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December 2008
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February 2009

Poetry Friday: Phyllis McGinley

Happy Friday, everyone. Back in December, Ginia Belafante wrote about the poet Phyllis McGinley for the New York Times Book Review. In case you missed it, here is a link. The article is well worth your time; Bellafante presents McGinley, who also wrote children's books, as a kind of anti-Richard Yates, who put a torch to suburbia in his novel Revolutionary Road.

A devotee of convention in nearly every respect, she committed herself to form, which during the high moment of the confessional poets seemed anachronistic enough to count as new-fashioned. McGinley’s light verse sought to convey the ecstatic peace of suburban ritual, the delight in greeting a husband, in appointing a room, in going to the butcher.

Full versions of the poems are hard to find online. I can't even locate any at the Academy of American Poets or the Poetry Foundation, and The New Yorker keeps her work under lock and key in its archives. A few blogs have re-printed some poems since that Times article, apparently without copyright permission, though.

Luckily for local readers, my town's library here still has a copy of McGinley's Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades, Plus Seventy New Poems (Viking, 1960), which I read recently. The collection is a fascinating window on its times and New York City suburb setting. Look for it in the 821's.

The blog Adventures in Daily Living rounds up all the Poetry Friday posts today.

Resources for Inexpensive Children's Books

On The Core Knowledge Blog, Robert Pondiscio cited a newspaper column bemoaning the disappearance of the Little Golden Books and other inexpensive children's fare; that columnist noted that the books are available in some places, mostly online. While I don't agree with the premise—I have seen The Poky Little Puppy, etc.,  in Walmart, for one—the blog did get me to thinking about affordable books for little ones.

The public library, of course, is the biggest bargain; library cards are free.

Here is a version of what I wrote in the comments at Core Knowledge:

Goodwill and other thrift stores are excellent places to buy inexpensive books for children, as are library sales. Tag sales and garage sales are other good places to look, not to mention online resources like Freecycle lists and Paperback Swap. Almost all libraries offer free Internet access, so one does not have to own a computer to have accounts or join email lists.

My local Goodwill sells children’s paperbacks for something like 50 cents. The various Scholastic clubs also offer at least some inexpensive books in almost every catalogue. (A tip: just avoid the books that come with the cheap tchotchkes. Breakage=heartbreak.)

Any other ideas? I hope you'll add them in the comments. I'd be happy to make the suggestions into a flyer.

Newbery (to Gaiman), Caldecott (to Krommes), and Other Children's Literature Award Winners

It's a big day for children's literature. Via a Globe Newswire press release, you can read about the following prizes, which were announced at a meeting of the American Library Association:

Newbery Medal: Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Caldecott Medal: Beth Krommes, The House in the Night

Michael R. Printz Award: Melina Marchetta, Jellicoe Road

Coretta Scott King Book Awards: Kadir Nelson, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (author award); Floyd Cooper, The Blacker the Berry (illustrator award)

Schneider Family Book Award: Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

Geisel Award: Are You Ready to Play Outside?, written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Pura Belpré Awards: Yuyi Morales, Just in Case (illustrator award); Margarita Engle, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom (author award)

Siebert Medal: Kadir Nelson, We Are the Ship

More awards and all the runners up are on the press release.

Caldecott, Newbery Announcements Coming Monday, Jan. 26th

Tomorrow the Caldecott and Newbery medals will be announced.

Starting at 9:45 a.m. E.S.T., the American Library Association plans to live-stream the awards at this site. (I've never had any luck watching online, but perhaps this year will be different.) The ALA also promises a Twitter feed.

On the day before the announcement, I find it ridiculous that the American Library Association buries the words "Newbery" or "Caldecott" on its home page. I don't see "Caldecott" at all, and the only reference to the "Newbery" on the current home page is about an online course to "jump start" one's career. Instead, we see the phrase "Youth Media Awards." Who outside the library world knows what this refers to, for heaven's sake?

These are the two biggest American prizes for children's literature. Many people do not even know that the ALA is the sponsor. A couple of basic links, with names as the public knows them, ought to be on the home page.


My blogging friends over at Literate Lives—a teacher and a school librarian—wrote an impressive monthlong Looking for Newbery series in which they discuss potential contenders for the award. Take a peek.

On the Books, with Jacqueline Jules

SarahLaughs Welcome, Jacqueline Jules! Jacqueline is the author of Sarah Laughs, a picture-book retelling of the biblical story of Abraham's wife Sarah, who had a child late in life. Sarah Laughs just won a Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the younger-readers category. (Named for the author of All-of-a-Kind Family, the  Sydney Taylor prizes recognize Jewish literature for children and teens.)

I'm quite pleased that the Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour brings Jacqueline Jules to Chicken Spaghetti, especially since it's an "On the Books" day. "On the Books" is a series in which writers and other aficionados answer one question:

What are you reading these days? 

Let's hear from Jacqueline.

What a fun question! It reminds me of an in-house school television show we once did for “Read Across America” day at the Northern Virginia elementary school where I work as a library media specialist. Our physical education teacher made a video of himself reading from morning until night. I would have made the video myself, but our students needed a male role model. Thanks for the opportunity to report when and what I’m reading this particular week.

 6:30 a.m. On my exercise bike. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, by Wendy Mass. I am enjoying this because of the existential questions it examines and its New York city setting.

7:00 a.m. At the kitchen table, eating my 200-calorie breakfast. Queen of a Rainy Country, by Linda Pastan. Next to Billy Collins, Linda Pastan is my favorite poet.

11:00 a.m. At my desk in my school library office, I read School Library Journal while chomping celery and rice cakes during the one break I have from classes which allows lunch.

9:30 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. I teach library classes to students in grades preschool through sixth grade. Lots of read-alouds. This week the most memorable one was Duel: Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words, by Dennis Brindell Fradin. My sixth graders, who are studying the formation of our U.S. government, were fascinated to learn that the man on the ten-dollar bill and a bona fide founding father died in a senseless duel. I hope they will be as interested next week, when I share my new book from Charlesbridge, Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation

4:00 p.m. Apple snack time at my computer. I like to read the poem posted daily on Garrison Keillor’s "The Writer’s Almanac."

7:30 p.m. After-dinner research: Biblical Images, by Adin Steinsaltz, and Legends of the Bible, by Louis Ginzberg. High from seeing Sarah Laughs win a 2009 Sydney Taylor Honor Award, I am doing research to find another child-friendly story for a fifth book in this bible series. Benjamin and the Silver Goblet was just released this month, and Miriam in the Desert (tentative title) is with the wonderful illustrator Natascia Ugliano. My stack of bible reading material is likely to grow higher and higher in the coming months.

Thank you, Jacqueline—and congratulations! By the way, Natascia Ugliano, the illustrator of Sarah Laughs, stops by Write for a Reader today. The entire schedule for the Sydney Taylor Book Award tour is here, and the Sydney Taylor Book Award's own blog is here.

Continue reading "On the Books, with Jacqueline Jules" »

Today's Reading: Wackiest White House Pets

Wackiest Pets Cover Photo-2 The kiddo is home sick today, so we're going to finish reading Wackiest White House Pets, a picture book written by Gibbs Davis and illustrated by David A. Johnson (Scholastic, 2004). Did you know that George Washington liked for his horses' teeth to be brushed? That Jefferson owned two grizzly bears and that John Quincy Adams once played host to an alligator?

I like the way Davis weaves in tidbits of other Presidential history while talking about the pets, and although the illustrations are too silly for my taste, children may find them humorous. The reading level is fairly high—about third or fourth grade, in my estimation. We haven't reached the end yet; the last pet in the book is Millie, the first Bushes' springer spaniel.

The current White House blog will likely tell us when the Obama girls get the puppy that their father promised.

Recommended Reading from Amanda Craig

At the UK's Times Online, the literary critic Amanda Craig writes about books for schools. She opens,

WHAT IS IT that makes a really good book for a child to bring home from school? To judge by some of those that have reduced my children - one an avid reader, the other more reluctant - to sobs of boredom, some teachers have even less idea than the rest of us. Librarians are another matter, but these heroic figures are far too often overlooked and sidelined by professionals who tend to remain stuck in the kind of books that are considered “good for you” rather than fun. Fun, really, is the first and best test.

The whole article is online here. Craig makes quite a few recommendations, too. Because she writes for a British readership, it's a somewhat different set of books than I usually see.

The Chicken Spaghetti Search Engine, or Bling for the Blog

Yes, there really is such a thing! Newly installed in the column to the right, the new, official, Google-powered Chicken Spaghetti Search Engine sits humming idly and waiting for your query. It's under the title "Search This Blog," which falls below the WorldCat device.

Since the blog is nearing its fourth year (in May), the content has grown exponentially, and a customized search engine ought to help readers find things they're interested in. You can also view phenomena like my slight obsession with the books of James Marshall and my over-reliance on the phrase "Who knew?" I swear I'm not going to say it any more. I swear. 

A blog search engine.

[Sound of person trying to speak with hand over mouth.]

Who knew?

Okay, that was the last time.