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November 2008
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January 2009

Easy Reading: Maybelle Goes to Tea

 On Thursday, January 1st, the short lists for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) will be announced. I've been working on the nominating panel in the Easy Reader category, and one book, of many, that I enjoyed was Maybelle Goes to Tea. Here's my take.

 Bedecked in a pink bow and a string of pearls, Maybelle is one proper cockroach. Proper cockroach? Hey, why not? With her list of rules ("If you're spied, better hide"), she does everything possible to avoid an Extermination Event at the home of the equally proper Peabodys. But on the day of the Ladies' Tea, decorum flies out the window, and one adventure after another ensues. Newly independent readers, and children listening to a read-aloud, will get a kick out of Katie Speck's original and amusing story, which she tells in thirteen short chapters. Paul Rátz de Tagyos's whimsical illustrations, of the unlikely heroine and her insect friends, add to the insouciant fun.

Post-Holiday Miscellany

Several days after Santa's visit, Junior is glued to his new Nintendo DS games, but I'm hoping he'll pause at some point to read Nic Bishop's Frogs, one of his other presents. We're relaxing, eating like we're squirrels storing up for the winter, and appreciating the slow pace of the school break. I've read three books so far. Hope you have, too!

From My State to Yours: Happy Holidays


What a lovely lot of trees, don't you think? And it's so special, so heartwarming, so seasonal that they're grown here in the Nutmeg State, too. Ah, smell the scents of evergreens and "O Tanenbaum" wafting through the air. Want to buy one of these beauties?


Perhaps, then, we'd better go with a sunset.


At least it has some color.

Happy Holidays from all of us here at Chicken Spaghetti!

Window on the UK's Best: "Open Book," BBC Radio 4

Listening in on an "Open Book" program on BBC Radio 4, I jotted down the titles recommended as the "best of the year" by children's book authors Emily Gravett and Philip Ardagh and The Bookseller children's books editor, Caroline Horn.

The segment starts about 8 minutes into the program (linked here), and one can read the book list at the show's web site. If an edition seemed to be available here in the USA or coming soon, I linked it to Powell's, below.

Picture Books
Emily Gravett recommended There Are Cats in This Book, by Viviane Schwarz (her "absolute favorite" of the year), and The Great Paper Caper, by Oliver Jeffers. Caroline Horn praised Stick Man, by Julia Donaldson.

Books for Older Children
Philip Ardagh chose a book by a first-time author, The Chicken Dance, by Jacques Couvillon, saying, "Very American, very funny, very wacky." For girls, Caroline Horn singled out Ingrid Law's Savvy. Mentioning "reluctant readers," for boys, she went with Cressida Cowell's How to Ride a Dragon Storm and other books in the series about Hiccup Horrendous Haddock II.

In terms of adventure books, Ardagh was keen on The Toymaker, by Jeremy De Quidt; Gravett on Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce; and Horn on Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior, by Chris Bradford, and the Jimmy Coates books by Joe Craig.

Horn cited Malorie Blackman's Double Cross and Jenny Valentine's Broken Soup, while Ardagh had high praise for Marie-Louise Jensen's Between Two Seas.

Predictions for 2009
Caroline Horn thought Chris Wooding's Malice and Jonathan Stroud's Heroes of the Valley will be big. Philip Ardagh said to expect more humor and referred to Andy Stanton's Mr. Gum books. When asked about the Greenaway,  Emily Gravett predicted There Are Cats in This Book. (The Greenaway medal is the UK equivalent of the Caldecott.)

The "Open Book" list from BBC Radio 4 is one of many "best of the year" roundups that I've collected on a page called The Best of the Best: Kids' Books '08. Check it out!

Stocking-Stuffer Books for Grown-Ups

Combing the "best of 2008" lists for children's books, I've come across many titles for grown-ups that sound like good stocking stuffers or Hanukkah gifts. (Happy Hanukkah! It starts Sunday night.) Technically, none of these books will fit into a stocking, but that's a minor detail...

Street Gang: The Complete History of "Sesame Street," by Michael Davis. Boston Globe review. Funny "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me" (NPR radio show) segment on the book, with guest Denis Leary.

Falling for Science: Objects in Mind, edited and with an introduction by Sherry Turkle. NPR review.

How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. Newly revised 10th anniversary edition. Crunchy Con blurb at Mark Bittman blogs at Bitten.

2666, by Roberto Bolaño. The 912-page novel that is on all of the Best of 2008 lists. Chekhov's Mistress article.

Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter, by Seth Lerer. New Haven Review critique. Plus, Seth Lerer chooses his own favorites of the year at The Millions.

The Best American Comics 2008
, edited by Lynda Barry. Silicon Valley's Metro review.

Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America (newly revised). Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) review.

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, by Ina Garten. "Falling for Ina Garten, all over again," by Emily Nunn, at the Chicago Tribune. (I bought this for myself already. I'm just like Jr. when he shops for birthday presents for others, always scooping up one for himself, too.)

"It's a Narnia Christmas" at the NY Times

Evergreen Laura Miller, author of  The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, writes an op-ed piece today, which begins,

Every Christmas, I re-read C .S. Lewis’s novel “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” The holiday seems like the ideal time for an excursion into my imaginative past, and so I return to the paperback boxed set of “The Chronicles of Narnia” that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was 10. For me, Narnia is intimately linked with the season.

Read the whole essay here.

Meanwhile, 'tis the season here at Chicken Spaghetti of The Best of the Best: Kids' Books '08, a collection of links to many year-end lists. From the Abilene Reporter News's Top Ten Texas reads to the Washington Post's audio-book recommendations, you'll find lots. One terrific new addition is from Good Comics for Kids, a new School Library Journal blog.

December Carnival of Children's Literature Over Yonder + Gift-Idea Bonanza

For the December Carnival of Children's Literature, Jen Robinson—literacy maven, book reviewer, Ph. D.—has compiled kid-lit bloggers' favorite posts of the year. You'll find a grand collection of links to good reading over there. Jen Robinson's Book Page is celebrating its third anniversary. Congratulations, Jen!

Still looking for the ideal holiday present? (Answer to self: yes.) MotherReader has it covered: more than 100 ideas for book-gift combos. Thank you, MR, for the handy links, too.

Washington Post Looks at the Newbery Discussion

The Washington Post has picked up on Anita Silvey's School Library Journal article on the Newbery award ("Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?") and the larger discussion it spawned. Valerie Strauss writes,

Now the literary world is debating the Newbery's value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading.

Read the entire article here.

Guest Column: A Big Little Christmas

800px-Kress_Bldg_Tampa09 I am happy to welcome guest columnist Sarah T., who grew up in central Texas.

A long time ago, in the 1930s, three brothers and their young sister enjoyed an exciting exchange of gifts around the Christmas tree.

Each gave the others a Big Little Book purchased at Kress's or Woolworth's by a shopper with a dollar to spend for six gifts for the family. A total of 12 books were selected by the brothers and sister, shopping at different times.

The fun thing about the gift exchange was that there were no duplicates of titles. This happened at least two Christmases, delighting the family and friends!

As one brother relates it, "The Big Little Books were a boon to our early childhood Christmas shopping." They were 5 cents each. The books were favorite reading among the children, so having 12 new titles was the greatest.

The Big Little Book was three inches by four inches and about an inch and a half thick. The paper was very coarse like the manila paper which was used at school in those days.

The BLBs were published by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. The first books were just like comic strips, but longer; later BLBs were adaptations of movies. They had titles (and subjects) like "Buck Jones in the Fighting Code" and "Dick Tracy and the Boris Anson Gang." One brother remembers books featuring Joe Palooka, G Men on the Job, Tailspin Tommy, Orphan Annie, and Tarzan.

Other members of the family probably received boxes of chocolate-covered cherries. A one-pound box sold for 19 cents at the dime store.

Photograph of old S. H. Kress & Company building in Tampa, Florida, by John Bradley.