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Thinking About Picture Books

In a discussion on the Child_Lit listserv, Perry Nodelman had some fascinating things to say about picture book texts. I asked for and received permission to reprint his remarks, which are helpful for both writers and readers (grown-up readers, that is).

Nodelman is the co-author of The Pleasures of Children's Literature, and the author of Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children's Books and The Hidden Adult: Defining Children's Literature, among other works. He has penned a number of books for children, including Ghost Hunters: The Proof That Ghosts Exist (written with Carol Matas).

During Child_Lit's wide-ranging exchange on verse novels, the conversation turned to picture-book texts. Horn Book editor Roger Sutton pointed out that they "use page breaks for dramatic effect," and asked, "Does this make them different from standard prose narrative in some structural way?" Nodelman responded,

A picture book text is indeed something like a poem, I think—like a 
sonnet or a villanelle, maybe, because the constrictions of the form 
are so firm and so complicated. There are very few words—usually 300 
to 600 or so?—to tell a story in. They have to be spread out fairly 
evenly throughout the book—you don't usually have 500 words on one 
page and then one each on the rest of the pages. Because the text

Continue reading "Thinking About Picture Books" »

Poetry Friday: Baseball

Yankee_Stadium,1920s The scene: The front yard. (After a current-event homework discussion of the historic last game at Yankee Stadium, it was decided that a game of baseball is needed.)

The baseball players: Junior (representing the Yankees) and Mom (the Mets).

Mom (pitching and announcing the game): Batting for the world-famous New York Yankees is...

Junior: Janet Jackson!

Mom: [Pause.] Reggie Jackson?

Junior: I mean, Reggie Jackson!

Mom pitches, and Reggie hits big, out of the ballpark/beyond the holly bush.

And such is the run-scoring segue to today's Poetry Friday selection: Kenn Nesbitt's "If School Were More Like Baseball," at 

If school were more like baseball,
we'd only have to play.

The Miss Rumphius Effect rounds up all the Poetry Friday posts. To read more about Poetry Friday, take a look at this article. Do join the game! Everyone is welcome.

Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15th-October 15th

Jen Robinson's Book Page was kind enough to give Chicken Spaghetti a shout-out recently, and I want use this fine opportunity to pay it forward and mention some sites celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. Por que no? Why not!

The Paper Tigers site is chock full of dulces right now, including an interview with Pam Muñoz Ryan, an illustrators' gallery, and book reviews. A terrific starting place to gather ideas.

My World-Mi Mundo. What's up in Columbus, OH? There are some mighty fine kid-lit blogs in that town. Stella, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, has been dishing out recommendation after recommendation of children's books to read during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Literanista compiles a long list of Latino authors on the web.

As always, La Bloga bursts at the seams with literary news and reviews.

Gina Ruiz redesigned her AmoXcalli blog, which covers Hispanic lit and books of all kinds. Very spiffy! She also blogs about Latino children's and YA books at Cuentesitos.

Amo el Internet.

George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Friends. A Gift of a Book.

9780618891955george martha  Lately the fourth-grader and I are engaging in a tug-of-war over a new book. Our house just may need two copies of George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Friends, written and illustrated by James Marshall. You know these two; they're hippos. In George and Martha One Fine Day, George looks out the window to see the enormous Martha, clad in a polka-dotted skirt, walking a tight rope.

"My stars!" cried George. "I could never do that!"

"Why not?" said Martha. "It's tons of fun."

Houghton Mifflin has gathered all seven George and Martha picture books into one volume, and included commentary by such big names in children's literature as Maurice Sendak, Susan Meddaugh, and Coleen Salley. The original George and Martha was published in 1972, and the last, George and Martha Round and Round, in 1988. James Marshall died in 1992. He was only fifty. "Jim Marshall was one of the true geniuses of the children's book world," the author Marc Brown said. (An earlier Complete Stories was issued in 1997; the Sendak piece in the new edition served as the introduction. The other "appreciations" are new.)

Last year, on her blog What Adrienne Thinks About That, children's librarian Adrienne Furness shared some remarkably insightful thoughts about the George and Martha stories. She wrote,

The thing is that in these books, the reader doesn’t see George and Martha as outsiders would see them; we see them as they see each other. Your average first or second grader, who this series is perfect for, has seen enough of the world to know that some of what people have been telling them about how people will be nice to you if you’re nice to them and the implication that one can always be “good” aren’t concepts that correlate with their reality. I would think it would be supremely comforting to find these books that are light, funny, and telling the complete and total truth about how relationships really operate.

I can't say it any better than that.

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken

9780060755546louise chicken  "Louise watched the black-sailed ship draw near. Her heart beat fast within her feathered breast. Here, at last, was true adventure!"

That's from Kate DiCamillo's latest work, a picture book illustrated by Harry Bliss. Louise, as in Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, sallies forth from the farm not once but thrice and returns bearing epic tales. The plot...well, I don't know. Do I really need to talk about a plot? I'll say the events are both dramatic and guffaw-inducing; then I'll cut to the end: there's no place like home—a conclusion reached by not only Louise (and Dorothy) but also the venturesome chickens in books like Daisy Comes Home, Big Chickens Fly the Coop, and Minerva Louise and the Red Truck. Harry Bliss's swashbuckling art work in Louise gives children lots to study and laugh over.

On the Books, with Elisha Cooper

PastedGraphic.jpg-1 (2) Picture-book people know Elisha Cooper as the creator of such gems as A Goodnight Walk, Beach, and Magic Thinks Big. Parents could relate to Crawling, a memoir of his first year as a dad. Now young-adult readers are getting acquainted with this versatile writer's work in ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool: A Year in an American High School. Reported with a wry sense of humor, the "literary documentary," as Bookslut says, navigates the hallways with eight students at Chicago's Walter Payton College Prep High School; small illustrations by the author run throughout the book.

I invited Elisha Cooper to stop by and visit, asking him, of course, about what he's reading lately. Take it away, Mr. C.
I’m reading too much now, and not in a good way. In the morning, I’m swearing my way through The New York Times. Throughout the day, I continue to read The Times and online for the latest election coverage. Though, maybe this shouldn’t be considered reading. Gorging?
But I am reading with my daughters, and that’s good. I just bought Old Bear, the new picture book by Kevin Henkes, and have been looking at it with my four-year-old. With my six-year-old, we’ve been reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And I’ve been reading them both Castle, by David Macaulay. I loved this book as a boy, and it’s been fun rediscovering it (“It’s déjà vu, all over again!” as Yogi Berra said), sharing cool stuff about drawbridges and battle axes with my two girls. They seem to like it.

Once the girls are in bed, I’ve been reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (with one eye on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart). I’ve read it twice before (I guess I have a habit of rereading books I love), and it may be one of the most fascinating best-written books ever. It’s about, well,… read it.

It’s so good, but the problem is that it’s keeping me up late. I’m up until two in the morning, bleary-eyed, chin-dropping my way through another amazing chapter. Great books sort of kill you.

And then it’s morning again, and more election-coverage to suffer through in The Times. I’ve got to stop reading.

P.S., don't miss Elisha Cooper's funny piece in Publisher's Weekly about the awkwardness of writing the author's note. The dynamic blogging duo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast features a lengthy interview with Mr. C. today, too. Last summer Chasing Ray talked to the author about how he wrote ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool.

Previously in "On the Books":

Marc Tyler Nobleman
Betsy Howie
Susan Taylor Brown
Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
Janet Halfmann

Breakfast with Links, Monday, September 22nd

Happy first day of fall!

On Mondays, children's book author Anastasia Suen rounds up posts about nonfiction for children at Picture Book of the Day. I'm submitting the Chicken Spaghetti entry "On the Books, with Elisha Cooper."

Fairrosa's Reading Journal looks at the old picture book The Five Chinese Brothers.

"(stet:)"  at Quiet Bubble. On being an editor.

"Freeing the Elephants," by Adam Gopnik, at The New Yorker. On the Babar exhibit at NYC's Morgan Library.

Also at The New Yorker, John Updike on William Maxwell.

"'The Daughter of a Noble House Dressed for a Fancy-Ball,'" at Anecdotal Evidence. On trees. And poetry.

The September Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Jenny's Wonderland of Books.

Good-bye, Coleen Salley

New Orleanian Coleen Salley wore many hats in her lifetime: storyteller, professor of children's literature, children's book author, literacy advocate. She died this week at the age of 79. I hadn't known her work until I read Epossumondas Saves the Day to a first-grade class earlier this year, and now I feel like a friend is gone. Around the I'net you'll find some reminiscences. New Orleans blogger b.rox has a photo of Salley and her krewe in a Mardi Gras parade, and A Frolic of My Own is featuring a hilarious picture, too. Elsewhere, read

Educating Alice

Kimberly Willis Holt's Jambalaya

Deborah Wiles' One Pomegranate

Read Roger


Library Stew

Times-Picayune obituary

I like what Betsy Groban said in the New York Times Book Review (11.17.02) about the first Epossumondas book. She wrote, "As amusing as the illustrations are, the Southern cadence of Salley's voice, best captured when the story is read aloud again and again, is what makes this regional tale a treasure."

9/24: Updated to add reminiscences by Planet Esme, The Pulpwood Queen's Book Club, and Susan Larson (book editor at the Times-Picayune)

On the Books, with Janet Halfmann

517nhxkm2gl_sl500_aa240_robt smalls I'm happy to welcome Janet Halfmann to Chicken Spaghetti's "On the Books" series. She is the author of many books for children, including Little Skink's Tail  (illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein) and Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story (illustrated by Duane Smith). The blog A Wrung Sponge called the award-winning Little Skink's Tail "a charming picture book that introduces the lives and habitats of real animals." Seven Miles to Freedom received a starred review from the book-trade journal Kirkus, which noted "[t]he daring Civil War escape of a slave, his crew and their families in a stolen Confederate supply boat receives appropriately inspirational treatment..."

Let's hear from Janet. What are you reading lately?

Every so often when I visit my local library in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I stop at the bookshelf holding new children’s releases and read just about every picture book there. Some of the recent gems I found are:

Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jeff Mack, is a wonderfully simple book about the excitement of a new birth—and my 4-year-old grandson loves it!

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, is a fun, rhyming story about a plucky little truck that always has time for others, even a self-important dump truck. And the little truck’s friends always have time for him. The book is full of animal and truck sounds that are fun for kids to repeat.   

Fartiste by husband and wife Paul Brewer and Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, is another rhyming story, this time a mostly true story. It features Joseph Pujol, who learned early in life that he could control his farts. Later, with ten children to support, he perfected his farting and took his act to Paris’s famed Moulin Rouge. There, he played to sellout crowds—farting animal sounds, sneezes, and songs by Beethoven and Mozart—all without creating a stink. This story is a rip-roaring treat.

Also, the Fall Writers Retreat of the Wisconsin chapter of SCBWI [Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators] is coming up October 17-19 so I’m reading the new books of my fellow Wisconsin authors and illustrators. The stack is very high! Both the spring and fall 2008 lists of books by Wisconsin creators can be found here.

Happy Reading!

Editor's Note: Don Tate interviewed Duane Smith, the illustrator of Seven Miles to Freedom, at The Brown Bookshelf blog.

Previously in "On the Books":

Marc Tyler Nobleman
Betsy Howie
Susan Taylor Brown
Nathaniel Lachenmeyer