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September 2011

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade/Random House Children’s Books, 2011
118 pages
for ages 8-12, according to publisher (I’d put it more at 10-14.)

Anyone who read Candace Fleming’s The  Great and Only P.T. Barnum (2009) knows that the author writes an exciting biography, well-paced and full of fascinating information. Her new book is even better! The photo-filled Amelia Lost opens on July 2, 1937, the day Earhart and her navigator are due on a remote Pacific Island to refuel on a historic around-the-world flight. Fleming alternates chapters between that time and the events leading up to it: Earhart’s early years in Kansas and peripatetic childhood, her first flight, and her savvy collaboration with George Putnam, the publicist who eventually became her husband. It was the Lindbergh era, when the public was smitten with stories of stunt flying and world records, and Earhart was the leading female pilot of the day.

Readers glean enough clues to guess a couple of things that may have gone wrong on that final flight, and the author adds mystery by including reports of far-flung adults and children who claim to have heard Earhart’s distress calls over the shortwave radio.

Earhart’s role as a feminist icon is clear, though the book is far from didactic. Fleming writes, “It is impossible to gauge how much Amelia’s life inspired the generations of women who came after her. At a time when women felt limited to the roles of wife and mother she encouraged them to challenge themselves and seize their dreams. And she did it with zest, boldness, and courage.”

For more posts on nonfiction books for children, check the Nonfiction Monday round up at Capstone Connect.

Many thanks to the Westport Library for providing the power for this blog post! 

Best Australian Children's Books 2011

The Midnight Zoo, a novel by Sonya Hartnett due out here next month, took the top honors in the "older readers" category when the Children's Book Council of Australia announced its 2011 books of the year last Friday. The Eve Pownall nonfiction award went to Ursula Dubosarsky's Return of the Word Spy, illustrated by Tohby Riddle. Jeannie Baker's Mirror, also published to acclaim here in the States, was one of two picture books of the year. For all the winners and honorees, click on the above link.

A Girl After My Own Heart

"And just look at these books!" said Hermione excitedly, running a finger along the spines of the large leather-bound tomes. "A Compendium of Common Curses and Their Counter-Actions...The Dark Arts Outsmarted... Self-Defensive" She looked around at Harry, her face glowing, and he saw that the presence of hundreds of books had finally convinced Hermione that what they were doing was right.

from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

When I heard Hermione proclaiming on the audiobook we were listening to, I was reminded of Katharine Hepburn (as Jo) in the 1933 movie "Little Women" on her first visit to the Laurences' home next door. "What richness!" she sings out in joy.

I understand completely.

Poetry Friday: Poets' Letters and Memoirs

Over the years I've enjoyed many poets' autobiographies and books of letters. So why not make a list of favorites! The following titles are for adults, but some teenagers might like them, too, particularly the ones by Eileen Simpson, Jackie Kay, Mary Karr, and Natasha Trethewey.

Poets in Their Youth, by Eileen B. Simpson (Random House, 1982) Berryman, Lowell, Schwartz, et al.

Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey, by Jackie Kay (Atlas, 2010). Kay's search for her biological parents, one in Scotland, the other in Nigeria.

Lit, by Mary Karr (Harper, 2009). Karr's road to sobriety.

Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, by Natasha Trethewey (University of Georgia Press, 2010) Trethewey returns to her hometown, where her mother was killed and her brother incarcerated.

The Virgin of Bennington (Riverhead, 2001) and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (Ticknor & Fields, 1993), by Kathleen Norris

Randall Jarrell's Letters (Houghton Mifflin, 1982). Mary Jarrell, editor.

One Art: Letters, by Elizabeth Bishop. Robert Giroux, editor. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994)

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)

Heaven's Coast, by Mark Doty (Harper Collins, 1996)

The Triggering Town: Letters and Essays on Poetry and Writing, by Richard Hugo (Norton, 1979)

A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright. Anne Wright and Saundra Rose Maley, editors. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). I read half of this one and got overwhelmed several years ago, but want to return to this book and finish it. 

I may have to revise as I remember more. What are your favorites?

Today is Poetry Friday on many of the children's literature blogs. Karen Edmisten is rounding up the posts at Karen Edmisten: The Blog With The Shockingly Clever Title. For an explanation of Poetry Friday, check here

New York Picture Books


The August 10 for 10 project, a roundup of picture books that teachers use in the classroom, spins out lots of good ideas for new read-alouds. And so does the Fairfield Parent article "Leap Off the Page," about books set in New York. 

I may be too late for August 10 for 10 (it's August 11th, after all), but here is a list of our favorite picture books about NYC. I have read each one of these books out loud countless times to my son, and would take them to the second grade class (where I'm a volunteer reader) in a heartbeat. Also, don't miss the blog Storied Cities, with the tagline "Reviews of Decidedly Urban Illustrated and Chapter Books for Children," for even more New York suggestions.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, written by Karla Kuskin and illustrated by Marc Simont (Harper & Row, 1982)

Lightship, by Brian Floca (Atheneum, 2007)

The True Story of Stellina, by Matteo Pericoli (Knopf, 2006)

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook, 2003)

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City, written by by Janet Schulman and illustrated by Meilo Seo (Knopf, 2008)

The House on East 88th Street, by Bernard Waber (Houghton Mifflin, 1963)

The Adventures of Taxi Dog, written by Debra and Sal Barracca, and illustrated by Marc Buehner (Dial, 1990)

Two Eggs, Please, written by Sarah Weeks and illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Atheneum, 2003)

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman (Putnam, 2002)

Abuela, written by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Dutton, 1991)

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking, 1962) An exhibition devoted to Keats' work starts at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, on September 9th and runs through January 29th. 

And Tango Makes Three, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, and illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, 2005)

Redbird at Rockefeller Center, by Peter Maloney and Felicia Zekauskas (Dial, 1997)

New Poet Laureate: Philip Levine

Today the Library of Congress names a new poet laureate: Philip Levine, an eighty-three-year-old Detroit native who has written extensively about blue-collar work. Levine succeeds W.S. Merwin.

Book critic Dwight Garner writes an appreciation of Levine's work over at this morning's New York Times. "It is a plainspoken poetry ready-made, it seems, for a time of S&P downgrades, a double-dip recession and debts left unpaid," Garner says.

Readers will find poems by Levine online at the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation. From the latter, here's an excerpt from "Belle Isle, 1949". Sentimental it is not.

We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow.[...] 

Twisting Words

9781580135856 Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes And Other Tricky Tongue Twisters
written by Brian P. Cleary and illustrated by Steve Mack
Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, 2011
for grades K-4

When September rolls around, I'll be reading to a new class of second graders, so I've been on the lookout for fun books. Fun is one of my main criteria for read-aloud days, and Brian P. Cleary's Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes and Other Tricky Tongue Twisters fits the bill well. Cleary, a prolific author of humorous grammar books and other works, even includes instructions for making up your own tongue twisters; on a page at the back of the book, he spells out exactly how tongue twisters work, which has to do with thimilar thounds in repetition. 

With one tongue twister per every page or so and big, cheerful illustrations (by Steve Mack) that ought to show well from a distance, this picture book is a quick read, providing plenty of time for practice. Be prepared for, er, schlip-ups on such sentences as "Sasha shifted as she sifted..."

Today is Nonfiction Monday at many of the children's literature blogs. You'll find a roundup of posts at Apples with Many Seeds.

image borrowed from Powell's Books

Children's Books in New England's Top 100

A few children's classics made the cut in the Boston Globe's recent list of  100 "essential" books either about New England or written by an author with ties to the region. 

Little Women (#2)

Make Way for Ducklings (#3)

Charlotte's Web (#15)

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (#54)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (#100).

Avid readers could make a case for lots of others, like anything by Dr. Seuss (born in Springfield, Mass.), Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak lives in CT) Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius, Donald Hall (author) & Barbara Cooney's (illustrator) Ox-Cart Man, Candace  Fleming's The Great and Only Barnum (not to mention many other biographies of famous New Englanders), and The Story of Ferdinand (illustrator Robert Lawson was a CT resident).