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September 2011
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November 2011

Drawing from Memory, Allen Say's Autobiographical Journey

9780545176866_xlgDrawing from Memory
by Allen Say
Scholastic, 2011
64 pages

Allen Say won the Caldecott Medal, our country's highest honor for children's book art in 1994, and he may win it again for his latest work, Drawing from Memory. Some prize-watchers have also mentioned the book in regard to the Newbery, the equally prestigious award for writing. 

In this picture-book memoir, Say (b. 1937) looks back at his childhood in Japan, with a particular focus on his apprenticeship with Noro Shinpei, a famous newspaper and magazine cartoonist. Say began working with Shinpei at the same time that he moved into his own apartment in Tokyo—as a middle-school student. The author is remarkably nonjudgmental about the family decision that led to his solo move at age 12. "I was dazed with happiness..."

Drawing from Memory is a beautifully produced book, which, like some of Say's other work (Tea with Milk, Erika-san), appeals as much to adults and older teens as it does to children. Perhaps even more so. A high-school senior we know is going to art school next year, and I keep thinking that Drawing from Memory is the perfect gift for him.

Say uses watercolors, pen and ink, pencils, photographs, and quite a bit of text (at 64 pages, Drawing from Memory is very long for a picture book) to tell the story, and, reflecting his work with Shinpei, Say renders some of the illustrations in sequential panels. 

Allen Say left Japan for the U.S. in 1953; today he lives in Portland Oregon. He writes in an author's note that Drawing from Memory let him "journey through my memories of becoming an artist." How lucky for us readers that he invites us on the trip!

On Mondays a number of children's book blogs post about nonfiction. You can find the roundup of entries today at Jean Little Library.

5 Things I Like About "Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat"


1. The art. Collage! It's so very cool, incorporating stamps that author-illustrator Philip Christian Stead has collected since he was a kid, and lots of cut paper, as well as lettering from antique toy letterpress sets. It's equally cool to learn exactly how he does it: at the blog Seven Impossible Things, Stead gives a step-by-step guide that will have aspiring artists headed out the door for supplies. Really, if your favorite kid likes art, share the Seven Imp post with him or her.

2. The theme.  “After all, a big boat needs a big crew," i.e., friends can make all 
the difference. When Jonathan’s parents trade his teddy bear for a toaster, Jonathan takes sail in a Big Blue Boat to find his bear, Frederick, who “could be anywhere in the whole wide world.” On his travels, Captain Jonathan assembles an unlikely crew—a mountain goat, an old circus elephant, and a whale—who each have a unique skill to contribute.

3. The story. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat makes a good read-aloud, ideally suited to preschool 4's and kindergarten classes.

4. The setting. At sea. On a huge steamship. Oh, those oceanic hues. Lovely.

5. The homage. The illustrations call to mind the work of Ezra Jack Keats. Published almost fifty years ago, Keats' The Snowy Day was the "first modern full-color picture book to feature an African-American protagonist," as the Jewish Museum points out in its current exhibition "The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats." Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat also features a child of color.

In a new-book display at a nearby library, all the other books with nonwhite main characters concerned grim historical experiences. In an essay about the 2010 year in publishing, some experts at the Cooperative Children's Book Center* asked, "Where are picture books featuring contemporary African American children (Hooray for A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams!) Why are we asking the same questions today that were being asked thirty years ago in terms of stagnating numbers?"

 Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat was my nomination for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award in the fiction picture book cateogry.


Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat
by Philip Christian Stead
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2011
32 pages

*Link to article referenced:  "Thoughts on Publishing in 2010," by Kathleen T. Horning, Carling Febry, Merri V. Lindgren, and Megan Schliesman. CCBC Choices 2011

Coop Update 10.18.11, and a Fall Book

A new season is upon us. Yay for fall! And yay for new (to us) chickens. Meet our backyard crew.

Here are Queenie (left) and Angie (right). 



Queenie, who survived the summer's heat wave (Lovey, our sweetest chicken ever, did not), is a bantam mix of Polish and Barred Rock. (A nervous nellie from way back, she has been with us about a year.) Angie, a sassy Rhode Island Red and something else (at least that's the guess), is in charge now. See?


Penny, the Speckled Sussex beauty pictured below, usually stays in separate quarters because I can't take pecking order she treats Queenie like a serf.


Even though we miss Lovey, we are having fun with the new flock.

As far as books go, I stumbled across Leaf Trouble at a seasonal display at the library. (A great way to feature older titles, by the way.) Pip the Squirrel loves the tree where he lives and doesn’t understand it begins to lose its leaves. I appreciated the funny, fresh approach to potentially didactic subject matter. No doubt actual children, for whom the display was meant, will, too.

Happy fall, and happy reading, as always.

Leaf Trouble
Written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church
Chicken House/Scholastic, 2009

Quoted: Unraveling Freedom

These foreigners hailed from unfamiliar regions [...] They dressed differently, spoke unknown languages, held unfamiliar beliefs, and competed for U.S. jobs. To many long-time residents, these newcomers didn't seem like real Americans.

Makes one think, eh? The quote, which refers to late 19th-, early 20th-century immigrants, comes from Ann Bausum's excellent Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front during World War I (National Geographic, 2010). I nominated the book for a 2011 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award in the middle grade/young adult nonfiction category. Unraveling Freedom makes a good companion to The War to End All Wars: World War I (Clarion Books, 2010),  written by Russell Freedman for children in the same age range (12+).


Quoted: The House Baba Built

9780316076289_1681X2544 "Shanghai summers were long, hot, and humid—and as the war went on, the pool became too expensive to fill. So we spent the long summer days in the shade of the garden, with the shrill, hissing cicadas. They sang in unison whenever the sun reached them. Some of us read books from our family library or played cards and board games. [My brother] Hardy and I trained and fought our crickets."

from artist Ed Young's beautiful autobiographical book The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China (Little, Brown, 2011. Text as told to Libby Koponen.)

The scrapbook-style, multimedia (collages incorporating photographs, sketches, cut paper, and more) picture book, set during the World War II years, stays focused on its subject: a family's strength and resilience. Highly recommended.

Picture Book Prairie Dogs, Dragons & More

9780140546934 At the recommendation of Miss K. at the library, The Great Fuzz Frenzy was a recent pick for a second-grade read-aloud. The kids liked the funny story of how a very strange object (a tennis ball) caused a fuzz-snatching brouhaha in a colony of prairie dogs, but I could also sense that maybe, at this point in the year with this particular group, we might need to get back to something more familiar and less wordy. The wiggly back row on the reading rug was my barometer. 

The next week we read James Marshall's version of the Grimms' Red Riding Hood. The kids listened with rapt attention.They knew Little Red Riding Hood. They knew scary woods. "There's a wolf in 'The Three Little Pigs,' too!" Ms. B. (the teacher) and I noticed how much they want to participate and talk. I especially liked Javier's question: "Why is the wolf in the woods anyway?" Everyone offered an idea about that. "Maybe the wolf was taking snacks to a party," one girl guessed.

Marshall's humor magically appeals to both grown-ups and children; in his version of the story, Granny is lying in bed, surrounded by books when the wolf sneaks in.

"Surprise!" cried the wolf.

Granny was furious at having her reading interrupted.

"Get out of here, you horrid thing!" she cried.

I couldn't help laughing out loud when I read this part. How perfect that Marshall made Granny a reader. 

 Last year's second graders loved Michelle Knudsen's Library Lion; they wanted to hear it twice. At the library I picked up the author's new book, Argus, to preview. It also features a disruptive animal at the center of the story. When Mrs. Henshaw's class hatches eggs in desktop incubators, one of the chicks is not like the others. "It was green. And scaly. And it had big yellow eyes." Except for Sally, the students in the story are revolted by the creature. No one ever recognizes it as a dragon. Misunderstandings—and visual jokes—ensue.

What kid wouldn't know a dragon when he saw one? That puzzled me. Will young readers and listeners will enjoy being one step ahead of the slouchy-shouldered students in Mrs. Henshaw's class, whom Argus tries to eat? Is it funny that Sally and her dragon are fenced off with orange safety cones at recess?

For now, I'm going to stick with folk tales and fairy tales with the second graders. Michael Emberley's Ruby, a spin on Red Riding Hood, would be a logical next choice, but I'm open to suggestions, too. Our schedule is full of possibilities; afer all, like James Marshall's Granny, we're readers.


The Great Fuzz Frenzy, by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (Harcourt, 2006)

Red Riding Hood, by James Marshall (Dial, 1987)

Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick, 2006)

Argus, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Andréa Wesson (Candlewick, 2011)

Ruby, by Michael Emberley (Little, Brown, 1990)

What Are Your Favorite Kids' Books of 2011?

What are the best new children's books you've read this year? Go, nominate them for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award! The Cybils are taking nominations until October 15th; then, two panelists of judges for each category will choose winners. Anyone can nominate; you don't have to be a blogger. 

Eligibility rules—for the books, ebooks, and apps—are here.