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August 2009
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October 2009

Jan Brett's Weekend House

If you see a woman driving a Prius full of chickens down the Mass Pike, it just might be the renowned children's book author Jan Brett on her way to the Berkshires. Brett and her weekend home were the subjects of a profile in the New York Times' "Escapes" section on Friday. "Escapes" focuses on real estate, and Brett's place looks idyllic.

It has been a good week for chickens in major New York publications. On Monday Susan Orlean's article on backyard hens ran in The New Yorker. "The It Bird" is not available online, but is well worth your time to track down. (An "Ask the Author" column is here at The New Yorker's web site.) Orlean's experiences with poultry-keeping are uncannily similar to mine; her crowing "hen" is Laura, ours was Loretta. 

And, in the department of you heard it here first: I think we Crazy Chicken People are going to give the Crazy Cat People a run for their money. Jan Brett kisses her chickens and rubs their feet. Fuzzy and Lovey follow me around, but would flap their wings in my face if I to kiss them. I was proud to note, though, that Lovey is the same kind of chicken that Brett owns: white-crested black Polish. Brett also raises Silkies, which are like the teacup poodles of the chicken world.


Photo: Lovey the backyard hen

Boys & Books: Guys Read

Jon Scieszka's Guys Read web site has been revamped, and it looks terrific. The mission of the "web-based literacy program for to help [them] become self-motivated, lifelong readers."

Book recommendations include such categories as "Outer space, but without aliens," "Mysterious Occurrences," and "At least one explosion." The book-of-the-month is Jeff Smith's Out from Boneville (#1 in the Bone series). The 10-year-old guy reader here can vouch for that one, having read it 49 times or so.

Scieszka wrote The Stinky Cheese Man, and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, the Time Warp Trio series, and Squids Will Be Squids, among other books. He is also the first (and current) Children's Ambassador for Young People's Literature (but he sounds a lot more fun than that title).

Hat tip to Betsy Bird, at the School Library Journal blog A Fuse #8 Production, for the news of the revamped Guys Read.

Poetry Friday: 2 Tongue Twisters

Colin West's "Pardon?" Said the Giraffe is currently the go-to book for my first-grade reading buddies. The picture book, a funny story about a frog who wants to talk to a giraffe, features simple sentences and plenty of repetition. It's a very good choice for beginning readers. Plus, there's a huge sneeze that changes the plot completely.

When I see my pals next week, I'm going to show them some of West's poems, including the tongue twisters found at this page of his web site. All are from the author-illustrator's Big Book of Nonsense: Poems to Make You Laugh Out Loud (London: Hutchinson, 2001); some U.S. libraries own a copy. I'm going to hit-up inter-library loan for it.

The roundup of all the Poetry Friday posts takes place at Susan Taylor Brown's blog today. Brown wrote Hugging the Rock, a middle-grade novel-in-verse that I recommend.

Coffee Talk, September 22nd

Some weeks get so newsy: 

A can't-miss interview with Mary Norris, one of the New Yorker's copy editors, at Andy Ross's blog, Ask the Agent.

The new MacArthur Fellows were announced. (They are the genius-grant people.)

Down with popularity contests (of the blog variety), at Chasing Ray and Jen Robinson's Book Page.

It's officially autumn. I just like that fact.

A great conversation between Justine Larbalestier and Doret Canton (of The Happy Nappy Bookseller blog) about girls, sports, and books, at the Liar author's blog.

Nominations for the 2009 Cybils open October 1st. Anyone can nominate a book in a number of categories. (Cybils = Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards)

An interview at Powell's with David Sibley, author of the brand-new book The Sibley Guide to Trees, and other guidebooks. Sibley is our era's Roger Tory Peterson.

Coming up: Banned Books Week, Celebrate the Freedom to Read, sponsored by the American Library Association, September 26th-October 3rd

Over at PBS Parents' Booklights, I write about a Pied Piper children's librarian and her current read-aloud recommendations.

Flipped Rocks + Wormy Books + Nature Blogs

Sunday, September 20th, was International Rock Flipping Day, a sort-of-goofy, sort-of-serious way to appreciate nature.

Here in southern New England, we know what to do with rocks.


Make a stone wall!

Near the stone wall, I flipped a rock and found...


an earthworm! See it right there in the middle? There are 2700 kinds of earthworms. I'm guessing that this one is a night crawler, or common earthworm.

I was reminded, naturally, of a few children's books. 

Wiggling Worms at Work, by Wendy Pfeffer (illustrated by Steve Jenkins)

Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin (illustrated by Harry Bliss) Funny!

Compost Critters, by Bianca Lavies (She is a fabulous photographer who used to work for National Geographic.)

Continue reading "Flipped Rocks + Wormy Books + Nature Blogs" »

Happy New Year, September 2009

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year begins tonight, and my friend Elaine Clayton, the children's book author and illustrator, has a good kids-book recommendation for the holiday, as well as a little gift of a post about studying Judaism, "At Twilight." You'll find both at her new sketchbook blog, Illuminara. Stay and look around at the beautiful art there, too.   

Shana tova to all my friends and relatives who are celebrating this evening.

Guest Blogging at PBS Parents' Booklights

I want Elmo's autograph.

Do you think he'll sign our much-loved (i.e., worn-out) copy of Time for Bed, Elmo! for me? I hope so!

As a longtime fan of PBS Kids programming, I can't tell you how excited I am to be guest blogging over the next several weeks at Booklights, a PBS Parents' blog that encourages children's love of reading.  

I invite all of you to stop by the site and say hello—and read the excellent posts there by the Booklights blogging crew: Gina, Ann, Jen (Jen Robinson's Book Page), Pam (MotherReader), and Susan K. (Wizards Wireless). Another guest blogger will be joining up, too! Updated to add: it's Terry Doherty, of Scrub-a-Dub-Tub.

My introductory post at Booklights is here.


Dr. Seuss, according to Paul Chowder

9781416572442 Paul Chowder, a poet and the hero of Nicholson Baker's new novel, The Anthologist, is having a heck of a time writing the introduction to an anthology of poems which he put together. In fact, he's not writing it. He's talking. About iambic pentameter, love, badminton, dogs, and more. "God, I wish I was a canoe," he says at one point.

I was tickled by a mention of  children's literature, which comes early in the story. Paul recalls some of his early influences, like Edward Lear, Ludwig Bemelmans, A.A. Milne, "[a]nd Dr. Seuss, of course, the great Ted Geisel. Who probably was, if I really want to be truthful and honest—and I do, of course—the poet most important to me until I was about twelve."

I highly recommend this funny, moving book, which is a must-read for poetry fans especially. 

For a considerably more in-depth review, see Janet Maslin's take on The Anthologist, in the New York Times.

September 11, 2009


Eight years ago the sky was blue. The sun was bright. A touch of fall was in the air. All day long I looked up, trying to figure out...something, I'm not sure what. How the miraculous modes of transport that took us to visit grandparents had been turned into weapons. How my friends in the city were. How it had happened. At a playground I walked straight into some monkey bars, accidentally slamming my head . That night I kept looking up, too, at the silent skies. Because we're near the flight path from Kennedy to Europe, I often mistook those overnight flights for stars.My toddler son, though, knew, and liked to watch them as much as the fireflies. Air-pane! Air-pane! Not that night.

Eventually I started looking at what was right in front of me again. My tiny boy began going to preschool a few hours a week. We read books. We played. We went apple picking, and he said his first long sentence on the way home. 

And when we went to visit his grandparents at Christmas, my heart soared when the flight took off. 

I remember.

Photograph: 9/11 Memorial, Sherwood Island State Park, Connecticut. Taken by ST, September 2008.  All rights reserved.