Fuse #8

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Braggy Fuse. Braggy Braggy Fuse.

Good afternoon, all.
How's your day been so far?
Cool. Cool.

So ... did you have a published children's illustrator come in and say howdy to you today? Cause I did. Today artist Katherine Tillotson came all the way down to the Donnell Library JUST to say hi to l'il ole me. Ms. Tillotson has officially won the award of Best Children's Illustrator Who Loves Fuse #8. Not that you other illustrators aren't beloved. But how many of you sent me a fancy dancy birthday card with a cool detachable bookmark? How many of you sent an autographed poster (visual essay found here) just for the having? Hm? Hm? She did and she let me know that she's friends with Jeanne DuPrau and that Ms. DuPrau saw this blog not too long ago. Just for the record, Ms. Tillotson is the illustrator of such fine titles as When the Library Lights Go Out and my personal favorite Penguin and Little Blue.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find myself a rather sharp needle with which to puncture my swollen head. I'm not sure I'll be able to get through any doorways for the rest of the day.

Oooooh! Sparkly!

And while we're stealing info from other blogs, why not lift this little article first spotted on Kids Lit, this morning? The Book Standard has written, "Picture Books Fight Back: What the Publishing Industry Is Doing To Reinvigorate Illustrated Books". And here I thought they were doing so well. Hm. Now it seems that bookstores are restricting their "range" (uh-oh) and "novelty elements" (double uh-oh). What does this mean for you? Well, if you walk into a store and find that it's only stocking 10 picture book titles and 8 of those are part of the Rainbow Fish series, don't feel too surprised.


From Mother Reader's Womb Untimely Ripped

Well, not really. But it makes such a nice title.

If you've been reading your Mother Reader then you know that apparently Mr. Willems wrote her back after her lavish lengthy languid [insert L-word here] postings on his various charms, books, dimples, etc. He asked her, in turn, to plug a Lane Smith, "cool vid" of their 45 Minute Mural on her site. She did. Now I am too. Howzabout them apples, eh?

Review of the Day: Cat and Chicken

Let's get a couple things straight right from the get-go. I like illustrator Sara Varon. I think she's neat. Don't believe me? Check out her website sometime. She's done loads of cool pics and prints for clients as widely diverse as The New York Times and the Walker Museum in Minneapolis. Her form of illustration is a misleadingly simple series of clean-lined almost cartoonish prints. Now she has turned, as so many comic artists and printmakers are wont to do, to the relatively lucrative world of children's books with her first effort, "Chicken and Cat". I will repeat something here now, to clear up future confusion. I LIKE Varon's work. Unfortunately, I wasn't head over heels crazy in love with, "Chicken and Cat". A fun book with a simple storyline, this wordless picture book ends up a bit more confusing than it really needs to be. A nice first effort and a laudable work, but I would advise waiting for Varon's future titles before running out and purchasing this one.

A cat comes to the big city to stay with a chicken. The cat is not entirely used to citylife, finding it a bit industrial. Just the same, chicken has lots of good ideas for hanging out. The two go to Central Park and have some ice cream. They take a day trip to Coney Island and traverse the boardwalk. They even take a boatride when the mood hits. Still, Cat is troubled. Going back to their apartment is such a drab affair. Fortunately, Chicken has an idea. Some packets of seeds and a lot of gardening later, the two have turned the empty lot across the street into a veritable urban paradise. Happy ending for all.

It's probably not the best sign when a person has to read the bookflap of a picture book to figure out what exactly is going on. Wordless picture books, by and large, are worth their weight in gold. Parents who want to introduce books to their kids before the children can read often find books of this nature to be invaluable tools. The kids can follow the storyline, understand it, and start a love of books as a result. And I think that, "Chicken and Cat" could certainly be used in this fashion. Still, let's examine some of the narrative problems. Right from the start a cat arrives on a bus and is picked up by a chicken. Is the cat staying with the chicken permanently or is it just a visit? Where is the cat coming from? We can assume from the fact that the cat is spotting the grittier elements of citylife (cockroaches, noisy cars, trash, etc.) that the feline originally hails from a part of the country that's a little more countrified than NYC (or Brooklyn). After a couple readings your average reader will pick up on the fact that the cat doesn't like going back to Chicken's house because there isn't any greenery about. Later, the two plant seeds in the abandoned lot across the street. The plants come up and everyone's happy, but that must mean that the cat's been living with Chicken for a very long time. So did the cat move in after all? I know that this might sound like some major nit-picking here. But children, in my experience, like things to make sense. If you can explain away something to them by saying "it's magic", that's fine because magic (within a certain frame of mind) makes sense. All the more reason that a wordless picture book should go out of its way to make everything clear. When I read the bookflap of this book, by the way, I learned that cat lives in the country. One has to wonder if the writer of that flap was the artist or someone somewhere making assumptions.

Now the art, by and large, is fab. I'm a sucker for graphic novels and comic strips. Varon uses nice clean lines and I couldn't help but love the fact that both Cat and Chicken have pockets, if not any pants (check out the cover). There was one small problem with Varon's rendering of Cat, by the way. When I showed the book to a co-worker of mine her first question was, "Is that an alien?". Alas, the kitty here does have some rather otherworldly ears going on. Still, you would think the collar and tail would be enough to clue in those people who somehow missed the title of the book. I liked how Varon, a Brooklyn native, set this story in New York too. Central Park (having acquired some pink flamingos, interestingly enough) is portrayed here with great love. Coney Island is even more fun with a shot of the F train and a tribute to its boardwalk. So illustration-wise, the book does quite well for itself. It's just the narrative that could use some tinkering.

Varon has another picture book coming out called "Robot Dreams", that involves the friendship between a robot and a dog. A natural progression, one might point out, if her cats resemble aliens. I'm looking forward to that book. As much as I really did enjoy, "Chicken and Cat", I feel as if it's an unfinished work. The storyline is fun but leaps from place to place without much continuity and the story is a touch unclear, if cheery. The illustrations remain top notch. A nice purchase, but not a necessary one. I recommend flipping through it yourself when you get a chance.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Happy Homecoming

My mysterious Number One Fan appears to be back from vacation again.
Welcome back, buddy!
Always lovely to see you again.

Hot Men of Children's Literature - Part 16 In a Series

Recently I begged you, the masses, to send me potential Hot Men for future postings. In doing so, I've found that some names come up more often than others. Oddly enough I've STILL not heard anyone recommend Shel Silverstein. Huh. Anyway, if I were to say which fellow received the most votes, it would be today's official Hot Man. In the interests of full disclosure I will also note that my mother has been complaining lately about how all my Hot Men are young 'uns. She suggested this author as well. With that in mind please meet the adorable....


This picture is the one of him I've found that scores relatively well on the old Hotness Meter. Random House made him a lovely little website that you may wish to check out too. I'm making the casual assumption that you have all read his works. If, for some ungodly reason, you have not then do so immediately. I'm serious. If there was ever a required living author to read, this be he. Not only did he win a Newbery but Bucking the Sarge is one of those titles that just makes a person laugh out loud in embarrassing public situations. Oh... and here's another pic I just found. So rarely do my Hot Men ever show their legs. Consider this posting a collectible.

New York Book-Related Wonders: June Edition

So let's say you live in New York. Let's also say you read this blog. That would probably make you one of five people who regularly visit this site, three of whom are co-workers and one of whom is a comedy friend with a blog of his own. But should you be that one New Yorker who doesn't know me personally AND you would like to know what children's literary events are nigh, here's a quick summary.

First off, Books of Wonder (children's bookstore of the stars) is slow on putting up their upcoming authors. What I do know, however is that authors David Levithan and Rachel Cohn of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist fame are going to be signing books on Friday, June 2nd. I have been informed by the YA librarians of Teen Central that this is the best YA books of the year. I would not know. Any book written for someone over the age of 13 is out of my range of experience.

Then we hop on over to Bank Street Bookstore where we discover the following info:
So you've always wanted to meet a really really big name in some way? Well, just in case you're interested, Mo Willems AND Donnell-insultin'-author Chris Raschka AND Jane O'Connor of Fancy Nancy fame will be signing books on June 10th at noon. Here's the kicker... they're doing it at Bryant Park, near the 42nd Street Arts & Humanities Library, right? Then at the bottom it says:

Please note: This event will take place outdoors at Bryant Park on the 42nd Street side between 5th and 6th. In the case of rain the events will be moved to the Donnell Library Center, 20 West 53rd Street between 5th and 6th Ave.
Um... so I guess it'll be here as well in the event of rain.
Wish someone had let me know about this. Hrm.

On Sunday, June 11th we travel BACK to the bookstore itself to see Gregor the Overlander author Suzanne Collins signing at 1:00 p.m. Fun for all.

The aforementioned Teen Central is getting author Brian Sloan to come in on Wednesday, June 7th who wrote A Really Nice Prom Mess. He'll be there at 4:00 p.m.

In the corporate non-independent bookseller world (boo hisssss, hisssss booo) Barnes and Nobles has some winners. For example, if you've a teen who would like to learn writing at the hands of Ned Vizzini (author of Be More Chill) you can do so in the Park Slope B&N at 5:00 p.m. on June 2nd.

Oh... and I hesitate to add this but if you'd like to meet Edward Kennedy (show of hands, please), um, you can do so on June 16th at the Barnes and Nobles at 555 Fifth Avenue (down the street from me). He'll be signing copies of his recent dog's-eye-P.O.V. book. Would I kid you on this?

Author Trading Cards - Collect Them All!

Yes, the good souls at Powells Bookstore have come up with an item that may well trump the whole literary-action-figure market on book-related randomness. Author trading cards. And since this is a children's literary blog, are any of them children's authors? Yes! For a limited time only, you too could own the trading card of Daniel Handler, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Why would you actually want to do this?

Because Mr. Handler is worth collecting. He'll never make it onto my Hot Men of Children's Literature list (for silly stupid selfish reasons), but I love 'im just the same. Now I'm off to get his card.

Natural Born Poetry

There's writing for children and then there's children's writing. NYU professor and poet Sharon Olds says in the Orlando Sentinel that everyone is born a poet.

Since we all are talking all the time, any writing that you see on the part of a child is, until they have learned how to do the cliches, just all fresh and original. "You can't find a first-grader who writes bad poetry. The gift of writing, the ability to write poetry is something that has to be actively taken away from you. Which our culture's happy to do, as most cultures are," she says

Hm. Is this true? I mean, obviously a small child isn't going to write anything "bad" persay. But aren't some kids better at poetry right from the start than others? Worth pondering.

Look At Me, Ma! I'm A Genre!

Are book reviews a genre unto themselves? Brian Doyle in this past Sunday's Oregonian makes a case for it:

Consider the difficulty of composing a brief piece, both graceful and pointed, that must juggle many tasks: assess the feats and flaws of the book at hand, its place in the works of that writer, its place in books on that subject, its general substance or silliness, and -- most of all -- whether the book is worth cold cash. Additionally, a good review should sketch the subject of the book itself in such a way that the reader gets a quick lesson in Antarctic exploration, beekeeping, Guy Fawkes, Tom McCall's fishing waders, etc.; one subtle kick of a book section in a newspaper is that it is fully as informative and stimulating as the rest of the paper (indeed usually more so), whether or not you immediately shuffle to the bookstore to lay your money down.

Primp again.

Not that Doyle doesn't cover the dangers of the genre (ooo... I LIKE that term) as well.

And like any form it has its charlatans and mountebanks; what is more entertaining, among the dark pleasures of reading a newspaper, than realizing that the reviewer has not actually read the book in question, and is committing fizzy sleight-of-hand? Or reading a review that is utterly self-indulgently about the reviewer, not the book?

It's a danger. And when haven't I once in a while found myself halfway through a book (paging Inkspell) wanting so desperately to just throw the book against the nearest wall and review it in its entirety? I don't, of course. That would be wrong. But the temptation is always there.

Anywho, check out Doyle's article. He has a wonderful way with words. I'd read a book review of his anytime.

Aw Yeah, Baby. Seven Little Daddies Is a Hit!

I don't mean to brag....


Phew! Sorry. *sniffle* That was a good one.
Anywho, I'd like to brag about the most recent posting on Chris Barton's charming blog Bartography. You will note that he actually went out and found a copy of Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Dadding which I reviewed the other day. And you know what? It's a hit with his small child! I feel vindicated and pleased and all kinds of happiness towards my fellow man. Particularly if that fellow man happens to be Chris Barton.

By the way... Greg at Gotta Book sent me the great photo shown here of the cover but it's just not working here. A tip of the hat to him just the same. And Greg, I agree that the garbage can under the railing gives the cover just the right amount of, "Huh?".

Why I Love The Disco Mermaids

Link below.
Nuff said.

Review of the Day: My Father's Shop

I first saw this Kane/Miller publication on Anne Boles Levy's site Book Buds. It looked interesting enough, but I figured she'd covered all the essential information about the title. Then Kane/Miller sent me the book personally, and I took a closer gander at it. All in all, this is a rather nice picture book, and one that should really get more attention. As shown here...

No matter what your culture, creed, or standard of living, there is one creature in this world that draws universal ire and attention. The tourist. Many of us find ourselves becoming that dreaded beast at least once in our lifetimes, but there aren’t that many picture books that go so far as to comment on them. Enter in, “My Father’s Shop”, by Satomi Ichikawa. Written by a Japanese born Parisian resident about a Moroccan bazaar, this is one of those international picture books with particularly good credentials. It’s even nicer that the story is an interesting one as well.

Mustafa spends the day working in his father’s carpet shop. Because of the nature of his job (a Moroccan marketplace) Mustafa’s dad must know a variety of different languages with which to communicate with tourists. One day, the boy finds a rug with a big hole in the center. When Mustafa pleads to keep it for his very own, his father agrees but on the condition that his son learn some foreign phrases. This lasts for a little while, but the boy quickly becomes bored and shoots off into the nearby marketplace. There he finds himself followed by a rooster. Suddenly all the tourists and locals are telling the boy what their culture teaches that the rooster says. In England it’s “Cock-a-doodle-doo”, while in Spain it’s, “Qui-qui-ri-qui”. Mustafa runs home to tell his father all about the many languages he’s learned and inadvertently leads the tourists to his father’s stall where they do some mighty fine business.

On the bookflap we learn that author/illustrator Satomi Ichikawa, “never attended art school”. Remarkable? That doesn’t even begin to cover it. In terms of basic drawing skills the book's sheer variety of rugs, including countless different patterns, colors, and weaves, is enough to take your breath away. Even if you’ve never felt inclined towards even buying a rug, you might not mind giving Mustafa’s dad some business. She’s also particularly good at the visual gag. When Mustafa walks out into the wider world with his new rug draped over his head, part of the reason the rooster starts following him probably has to do with the fact that the bird is the exact same bright yellow and green colors as the rug. But while Ichikawa is good at your average floor covering, she’s just as adept at people. The characters in “My Father’s Shop” practically leap off of the pages. Kids reading this book will be able to locate each additional character from page to page. The closest picture book I’ve seen that even comes close to rivaling this kind of sheer character driven market/crowd scenes would have to be Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations for, “The Fortune Tellers”. Actually, the two books would probably pair together rather well too.

The writing, for the most part, is not bad. Oddly, I was unable to locate the name of the translator. This book, you see, was originally published in France. Whoever did the translating, therefore, did a passable if not extraordinary job of it. The text avoids the herky-jerkiness some children’s book translations fall prey to. At the same time, though, it wouldn’t really make that good a readaloud. I think that because the story is as strong as it is and the plot so interesting, this title would do particularly well one-one-one with a child. Not so much with the bigger groups.

One of the criticisms I’ve seen lobbed at this book in the past was the idea that this is a book that relies heavily on stereotypes. You know. What your average Japanese, British, French, Spanish tourists act and look like. For example, in this story the Japanese are shown to be all about getting just the right camera angle as they snap pictures of Mustafa and his rooster. The English, on the other hand, all wear neckerchiefs and the father looks positively Australian in his khaki gear. None of this really disturbed me, though. After all, tourists are stereotypical critters. They hop from country to country staying just long enough to shoot some pictures, buy some goods and services, and then leave. If you were a rug seller in Morocco you’d probably see only one side of them as well. The nice thing about this book is that everybody is able to communicate with one another by coming up with a different onomatopoeia-ish word for the same birdcall. And, in doing so, they are able to reach a kind of common ground in this book. So well done there.

Truth be told, in my limited knowledge of children’s literature overseas, the only other kids book I could think of that contained a carpet salesman was Diana Wynne Jones’s, “Castle In the Sky”. However, that title is far too mature to couple with this slight and jovial picture book. About once every two weeks I (a children’s librarian) am approached by parents or teachers looking for what they call, “multicultural picture books”. Until now I’ve gone with things like, “Throw Your Tooth On the Roof”, and books of that nature. Now I can proudly hold up, “My Father’s Shop”, as one of the lovelier new books of the year and a wonderful glimpse into the day-to-day life of your average Moroccan carpet salesman.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is due out in paperback form July 25, you happy campers. Those of you who are librarians, pre-order 'em now. Those of you who are booksellers, ditto. Those of you who are laymen, go about your business. Thanks to the Bookseller Chick for the news.

Eragon Stills

Some of the character display photos from the filmed version of Eragon are up for perusal these days. If you're anything like myself you're not all that interested. I mean, the movie's bound to be better than the book, but to what extent? Far more interesting to me is the fact that we have both Jeremy Irons (as shown here) and John Malkovich together in it. Yum. Still, check out the girl in the pointy breast corset. Should the costumer later confess that most of these outfits were inspired by Madonna's Vogue phase, you would not find me particularly surprised.

Challenge! Challenge!

What's that sparkly glove on the ground? It is a gauntlet. What's it doing on the ground? Well, it looks as if Mother Reader has set up a particularly interesting challenge. On the week-end of June 16th, from 7 a.m. that Friday to 7 a.m. on Monday (or so) we, the children's literature bloggers, must read and review as many kids books as humanly possible.

The Problem: Um... I have ten previously unpublished reviews just sitting in a Word file. I like to keep 'em there until their publication date arrives. Then I post them. Also, if I'm feeling like a lazy reviewer, I can do one of them as my Review of the Day. So they're just sitting there. Can I use them or not? I say, no. It's not really fair to post things you have just sitting around. So for the sake of my honor, I will not even touch the puppies. How's that for holding back, eh? Eh?

Review of the Day: The Boy Who Ate Stars

Reviewing children’s books originally published in foreign countries is a somewhat complicated process. You’ve the obvious cultural differences, of course. Then there’s the translation. How much fault or praise do you heap upon the person who has the unenviable job of transferring an author’s vision from one language to another? Finally, there’s the book itself. After all the work that’s gone into it, and after all the time and effort to bring it to the American market, was it worth it in the end? By and large I am very positive on getting more foreign-language overseas literary hits translated and into our American bookstores and libraries. In this year alone we’ve seen amazing titles like, Guus Kuijer’s, “The Book of Everything”, and Sjoerd Kuyper’s, “The Swan’s Child”. Now we’ve a book from Lebanese born French citizen (and one-namer) Kochka entitled, “The Boy Who Ate Stars”. It’s a book with a rather interesting premise, but I’m afraid that something somewhere went awry. Whether it was the writing itself or the translation, Kochka’s book shows a great deal of promise. Here’s hoping perhaps some of her future books will succeed where this one failed.

Twelve-year-old Lucy and her family have just moved into a new apartment. At first, Lucy decides to take on the enormous challenge of meeting and befriending everyone in her new apartment building. Then she meets the residents directly above her and immediately her plans change. One night the apartment above her own is privy to some incredibly loud noises. Lucy’s father charges up the stairs to yell at the residents, then comes back down subdued. It seems that their upstairs neighbors are a single librarian mom, a Russian nanny, and a boy named Matthew. Matthew is autistic, and curious Lucy is unable to get a suitable definition of “autism” out of anyone she knows. As a result, Lucy turns Matthew into a kind of project. She will help him to connect with people outside of himself. At the same time, she’s also trying to teach a lapdog named Francois, who belongs to a couple friends of her parents, to break out of his comfortable, obedient shell. Matthew’s story and the story of Francois are paralleled against one another, showing the progress and breakthroughs of both boy and dog together.

Now, we have two different authors at work here. The original writer, Kochka, and translator, Sarah Adams. Putting the rest of the book entirely aside, I kept finding myself wondering how closely Adams was adhering to the original text. Some of the more awkward sentences may be direct translations. For example, there are a couple phrases along the lines of, “Secretly, I was going to take that dog under my wing so he could learn to fly”. Other times, though, the translation doesn’t seem to quite fit, as when Lucy says that, “I pretended butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth”. More at fault are the moments when odd America slang pops up unexpectedly. When Lucy discovers later in the story that she’ll get to keep Francois while his owners are out of town she erupts with the word, “Wicked!”. Aside from the fact that even in America this word isn’t exactly universal, it doesn’t fit with the rest of the France-based book. Altogether, some of the writing feels like it has a herky-jerky start-and-stop feel to it. There’s no way of telling if that’s the work of Adams or Kochka, though. And after reading through the book carefully, I think the blame rests with Kochka.

A translator can only give you what already exists. So if the narrative itself is uneven, it’s not their fault. In this book, the story often jumps from scene to scene and place to place without much cohesive connection. “We ran into Matthew who was taking a cookie for a walk. It was raining. We were amazed, firstly because it was the kind of weather for staying indoors, and secondly because Matthew was treating the cookie like a king. Under the damp song of the sky, sheltered by an arbor, Marie told us a story. That night Theo couldn’t sleep”. Three distinct events but there isn’t any comfortable transition between them. Add into the odd “damp song of the sky”, which comes entirely out of the blue and the book makes for a more difficult read than it really had to be.

I don’t know much about autism myself, so I can’t say whether or not Kochka’s Matthew is a good or a poor example of the condition. For all I know, Matthew is a perfectly rendered autistic. However, that didn’t keep me from becoming particularly uncomfortable when Kochka would equate Matthew with various animalia. Sometimes parallels would be drawn between a boy that Lucy sees as comfortably wild, and a dog that needs to learn how to be free. Says Lucy, “Of course, Matthew would make the perfect trainer to help Francois find his animal instincts again!”. Later when he’s stroking her hair she says, “Instead of letting me stroke him, this special cat was stroking me”. Further on Lucy writes a definition of the boy. “Matthew: a chameleon with a heart made of modeling clay”. He’s everything EXCEPT a human being to Lucy, and her patronizing attitude towards him was enough to make me particularly uncomfortable.

I think this book had some nice moments and perhaps some judicious editing would have made it a little more palatable. Still, whether it’s the translation or the writing itself, there’s something about, “The Boy Who Ate Stars”, that just don’t feel right. It’s a fine book for what it is, but nothing too extraordinary. I wouldn’t bother buying it for a kid. Autism’s a tricky subject, and this book simply doesn’t convey its complexity. Nice story, but not particularly noteworthy.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Jon Buller and the Case of the Missing Map

Happy Memorial Day week-end, kids. Unlike Big A little a, a blog who's consistency in week-end reading material exhausts me just to look at, I'm not a big one for the week-end updates. If I'm not sitting at a Reference Desk for prolonged periods of time waiting for the 45th child to walk up to me asking for arctic animal books (this week a school's entire 4th grade class had this assignment) then I'm not a prolific poster. However, this morning I felt sufficiently moved to post something.

I was putting up my Review of the Day and checking my SiteMeter with all the casual aplomb of an addict, when I saw a rather interesting detail. Lots of people find this blog when they Google random phrases. Just yesterday somebody in Denmark found Fuse #8 by Googling, "Adrien Brody sleeps with his mother". You can imagine how disappointed they must have been to find I haven't even a droplet of Oedipal Brodyness. Anyway, by and large the Google population doesn't stick around very long. One person, however, had Googled the phrase, "Travels of Thelonious reviews", and then stayed an impressive amount of time on this site. That usually can mean only one thing: The author or the illustrator was checking out my blog. A quick scan of the review of that same book and sure enough the illustrator left a comment.

In case you guys should be interested in the book (which I enjoyed) artist Jon Buller pointed out that there was a map that was never included with the title. The link is presented below for any of you curious souls who might like to see what the book looks like illustration-wise before reading or purchasing it. Now I am off to barbecue something sticky while wearing a white dress. Wish me luck.

Review of the Day: You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons

Not a children's book, no. But if you can't read a spot of adult literature once in a while you lose all sense of proportion as a reviewer. And since we've had a Mo Willems-centric week here in blogland, I thought this might cap it all off nicely.

When you think about it, picture book author/illustrators by and large do not suddenly come out with thick memoir-like tomes. Not even Maurice Sendak has done it. It just isn’t done. So when I found myself hefting Mo Willems’s handsome 396-some encapsulation of his time spent traveling around the world in 1990, I didn’t quite know what to make of the idea. Willems is cute as a button and he pens a mean pigeon but can he … (how shall I put this?) … well, can he do a book that isn’t five-year-old-centric? Apparently, yes. Yes and indeed and thank you kindly, m’am. Taking a concept for a book that could’ve easily ended up as a better idea than product, Willems has put together a thoughtful look at how we’ve changed in the eyes of the world, how the people of the world appear to us, and how difficult it is to cultivate an “us” vs. “them” mentality when you’ve just met the “them” firsthand.

It was a kind of cartoon diary. When young Mo Willems, future cartoonist/author/Nickelodeon pawn, graduated from college he took his newfound freedom as an opportunity to take the ultimate worldwide unguided tour. Patches in place on jeans and sideburns making their, “precipitous drop toward my shoulders”, Mr. Willems chose to record his experiences in the form of a cartoon a day. These cartoons are of a wide and somewhat assorted variety. They may be illustrations of all the goatees seen that day, or a picture of a long skinny Mo reenacting a situation. They might even be just a view of something he found particularly touching or sweet, like a boy watering a public tree. There are some constants, of course. Each cartoon includes the date, a description, and where Mo was on that given date. Usually there is also an additional comment below this information at the bottom of the page. It’s here that present day Mo gives a little context to what you are seeing. He might explain how the trip was going, the story behind the cartoon, or just riff a one-liner on what you see. Sometimes he won’t even say anything at all, leaving his original comments and pictures to stand on their own. Each leg of the journey in this book is indicated by its own map. Those maps then give a convoluted but legible dotted line that shows where Mo done gone.

I gotta say, fresh-outta-college Mo had a good eye and ear for his subject matter. It would be the height of narcissism to take something you created in your youth that wasn’t funny and publish it for the masses to messily consume. The moral equivalent of printing your high school poetry, say. Fortunately for everybody involved, young Mo was a pretty funny cat. Captions like, “bad day for the hand crafted tribal blowdart salesman” and “the locals call him ‘Mr. Socks’”, hardly even need pictures. They’re funny all on their own. The young artist’s consistency is also something to cheer on. Admittedly I haven’t gone over all 300-some pictures in this book to make absolutely certain that he wrote every day. A quick scan, however, shows that no matter how crazy his last 24-hours or wacked out his company (both if he was lucky) the boy still managed to put pen to paper and get it down.

Then there are the illustrations themselves. His style firmly in place, Mr. Willems’ sketches are presented without so much as a smidgen of dirt or a crease about the edges. Good old Photoshop. There were some repeating images in this book that amused me especially. I liked how most of the women had breasts that looked like the lowercase letter “W” on its side. I liked the overly elongated hero and his shockingly clefted chin. Plus I loved the fact that there was a chicken in this book that did not look anything like the bird Willems would later draw for the illustrator compendium, “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road”.

Every five years I write a letter to myself and then squirrel it away until it’s time for them to be read. It’s a fun way of meeting again and again my younger stupider self. Willems mentions experiencing something rather similar when he looked back at his old sketches. Of them, he says that they are, “my gateway to understanding the weird guy who occupied my skinny body back then”. Part of what makes the book interesting is the tension between young smelly Mo and wise and successful I-think-I’ll-live-in-Brooklyn Mo. Obviously old-Mo has the hometeam advantage on this one. He can laugh and prod his younger self and there ain’t nothing little young-Mo can do about it. Fortunately, you’re on old-Mo’s side. For example, there’s a picture of young-Mo sitting awkwardly between two evil-eyed fellows with Saddam-like moustaches. The original text reads, “patriotic paranoia pops up: stuck between two iranian tourists”. Old-Mo’s response is apropos: “I shudder at the stupidity of my youth when I look at this sketch. These guys were quite happy to separate who I was from my government, but I was unwilling or unable to do the same for them. A wasted opportunity”. Whether he’s lamenting his own ignorance or merely commenting in hindsight on a mistake of some sort, it’s nice to have two points of view from the same fella to bandy about.

The book is remarkable for all these reasons, but here’s the most important one. For his last few weeks, Mo continued to draw his observations while bumming around the United States. And for all the crazy kooky things that can happen to a guy overseas, it’s funny to weigh the similarities and differences to what you see them here at home. Plus it gives the ending of the book a sense of resolution you wouldn’t think to find in any kind of a diary, let alone a cartoon one. In his Epilogue, Willems says that this trip and this experience drove home for him the idea that what he sees on the worldwide news affects real people. “… they all really exist, and what they do affects us”. One could say the same of this book too. It will affect you. A loving look at everything that is wonderful and horrible in having to live on “this big, wide, wonderful world”. A book worth visiting.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Review of the Day: A Mouse Called Junction

So we've covered Weird Ass Picture Books that were unjustly forgotten. So how about looking at one that deserves its forgotten status? Either that or it might be held up as a wonderful example of what NOT to do in a given picture book.

As a children's librarian there are certain perks that come with the job. Slowly and surely I have been rediscovering, reading, and reviewing those picture books I loved so dearly as a child. Lots of people do this. It's a kind of professional nostalgia we're allowed to indulge in. But sometimes one feels the urge to locate picture books that are even MORE interesting. In my case, I was speaking to my mother the other day and the subject of repugnant children's books came up. People are forever ascribing deeper disturbing meanings to titles like Robert Munsch's, "Love You Forever", or Marcus Pfister's, "Rainbow Fish", and not without reason. I myself cannot read, "The Giving Tree" without feeling a slight shudder run down my spine. As we spoke, my mom mentioned that when I was very young there was only one picture book I was ever given that she actually, physically, felt the need to throw into the garbage. In her own words, she didn't want to donate the book for fear that another child would accidentally read it. In terms of personal discovery, locating this book would be a way to delve into a book denied me as a child. So without further ado I hunted down, located, and found, "A Mouse Called Junction" by Julia Cunningham. Was my mother overreacting? Not a jot. Folks, as psychologically malevolent and twisted machinations go, "Junction" is one of those books that has passed out of human memory rightfully. I bring it to your attention now if only because it is perhaps one of the most fascinating trips I've ever taken into the world of, "What Was The Author Thinking???".

There once was a little boy mouse named Junction. He has everything he could possibly want in his life. Lots of food and a warm bed and toys. Just the same, Junction is unhappy. He wants more out of life than having his basic needs met. One night, he sneaks out of his house into the wide world. At first it's lots of fun. Sure, he meets a bird that warns him of the red-eyed rat that lives nearby. And a squirrel that gets him out of a spiderweb starts yammering on about an evil owl as well. Just the same, little Junction is completely startled when that self-same owl comes screetching down at him, out for blood. He's only saved through the intercession of the rat he was warned of before. The rat takes Junction into his home and the little mouse is so impressed that he pledges to be the rat's friend forever and ever and ever. Though he could have all the comforts in the world, it's the rat he really wants.

All right. From what I've told you now, can you guess what my mother found so deeply disturbing about this book? If you said, "It sounds like it was published as propaganda from NAMBLA", they you are right, sir! I mean, look at it. There's this cute little boy mouse who goes off into the world because he wants to find something "dangerous". This is directly from the text. Dangerous. All the other animals inform him that the most dangerous creature in the woods (aside from the owl) is the ugly rat. Small boy mouse meets ugly adult rat and instantly decides that this is the "friend" for him. "The two are like father and son, king and princeling". There's something about Cunningham's words that strike a warning chord in the heart of the casual reader. About the time the rat is taking the mouse on his shoulders to go, "Down, down, down until they halted at a hole so dank the mouse sneezed"... well you just can't help but want to call protective services.

Aside from reading too much (as some would accuse me of) into this tale, is this a good or a bad book? Well, let's look at the writing itself. It's... um... well it's doggone odd. It's hard to parse this kind of tale. There are a lot of very odd gaps in this puppy. First of all, consider the mouse's initial situation. He's the smallest of a large family and has lots of meals and toys and a nice warm home. When he leaves he's much like the protagonist in that old Grimm tale about the boy who left home to find out about the shivers. Only in the case of the mouse, the book says he'd never felt sad or scared, "Nor had he ever even hugged anyone, not knowing how". Come again? Okay, so maybe he isn't given much physical affection (warning... warning) but the fact that he leaves, "without leaving a note for his family", is still a little sad. In this book, however, it's viewed as a kind of freedom. Okaaaaaaay. Story aside, the prose in this tale is also odd. You feel disturbed long before the arrival of the red-eyed rat. And the mouse's abject stupidity (tell me that even the most coddled creature wouldn't run if an owl attacked it) doesn't make him any more likable. That said, let's look at the pictures.

I don't know if you happen to remember this, but in the early 1980s the world of children's literature was practically ruled hand-and-fist by one man: Michael Hague. Systematically this illustrator set about putting his pen to all the classics he could get his hands on. In my home alone I had the Michael Hague, "Wizard of Oz", "Reluctant Dragon", "Wind In the Willows", "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", and "The Velveteen Rabbit". Influenced in large part by Arthur Rackham, once in a while the man would look away from whichever classic he had his eye one (I haven't even mentioned his "Peter Pan" or the sacrilegious "Peter Rabbit") and do something a little more low-key. In most cases, he chose wisely. Then he set his sights on this particularly disturbing little number. Somehow the cute Hagueian woodland animals that looked so sweet in "Velveteen Rabbit", have the opposite effect here. I loved his bird and squirrel. The fact that they keep telling the mouse that he is out too late and are meant to be ignored is an entirely different issue right there. The owl, oddly, is a bit small, but we can assume it's a screech owl perhaps. Then we get to the rat. Obviously Hague wasn't helping matters when he makes his rat wear a dirty trenchcoat and scarf. No, not a jot.

I explain the plot of this book to my husband and complain about its innate oddities. His response is very logical. "What do you think the author was trying to say?". A good question, that. I suspect that Cunningham was trying to make some statement about friendship and how it's better than all the creature comforts in the world. Usually when stories of this sort are written, though, a small creature goes out and befriends another creature of the same age. For a little boy mouse to hook up with a trench-coated adult male rat... well you can't tell me that isn't just a bit odd. I doubt "A Mouse Called Junction" shall ever find itself republished ever again. However, should you need a good psychologically twisted picture book for your senior thesis in children's literature, few titles go so far and creep one out quite as well Julia Cunninham's oddest little number.

Friday, May 26, 2006

News From the Mini Apple

As a former resident of Minneapolis (and Portland, OR and Richmond, IN and London, England and Kalamazoo, MI) I like to keep tabs on my former home. So I was shocked that I almost missed hearing about the official opening of the Minneapolis Central Public Library on May 20th. There are lots of lovely pictures of the library's opening on flikr at the moment, and they seem to make the library out to be one heckuvan odd duckling. You have pictures like this ...

(lovely, lovely) alongside pictures like this...

All the fun of a library with the atmosphere of an industrial hanger. I'm baffled. Some of the shots are entirely love to the eye, of course. Others show the overwhelming metal structure shown above. I'm also having a hard time finding pictures of the children's room which I KNOW must be cool. Flikr, for all its charms, is difficult to search. There are supposedly fireplaces on every floor, and lots of room, and plenty of computers for the kids, and all kinds of incredibly cool features that I would love to get a gander at. Does anyone have the hook-up?

Apparently This Is Some Kind of a Big Deal

I'm baffled as to why anyone would fret about this. In the land of the Aussies, apparently Melbourne writer Sonya Hartnett (who has penned many a children's book) has been outed as erotic novelist Cameron S. Redfern. Um... and that's the long and the short of it, folks. I'm not sure why this is newsworthy, but I don't have much to report today and this seemed the most interesting tidbit I could find. There's also a nice article in The Age that discusses the pen name phenomenon.

Review of the Day: Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies

I'm perfectly aware that it is Friday and that, by rights, I should be reviewing a children's book of poetry. Please understand that I had every intention of complying. Then I met this book. Remember when Mother Reader had that amusing post about Weird Ass Picture Books? Remember how funny they were and how we all laughed together over the oddities in each and every one? Ah, those were the good times. Well, kids, today I have the mother of all Weird Ass Picture Books. I have the book that could have given the genre its name. Prepare to be amazed, dazzled, and generally blown away. Meet my new favorite book.

Sometimes a picture book is so bizarre, so entirely out of left-field, and so wacked-out mesmerizingly baffling that the average adult reader has no choice but to fall head over heels in love with it. Such, I tell you, is the case with, "Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies". I stumbled across this book entirely by chance. My library has a rather overwhelming amount of picture books and many of these end up in a kind of Overflow of No Return. I decided to take it upon myself to inspect and sort out this overflow and was doing a pretty darn good job of it when this book fell into my lap. At first I couldn't quite wrap my head around the cover, the title, and the concept. Then, as I flipped through and found it full of early 1990s Swedish day-to-day life (albeit with THE most Freudian conceit ever to grace a picture book's pages) I found myself reading it again and again and again. Completely forgotten and utterly wonderful, I harbor the strange secret hope that perhaps someday someone somewhere will take it upon themselves to republish this little nugget of children's literature gold. Amazing doesn't even begin to describe it.

Else-Marie has seven little daddies. Most people have one big one. She has seven small ones. It's not so bad usually. Like all the other kids she knows, she waits for them to come home at the end of the day. They usually like to play a game with her in the evening, though sometimes they'll share a single paper between themselves. Today, however, things are different. Else-Marie's mother has informed her daughter that she won't be able to pick her up from work today. Can you guess who will? Thaaat's right! Her seven fathers. Suddenly the girl is aware that her family situation might seem a bit odd to the other kids. She has nightmarish visions of her daddies getting run up a tree by a dog, accidentally sat on by the teacher, or played with as dolls by the other kids. Of course, when the time actually comes it turns out that Else-Marie had nothing to worry about. Her daddies are the hit of her class. They tell stories no one else as heard and think that the birdhouse their daughter has constructed is top notch. In the end, Else-Marie learns to respect her non-traditional family and sums up this acceptance quite simply: "I wouldn't trade my seven little daddies - not for all the daddies in the world".

WOW! It's a little painful to read a book when your jaw is hanging somewhere in the vicinity of your midriff, but I think I managed it. How do I even begin to parse this? First of all, let's just make one thing bloody clear. Some people are going to be like me. They'll find the book amusing, creative, and mind-blowing. Others will be like the School Library Journal reviewer who said of the book, "All through the story readers will search for a logical explanation, some missing puzzle piece regarding Else-Marie's bizarre situation. However, no answers are provided, no hints are given. This lack of resolution makes for an ultimately unsatisfying story, with awkward attempts at humor". I suppose some people might see it that way. Not me. For me, the joy of this book is the complete and total immersion into a world in which a kid can have one pop or seven, all depending on how one is raised. And I seriously contest the reviewer's claim that the humor in this book is "awkward". On the contrary, it's spot on nine times out of ten. The story itself is funny in its conceit alone. When it starts to get into the logistics of the situation (imagine having to share a bathroom with that many family patriarchs) it gets funnier. About the time Else-Marie is getting embarrassed by her parents' singing (and what kid hasn't faced that shame in one way or another?) you feel for the kid but are laughing all the same. So she has seven daddies. So what? Author Pija Lindenbaum is hitting some pretty universal nerves when she talks about the relationship between parents and their children, especially when she speaks to how parents embarrass their offspring.

Oh, but I haven't even begun to describe the pictures. Again, the School Library Journal reviewer found the book to contain, "unappealing characters with bulging eyes and stringy hair, and the colors are murky". Actually, the colors are understated, not murky. And the characters are deeply appealing. They're not cutesy, of course, but they're fun. Now this book was originally published in Sweden and while the text is (as I said before) universal, the pictures definitely hail from the land of IKEA. Whether you're looking at the furniture in the school's staff room, the "FUT cr me" in the mother's bedroom (omigod the bed is faaabulous!), or some of the street scenes, there is little doubt left in one's mind that this is not an American creation. Then there are the wonderful details. In the living room is a fabulous wedding photo of Else-Marie's mom and seven, yup, seven grooms clustered together. In the bathroom about fourteen tiny socks soak in a tub and reminder post-it notes like "Don't forget Else-Marie" are put at tiny daddy eye-height.

You could try to rope this book into the Unconventional Family genre, but I wouldn't recommend it. As pleasant as seven small papas seems (I keep trying to work out the logistics surrounding Else-Marie's actual birth) it's not as if you're going to run into that many kids with fathers counting higher than 3 out there. Really, this is a story about a kid who's afraid of being different and who finds that maybe different is good in the end. Really, it's a very traditional story at heart. Heck, it's like Leo Lionni's, "Swimmy". Just exchange the fish in the story for seven Swedish fathers of minimal height. Okay, fine. It's weird. No one's denying that. But it's actually a lot of fun and one of those books that kids will truly enjoy. That is after they stop asking the adult reading it to them how any child can have seven fathers at once. Better prep your answers beforehand `cause the book is not about to give you any hints on the matter. This IS family fare, after all.

I have a small list that I keep of children's picture books that I wish would be republished sometime soon. Consider "Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies" to now be number one on that list. It's like nothing you've ever seen before and definitely not anything you'll see again. Just a wonderful experiment in how far a picture book can go, and a fun story to boot. A must-read for anyone interested in alternate-reality children's literature. Plus I love that I live in a world where for one brief and shining moment a publisher thought it would be a good idea to publish this book.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Canadians One-Up Americans

So what else is new? In this case, it looks as if our neighbors to the North have shown some especially nice gumption in garnering the film rights to the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. The name of the production company? It couldn't be more perfect. "Copperheart". Better read it for yourself before you doubt.

Touched By the Fairies, That One

Lois Lowry has a piece on changing the original title of Gossamer on her blog. Though I can understand and appreciate the sentiment behind it, I think the publisher probably had the right idea when they told her that a book called "The Touched Boy" would give the wrong impression to the book buying crowd. Thanks to Blog From the Windowsill for the link.

Pulp Classic Fiction

How often have I found myself saying that if a children's book only had a better cover it might garner itself a far higher readership? Now it looks as if my prayers have been answered in a truly unholy fashion. Behold a recent crop of pulp novel covers from Slate Magazine. They had their designers, "create lurid new book jackets for classics from The Iliad to Animal Farm". Check out the ankle boots on Alice In Wonderland, if you've a chance. And Moby Dick's, "Primitive Pirate Passions Were A Prelude To Death", may now be my favorite sentence in the English language.

Review of the Day: When You Were Small

Pity the small publisher in this age of global conglomerates and massive buyouts. In a time of Harcourts and Harper Collins, and Antheneums it’s almost impossible for the little guy (the little guy in this case being Simply Read Books) to make any kind of a lasting impression on the marketplace. Worse than all of this is the snobbery involved in criticizing small publishers. I admit freely that when I picked up, “When You Were Small”, I looked at it long and hard with an eye towards finding any faults it might have. Not all small publishers are good, after all, and not all of their books readworthy. Simply Read Books is different, though, and “When You Were Small”, is infinitely readworthy. An unassuming title with a charming presence, great use of wry commentary, and some really outstanding pen and ink illustrations. “When You Were Small”, reminds all of us that sometimes the smallest publishers are the ones who find the best new talent around.

Every night, we are told, Henry and his dad sit down, “and have a chat”. Henry asks his dad to tell him what he was like when he was small and dad does so. The only thing is, dad seems to be a bit of a literal sort. The first thing he tells Henry is, “When you were small you used to have a pet ant and you would take him out for walks on a leash”. And here we see Henry, no younger than before, but tiny enough to walk an ant as if it were a particularly frisky dog. With each page we learn more about what “little” Henry’s life was like. Sometimes it’s straightforward, as when we’re told, “When you were small we took the toy castle out of the aquarium and you were king of it”. Other times the book acquires a dry wit, saying things like, “… your mother once lost you in the bottom of her purse. When she found you again, you were clinging to an earring she’d lost three years before”. We hear about how Henry would eat, use a ruler when it came to tobogganing, and take a bath. Near the end of the book Henry’s father notes, “we wanted to call you Hieronymous but it was too big a name for you and so we shortened it to Henry”. And when Henry asks if all of this is true (as I am sure he asks every night) his dad simply says, “Well ... don’t you remember?”.

With a steady hand O’Leary parcels out the information in this book in a familiar form. Each section that discusses Henry’s previously tiny state begins with the repeating phrase, “When you were small”. I think it was the understated humor that really won me over to this book, though. There’s a wonderful moment when Henry would ride around in his father’s breast pocket. “Your little head would just stick out and your little hands would grip onto the edge of the cloth. Actually you ripped a lot of my shirts that way”. It’s a small statement, but it makes the reader suddenly wonder if all the dad's stories were true after all. I mean, that’s a pretty realistic detail to include. Illustrator Julie Morstad further confuses the issue when she displays front and endpapers that consist of Henry staring at photographs of himself in his “small” state. Some show him posing alongside an ant. Others display him floating away on a balloon or doing something as mundane as posing for Halloween. What is a child to think?

Actually, I should be giving artist Morstad some definite props for this book as well. Using the thinnest of pen lines in a wide variety of colors (subdued, for the most part) the book feels almost like a foreign import. We rarely see such delicate perfectly rendered pictures in our American bookstores and libraries. There’s a picture of Henry standing astride a beautifully penned cat. Every hair of that cat is meticulously placed, making it my favorite image in, “When You Were Small”. Morstad could make even Peter Sis look like a thick-penned schlub in comparison.

I should mention that the book conveys a great deal of love without artifice or false sentiment. Some of this you might be able to chalk this up to the simplicity of the book's design itself. Publication information is in tiny type at the bottom of a single page. There is no information about either the author nor illustrator nor even a dedication section. The book also hasn’t any book jacket, giving it a rather classic feel. All in all, this is one of the lovelier picture book creations I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long time. A quiet, intelligent, rather sweet read in a style that everyone can enjoy. Recommended with honors.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Who Lives In a Pineapple Under the Sea, Defeating That Old Time Masculinity

A professor wrote this request on the Child_Lit listserv the other day:

I'm looking for children's/YA texts (literature, films, tv shows, comics, etc.) that use humor, specifically ridicule, to either critique or reinforce dominant masculinity. For example, the humor in some of the Captain Underpants books reinforces dominant versions of masculinity by ridiculing women and feminized boys and men. But other texts, _The Sponge Bob Square Pants Movie_ and _The Book of Everything_, use ridicule to critique and challenge dominant masculinity.

And may I just say that I am thrilled to pieces that a professor would recognize that SpongeBob SquarePants is worthy of scholarship AND that it challenges "dominant masculinity". I shall now lift a glass to future Spongey scholarship. Perhaps involving that charming Squidward fellow.

Appropos When You Consider That McCartney Did It First

An apology to everyone at Child_Lit who knew this already. I'm a bit behind in my digest reading. Apparently there's a new celebrity kid on the authorial block. The kicker? It's a Monkee writing about monkeys. *shudder* If this trend continues what else can we expect? My money would be on Counting Crows, but they already anticipated me with a crow-counting segment of Sesame Street. Maybe someone from Blind Melon will write one instead. I would buy that book.

Not Captain Nemo, You Twits. The Original.

The Virginia Quarterly Review has made an essay regarding the amazing Windsor McCay available online. In a perfect world, all libraries would be full to overflowing with Little Nemo collections. I recently helped put together an exhibit of treasures from the Donnell Central Children's Room and had to fight very hard with myself not to put on display a crumbling, yellowing, old-timey collection of Nemo comics that was calling out to me. It would've killed the poor little thing but it took all my resolve to leave it lying in our Old Book Room. Gotta love that McCay.

When Critics Snuggle Up To Authors (And When Authors Snuggle Back)

I tell you, I just love Critical Mass. Today Jennifer Reese had a rather thought-provoking post on what happens when critics and authors get a touch too friendly.

Because I live far from a publishing hub, I don't mingle with authors much, but I'm wondering this: How could it NOT affect your work as a critic if you do? And far from introducing a problematic conflict of interest, doesn't it make you more careful and thoughtful knowing you might run into the author you're writing about? Assuming you're not a complete sociopath, is there a better way to assure integrity and accountability?

Amen to that. She even provides a link to a fascinating Slate article from last year entitled The Case For Hiring Biased Book Reviewers. Definitely a bit of head-scratching to be done. As someone who has a penchant for the authorial types, I know exactly what she's saying. I sit at this reference desk in the best children's library in the country knowing full well that if Robert Munsch wanted to come in here and box my ears he could easily do so (though I could probably lie about my name). And heck, today I received a bit of authorial dribble from a perfectly nice publisher. I'd love to tear it the book to itty-bitty shreads on this blog, but common courtesy (I mean, they paid for shipping and everything) means I'll probably just not review it at all. So what happens if someone like Mo Willems or Brian Selznick or Jackie Woodson writes something bad? Should I be honest? Guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Fortunately, the authors I tend to meet are by-and-large uniquely talented and will never ever write anything bad. GOT IT AUTHORS?? NEVER!

Because It Makes Me Laugh

The good folks over at The Disco Mermaids are continuing to unravel The DePaola Code and I'm continuing to be amused. I told my husband about their findings the other day and he responded with, "Who's Tomie DePaola?". Honestly. The man ain't got no culture.

Scary Coraline Concept Art

Not a still. Not a poster. Just a preliminary pic. And a helluva preliminary pic at that.

My New Best Friend

New blogs come and go, but some of the newbies have something to say and say it well. Take, for example, newest kid in town Oz and Ends. Created by one J.L. Bell, the blog ostensibly says that it contains, "Musings about some of my favorite fantasy literature for young readers". Musings, be damned. This site has some of the best commentary on children's fantasy I've read in months. There's a piece on the state of Philip Reeve's, Mortal Engines here in America, one on the unsatisfying read that is Blue Balliett books, and even a great continuing series on how some judicious editing of Harry Potter books would not be out of place. What I like best about the blog? It dislikes what I dislike and likes what I like. Plus it's always interesting. A tall order indeed.

An Authorial Shout-Out

Lookee lookee! I get a mention on Frances Hardinge's blog! Editor Michael Stearns (editor of this week's Hot Man, by the way) mentions that I was "rumored" to be there, though I never met him. Remember what I said about my being shy? I saw him there but couldn't get up the nerve to ask whether or not he was the same Michael Stearns who wrote me a nice e-mail a time back. Hey, this is New York City after all! There are lots of guys here with the first name of "Michael" and the last name of "Stearns". You can't just go barging up to ALL of them!

A Whole New Kind of Book Marketing

Marketing and publicity come in a variety of new crunchy formats these days. Smart publishers (I'm looking at you Kane/Miller, Random House, and Harper Collins) know how to use children's literature blogs, like this one, to their advantage. But what if the author wants to do a little direct self-promotion? I'm not talking websites. That kind of thing is touch-and-go anyway. What about getting a MySpace site? Well, that's just what the author of SEPTINA NASH AND THE PENGUINS OF DOOM (nice name) decided to do. I smell a treee-eeend. Don't think that MySpace isn't dangerous though. Here's a video that may inform you as to the dangers of participating in this kind of site. None of this has gotten to the point where I've seen Craigslist postings for upcoming books, but I'm sure that day is nigh.

Branch 2 On the Triumverate Gets Some Press

We are all familiar with The Triumverate of Mediocrity, yes? Good. I won't rehash what we all already know. And by "all" I mean the readers of this blog. But apparently I missed this May 11th article in the Canadian National Post celebrating Branch #2's 25-year anniversary. Well now, here's the problem. The article says that Munsch wrote the book after the stillborn loss of both a son and a daughter. So here's the problem.... I still hate the book but now I find I can't hate it with my previous glee. What kind of sad sack of a human being puts down a book that came out of that kind of loss?

*sigh* I dislike hearing why people write what they do. Because this book is so tremendously disturbing, it cannot be but rooted to its spot on the Triumverate. I guess I'll just have to acknowledge that those who like it may have some kind of story behind their inconceivable love. Still... couldn't he have written something anything other than this? Now I'm getting worried. What if there's a story behind Rainbow Fish too......

Child bookies

I run a homeschooler bookgroup here at my local library. So it was with particular interest that I saw the recent article in USA today speaking of the current bookgroup trend amongst the kiddies. The article mentions that libraries will sometimes hold bookgroups, but doesn't go so far as to mention any of these libraries specifically. Instead they mostly look to those groups sponsored by for-profit agencies like Barnes and Nobles. If anyone is interviewed it's either a parent or a bookstore employee. Hmmmmm?
Thanks to Kids Lit for the link.

On Mother Reader

Mother Reader met Mo Willems.
Mother Reader met Mo Willems and used me as an opener.
Mother Reader has more guts than I will ever have.

I want to be Mother Reader.

Drago dino

Short of just stealing every posting from bookshelves of doom and placing it here, I will at least credit the site with the cool factoids I find there. Looks like there's a new species of dinosaur in town and its name is Dracorex hogwartsia. Would I kid you on this? Check it out.

Review of the Day: Monkey Town

You know what the bane of a children's librarian's life is? Well-written middle reader titles. You know what I mean. They're those charming tomes with protagonists that are young teens. These books are written with a very definite readership in mind and they are a nightmare to deal with collectionwise. If your local library has a children's section AND a teen section, where do you put a book like, "Monkey Town"? It's so incredibly well-written with interesting facts and some amazing plotting that you're inclined to put it in the children's room. Then again, the character is obviously a teen and we're dealing with some pretty heavy topics in this novel. Evolution. The existence of God. Small town life vs. big city snobbery. This is a coming of age novel in the best sense of the term, but it makes my life a misery. It would have been so much easier to catalogue had the book been badly written or boring. Then I could have just urged the Powers That Be not to purchase it at all. Instead, I'll reluctantly hand it to the Young Adult librarians in my branch and pray that tweens and early teens find it lurking there. Cause until our libraries start creating Middle Reader Librarians and rooms, books like "Monkey Town" will be straddling two entirely different readerships.

Frances luuuvs Johnny. Johnny Scopes, that is. Heard of him? Well he's the young college kid who graduated and took a post in fifteen-year-old Frances's high school. She thinks he's dreamy, but he treats her more like a kid sister than the sophisticated dame she'd like to be. Frances loves Johnny but there are other problems apart from their age difference. You see, Frances's father is Frank Earle Robinson, owner of Robinson's Drugs. One day, Mr. Robinson and some of the town leaders come up with a scheme that'll get the city of Dayton, Tennessee a little more publicity. You see, the state of Tennessee makes it illegal to teach evolution in schools. Now the ACLU wants a Tennessee teacher to be a test case that can bring this law to the courts. Mr. Robinson and his friends want that someone to be Johnny Scopes. He taught the kids evolution in the last year, didn't he? Reluctantly Johnny agrees, but only with the given understanding that he'll keep his job in the end. Still, nobody could expect the maelstrom of activity that is brought to bear on this formerly sleepy burg once the trial approaches. And for Frances, the influx of folks from out of town means that she's exposed to new thoughts and ideas. Maybe evolution and creation are not diametrically opposed. Maybe her father isn't as great a guy as she thought he was. And maybe even in a small homey town like Dayton, there's a lot of nastiness that lurks deep in the hearts of even the "nicest" of people.

"Inherit the Wind" for the kiddie set? Not exactly. The real focus of this novel is on Frances herself. Through her eyes we get to meet all the major players in the Scopes Trial. For example, she hangs out with Johnny for fun and through him meets the larger-than-life H.L. Mencken. Author Ronald Kidd really is at his best when he gives us Mencken, writ large. The man's as pompous and vile-spewing as ever, but with more ugly truths and conflicting tendernesses than you'd find in your average historical fiction for the kiddies. We also meet the great William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, each in their own peculiar particular way. Incorporating real historical figures into a children's book can sometimes feel forced or awkward. Not here. The advantage that, "Monkey Town" has over its historical fiction fellows is the character of Frances Robinson herself. Based on a real woman of the same name, Kidd explains in his Author's Note how he came to meet Ms. Robinson and which parts of this story were true, and which his own. This lends an authenticity to the novel, to say nothing of Kidd's own skills at incorporating the believable with the possible.

Truth be told, this really is a story about Frances. It's the old story of a small-town girl curious about the greater world around her. By the end of the book you're sure that soon Frances will get out of Dayton and see the wider world. Maybe she'll go to college! It's with a bittersweet afterthought, then, that one reads the story of the read Frances Robinson. She never left Dayton but instead married the local high school football coach. After a book showing her growth and maturity, it seems more than a little sad to find that the facts of the matter don't line up with the story the author told. That's nobody's fault, of course. It just shows how inconvenient the truth can sometimes be.

What Kidd does so well with this book is allow the reader to make up their own mind on the evolution debate. He isn't preaching anymore than Frances is. We see the good and bad of both sides of the debate and are allowed to reason out how we feel as a result. Maybe that's the real beauty of, "Monkey Town". While Frances is dealing with a too too complicated world, we also are seeing the dimensions and two-sides of every character. And Kidd cleverly makes us challenge our own assumptions, even going so far as to play on our worst instincts when it comes to Frances's father. For quite some time he comes off as a particularly well-aligned villain, only to be redeemed in a wholly believable way by the end.

If I had to come up with a problem I had with the book, maybe it would involve the factual aspects of the story. I would have loved a nice Bibliography at the back. Failing that, maybe a section outlining exactly what was true and what wasn't with a little more certainty. Instead we get a nice section in which Kidd thanks a whole host of people but doesn't refer us elsewhere. Kids wanting to learn more about the Scopes Trial will have to seek out books and websites on their own, I fear. A bit of a pity.

Small potatoes, though. After all, there are plenty of well-cited works of historical fiction out there that haven't half the guts and gall of this little number. A remarkable story, a great book, and definitely a piece of worthwhile reading. Kidd really does harness the innate drama of the real trial for all he's worth. Now to figure out where to put it in my library.... hm....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Jill Thompson Signs Book Deal with Harper

All you need to know? This graphic novel collection (four books in total) is about a witch named Magic Trixie and takes place at Monstersorry School. Here's hoping that name isn't the high point of the series.

The Nancy Drewness of It All

I'm always overly-amused by blogs or postings that read deeply into those books so beloved by me and my fellows when we were small girl-tykes. This explains my adoration of BSC Headquarters, a site that systematically goes over each Baby-sitters Club book with a fine tooth comb. This week, Leila at bookshelves of doom tackles Nancy Drew herself. This isn't the first take on Ms. Drew's oddities, of course, but it's well-worth taking a gander at. The best known alternate reality Nancy, perhaps, was the recent Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, which came out last year. In that book we learn that Carolyn Keene was Nancy's annoying tagalong friend in real life. There's an affair with one of the Hardy Boys (I'm not saying which) and even names dropped along the lines of Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden, and (most impressive of all) Encyclopedia Brown.

Also, let us not forget the recently rediscovered Lost Outlines of Carolyn Keene that made their appearance not so long ago. Add in the upcoming movie and Nancy Drewmania is at a fever pitch, that's certain.

Hot Men of Children's Literature: Part 15 In a Series

I've never steered you wrong yet, have I? So please believe me when I say that the ONLY reason that I am doing a Hot Man of YA literature rather than strictly children's is that the man's sheer hotness demands that I do so. I was perfectly willing to stay almost entirely kiddie lit oriented until Leila at bookshelves of doom had to go and ruin it all. She sent me a link. This link. And what I saw there guaranteed that this week's spot had to go, logically to...

Andrew Auseon

Ouch! I can hardly type on the keyboard for fearing of burning myself. The man is seriously delicious. What's more, I have Leila's word that his book Funny Little Monkey is worthwhile reading. Can't vouch for it for myself. All I can say is, oh la laaa-dee dah.

The Pigeon Has Landed

On my Amazon.com review of Hot Man of Children's Literature Mo Willem's book Leonardo the Terrible Monster, I asked any and all readers to please let me know if they could find the hidden pigeon. You see, Mr. Willems hides his infamous pigeon in every book he writes (whether it be bird-related or not). Today, I finally got a response to my review, and from a children's author no less. Kelly DiPucchio writes:

I just read your review of LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER on amazon.
Did you find the pigeon yet?!

He's stuck in Hector's hat. :-)

You may recall Ms. DiPucchio from her work on books like Liberty's Journey. Charming lass and helpful to boot. Consider this one pigeon-related mystery solved. Now to find the pigeon in Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late....

Review of the Day: The Travels of Thelonious - The Fog Mound

There’s nothing I love more than a good post-apocalyptic children’s book. Your “Eva”s. Your “Z is For Zachariah”s. You know what else I love? Cute woodland creature books. Things like “Poppy” and “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”. Gosh, wouldn’t it be swell if we could combine those two things into one great big post-apocalyptic furry woodland creature story? Bambi meets Logan’s Run. Well now there is an answer to my prayers in the form of “The Travels of Thelonious”. The second children’s book to come out this year with the name “Thelonious” in its title (“Thelonious Monster and the Sky-High Fly-Pie” was the other), Susan Schade and Jon Buller have brought us an odd but amusing little tale of talking chipmunks, bears with thumbs, and a world post-human beings. Part graphic novel, part prose, this is one of those titles that bridges genres and may well get twice the readership as a result.

You can’t tell Thelonious the chipmunk that the Human Occupation was a myth. Though his sister Dolores mocks him incessantly for it, Thelonious is convinced that humans were once real. As proof he owns a postcard of a skyscraper which he believes was an honest-to-goodness human creation. Soon, however, Thelonious is able to see firsthand what a human city must have looked like. One day a particularly violent rainstorm picks up Thelonious’s tree home and deposits him in the midst of a dirty run-down and dangerous city. Once there he meets a shifty lizard who wants to sell the little chipmunk to the local despot, The Dragon Lady (less “Terry and the Pirates” and more komodo). He also comes across a porcupine with a penchant for human books and a bear named Olive who has harnessed the power of flight. Now chipmunk, porcupine, bear, and even lizard are going to try to make it back to Olive’s idyllic home at the top of the Fog Mound. It will take their respective skills and talents to get there, but the trip will certainly be worth it.

The idea of making a book part graphic novel and part, um, novel novel is not a new idea. With the ever-rising popularity of comics in bookstores and libraries alike, publishers are slowly realizing that this may well be a smart way to go. For those parents who would like their kids to branch out a little, books like “The Travels of Thelonious”, come as welcome crossover titles. Whenever the text ends and the pictures begin, those same pictures continue the story along rather than bogging it down.

Yes, but is it any good? Actually it is. For such a dark concept (all the humans, save one, are dead dead deadski) the book moves at a fast and cheery clip. Schade is clever enough to slowly parcel out the information as we come to it. In this way, then, we learn that some animals have gained the power of speech while others still cannot. We also discover that many creatures have grown opposable thumbs and that the Fog Mound is as idyllic as it is because some concerned human(s?) made it that way. The writing itself isn’t going to blow you away. It’s good for what it is (the first of many future adventure tales apparently) but nothing so deep as “Watership Down” or “The Wind In the Willows”. Consider it “The White Mountains” for younger kiddies.

As for the art, I liked what I saw of Buller’s style. Chipmunks in general aren’t overly expressive characters, but Thelonious is a delightful hero. Also, while I can think of many many mouse and rat heroes of children’s literature, chipmunks are few and far between. Buller takes a great deal of care with his characters and settings. The style is fairly cartoony but with plenty of details as well. Also, I was impressed by how well he strategically presented the one naked human the animals come across later in the story.

I mean, I wouldn’t go shouting its name to the hilltops, but for a book that’s a lot of fun for a wide range of child readers, this first adventure in “The Travels of Thelonious”, comes across as a worthy read. This may well be one of those rare titles that attracts both hard-core reader fans of books like the “Redwall” series AND the “Captain Underpants” / “Babymouse” reluctant reader crowd. All the fun of reading a graphic novel with the rewards of simple prose.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fourth Carnival of Children's Literature

I cannot imagine the amount of time and effort it takes to put together a Carnival of Children's Literature. Luckily, I don't have to. This month, Here In the Bonny Glen has taken up the mantle and has done a bloody nice job of it too. A useful place to stop by, should you feel the need.

Review of the Day: Archer's Quest

I just cannot for the life of me figure out what to do with Linda Sue Park. Some authors write books that are spot-on gold all the time. Others can't churn out a decent title no matter how hard they try. Then there's Linda Sue Park. Garnering a coveted Newbery award early in her career, Park has had the unenviable job of showing the world that she remains worthy of that honor with every subsequent book she writes. I liked "A Single Shard", but somewhere in the back of my brain was the niggling suspicion that since I'm twenty-seven-years-old my response probably would have been different had I been a ten-year-old who had to read it in school. Ditto my response to "The Mulberry Project", in which silkworms, rather than pottery, were the name of the game. As if hearing my silent plea, Park has now come out with the far more kid friendly (but still darned informative) "Archer's Quest". The set-up is good, the story interesting, and the book a short sweet ride. You'd think I'd be in seventh heaven. Instead, I'm torn. On the one hand, it's difficult to criticize an author who takes as much time and attention as Ms. Park does with her work. On the other hand, something about "Archer's Quest" failed to grab me right from the get-go. Maybe it's the fact that Park has written a story found in so many other children's books. Maybe it's the low-key action. Whatever the case, "Archer's Quest" makes for a mighty fine read. It just didn't have that extra little oomph it needed to make it beloved.

You think your day's been crummy? You've got nothing on Kevin. Sure, today was a half-day at school, but is he able to appreciate it? Not a chance. The year is 1999 and Kevin is bored out of his skull with only a bouncy ball to keep him company. Next thing you know Kevin's cap is hanging from an arrow sticking straight out of the wall. The arrow, in turn, belongs to a very oddly dressed man who is eyeing Kevin suspiciously and has his next arrow aimed at the boy in question. Turns out that the man is the great Korean historical figure Koh Chu-mong. Part Robin Hood part King Arthur, Chu-mong has somehow landed smack dab in Archie's bedroom some 2,054 years into the future. Kevin, may be of Korean descent, but he doesn't sufficiently know his Korean history to know enough about Chu-mong (who requests that he be called Archer, shortened by Kevin to "Archie") to help him back to his own time. Together the two must discover everything they can about Korean history, magic, the Chinese Zodiac, and some basic math before the year of the Tiger is up. And the year ends that very night!

In a way, "Archer's Quest" is a historical novel. Sure it takes place in 1999, but that still places it firmly in the past. Park starts with a particularly interesting situation. You're in your bedroom, bored, and suddenly a hero from the past is looking to put an arrow in your heart. A great start, but a difficult one. Since the story must take place in the course of a single day, and since Kevin is such a realistic character that Park's afraid to ever put him into too much trouble, the story's action is downplayed. The most we get is an encounter with a real tiger, a race from a negligible enemy, and a run across a highway when the traffic has already been stopped. Her "villain" isn't even that villainous. Just misguided. Of course, limiting the action is Park's style. Therefore, if you've a kid who really got into "A Single Shard" or (more logically) "Project Mulberry", they are bound to enjoy this story just as much, if not more.

The concept of a historical or fictional figure bumming around the present isn't new, of course. Everything from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" to "Inkheart" has used it to their advantage. Where Park diverges from the ordinary is in making her hero a Korean folk-hero. Kids who've never had the opportunity to learn of the adventures of Chu-mong will find much to learn about here. In this way, the book pairs nicely with another recent historical-man-to-whom-folk-tales-have-been-attached character, Dick Whittington, in Alan Armstrong's, "Whittington".

Ever attentive to supporting her stories with fact, Park includes a section on math in this story, while another attends to details involving Chu-mong, tigers, and RIT, and a bit on the zodiac. A Chinese Zodiac is located at the end of the book, and here I had a real problem with the book. Some children's books that discuss the Zodiac do what "Archer's Quest" did here and include each year with the dates ascribed to that year. For example, "The Rooster's Antlers: A Story of the Chinese Zodiac" by Eric A. Kimmel, includes a bunch of dates that fall within different animal years. The book is useful because these dates go a decade or two into the future. "Archer's Quest" on the other hand, stops at February 4, 2000. That's all well and good if the kiddies want to know what animal is ascribed to the year of their birth, but does absolutely no good if they want to know what the current year in the zodiac is. Obviously it stops around 1999 because that's when the story takes place. However, it would be heads and tales more interesting if it bothered to go a little bit into the future. Even if it were just a decade.

None of this is to say that the book doesn't make for a good read. Linda Sue Park is first and foremost a premier children's book author and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I just wish that this book had gotten a little more work done on it. It reads beautifully and will give a lot of enjoyment to some kids with the whole time-travel aspect. For others it will start out well, then peter off into the dull. A nice title but not my favorite Park accomplishment.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Playing the Blog Stock Market

Oh, bizarre. Has anyone else stumbled across this website called Blogshares before? I just discovered it on my own. Describing itself as The Fantasy Blog Stock Market you can see how well your blog does on the open market. Their description reads, "BlogShares is a fantasy stock market for weblogs. Players get to invest a fictional $500, and blogs are valued by incoming links". I found my own site on there quite be accident. It's kind of intense. My pseudo-stock has really risen over the last few months. So if you're playing, mine is a horse to back, people! My valuation, after all, is $12,712.70.

Wacked Out Week-end Revelry

And how was your week-end? Did you have a nice time relaxing? Yeah, me too. Only, I feel as if something important happened on Saturday. Something interesting. Something like MEETING FRANCES HARDINGE, PERHAPS! Cause that's what I did, babies. Met her. Praised her. And got to see a whole heaping helpful of interesting children's authors and illustrators to boot.

So if you live in the New York City area and you have even the slightest inkling of interest in children's books, the one place to visit (aside from the Donnell Central Children's Room, of course) is the all children's literature all the time outpost, Books of Wonder. Chock full of great books, some eerie dancing cupcake mannequins (would that I had their nice legs) and some wonderful old books, it's a lovely place to stop by. Even more fun are the authors they get. This month I missed Garth Nix but I thank the heavens above (heavens above = Monica) for alerting me to the fact that Frances Hardinge would be there for the seeing. But it's even better than that. I went expecting a single author and I got five, count 'em, five of the puppies. So let's roll 'em out and see how they fared.

Howard Fine

Isn't he though? Fine, I mean. I sniff a potential addition to the Hot Men of Children's Literature man-of-the-week. Mr. He's So Fine was promoting Dinotrain, a sequel to his popular Dinosailors. Basically Fine has recognized an essential truth to dinosaur picture books. Why not just add dinosaurs to everything else the kids like and profit accordingly? Frankly, I'm just pleased that his first book wasn't a dinosaur/pirate combo. That's be playing one's hand a little broadly, don't you think? As it was, he was a nice enough fellow. Moving on...

Arlene Alda

Sorry about the crummy photo. None of these are particularly striking, are they? And to think I wanted to be a photographer before I bowed to the inevitable and became a librarian. Shocking. Anywho, I think I was trying to show Ms. Alda's name in this shot for my own future reference. Truth be told, I'd never heard of her before, though a quick perusal of her website shows that I have heard of many of her books. She's written a goodly number of books and (at least in this case) illustrated some with photographs. She does indeed have some kind of connection to Alan Alda, but I wasn't able to tease out exactly what that connection was. She was talking up her newest title, Did You Say Pears?

Angie Sage

Aw, yeah. You yucksters know who I'm talking about here. Magyk, anyone? Well, Books of Wonder was hosting two Americans on this day (Fine and Alda) alongside three Brits. The Americans were easy to hear in the cavernous chairless space. The Brits? Much more difficult. And while Ms. Sage was lovely to listen to, she was a soft-spoken bit of a thing. Couldn't compete at all with the Yanks, I fear. She was talking up the sequel to Magyk, Flyte. I felt badly because I haven't read her first book yet. It's supposed to be quite good, yes? I felt even worse though when I walked right smack up to Ms. Hardinge (seated next to Ms. Sage) and informed her that she had written the best British import of the year. Sorry, Sage. I call 'em like I see 'em. I promise to read your own book soon. Honest. But wait... who's that I see talking about his book but none other than...

Rob Scotton

It's Hot Man of Children's Literature - Week 7! I'd like to state for the record that I was blessed by the angels the day I chose Mr. Scotton for inclusion on the list. This picture is a dreadfully poor one of him. I took others but not as many as I should have. It was weird enough being a grown woman sitting in a chairless room (seriously, Books of Wonder, what is up with that?) snapping picture after picture of the cute Brit in the blazer. Actually, I wasn't sure how to proceed with Mr. Scotton in any case. You can't exactly walk up to a fellow and say, "Hi. You're week seven on my Hot Men of Children's Literature series on my blog". I mean, how's a guy gonna react that that kind of statement? Brian Selznick reacted with great charm and aplomb, but he's just a swell fella. Other guys might be (oh, I dunno) freaked out by some rabid American floozy with an MLIS degree and too much time on her hands spouting off about their hotness. In short, I didn't tell him who I was. I might have been able to get some play out of being the sole review for his new book on Amazon, but you can't always count on authors checking that sort of thing. Ah well.

Finally we come to the woman of the hour. The reason I was able to pull my stinking carcass out of bed in the first place (10:15 a.m. on a Saturday is MADNESS) and hike on over to the bookstore itself. The one, the only, the...

Frances Hardinge!!!

Books of Wonder was no dummy. They saved the best for last. Prior to hearing her speak I had a chance to talk to Ms. Hardinge on my own. By doing so I learned that she had read my Amazon review of her book, which was heartening. I'd received an e-mail from the editor who purchased the book for the American market, but I'd never had any proof that she herself had read the review. She signed a nice little copy of the book for me and even drew a lovely picture of Saracen in there. When she spoke she resembled (and I mean this in the best possible sense) a children's literature version of the British comic Jimmy Carr. She, of course, brought her own little goose....

... and was lovely all around. No mention of it on her blog quite yet, but here's hoping.

So we left (we being myself and my very patient husband who actually enjoys coming to these things). But was THAT the end of the excitement for the day? You would have thought so. After all we were just going to meet up with some friends at a hot dog venue in Carroll Gardens known as Schnack. Schnack has a lovely website, and I've yet to come across a hot dog establishment that can rival its blog. However, the computer in the back of the bar was apparently on the fritz. So with only six customers (including myself) in the joint, the waiters kept appearing with plate after plate of mysterious food and offering them to us like some crazed I Love Lucy episode. The food that I had actually ordered (one hamburger & one coke) took 45 minutes to arrive. Moral of the story? Schnack's not so hot. Some patrons behind us expressed this opinion with a carefully worded message accompanying one of the Schnack coloring pages available at every table.

But why am I telling you this? Well, after Schnack we walked to Red Hook to take in some Ibsen in the back of a tiny bar called Sunny's. I am not making this up. We were going to see a friend of ours in Ghosts (my husband's take: I hope it isn't too scary. Y'know. With all the ghosts). Our friend was playing Regina, the "filled out" serving girl/potential incestuous figure who eventually becomes a prostitute. Fun! And playing Osvald, the fellow who succumbs to an odd strain of genetic syphilis (this is true), was Michael Maronna. Afterwards we did some hanging out with Mr. Maronna.

Still you do not understand. What is the importance of Maronna? Well, I'm about to date myself here. Did any of you ever happen to watch that old Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete back in the day? Yes? First season is out on DVD, actually. Anywho, turns out I was hanging out with Big Pete, from the show. You'd have to be an old-school Pete & Pete fan to understand how wonderful that was (though it was an unspoken agreement amongst my friends and myself not to say the word "Pete" around him). I tell you, I am rapidly cornering the market on small-time celebrities. My sister is currently working on a children's television show in Michigan in which she acts alongside the woman who used to do A.L.F.'s left arm. That's about the level of fame I'm juggling these days.