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Our Life in Books, 11.29.10

In the car

An unabridged audiobook of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl (HarperChildren's Audio, 2005). Monty Python's Eric Idle is the narrator. It had been a long time since I read this one, but I remember Charlie's yearning as he breathed in the delicious chocolate aroma on the way to school. I'd forgotten how insane the Oompa-Loompas' songs are.

We're on the hold list for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Random House Audio, 1999). Audiobooks have proved to be an ideal remedy for people (like me) who get fidgety/impatient/wildly bored in the car.

Junior, age 11

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books, 2010). The latest in the popular series.

Controlling Earth's Pollutants, by Christine Petersen (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). An ideal hour of reading for the kiddo: cocoa, blanket, cozy chair, and a book on pollution.

On the nightstand is Nic Bishop Lizards (Scholastic, 2010). Fantastic photos, per usual with Bishop. "Lizards lead lives that are full of surprises." Yeah.


In the Wild,  a picture book written by David Elliott and illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick, 2010). Poems about wild animals. Sheesh, this is a beautiful book, with its watercolored woodcuts and all. I asked my son to vet this one for the second grade class I read to. He thought they'd like it.

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, by Meghan McCarthy (Paula Wiseman/Simon& Schuster, 2010). We're thinking the second graders will like this one, too. Great idea for a nonfiction picture book.


Lots of Cybils middle grade/YA nonfiction books, including The Dark Game: True Spy Stories, by Paul B. Janeczko (Candlewick, 2010). Two of the most famous Civil War spies were women. I never knew that.

Second-grade class read-aloud

Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes, written by Margie Palatini and illustrated by Barry Moser (Simon & Schuster, 2009). A new take on the Aesop fable. Very funny, with priceless expressions on the animals' faces. The class loved it. Now, clearly, we must get a hold of Palatini and Moser's Earthquack! (Simon & Schuster, 2002).

"The range of outstanding literature...for children and teens"

Last Wednesday the National Book Award for Young People's Literature went to Kathryn Erskine's novel Mockingbird (Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers). The other nominees were Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker (Little, Brown), Laura McNeal's Dark Water (Knopf), Walter Dean Myers' Lockdown (Amistad/HarperCollins), and Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer (Amistad/HarperCollins).

Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said,

"If you haven't yet read all of the nominees for this year's award, I urge you to do so. They are all excellent books; each one is so different from the others. As a group they demonstrate the range of outstanding literature currently available for children and teens. In fact, if you wanted to introduce someone to current children's and young adult literature, you could start with these five books."

The  Cooperative Children's Book Center maintains CCBC-Net, a listserv "encouraging awareness and discussion of ideas and issues critical to literature for children and young adults." I took the quote from there, and use it here with permission; I thought it was great advice. Kathleen T. Horning is also the author of From Cover to Cover, the definitive guide to children's book reviewing, newly revised in 2010. If you write about books for kids, it's a must-have.

Hacking the National Book Award Ceremony

By now, you've heard about the winners of the National Book Awards 2010, but maybe you haven't read this funny writeup of the gala evening, at The Awl. One commenter characterized the piece this way, "Like Joyce if Joyce were a 22 year old bearded swarthy hipster who is usually drunk. A+." Ha! Check it out.

"Snuck Into National Book Awards," by David Shapiro, at The Awl

Link via Edward Champion, @drmabuse

One Ugly Troll

For several years I was a reading buddy for first graders a public school; I listened while children who needed to practice read to me. We chatted a lot, too. I loved my time with six and seven year olds.

This year I talked my way into a couple of new volunteer jobs in two different city schools. I'm a mentor to a child in one; we eat lunch together, play games, chat (recurring theme, that chatting), and I try to act mentor-ish, dispensing advice like "be sure to eat that applesauce! Yum!" We may read books at some point, but for now we're having fun with Candyland, which I lost five times in a row last week.

Then, because I love reading aloud, I found a gig as a story lady for a second-grade class at another school. These second graders are well-read! On my first visit, they reeled off names of authors they like, and everyone was eager to talk about books. My kind of people. I read The Three Cabritos, Eric Kimmel's Tex-Mex version of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, which features a chupacabra instead of a troll. The second graders liked that one so much that I returned the next time with a more traditional version of the tale, by author-illustrator Paul Galdone.

13855648 I don't know if you're familiar with Galdone's book, but his troll is one ugly son of a gun. You just know he'd stink. His teeth are very yellow, which grossed out and intrigued the second graders. When I finished reading the book, we had some time to chat. The word "disgusting" kept coming up. One girl said, "If I was the second  billy goat, I would have taken a toothbrush and brushed that troll's teeth!" Many nodded thoughtfully at that comment. I hope she'll write that version of the story; I'd love to read it!

The books:

The Three Cabritos
by Eric Kimmel; ilustrated by Stephen Gilpin
Marshall Cavendish, 2007
32 pages

The Three Billy Goats Gruff
by Paul Galdone
Sandpiper Clarion Books trade paperback edition, 1981
32 pages

Image borrowed from Barnes & Noble's

Best Kids' Books 2010: Kirkus Goes List Crazy

 And here I thought I was obsessive about lists. Ha! The trade journal Kirkus Reviews has organized its "best of the year" children's and teens books into many handy categories. I'm not even sure I've found 'em all yet!

Kirkus Reviews: Kids and teens. Kirkus's big list, and the only one of all of these that's in a PDF file. (Later in the day: As Kirkus updated its site today, it added the whole list onto a regular web page, too.)

All of the above have been added to the Chicken Spaghetti page The Best Children's Books 2010: A List of Lists and Awards.

Runaway Slaves, Candy Bombing, Bucking Horses: It’s Nonfiction Monday

On Mondays a number of the children’s book blogs offer posts about nonfiction for kids. (See the 11/15/10 roundup of links at In Need of Chocolate.) Because of reading for the Cybils awards, I have given over October and now November to books for tweens and teens. The following are from the list of middle grade/young adult nonfiction nominees; all three are well-documented and indexed, with suggestions for further reading and research.

Prior to this Cybils season, I wasn't that interested in visiting Colonial Williamsburg, but now I'm raring to go and drag the family with me. Reading books about the American Revolution is totally responsible. Margaret Whitman Blair's Liberty or Death concerns slaves who had run away from their owners and joined the British during the Revolution. The author did some of her research at Colonial Williamsburg, focusing on Lord Dunmore's all-black Ethiopian Regiment. All loyalists, including the runaways, were promised land after the war, but the patriots' victory precluded that. Three thousand black loyalists ended up in Nova Scotia and, from there, a smaller group, still in search of their rewards, settled back in Africa, in Sierra Leone, where their descendants live today.

Another military-affiliated book, set nearly two centuries later, is Candy Bomber, by Michael O. Tunnell. This title is a great  way to introduce kids to the Berlin airlift (1948-'49) and the beginnings of the Cold War. Stationed in Germany as part of the American effort to bring food and fuel to West Berlin during the Russian blockade, Air Force pilot Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen came up with the idea of dropping small parachutes of chocolate and gum. These were gifts for the children of Berlin, who began to wait for his flyovers and the “bombs” of treats. Many recipients drew pictures and wrote letters to thank him and the others involved in "Operation Little Vittles," and Halvorsen became a hero, not to mention a representative of the U.S. as a friendly, kindhearted counterpoint to the Soviet Union. Halvorsen's ties to the Berlin kids have continued to the present.

The last title today has to do with broncos, not war. Montana resident Sneed Collard III wrote The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale for children who go to rodeos or want to learn more about them. About the annual event in eastern Montana, the author says, "While other auctions and rodeos have come and gone, the Bucking Horse Sale has helped keep Western tradition and culture alive for more than sixty years." With enthusiam, excitement, and colorful photos, The World Famous Miles City depicts bull riding, mutton busting (in which children ride sheep), and two kinds of bronc riding (saddle and bareback), and more. Needless to say, you won't find much here about animal-rights organizations' objections to rodeo.

The books:

Liberty or Death: The Surprising Story of Runaway Slaves Who Sided with the British During the American Revolution
by Margaret Whitman Blair
National Geographic Society, 2010
64 pages

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"
by Michael O. Tunnell
Charlesbridge, 2010
110 pages

The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale
by Sneed Collard III
Bucking Horse Books, 2010
64 pages

Rescuing Parrots

9780618494170 Kakapo Rescue:
Saving the World's Strangest Parrot
Text by Sy Montgomery; photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin, 2010
80 pages

The creative team of Sy Montgomery (writer) and Nic Bishop (photographer) is highly regarded in the children's book world for previous collaborations in the Scientists in the Field series, like Quest for the Tree Kangaroo (2006) and The Tarantula Scientist (2004). This time around, the two turn the lens on the kakapo, a flightless parrot in New Zealand. Spending part of nesting season at the kakapo's remote island home, they document the heroic efforts of conservationists, scientists, and volunteers to ensure that the species survives.

At the risk of sounding very un-scientific, I have to say that the fat green parrots are adorable; I was happy to read at Kakapo Recovery, a website mentioned in the book, that there are now 122 in the world. That number is up from the 87 when Montgomery and Bishop left the New Zealand island.

Kakapo Rescue has been nominated for a Cybil award, along with two other 2010 Scientists in the Field titles, The Hive Detectives and Project Seahorse (reviewed here). [Correction 11/21: There are four Scientists in the Field books nominated this year; the other one is The Bat Scientists.] The reading level for all is about fifth grade and older.

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie

9780670011872L The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie:
A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us
by Tanya Lee Stone
Viking, 2010
130 pages

Is Barbie a "destructive force" or a "good role model for girls"?

Neither? Both?


But first you may want to read The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie.

This entertaining new book for teens by Tanya Lee Stone (Almost Astronauts) serves as not only a cultural biography of the slim-waisted, busty American doll but also an introduction to the confident businesswoman Ruth Handler, a Mattel founder and Barbie's creator.

Whether describing the late Mrs. Handler's childhood or what others think of Barbie's many incarnations over the toy's 51 years (Nascar driver, Presidential candidate, Fashion Queen, etc.), a strong sense of girl-power runs through the book. Stone writes,

"It is easy to jump on the bandwagon and say that Barbie must be sold as a pilot and not only a stewardess, or a surgeon and not only a nurse, but it's also important to remember that the word only can be just as limiting to girls. If a nurse is what you want to be, then a nurse you should be! It is Choice—with a capital C—that women have fought to have. It doesn't matter what the choice turns out to be, as long as it is your own."

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie has been nominated for a Cybil award in the middle grade/young adult nonfiction category.

New York Times Best Illustrated, PW's Finest

Now we're rolling, with some major lists hitting the I'net. A couple of new additions to The Best Children's Books 2010: A List of Lists and Awards:

New York Times Book Review's best illustrated children's books of 2010, featuring a slide show. (Elizabeth Bird, who blogs at A Fuse #8 Production, was one of the judges.) 

Publishers Weekly's best children's books

Amazon Editors' Top 10 Middle Readers, Picture Books, and Books for Teens

P.S., Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5 The Ugly Truth comes out tomorrow. Just sayin', in case you're present shopping for your kiddos.

Poetry Friday: "A Writer's Voice," and "Spilling Ink"

A Writer's Voice: A Found Poem

(Source: Anne Mazer, Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook, 2010)



look for it.

A voice

isn't something you pick up

on the side of the road...

It doesn't appear in a


from your best friend.

It's already inside you,


to be


When I first read these words by Anne Mazer, which appear in a different form in Spilling Ink, I felt a sigh, the kind you might hear at a poetry reading when the poet expresses something true. That's where I got the idea to make Mazer's paragraph into a poem. It comes from the section "How to Find Your Writer's Voice" in the book's 26th chapter, "Your Writer's Identity." I broke up the sentences, cut a few phrases, and fiddled with the fonts and capitalization.

Geared toward tween and young teen writers, Spilling Ink, by the way, was nominated for a Cybil award in the middle grade/young adult nonfiction category.

[Added later: in a nice instance of synchronicity, a teacher writes at Choice Literacy about helping a reluctant student find his writer's voice. Go, read.]

For more Poetry Friday talk, turn to the roundup at the Teaching Authors blog.

Book details:

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook
by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter
illustrated by Matt Phelan
Roaring Brook Press, 2010
288 pages