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June 2009
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August 2009

"Beyond Gossip Girls": Neesha Meminger and Sheba Karim

A representative from the South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC) emailed me with news of a reading by Neesha Meminger and Sheba Karim, authors of the young-adult novels Shine, Coconut Moon and Skunk Girl, respectively. The event, called "Beyond Gossip Girls," takes place tonight in New York, at the Asian American Writers' Workshop; for details, see this page at the SAWCC website


Review of Shine, Coconut Moon, at

Review of Skunk Girl, at The Happy Nappy Bookseller

"Growing Good Kids" Book Awards 2009

20438 Over the weekend, the Junior Master Gardener Program and the American Horticultural Society announced the winners of their "Growing Good Kids" awards for "excellence in children's literature." I always like seeing these lists; often they cite titles unfamiliar to me.

The 2009 winners are

The Apple-Pip Princess, by Jane Ray (Candlewick)

Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move, written by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by Pam Paparone (Holiday House)

Big Yellow Sunflower, by Frances Barry (Candlewick)

The "Growing Good Kids" awards "honor engaging, inspiring works of plant, garden and ecology-themed children's literature."

Don't miss the lineup of classics in this field, which includes books like Miss Rumphius, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato.

Image borrowed from the publisher's website

A Boy's First Haircut

184829441_70.jpg.gif Bippity Bop Barbershop
written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2002 (paperback edition, 2009)
Age range: 3-6

A sweet-spirited picture book, Bippity Bop Barbershop follows a young boy and his dad on a big day for the little one, Miles, who's both excited and unsure about his first barbershop haircut. The author briefly stops the story as the pair enters the barbershop, pointing out the the checker players, the men in back excited over a basketball game on TV, and the different cuts that the all-male, all-black clientele sport. The regulars know the father and son, and call out encouragement as they pass, telling Miles to be brave. Miles, though, does not see any hair style that he likes, until he looks again at his father. Yes, that's it—one  just like Dad's! 

Tarpley clearly views the barbershop as a neighborhood hub and a "sacred space," as she mentions in an author's note up front, and E.B. Lewis's realistic watercolor illustrations bring a down-to-earth beauty to a familiar scene for many men and boys. The last picture, of the tall man and little boy holding hands as they walk down a city street, nicely sums up their close relationship.

A bit wordy for younger preschoolers, Bippity Bop Barbershop would likely work well for four and five year olds, not to mention for their parents and grandparents. I could also see the book used in a first- or second-grade discussion about people in the community.


Side Note: The talented E.B. Lewis is also the illustrator of The Secret World of Walter Anderson, a new picture book biography of the New Orleans-born artist; Colleen Mondor reviewed it at Voices of New Orleans.

Review copy of Bippity Bop Barbershop furnished by the publisher.

Books (and More) on Twitter

Update 9/20: I'm still on Twitter; please visit! I took down the Twitter feed here on the blog to reduce clutter. 

In the far right-hand column of this blog is a feed called Twitter Updates. I use Twitter to call readers' attention to book reviews and literary essays at other publications; to point out other interesting but possibly non-book-related links; and to ask questions here and there. 

While some of my tweets (or, Twitter entries) are about children's books, a good many are not. So, there's a little but not a whole lot of overlap with the blog, although I hope both endeavors cover books and how they fit into today's world, at least to a tiny degree.

Recent articles I've pointed out via Twitter are Alice Sebold's Atlantic essay about literary prizes, a New York Times mention of author/photographer Seymour Simon's wedding, and a piece on the Bronx's Museum of Trees. (I'm all for Museums of Trees, aren't you?)

Please visit at

Happy reading on this rainy Tuesday.

Welcoming the Unexpected

Books The Guest
written and illustrated by James Marshall
Houghton Mifflin, 1975
For ages 4-8

The author James Marshall (of George and Martha fame) is generous, often allowing his readers to stay one step ahead of his funny characters. This picture book from the mid-seventies concerns a Mona, a piano-playing moose, and an uninvited visitor. "One afternoon while Mona was practicing her scales, she had the oddest feeling," Marshall writes, and the illustration shows a tiny snail crawling up the back of a zaftig, be-skirted moose. It's an excellent joke for a four year old who's paying close attention—as well for the rest of us. After a small rebuke for scaring her, Mona welcomes the snail, Maurice, and invites him to stay. The two make fine companions, until the day Maurice disappears. The ending, though, is a happy expansion of the opening scene.

Mona the moose embraces life, even celebrating Maurice's birthday with him. Look for the book at the library and second-hand shops. A world in which a snail sports a wee party hat is a good one, indeed.

For Poetry & Nature Admirers: Mary Oliver's "Evidence"

Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver
Beacon Press, 2009
Age range: Adults

If you're a poetry fan and a nature lover, I've got a new book for you: Mary Oliver's Evidence. It's full of many wonderful lines, like these from the title work: "I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in/singing, especially when singing is not necessarily/prescribed."

The poem that affected me the most, though, was "At the Pond," which ran originally at Orion Magazine and can be read online here. Oliver writes, "Nature has many mysteries,/some of them severe." A beautiful poem about "a huddle of just-hatched geese," it surely evokes sighs at readings.

Evidence is written for grown-ups, and aging is one of its themes. ("How did it come to be/that I am no longer young?") But it's very accessible work, and poetry-inclined teenagers ought to like it, too.

On July 5th, the New York Times' travel section ran this piece: "The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown," which includes a slide show and recordings of Oliver reading "At Blackwater Pond" and "The Sun." Mary Duenwald, who wrote the article, advises, 

Follow Ms. Oliver’s lead to the edges of Blackwater Pond and you can have something approaching a primal experience of Cape Cod. You won’t be alone, especially in summer, when crowds gather to see the locally beloved water lilies that blanket the ponds. But that’s why it pays to go at dawn, as the poet prefers to do.

The Holds Rush In

006067 This always happens to me. Every book I've put on hold at the library arrives at once, just when I have a teetering stack back home to start with. I'll have to speed-read to work in all of these titles in the next three weeks, after I finish Laura Lippman's new mystery, Life Sentences. Not that I'm complaining.

The new stack:

Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver

The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana, by Rick Bass

Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, by Kitty Burns Florey

Time and Tide in Acadia: Seasons on Mount Desert Island, by Christopher Camuto

A Mathematical Nature Walk, by John A. Adam

Summer World: A Season of Bounty, by Bernd Heinrich

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood, by Maria Tatar

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, by Lisa M. Hamilton

Book cover image borrowed from W.W. Norton

Beach Library

Junior's dad and I have a thing for college campuses and libraries. We once drove miles out of our way to see the beautiful University of Virginia, and spent hours at the San Francisco Library while on vacation there some years back. 

One of our summer holiday stops this year was the Sanibel Public Library. Sanibel, an island near Fort Myers (Fla.), is known for great shelling, and its library even features a patron's sea shell collection. The library is not actually on the beach, but it's not far. There's a sparkling aquarium right by the children's section.


Some of the books in the children's section caught my eye. Both looked like the kind my son likes. Junior himself was making a braided something or other out of gimp. It was a kids' craft day, and Junior sat down and made himself at home. After thumbing through these, below, I took pictures so that I'd remember the titles. This one is DK's Super Structures, about architecture and engineering.


This one is The Mad Scientist's Notebook, by Elizabeth Harris. Science experiments, naturally. I liked this display table, which seemed the right height for its department.


An empty bank of computers in another section reminded us to check email. All in all, we enjoyed visiting this friendly spot and spending a little time out of the midday sun.