Previous month:
November 2008
Next month:
January 2009

Holiday Message from Roy Blount, Authors Guild President

Here is a holiday message from Roy Blount, president of the Authors Guild. He gave blanket permission to publish it. ("Sound the clarion call to every corner of the Internet...")

I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves.  Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: "Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see...we're the Authors Guild."

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.
Authors Guild

P.S., from Susan: I hear good things about Blount's new book, Alphabet Juice—"part etymology and part social commentary but mostly a dictionary with stories"—from the Nashville Scene and others.

Time for a Little History

I'm looking forward to Christmas vacation and a respite from duties like homework monitor. I'll get to a few books that I've been meaning to read forever. One is A Little History of the World, newly out in paperback. Since it's a book for children, I'm hoping the homeworker will consent to hearing it read aloud, but even if he is too immersed in such intellectual pursuits as Poptropica, I'll have time for the book without breaking for "What about the math!"

E.H. Gombrich's 304-page A Little History of the World is "the story of man from the Stone Age to the Atomic Bomb." Initially issued in German in the 1930s, the book was later revised by Gombrich, and then re-published in English a few years ago. It went on to receive excellent reviews. To read the book's interesting publishing history, complete with audio links, visit Yale University Press.

On an unrelated, non-kid note, Yale also published the catalogue for the William Eggleston photography show at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. That's another must-see for me over the holidays. It closes January 25th.

Update 12/15: In the Comments section, reader Suji recommends listening to the audio version of the book. Great idea for long car trips! One source is Thanks, Suji!

Easy Reading: Amanda Pig and the Wiggly Tooth

A straightforward story about a familiar childhood situation, Amanda Pig and the Wiggly Tooth is the latest in a series of beginning readers written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by Ann Schweninger. Amanda is a very human-like oinker; she jumps rope, wears pink and purple clothes, and plays with stuffed animals.

Amanda's tooth would not fall out.

She wiggled it

up and down and sideways.

She jiggled it.

She twirled it around in a circle.

But it did not fall out.

While I didn't find the happenings particularly suspenseful, perhaps five and six year olds will.  (Unlike Mercy Watson, the pigs here don't embrace their inner—or outer—boar.) Dial, the publisher, lists the book as a Level 2, for "reading together," with "short sentences" and "simple dialogue." Add brief chapters, pictures on each page, and plenty of white space between the lines, and you've got a pleasant and age-appropriate easy reader.

Amanda Pig and the Wiggly Tooth is a nominee for Cybils award in the Easy Reader category.

Fun with Field Guides + Books for Natural-History Enthusiasts

Peterson Guide 2 (2) When I read Hank Golet's story on the Connecticut Ornithological Association's email list, I knew it was the perfect intro to a blog post about field guides and other nature-related gifts. Hank kindly gave me permission to reprint the tale here. (Note: Roger Tory Peterson [1908-1966] invented the modern field guide; he lived in Connecticut for many years.)

Reading [another birder's] lost Peterson Field Guide story reminded me of one of my own experiences.

I was birding at Menunketesuck flats in Westbrook, probably 20 years ago, and left my signed Peterson Guide on the seawall. I didn't know it was missing until I reached for it two days later, and found it wasn't in the wooden box behind the seat in my pickup. Somehow I remembered putting it on the wall and drove down to Westbrook never expecting it to still be there. The guide was where I left it...but I didn't mention that it rained all of the day before. I took the book home and put paper towels between every page to dry it out the best I could but it still had/has that "expanded" look.

Peterson always signed his works with a red soft pen that was not waterproof.  His signature had faded badly in my guide but it was still readable. Roger and his wife Virginia used to like to come down to the dock at the end of the road where I live here in Old Lyme. One early evening I was there when they came down. I showed him the guide and told him the story of my leaving it on the seawall and asked him if he would sign it again. He did but he didn't have his red pen so he signed it with my black ballpoint.
So, I may have the only Peterson field guide signed twice, once in red and, right underneath, in black.

Besides that, I probably have the only Peterson Guide (the same one) that has a black tire mark across the third page in, from when the bag that I was carrying it in came off the back of my motorcycle on I-95 and the car behind me ran over it.

Following are some resources for finding an equally stalwart gift for naturalists young and old.

Luke Tiller's Under Clear Skies, a top-notch birding blog, recently posted about holiday gifts for birders; some of the DVDs mentioned would be great for children. Plus, Luke has a few other ideas for kids, too.

At Scientist, Interrupted, GrrlScientist points out some cool new natural-history books—many of them kid-friendly—including a pop-up affair with sound called Birdscapes and a graphic novel about Darwin. She also reviews a nonfiction title for adults, Dry Storeroom #1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, "a charming and affectionate tour through the the inner workings and politics of London's Natural History Museum by paleontologist and trilobite expert Richard Fortey." And for children, Grrl Scientist gives high marks to Sparrows, a picture book.

The 10,000 birds blog maintains a wonderful archive of reviews of books and equipment. The Birder's Library has a lovely list of books for children, and 100 Scope Notes' consideration of Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia makes that one sound like a good holiday present for young nature-lovers.

Finally, don't miss the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) top science books for children and teens (finalists for the AAAS/Suburu SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books).

Happy reading! Many thanks to Hank Golet for his contribution.

Photograph by Hank Golet. All rights reserved.

Weekend Update, Dec. 6-7

Chicken Spaghetti's own roundup of Year's Best Children's Books is growing. Take a peek.

For a really !wow! best of the best, including books for adults, don't miss Largehearted Boy's 2008 Year-End Online Book List.

Here's fun stop on your blogosphere tour today: Florian Cafe: Poetry Commotion. Douglas Florian is the author and artist behind such grand children's books as Insectlopedia, Laugh-eteria, and Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars, among many others. Camille at Book Moot first introduced me to Florian's work, and my son and I are so glad she did.

In celebration of its third anniversary on December 17th, Jen Robinson's Book Page hosts the Carnival of Children's Literature. Bloggers, don't forget to submit your favorite blog post of the year by December 15th. Use the submission form at the Blog Carnival web site. Readers unfamiliar with blog carnivals can find an explanation here. It's from an older post, but the information still pertains.

Nonfiction Monday, a roundup of NF titles for kids, is at Picture Book of the Day on 12/8, as usual.

Easy Reading: Mr. Putter & Tabby Run the Race

TabbyimageDB.cgi If you and yours are new to easy reading, you need to know about Mr. Putter and Tabby. They're the unlikely stars of an excellent series by the prolific author Cynthia Rylant. I say "unlikely" because Mr. Putter is an elderly man and Tabby an elderly cat. But Mr. Putter has the heart and soul of a ten-year-old boy, and Tabby is the loyal friend everyone would want. Arthur Howard's illustrations are priceless, showing the goings-on in bright, cheerful watercolor, gouache, and pencil pictures. Tabby is never far from Mr. Putter; their affection for each other is clear. (Mr. Putter looks enough like Mr. Wilson from the "Dennis the Menace" comics to be his gentler brother.)

In Mr. Putter & Tabby Run the Race, Mr. Putter and his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry enter a senior marathon. Second prize is a train set, and Mr. Putter wants it. He must prepare by working out.

He decided he would touch his toes

thirty times every day to make up for the

thirty years he'd forgotten to run.

The first time Mr. Putter tried to touch his toes,

he could not reach them.

He touched his knees


Unless they're personal trainers, grown-ups reading along will recognize themselves. Considering appeal to younger readers, though, I found the book's focus on the senior marathon and Mr. Putter & Mrs. Teaberry (instead of Tabby) a bit of a stretch, even for this series. It comes up short of the best, like Mr. Putter & Tabby Feed the Fish. Reliving his youth, Mr. Putter buys a couple of goldfish, and Tabby becomes obsessed, to the point of feline looniness, with them. The relationship between the pet and pet owner is front and center as they work out their differences.

That said, a new Mr. Putter & Tabby is always a must-read. My advice? Start with a couple of others in the series—such as the one mentioned above, Mr. Putter & Tabby Pour the Tea (the first), Mr. Putter & Tabby Pick the Pears, and Mr. Putter & Tabby Fly the Plane—and work your way forward. By then, readers won't want to miss seeing what the duo and their friends are up to.

The publisher, Harcourt, states that the Mr. Putter & Tabby series is for 6 to 9 year olds. Preschoolers will like the books as read-alouds, too. Mr. Putter & Tabby Run the Race is a nominee in the Cybils' Easy Reader category.

Easy Reading: Fly High, Fly Guy! + Hooray for Fly Guy!

Flyhigh9780545007221_xlg Pairs of friends are at the heart of many easy readers. Surely that's due to the influence of Frog and Toad. Whether the books are about two animals (Elephant and Piggie, Cork and Fuzz, Minnie and Moo) or a person & a pet (Mr. Putter and Tabby, Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa, Henry and Mudge), they're quite popular with their target audience of 5 to 7 year olds.

Like all of the series mentioned above,Tedd Arnold's Fly Guy books have a good sense of humor, and Arnold adds a nicely weird touch: the pet is a house fly. A big-eyed, eager-to-help house fly. One young reader I know laughed in surprise. Fly Guy is a tiny hero, teaming up with the equally big-eyed boy/pet owner, Buzz, for mildly mischievous adventures.

In Fly High, Fly Guy! the author-illustrator relates the story of Buzz's family's vacation with simple sentences ("Fly Guy wanted to go, too. 'He's too little,' said Mom. 'He might get lost.'") and plenty of visual jokes (like Fly Guy sneaking into the trunk of the car). Fly Guy gets drafted onto Buzz's football team in Hooray for Fly Guy! The conspiring that he and Buzz do for their special play expresses the delight of sharing a secret with someone.

Find your favorite pal who's learning to read, and appreciate these loopy books together. Both Fly High, Fly Guy! and Hooray for Fly Guy! are nominees for a 2008 Cybils award in the Easy Reader category.

Easy Reading: How to Drive Your Sister Crazy

Bradley Harris Pinkerton delights in playing tricks on his older, teenaged sister, Abby. In four short chapters, Bradley succeeds in his mission, mentioned in the book's title.

Chapter 1 of How to Drive Your Sister Crazy begins,

Do you have a big sister?

Do you know how to drive her crazy?

Take it from me,

Bradley Harris Pinkerton.

I'm good at it.

The publisher places How to Drive Your Sister Crazy in the "reading with help" category of "high-interest stories for developing readers." Because of concerns about the portrayal of the sister, I have to put the book on the Stereotype Shelf. Abby is scared of snakes, always on the phone in her all-purple bedroom, and devoted to beautifying rituals. On many pages, she also appears to be shrieking.

Also odd was this scene that sets up a joke (ringing underwear) at the book's conclusion.

        Set the alarm clock

        for 3:00 in the morning, and put it

        in your sister's underwear drawer.

        NOTE: Do NOT touch her underpants.


My 9-year-0ld son thought this book was way funny.

Sometimes, though, funny isn't everything.

How to Drive Your Sister Crazy, written by Diane Z. Shore and illustrated by Laura Rankin, is a nominee for a 2008 Cybils award.