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February 2010
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Ten Apples, or the Numbers Game

As a first-grade volunteer, I often read with Guillermo last year. A teddy bear of a boy, he was (and still is) always neatly dressed, with his shirt tucked in (unlike my certain people in my house), and speaks with a slight lisp, which just makes him more adorable. Initially self-conscious, he told me that he couldn't read. He could, but not as well as many of his classmates. 

A second go-round in a different first-grade class has helped Guillermo a lot. These days he's a solid reader. Recently I invited him to come share a book for old times' sake; I like to catch up with my friends. On our way out into the hallway, he said,  "Guess what? I'm eight!" He breezed through Ten Apples Up On Top!, using especially dramatic expression during the "We are not/going to let them drop!" part.

"You're reading so well," I told Guillermo.

"I'm a twelve!" he said with pride. 

Having hung around modern-day schools for a while, I knew that "twelve" referred to his DRA (Direct Reading Assessment) level. I wish so much for Guillermo, probably the least of which is that we lived in an era where first graders were not aware of their blasted DRA scores. I know it's trickle-down, but, still.

One day Guillermo will own and run his own business. He'll be very good at it. I can't wait to see him in charge.

Russian Books for Kids

Cover-2  Earlier this week when I wrote about Russian literature, a reader asked me about books for children. I turned to the Child_Lit email discussion list and to Twitter for help, and look! All these great picture books concerning Russia, Russian folk tales, and Russian-American experiences. A collaborative post like this is my favorite kind. Many thanks to everyone who suggested books. (I can always add to the list, too, if readers know of others.)

I'm tickled that the translator of some books by Samuel Marshak, described to me as the "Russian Dr. Seuss," is Richard Pevear, who, along with Larissa Volokhonsky, translated the edition of War and Peace that I'm now reading. From picture-book dog adventures to Tolstoy's very adult epic novel, the work of a translator must be fascinating.

Asch, Frank. Here Comes the Cat. Illustrated by Vladimir Vagin. (Scholastic, 1989)

Atwell, Debby. The Thanksgiving Door. (Houghton Miflin, 2003)

Bilibin, Ivan. See this page at the Sur La Lune fairy tale site for more information about books by Bilibin, a stage designer and  illustrator. Russian Fairy Tales, compiled by Gillian Avery, features his work (Knopf, 1995). 

Chukovsky, Kornei. Various out-of-print books.

Demi, and Pushkin, Aleksandr. The Magic Gold Fish: A Russian Folktale. (Holt, 1995)

Gambrel, Jamey. Telephone. Adaptation of a children's story by Kornei Chukovsky; iIlustrated by Vladimir Radunsky.  (North-South Books, 1996)

Hoffman, Mary. Clever Katya: A Fairy Tale from Old Russia. Illustrated by Marie Cameron. (Barefoot Books, 1998.)

Kendall, Russ. Russian Girl: Life in an Old Russian Town. (Scholastic, 1994)

Khalsa, Dayal Kaur. Tales of a Gambling Grandma. (Crown, 1986)

Kimmel, Eric A. The Chanukkah Guest. Illustrated by Giora Carmi. (Holiday House, 1990)

Lewis, J. Patrick. The Frog Princess: A Russian Folktale. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin. (Dial, 1994)

Lottridge, Celia Barker. Music for the Tsar of the Sea: A Russian Wonder Tale. Illustrated by Harvey Chan. (Groundwood, 1998)

Maguire, Gregory. The Dream Stealer. (Harper & Row, 1983)

Marshak, Samuel. The Absentminded Fellow. Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal; translated by Richard Pevear. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)

Marshak, Samuel. The Pup Grew Up! Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky; translated by Richard Pevear. (Henry Holt, 1989)

Marshak, Samuel. Hail to Mail. Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky; translated by Richard Pevear. (Henry Holt, 1990) 

Mayer, Marianna. Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave. Illustrated by Kinuko Craft. (Morrow Junior Books, 1994)

Ogburn, Jacqueline K. The Magic Nesting Doll. Illustrated by Laurel Long. (Dial, 2000)

Polacco, Patricia. Babushka's Doll. (Simon and Schuster, 1999)

Polacco, Patricia. Rechenka's Eggs. (Philomel, 1988) 

Polacco, Patricia. Thunder Cake. (Philomel, 1990) 

Ransome, Arthur. Old Peter's Russian Tales. ([London] Nelson, 1971, 1916) See also the Sur La Lune site.

Russian Wonder Tales page, at the Sur La Lune site.

Sanderson, Ruth. The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and The Magic Ring. (Little Brown, 2001)

Sierra, Judy. Silly & Sillier: Read-Aloud Tales from Around the World. Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. (Knopf, 2002). The "Bear-Squash-You-Flat" story is from Russia.

Woodruff, Elvira. The Memory Coat. Illustrated by Michael Dooling. (Scholastic, 1999)

Yolen, Jane. The Firebird. Illustrated by Vladimir Vagin. (HarperCollins, 2002)

Yolen, Jane. The Flying Witch.  Illustrated by Vladimir Vagin. (HarperCollins, 2003)

Zeleznova, Irina. Various works.

Look for other, older picture book retellings of  "The Giant Turnip," a.k.a., "The Enormous Turnip" ("a very funny, silly story that is very Russian," says rare-book librarian Jenny Schwartzberg), "The Month-Brothers," "Vasilissa the Beautiful," and "The Firebird." 

One respondent said that she had ordered materials for her library from Russia Online, which sells Russian-language books, among other items.

Image of The Memory Coat cover borrowed from Powell's Books.

Russian Lit

Every night I dream of Russia. Nineteenth-century Russia, as I bounce back and forth between Moscow, Petersburg, and various country estates.

All because of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, by Elif Batuman. 

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, critic Liesl Schillinger captures the book's essence.

Hilarious, wide-ranging, erudite and memorable, “The Possessed” is a sui generis feast for the mind and the fancy [...]. And, unlikely though this may sound, by the time you’ve reached the end, you just may wish that you, like the author, had fallen down the rabbit hole of comp lit grad school.

I couldn't wait to read Russian novels after finishing Batuman's essays.  Thus, my own adventures with War and Peace—and gala evenings at the opera, duels, and dashing counts, not to mention chaotic military skirmishes and bleaker-than-bleak field hospitals. I had avoided Tolstoy's epic forever, but it's not hard to read. Just long. And glorious. That, too.

Three weeks in, I'm halfway through. If you'll excuse me for the moment, I have a couple of pages between here and the end, on page 1215.

Das vi danya. 

Hans Christian Andersen Award Finalists

The finalists for the Hans Christian Andersen Award have been announced. (3/23, Updated to add: the winners are now in bold-face type.)

In the author category are Ahmad Reza Ahmadi (Iran), David Almond (United Kingdom), Bartolomeu Campos de Queiros (Brazil), Lennart Hellsing (Sweden), and Louis Jensen (Denmark).

In the illustrator group are Jutta Bauer (Germany), Carll Cneut (Belgium), Etienne Delessert (Switzerland), Svjetlan Junakovic (Croatia), and Roger Mello (Brazil).

Sponsored by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), the award honors "a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children's literature." Katherine Paterson, currently our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, won the author prize in 1998. Additional information can be found on the Hans Christian Andersen Award page at IBBY's web site.

In Code

You never know what's going to set off a flurry of activity. Around here lately it's a thin, used paperback that Junior's dad brought home from a library sale: The Usborne Book of Secret Codes (1997). It cost all of 50 cents.  Yesterday the three of us spent a good hour sending out important information, like "What would you like for dinner?,"  in pigpen code. 

Roman numerals aren't code exactly, but are certainly intriguing to some would-be spies. (As far as I can tell, these aren't taught in elementary schools any more. Hence, the intrigue.) Agent J. has studied David A. Adler's Fun with Roman Numerals (Holiday House, 2008), copying over numbers and making notes to himself. 

A printout of the Wikipedia entry on Morse code is well-used, too. I wouldn't be surprised if a homemade telegraph machine is in our future.

Elisha Cooper on "Farm," at PW

Cover  I'm looking forward to seeing what children's book author Elisha Cooper has been up to. He has a new picture book, Farm (Orchard Books, 2010), due out in April, and Publishers Weekly interviewed him recently here

PW: It seems as though immersing yourself in various worlds—of farming, dance, baseball, the beach—is an important part of creating a book. 
EC: Yes, definitely. I love all parts of making books. I love the sketching, painting, writing, design, and the crafting of a book. But if there's one part I love most, it's probably that raw, initial moment when it's just me and my sketchbook and I'm standing in a field, or in a dance studio, and it comes together. Watching the way a dancer moves, noticing that a tractor looks like a beetle. You have to be there, in that moment. That is a huge part of what I do.

Cooper, a former colleague of mine, stopped by the blog a while back to talk about ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool, a nonfiction young adult book documenting a year in the life of a Chicago high school. You can read about that one here.

Cover image borrowed from Powell's Books

2010 Children's Science-Book Stars

Science-book fans, take note. The 2010 "outstanding science trade books for students K-12" were recently announced by the National Science Teachers Association. I'm surprised by the omission of a few books I expected to see on this excellent annual list, but excited about some titles I'd not heard of. (The books were published in 2009.) If I ran a library (and had unlimited funds), I'd buy all of these for the nonfiction crowd. 

Children's Book Suggestions from NYC's Hue-Man

Logo_bigger  Hue-Man Bookstore, an independent book shop (and cafe) in Harlem, specializes in African American fiction and nonfiction. I follow the store's Twitter feed (@harlemspot), and recently asked for a few recommendations for children. Hue-Man suggested the following:

Ruby and The Booker Boys, a series for 7  to 11 year olds, written by Derrick Barnes, with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton

Sallie Gal and the Wall-a-Kee Man, a middle-grade novel by Sheila P. Moses, with illustrations by Niki Daly 

Catwalk, a young-adult novel by Deborah Gregory 

Please, Baby Please,  a picture book written by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Thanks for the tips, Hue-Man!