

The 2008 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award went to the Australian author Sonya Hartnett. The prize given by the Swedish government honors the creator of Pippi Longstocking and consists of 5 million Swedish krona. It's the largest prize in children's literature. (According to Yahoo! Finance's currency converter, that's the equivalent of some 820,000 U.S. dollars. Can that be right? Wow.)

Hartnett's many novels include Thursday's Child, The Silver Donkey, and Surrender.

More: article in the March 12th edition of the Guardian

Corduroy, Child of the Sixties, and the Late Bloomer Earl

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminds us that Corduroy, a picture-book classic by Don Freeman, turns forty this year.

"'Corduroy' taps into a persistent childhood fantasy," says Anita Silvey, children's-book expert and author of '100 Best Books for Children.' "Children know that when they leave the room, their toys have all kinds of adventures; this fantasy underlies 'Toy Story,' 'The Lonely Doll' and 'Corduroy.'

Freeman's Earl the Squirrel is another favorite of ours. On a web site devoted to Don Freeman's books, his son tells how the book came to be published some fifty years after it was written.

Both of these make great choices for a preschool or kindergarten read-aloud. 

50 Easy Readers with a "Wow!" Factor: Exciting Nonfiction for 1st and 2nd Graders

396pxlightning_striking_the_eiffel_Many six and seven year olds want their nonfiction and they want it exciting. Shipwrecks! Escapes! Dinosaurs! Exclamation points! Here is a thriller of a list that caters to that very crowd. It comes from Candace Herbst at the Westport (CT) Public Library; she runs the Book Voyages club for first and second graders. I've added bookstore links (Powell's, Barnes & Noble) so that you can see the books. Plenty of older children will like these titles, too.

Maximum Triceratops, by Robert T. Bakker
Stars and Stripes: The Story of the American Flag, by Sarah L. Thomson
Hungry Plants, by Mary Batten
Actual Size, by Steve Jenkins
Breakout!: Escape from Alcatraz, by Lori Haskins
Tentacles!: Tales of the Giant Squid, by Shirley-Raye Redmond
To the Top!: Climbing the World's Highest Mountain, by Sydelle A. Kramer
Civil War Sub: The Mystery of the Hunley, by Kate Boehm Jerome
The True-or-False Book of Dogs, by Patricia Lauber
Ponies, by Pam Pollack
Finding the Titanic, by Robert D. Ballard
Disasters at Sea, by Andrew Donkin
Bats!: Creatures of the Night, by Joyce Milton
On Beyond Bugs, by Tish Rabe
S-S-Snakes, by Lucille Recht Penner
Sea of Ice: The Wreck of the Endurance, by Monica Kulling
Beastly Tales: Yeti, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster, by Malcolm Yorke
The Solar System, by Carmen Bredeson
Stars in the Sky, Allan Fowler
The Day the Dinosaurs Died, by Charlotte Lewis Brown
Beyond the Dinosaurs: Monsters of the Air and Sea, by Charlotte Lewis Brown
Dinosaur Days, by Joyce Milton
First Kids, by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
Tut's Mummy Lost...and Found, by Judy Donnelly
Storm Chasers: Tracking Twisters, by Gail Herman
Monster Bugs, by Lucille Recht Penner
Mummies, by Joyce Milton
Big Birds, by Lucille Recht Penner
Where Are the Stars During the Day?, by Melvin Berger
Big Cats, by Joyce Milton
Ice Mummy: The Discovery of at 5,000-Year-Old Man, by Mark Dubowski
Volcanoes: Mountains That Blow Their Tops, by Nicholas Nirgiotis
Dinosaurs Alive! The Dinosaur-Bird Connection, by Dennis R. Shealy
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventure of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman
Whatever the Weather, by Karen Wallace
True-Life Treasure Hunts, by Judy Donnelly
Hungry, Hungry Sharks, by Joanna Cole
Twisters!, by Lucille Recht Renner
Wild, Wild Wolves, by Joyce Milton
The Titanic Lost...and Found, by Judy Donnelly
Amazing Sharks!, by Sarah L. Thomson
On That Day: A Book of Hope, by Andrea Patel
The Daring Escape of Ellen Craft, by Cathy Moore
Quakes!, by Catherine McMorrow
Mummies Unwrapped!, by Kimberly Weinberger
The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto, by Natalie Standford
Stars, by Jennifer Dussling
Red Legs: A Drummer Boy of the Civil War, by Ted Lewin
Saving the Liberty Bell, by Megan McDonald
Tiger Trek, by Ted Lewin

(Yes, there are more than fifty. Many thanks to Candace Herbst. Aren't librarians generous?)

This blog post is part of Nonfiction Mondays, in which Anastasia Suen, an author/writing teacher/blogger, rounds up blog entries on nonfiction for children. See Picture Book of the Day for details.

A note on the image: Photograph taken June 3, 1902, at 9.20 p.m., by M. G. Loppé. Published in the Bulletin de la Société Astronomique de France (May, 1905). From Wikimedia Commons.

Poetry Friday: Mary Ann Hoberman's "Snow"

Long a fan of Mary Ann Hoberman's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You books, I've had fun leafing through her 1998 collection, The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems. The way she uses repetition in her work reminds me of children's speech, and yet it's sophisticated, too. One of those "I don't know how she does it" qualities. Here is "Snow," which is in The Llama Who Had No Pajama and on her website. This poem is just calling out to be memorized. Maybe I'll give it a try.

Lots of snow
Everywhere we look and everywhere we go

Read the rest of the poem here. (Scroll down on the page.)

The Poetry Friday roundup (with 44 other participants so far!) is at The Simple and the Ordinary.

Bonus track:  Chicken Spaghetti review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You.