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August 2010
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October 2010

More on Banned Books 2010

Didn't I tell you on Monday that Camille Powell (who blogs at BookMoot) dishes up the straight talk on banned books? Here she is again, quoted in Time Magazine's article on YA author Ellen Hopkins' being disinvited from a Texas teen literary festival and the ensuing fallout: "Texas: If You Can't Ban Books, Ban Authors," by Phil Bildner. (Thanks to @gregpincus for the news.)

The Paper Cuts blog at the New York Times neatly summarizes another recent controversy in which a Missouri professor is attempting to get the YA novel Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, pulled from local high-school curriculum. See "Twitter: Banned Books' New Best Friend," by Lela Moore.

Then there's Sherman Alexie's YA book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been banned from a Missouri high school. More at "Mo. School Board Keeps Ban on Award-Winning Book," an AP story at the Southeast Missourian newspaper. (Link via the Tattered Cover bookstore's blog.)

Let's Talk Writing: The Paris Review Interviews

This is so great: The Paris Review has put all its interviews online—for free. Writers talking about writing! Here are some of the ones I'm looking forward to: Ray Bradbury, Billy Collins, Paula Fox, Mary Karr, John McPhee, Lorrie Moore, Grace Paley, Elizabeth Spencer, and Peter Taylor.

An excerpt from a 2010 interview with John McPhee, longtime nonfiction writer at The New Yorker, follows.


What do you call the type of writing you do? Your course at Princeton has sometimes been called The Literature of Fact and sometimes Creative Nonfiction. 


I prefer to call it factual writing. Those other titles all have flaws. But so does fiction. Fiction is a weird name to use. It doesn’t mean anything—it just means “made” or “to make.” Facere is the root. There’s no real way to lay brackets around something and say, This is what it is. The novelists that write terrible, trashy, horrible stuff; the people that write things that change the world by their loftiness: fiction. Well, it’s a name, and it means “to make.” Since you can’t define it in a single word, why not use a word that’s as simple as that?

Whereas nonfiction—what the hell, that just says, this is nongrapefruit we’re having this morning. It doesn’t mean anything. You had nongrapefruit for breakfast; think how much you know about that breakfast. I don’t object to any of these things because it’s so hard to pick—it’s like naming your kid. You know, the child carries that label all through life.

Which interviews are you going to read first?

Link: The Paris Review interviews

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association and others have declared this week Banned Books Week.

A couple of years ago I wrote about a banned book during Banned Books Week and got into a yearlong argument with Chris Crutcher's assistant. When I finally cried and sobbed, "Leave me alone!," she did. Kidding. Sort of.

I could start another arugment, I suppose, about plot points and stylistic writing choices (the argument was not about banning), but instead will direct readers elsewhere: one of my favorite writers on book challenges and know-nothing nutters is the school librarian Camille Powell, who blogs at Book Moot. Here is a link.

*Added later in the day, one last link: Top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009 (via GalleyCat)


After waking up to the sounds of our crowing hen, I see that I need to consider the obvious. Here are several entertaining picture books on the subject of roosters.

Fans of Verna Aardema's Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears and Judy Sierra's "Toontoony Bird" will appreciate Alma Flor Ada's 1993 book The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle's Wedding: A Latin American Folktale. A handsome guy with mud on his beak can't get a soul—not the grass, not the river—to help him clean up. When the rooster meets a stick, he asks, "Dear stick, hard stick,/please hit the dog/that won't bite the lamb/that won't eat the grass/that won't clean my beak/so that I can go to my uncle's wedding." This kind of story is called a cumulative tale, and its repetitions, not to mention talking sticks and rivers, are sure to delight the read-aloud crowd. The Rooster was written by Alma Flor Ada, and illustrated in vivid colors by Kathleen Kuchera. The roo himself looks like an Aztec god.

Cover-3 A new book based on an old tale, The Rooster Prince of Breslov, is another keeper. When their spoiled son throws off his clothes and begins to peck the ground for crumbs, his royal parents panic. They call in magicians and a doctor ("the most serious case roosterism I've ever seen"), but finally put their trust in an unassuming old man. His trick is to empathize rather than punish. (A parable for parents, no doubt.) The frail fellow catches the boy's interest by crowing and asking if he minds sharing his corn. The author, Ann Redisch Stampler, writes in an afterword that her grandmother used to tell her a version of this Yiddish folktale. Eugene Yelchin's pictures expand the story's strange and ultimately reassuring events.

A while back I reviewed Bob, a fabulously funny picture book (and cumulative tale) starring a rooster. From a 2007 post: "Bob is in search of a voice—a crow, in fact. But how to? The path to cock-a-doodle-do-dom takes some twists before he finds the ideal instruction."

Indiana's Allen County Public Library shares a good long list of cumulative-tale picture books.

Works mentioned

Aardema, Verna. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale. Dial Press, 1975.

Ada, Alma Flor. The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle's Wedding. Illustrated by Kathleen Kulchera. Whitebird/Putnam, 1993.

Pearson, Tracey Campbell. Bob. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002.

Sierra, Judy. "The Toontoony Bird," from Silly & Sillier: Read-Aloud Tales from Around the World. Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. Knopf, 2002.

Stampler, Ann Redisch. The Rooster Prince of Breslov. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. Clarion Books, 2010.

Twitter Virus 9/21

As of Tuesday morning 9/21, there seems to be a virus on Twitter. Beware. I am staying away for now. If you know a safe place for Twitter status updates, please leave it in the comments!

Here is one place:

Boing Boing has some information too:

Choosing the Best in Kids' Nonfiction, 2010


I am happy to help out again with the annual Cybils awards, which honor children's books. As the organizer for the Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction category, I'll introduce the two panels that will help select the best older kids' nonfiction of the year. I'm including the panelists' Twitter feeds, marked with an @, too; follow them and keep up with book news and conversation.

Panelists (Round I Judges):

Karen Ball, Mrs. B's Favorites

Sarah Mulhern Gross, The Reading Zone @thereadingzone

David Judge, Adventures at Wilder Farm

Jessica Leader, Jessica Leader @JessicaLeader

Susan Thomsen, Chicken Spaghetti @C_Spaghetti

Judges (Round II):

Edi Campbell, Crazy Quilts @crazyquilts

René Colato Laínez, René Colato Laínez, La Bloga @renecolato

David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy @largeheartedboy

Colleen Mondor, Chasing Ray, Bookslut @chasingray

Sandhya Nankani, Literary Safari, Sepia Mutiny @litsafari

The panelists in many other categories are being announced over the next week, too. See the Cybils blog for details.

Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, Oct. 21-23

That's children's literature, to be sure. Rabbit Hill is named after a book by Robert Lawson, a longtime resident of Westport, Connecticut. The Westport Library sponsors this three-day celebration of children's books, authors, and illustrators. Grace Lin, the author of the Newbery honoree Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, called Rabbit Hill "one of the best children's literature festivals I have ever been to."

This year's spotlight is on collaboration; on the bill are Lulu Delacre & Lucia Gonzalez, Ted & Betsy Lewin, Jim & Kate McMullan, Brian & Andrea Davis Pinkney, Pegi Deitz Shea, and Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu.

A talk by Emma Walton Hamilton—Julie Andrews' editor (and daughter) and the author of Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment—opens the festival on October 21st.

Some Rabbit Hill events are booked up, but I hear that there's still room at the Saturday morning symposium, where you can hear all the collaborators speak. If you can slip onto the bus for the Friday tour of nearby Weston Woods Studios, do it!

Visit the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature website for more details.

Reading Aloud: The Odyssey


No, not that one.

This version. It's for kids.


The Adventures of Odysseus makes a darn good read-aloud for thrill-seeking ten year olds; we just finished it here at our house. Using several translations of the Homerian classic and other sources, Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden fashion a rollicking prose adaptation, and tell the story of the Trojan War hero's long trip back to Ithaca—but in some 100 illustrated pages as opposed to 600 plain ones.

Nineteen years to get home! I-95 traffic is nothing compared to the nasty Cyclops, a livid Poseidon, and a man-eating dragon, all of which Odysseus encounters. And what beautiful colors this book employs. Christina Balit's sunny yellows and oranges, gloomy grays, and sea-colored blues and greens illuminate the journey; her Art Deco/Greek vase-style motif works especially well with the ships, animals, and raging waters.

Grown-ups might want to catch up with the C.P. Cavafy poem "Ithaka," which Maurice Tempelsman, Jacqueline Onassis's companion, read at her funeral. "Hope the voyage is a long one./ May there be many a summer morning when,/ with what pleasure, what joy,/ you come into harbors seen for the first time." I love that.

Lupton, Hugh, and Daniel Morden. The Adventures of Odysseus. Barefoot Books, 2006.

Thanks to Powell's Books for the covers.

Poetry Friday: Lunch with Laura, or if you give a mouse a cookie...

Here's a poem from the Chicken Spaghetti archives; this ran on February 26th, 2006. Other Poetry Friday entries can be found at Picture Book of the Day.


I am thrilled to announce Chicken Spaghetti's first guest contributor. David Moody is a very funny guy living in Michigan, where he is a Cataloging Librarian at the University of Detroit Mercy. Here is his poem, which is very apt for a blog about children's books.

Lunch with Laura
by David Moody

If like Shakespeare you'd be makin'
Just pretend you're Francis Bacon
Frying up some Romeo and Juliet.
If on Updike you've been spying
Rabbits still are multiplying
And I do not think that they have stopped it yet.
If your name is Charles Dickens
All your characters will sicken
As consumption hits them with a hacking cough.
If you give a mouse a cookie
You're no literary rookie
And your name is Laura Joffe Numeroff.

If you think that John's the Irving
Who is truly most deserving
Say a prayer for Owen Meany and for Garp,
If with Hemingway you're writing
There'll be lots of bull and fighting
But be sure to take some time to catch a carp.
If you fish with Joseph Heller
Who's a funny kind of feller
Then a catch of 22 is not far off.
If you give a mouse a cookie
Then you're something of a bookie
And your name is Laura Joffe Numeroff.

If Fitzgerald had a Zelda
Still he didn't have Imelda
Just a bunch of stuff that hit him with the blues.
If Bill Faulkner's work is gnarly
His relationships are snarly
And it's difficult to tell just who is whose.
If you're munching on a pita
While devouring Lolita
Then I think that you are reading Nabokov.
If you give a mouse a cookie
There's no need to take a lookie
For your name is Laura Joffe Numeroff.

If you're Huckleberry Finnish
And your hair resembles spinach
Then some one has put a Mark upon your Twain.
If Tolstoy's your inspiration
You'll depict the Russian nation
And will probably wind up beneath a train.
If you feel that you must grovel
It's a Dostoyevsky novel—
Crime and Punishment of young Raskolnikov,
If you give a mouse a cookie
And you don't look like a Wookie
Then your name is Laura Joffe Numeroff.

If your brains begin to boil
Reading Arthur Conan Doyle
Then we can deduce a case of Sherlock Holmes.
If O'Henry makes a living
Then the Magi will be giving
And you'll sell your watch to buy those fancy combs.
If there's books of all description
Starting off with science fiction
Then you might be reading Isaac Asimov.
If you give a mouse a cookie—
Well I gotta tell you, Pookie,
That your name is Laura Joffe Numeroff.

Copyright, David Moody.  All rights reserved. No reprints of this material without permission of the author, David Moody.