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September 2009
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November 2009

The List of Lists Begins: Best Children's Books of 2009

Last year I started compiling all the year-end "best of" lists in newspapers, magaziness, and other sources. I added in many of the various children's literature prizes throughout the year, too. (You can peruse "The Best of the Best: Kids' Books '08" right here.) A person who chooses titles from these lists will read—and give and recommend to children—many good books. 

In the process, I discovered that there is no such thing as awards season. Children's books are honored and feted throughout the year from the Newberys and Caldecotts in January to the Cybils in February to the American Horticultural Society/Junior Master Gardeners' "Growing Good Kids" in July to the Children's Book Council of Australia's Books of the Year in August. I'll admit to a soft spot for March's National Science Teachers Association's Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. Those are books I would have loved as a kid. I tried to be comprehensive, but I know that I missed some lists and prizes. 

It's time to start the roundup for books published in 2009. I hear that School Library Journal is working away on its "best of," as we speak. The magazine's Twitter update said recently,"SLJ Best Books update: Not much I can say yet - they're working on it. 'But is it a BEST book?' is the primary debate."

The first two entries for Chicken Spaghetti's "Best Children's Books of 2009: The List of Lists"  are the finalists for the National Book Award in "young people's literature" and the long list for the Amercican Association for the Advancement of Science Prizes for Excellence in Science Books for children (currently linked to School Library Journal until the AAAS puts it up on its own site). 

I'll keep the big list under Pages, to the right, across from the chicken portrait at the top.

Prize-Winning Mexican American Children's Books & the Texas Book Fest

GW173H274Earlier this year, I mentioned two books that tied for the 2009 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award. Published in 2008, both are for young-adult readers. The award will be officially presented this week at Texas State University-San Marcos, the prize's sponsor. The books are

The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans, by Carmen Tafolla (Wings Press)

He Forgot to Say Goodbye, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)

Sáenz's novel also made the honorable mention list for the Américas Book Award, given last summer. 

Marjorie Coughlan reviewed The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans, a collection of short stories, at PaperTigers. She wrote,"The story contents demand a certain level of maturity from young adult readers; for those who are ready to embark on The Holy Tortilla’s journey, this is quite a ride!"

GW177H268 For those attending the Texas Book Festival in Austin on Saturday, October 31st, both Tafolla and Sáenz will be reading from their work. (The festival continues on November 1st.) The schedule for the kid & teen-related goings-on is here (PDF file). 

Have any of you readers ever attended the Texas Book Festival? What's it like? The literary version of the Texas State Fair? I wish I could go!

A "Boy Year," for The Book Whisperer

Donalynn Miller, a Texas language-arts teacher who also writes a blog at Teacher Magazine, is having a "boy year," in which guys make up about 2/3 of her middle-school students. She's loving it.

Go see what they're reading, and contribute your book recommendations in the comments. It's fun checking out what other teachers and parents are suggesting, too. My boy is currently engrossed in Encylopedia Horrifica and is thrilled that he received The Encyclopedia of Immaturity as a gift recently.

Link: "Boy Year," at The Book Whisperer

via Jen Robinson at PBS Parents' Booklights blog

This Is Why I Want to Read Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4: Dog Days

Because this description in Welcome to My Tweendom's review cracked me up.

Mom’s next big idea is a reading club with all of the neighborhood guys. When she asks them to bring books they would like to discuss, some of the titles that arrive are: SUDOKU INSANITY, ULTIMATE VIDEO GAME CHEATS, GREEN WASP, AND XTREME POP-UP SHARKS! Greg’s mom deems all of these too violent and suggests some classic titles, like Little Women, The Yearling, Old Yeller, and Anne of Green Gables! Guess how many guys make it to the second meeting? 
Read the entire review at Welcome to My Tweendom.

The scenario struck me as so funny (and so well-intentioned and Mom-ish, if I may be so bold to speak for my people) that I knew I had to read the book myself. Since my son owns a copy, it should be no problem.

Our neighborhood's school library cannot keep any of the Wimpy Kid books on the shelves; there are waiting lists for all four in the series.

The Great and Only Barnum

9780375841972 Just up the road from where we live, elephants used to frolic in the sea. How cool it would it be to see that! Of course, we would have to travel in time back to the 1880s, when P.T. Barnum’s circus wintered in Bridgeport, CT, a city on the Long Island Sound and Barnum's home base.

I learned that about the circus and much more from Candace Fleming’s fascinating, photo-filled biography The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum, written for children aged nine and older. 

Barnum (1810-1891) came to circus-owning relatively late in life. Setting the stage, so to speak, was his earlier American Museum, on lower Broadway in New York, with its “grand saloons” populated by mummies, artifacts, art works, live exotic animals, skeletons, and people like the Swiss Bearded Lady, the Highland Mammoth Boys, and little Tom Thumb. Fleming carefully situates the use of “human curiosities” in its historical context; she also notes that the performers’ salaries were “generous” for their era. 

Barnum was no stranger to doing whatever it took to draw in people to his various entertainments; one whole chapter is called “Humbug!” The “real-life” Feejee Mermaid was an example of Barnum’s penchant for fooling his audiences. His family also paid a high price for his show-biz life; his daughters barely saw him when they were growing up.

The Great and Only Barnum would be a marvelous addition to the home or classroom library, especially for nonfiction, biography, and circus fans; a fourth-grade student called it "amazing" over at her teacher's blog Educating Alice. 

In addition to the author's appearances this weekend at the Rabbit Hill Festival, Candace Fleming will speak, and sign books, at Bridgeport’s own Barnum Museum, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 25th.

Barnum’s legacy carries on in other ways, too: the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performs at Bridgeport's Arena at Harbor Yard, October 29th-November 1st.

The Great and Only Barnum was nominated in the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category of the 2009 Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (the Cybils).


Fleming, Candace. The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum. Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0375945977.

Volcano Books, Again

Over at PBS Parents' Booklights blog, I've shared a list of favorite books about volcanoes. (I ran this same list here at the blog a few years back.) I hope you'll stop by and mention your top volcano tales, too.


Photograph: Augustine Volcano, Alaska. Photographer: Game McGimsey. Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey. Via WikimediaCommons. See Alaska Volcano Observatory for more information.

Nonfiction's Leading Role at the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature '09

2009 is proving to be a very good year for kids' nonfiction. Three of the five finalists for the National Book Awards' prize in "young people's literature" are nonfiction. The long list of potential nominees for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards'(the Cybils') Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction is especially strong.  

And here comes the 2009 Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, with a focus on—nonfiction ("creative biography and historical events") for older children. Sponsored by the Westport (CT) Library, the three-day event begins Thursday, October 22nd, and runs through Saturday, October 24th. Always a draw for big-name authors, Rabbit Hill '09 will feature Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Tonya Bolden, Candace Fleming, Dennis Fradin, Judith Fradin, and Gary D. Schmidt. 

The festivities begin on Thursday evening, with a reading by all of the authors involved. For a complete schedule of events, head over to the Rabbit Hill web site.

I'm in the middle of Candace Fleming's new book, The Great and Only Barnum. It's a fascinating biography of the ultimate showman, P.T. Barnum, whose home base was in Bridgeport, two towns away from Westport. Given the recent Barnum-esque "balloon boy" escapades, I'm looking forward to hearing Fleming's talk, along with the others, on Saturday morning at Rabbit Hill.

Today is Nonfiction Monday: links to other kids' nonfiction book recommendations can be found at the blog Lori Calabrese Writes!

National Book Award Finalists, Young People's Literature 2009

The nominees for the National Book Awards were announced yesterday, and I've listed the finalists in the Young People's Literature category, below. (Go to the National Book Foundation to see the others.)

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt) 

Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 

David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.) 

Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) 

Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

Three of the five books are nonfiction, and one of those, Stitches, is a graphic-novel memoir. There's been a mini-controversy about the inclusion of Stitches, not because it's a graphic novel but because it was published for the adult market. GalleyCat has the scoop, and Chasing Ray comments, too. So does Oz and Ends.

Winners will be announced at a shindig on Wednesday, November 18th. 

The Art of The Georges and the Jewels

As a former horseback rider and a forever Misty of Chincoteague fan, I enjoyed reading The Georges and the Jewels, author Jane Smiley's first book for children. The middle-grade novel centers on Abby, a girl growing up on a California horse ranch in the 1960s. Aged twelve in this first of three books, Abby is less than thrilled with school—seventh grade and its attendant social conflicts—but, boy, can she ride!

Recently I was chatting with my friend Elaine Clayton, who did the fine pen-and-ink illustrations for The Georges and the Jewels. (In fact, she had lent me the review copy.) As she described the process of creating the art for the book, I knew that others would like hearing about it, too. I invited Elaine to write a guest column, and am so happy that she agreed to. 

Without further ado, I turn things over to Elaine Clayton: 

Securedownload When I was asked by the art director at Knopf/Crown Books for Young Readers to illustrate Jane Smiley's first book for young readers, I was completely thrilled. I have illustrated many chapter books and novels for other authors, and find it to be a lot of fun. When I was told this book was about horses, I was even more thrilled. I created a horsey picture book published a few years ago called A Blue Ribbon for Sugar. The art is very gestural, the drawings of horses loose and free-flowing. I used pencil and water color. However, when I was told that Jane Smiley's novel would be pitched for slightly older readers and they'd need me to illustrate the horse equipment (and not illustrate the story), I realized this was a different kind of illustration project.

Normally, when illustrating a book someone else has written, I read the manuscript, and as I read, cinematic imagery develops in my mind instantly. I see the characters, see their world, feel myself in the story. I make notes and then go and make many, many sketches and try and be as true as ever to the author's description as I allow my inner vision of the character to emerge on paper. It is a wonderful thing to comprehend the writing of another, and an honor. The honor in it demands that I handle carefully the feel and mood and detail the author has offered up, and then to be true to my way of understanding visually that author's bounty.

Continue reading "The Art of The Georges and the Jewels" »

Fiction for 4th, 5th & 6th Graders

This year our son has chosen to read several of the 2010 Nutmeg Award contenders. His teacher gives enthusiastic book talks for these Connecticut-based-prize nominees. At some point, children vote on the best book of the year. Every state has something similar. The goal is to encourage the reading of high-quality literature. 

The Nutmegs are for fiction. I'd like to see some nonfiction in there eventually since many kids prefer it. But that's not part of the picture right now.

Here are the nominees for the 2010 awards in the intermediate (grades 4-6) area. (There's also a teen list for 7th and 8th graders.)

Continue reading "Fiction for 4th, 5th & 6th Graders " »