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February 2011
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April 2011

Roaring Good Times in Second Grade

The second grade class I read to each week is so smart! The students are doing double-digit addition, with re-grouping. "Get out!" I said. "Re-grouping, too?" One girl nodded, then whispered that they could do triple-digit addition, too. She raised her eyebrows as she said it, knowing I'd be impressed. I was. Back in the day, that was third-grade stuff, at least.

In terms of read-alouds, lions have been very popular. I should definitely take in Jerry Pinkney's The Lion & the Mouse; the kids could pore over the visual details in the 2010 Caldecott winner.

Meanwhile, they loved Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, in which a lion becomes a story-time regular until some rules are broken. More text-heavy than the usual picture book, it's perfect for the second grade.

What surprised me, though, was the reaction to Lions, a nonfiction title from Hodder Wayland's "In the Wild" series. I'd tossed it into my bag, thinking, if I have time, I'll read this one. You could have heard a pin drop as the class listened intently. I had forgotten that what lions eat, how the mama carries the cubs, what a mane looks like, etc., were all very interesting things to consider. Sometimes a straight-up informational book is just what you want to hear. That's why in the next few weeks I'll be searching for good ones on snakes, whales, dolphins, and iguanas, all requested. Suggestions welcome!

The Trouble with Chickens


The Trouble with Chickens
written by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Kevin Cornell
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2011
128 pages
For children 7-11

A hard-boiled private eye. A dame in distress. A missing, er, relative (or two).


Readers will find no Maltese Falcons in Doreen Cronin's new mystery, just chickens and dogs and some funny storytelling. The chapter book opens with J.J. Tully, the reluctant detective and a former search-and-rescue dog, meeting his client for the first time:

She was a short, tired-looking bird with a funny red comb on her head.

It looked about as useful to her as a spoon is to a snake.

An excellent read-aloud for any age, The Trouble with Chickens is the first book in a new series starring J.J. Tully. Doreen Cronin, who also wrote such picture books as Diary of a Worm and Click, Clack, Moo, has made a successful leap into middle-grade fiction.

Picture Books in a Museum


Amid the Kandinskys and Picassos and Brancusis, NYC's Guggenheim Museum contains a small reading library, with many art and architecture books for adults to peruse. A couple of shelves of art-themed picture books are available for the youngest museum-goers, too. On a recent visit, I noted, among other titles, The Pencil, by Allan Ahlberg, with illustrations by Bruce Ingman (Candlewick, 2008), and Willie Was Different, by Norman Rockwell (Berkshire House, 1994). (My friend Elaine Clayton's book Ella's Trip to the Museum, Crown, 1996, would fit in well here.) The Guggenheim's online shop sells I'd Like the Goo-Gen-Heim, written and illustrated by A.C. Hollingsworth. First published in 1970, it was reissued in 2009.

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim does not have a traditional floor plan; its spiral structure features a continuous ramp running from the top floor to the first. Although not the least interested in the paintings on the walls, my 11 year old thought the building itself was awesome and hoped for a skateboard to ride the spiral walkway down. He settled for taking pictures, like the one above (taken from the first floor, looking up).

He bought a Lego kit of the museum in the gift shop, and quickly put it together when we got home. The mini version of the NYC landmark sits on our mantle, and for some reason, one of our cats often knocks it onto the floor. Oh, gosh, there goes the Guggenheim again—but it's repaired in a timely manner.

Talking Trees

Private_small This post is about a book for adults.

Alejandro Zambra's novella The Private Lives of Trees takes place during only one night. A writer waits for his wife to come home from class, and tucks his eight-year-old step-daughter into bed, telling her stories before she goes to sleep. Later, he fills in the void of his wife's unexplained absence, and the anxiety it causes, by imagining different scenarios (a car accident, an affair). 

It's a book about stories, revision, and the unconscious tendency to fill gaps with narration. Some of the reviewers use terms like minimalist, postmodern, and meta-fiction in reference to Zambra's book, but don't let that put you off. The gently odd and witty tales that the step-father tells the little girl about the trees completely charmed me; I could imagine them as a very unusual kids' book. Zambra writes,

The protagonists are a poplar tree and a baobab tree, who, at night, when no one can see them, talk about photosynthesis, squirrels, or the many advantages of being trees and not people or animals or, as they put it themselves, stupid hunks of cement.

Alejandro Zambra is a Chilean poet, novelist, and critic. The Private Lives of Trees (Open Letter Books, 2010) was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.

The Nation ran a piece about Zambra's work a couple of years ago: "Seed Projects: The Fiction of Alejandro Zambra," by Marcela Valdes.

Caldecott Party Today!

9781596434028  If you're in Westport, CT, this afternoon, don't miss this. A Caldecott party honoring A Sick Day for Amos McGee, this year's winner, features the book's publisher, Simon Boughton of Roaring Brook Press, reading and answering questions about how picture books are created. Children's book artist Elaine Clayton is on hand to help out with face painting and an art project, too. (Westport Public Library. Monday, March 7th, at 4 p.m. Free!)

A Kids' Book Site--for Kids

Today the UK's Guardian newspaper launches a new site for children's books—and it's for children themselves, not the gatekeepers. (However, this gatekeeper has already spotted several intriguing titles.)

The site will encourage child-to-child sharing with older children discussing their favourite books and authors with the younger ones.

Guardian Books Editor, Claire Armitstead, views the child-to-child sharing element of the site as vital. She said: "When you think of the resource that older friends or siblings represent, it seems astonishing that child-to-child reading gets so little attention. A sibling or a friend stand outside the circle of school, parent and child: you obey a parent, but you look up to an older sibling and you share enthusiasms with friends. In a culture with many different models of what family means, the resource of other children becomes even more valuable. It's with this in mind that the Guardian is launching a children-only website." 

Read the entire press release here.

One of the many wonderful things that I discovered when I started blogging was the Guardian's excellent online literary coverage. I wish the new venture well. Cheers!