Fuse #8

Friday, June 30, 2006

Tango Letter

Like all members of ALA, I receive a monthly publication that goes by the name of American Libraries. In the March issue of that self-same title, there was an article called Librarian: Media Fictionalized Tango Penguin Flap. In it, ALA took the side of the librarian that moved the title And Tango Makes Three to the non-fiction section of her local library. Authors Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson were, understandably, not thrilled with this move. At the recent ALA Conference I discussed with them the letter they sent to the American Libraries editor, explaining their objection. Justin pointed out to me, though, that while the articles of American Libraries are accessible online, the letters section is not. Therefore, if an article contains an error and that error is taken to task by a letter, the correction will never see cyberspace. Just the erroneous article. With that in mind, I have taken it upon myself to reprint Peter and Justin's letter to the editor here, where it may remain in glorious cyberspace for all of time.

To the editor:

Your article, “Librarian: Media Fictionalized Penguin Tango Flap,” badly misrepresents a Missouri librarian’s attempt to suppress our picture book And Tango Makes Three by reshelving it when parents complained about its gay theme.

In a piece that quotes librarian Barbara Read, but none of her critics, you dismiss the controversy over her decision as much ado about nothing. “The book hasn’t been restricted at all,” you write, “…just moved from children’s fiction to children’s nonfiction because it tells a true story.”

In your haste to defend Read, you neglect to report that she had explained to her local paper that she moved Tango out of the popular picture book section because, “Given that patrons rarely browse the nonfiction section, there was less of a chance that the book would ‘blindside’ someone.” Nor do you observe that Read had similarly contradicted her own rationalization that the book belongs in nonfiction because it is true. “According to the zoologists,” she had asserted in the St. Josephs News-Press, “there is no such thing as proven homosexuality in the animal world.”

Equally troubling, you end your story with a quote from Read presumably chosen to demonstrate that her decision was free of bias: “The bottom line, Read said, is that Tango will remain accessible so the book can say to kids in nonnuclear families that they–the kids–are okay regardless of how we feel about their parents' life choices.’”

Ms. Read is, of course, entitled to her opinions that families with two mothers or two fathers are not nuclear families; that it is the children of those families–but not the families themselves–that are okay; that the way “we feel” about gay adults is negative; and that homosexual orientation is a “choice.” But we are distressed that none of these assumptions was challenged by American Libraries, if indeed any were noticed.


Justin Richardson M.D,
Peter Parnell
And Tango Makes Three

I believe it was Nina Lindsay who pointed out to Peter and Justin that it's interesting how none of the articles about this incident said which section the librarian put Tango into. In with the other penguins or in with the homosexuality section? This all bears some serious contemplation.

Get Your Wiz On

Oz and Ends lives up to its name with info concerning a Fourth of July Wizard of Oz movie festival. Not just the classic Garland schtick, mind you, but three (count 'em) three other filmed versions of the tale that'll be playing on TCM. And no, I'm not referring to Return To Oz (though I'll defend that film to my dying day).

Dakota Is Cast As Lyra In Pullman Tale

Hee hee hee.
Technically true. I just wanted to give you a little jolt. Thank you b.o.d.

Review of the Day: The Loud Silence of Francine Green

Poetry Friday always sneaks up on me. I figured that this would be the week I'd remember it, but that was before I saw that bookshelves of doom had reviewed a title that I had not yet posted myself. Call it my old professional jealousy getting the better of me, but I figured this couldn't wait. Next week, my darlings. I promise.

One day the materials specialist of my library system hands me an uncorrected proof of, “The Loud Silence of Francine Green”. “Read this”, she says. “You weren’t alive at that time so we’ll see what you think”. A quick glance at the author and I am stunned. First of all, Karen Cushman’s back, baby! Until this book came out we hadn’t heard a peep from her after she wrote “Rodzina”. Secondly, this book does not take place in the distant past. Cushman’s always been most comfortable with books set in a medieval or pioneering historical time. This book takes place in 1950s L.A. It’s still the past, but not so very distant. Now I am not exactly an unbiased reviewer of this title. I want to be clear about this from the start. I’m married to a man who wrote a film that takes place in 1950s Hollywood and that discusses the Red Scare at length. This book does the same thing, only in a way that informs kids without “teaching” them in a deeply dull didactic way. It’s also directly in line with my own personal politics. Discussions of communism in children’s books…. well it’s never really come up. So how far have we come as a nation? A read of this book is all you need.

“I just want to live my life without any problems, without getting into any trouble”. So sayeth Francine Green. She’s attends Catholic school, is living in Los Angeles in 1949, and the two together can mean only one thing. She’s gaga over Montgomery Clift, of course! Of course, 1949 can be a disturbing time for a girl to grow up in. Francine has also just become friends with the irrepressible and outspoken Sophie Bowman. Sophie’s the kind of kid who has always been encouraged to seek out the truth and to ask questions. Needless to say, such actions aren’t exactly smiled upon at All Saints School for Girls. Sophie needs Francine because she’s humorless, earnest, and uninterested in basic things like dancing and movie stars. Francine needs Sophie because Sophie is brave and always does what she thinks is right while Ms. Green would prefer to hide under a desk and remain invisible until all conflict has swept past. Together they face the times in which they live. The Red Scare is heating up, good people are getting blacklisted, anyone with a Russian accent is fingered as a communist, and Francine’s dad is digging a fallout shelter in the backyard. This is the world in which Francine lives and a world that is becoming more confusing and unintelligible the more she learns about it. Welcome to the 1950s!

The thing about this book is that I was Francine Green when I was a kid. Granted, I didn’t have nuns beating the notion of unquestioning obedience into my head. I didn’t need to. I followed the rules and didn’t make waves and basically was dull dull, deathly deadly dull. So when I realized that Francine had the same problems I did as a kid, I was delighted. My husband, in contrast, was exactly like Sophie Bowman. He was the kid who got reported to the principal by a bus driver for saying he didn’t believe in God when he was eight. So you can see how close to home this book hit. I should note that this may mean I view it was a heavily prejudiced (in its favor) eye. I don’t think so, though. You can’t fake good writing, and Cushman has that talent in spades. The book simultaneously teaches kids about the not-so-distant past while also making the characters completely identifiable. Francine is from a nuclear family in the strictest sense of the term. Her parents have 2.5 kids, the mom stays at home, and the father works and drinks martinis after dinner. Sophie is from a more contemporary home. Her dad talks big issues with her, it’s a one parent household, and she knows more about the state of the world than the nuns who “instruct” her. It came as no surprise to me that Ms. Cushman attended a Catholic school of her own and that this book draws heavily on her own past. You’re not going to find any historical inaccuracies in this story either. For example, when people fear they’re being investigated, they think it’s the FBI. Cushman could have slipped up and said the CIA but the CIA hadn’t officially come out to the public yet and its existence was discounted as a rumor. So Cushman is accurate at all times, historically as well as emotionally.

This is not the first book for kids and young teens to talk about the palpable fear of bombs after World War II. There is David Almond’s accomplished “The Fire-Eaters” which concentrates on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. But Cushman picks a particularly prickly and precarious time period with “Francine Green”. A time when, as she so deftly puts it in her Author’s Note, “Fearful of becoming victims [of McCarthyism], Americans became increasingly conformist and conservative in manner, dress, and politics”. It probably never occurs to Francine’s tow-the-line father that his staunch pro-union tendencies would be seen as left-wing in America in years to come. I’d just like to say that the Author’s Note of this book is probably worth the price of the title alone. Kids today know next to nothing of the Red Scare. They certainly have no idea what communism is or was and probably have a vague sense that it was something that disappeared in 1989. Francine and her friends don’t actually know what communism is either, of course. And while the book isn’t about to go explaining the difference between Stalinists and Trotskyites, neither is it going to let you get away with thinking that McCarthyism was a positive influence on this country.

I loved the little details in this book too. For example, when Francine and Sophie go to a Hollywood premiere to see Montgomery Clift walk by, he turns and looks at them not because they’re yelling the same “look this way” stuff as the other ladies, but because Sophie bellows out a raucous “Ban the Bomb!”. Cushman also perfectly captures what it feels like to be a young adolescent. Nothing’s in black and white anymore. The world is disappointing and adults are letting you down left and right. Francine has the added distraction of knowing that she’s just learned what irony is in school all the while living in a singularly un-ironic age.

Any children’s book that talks about a girl getting her monthly period (as Francine does here) ends up getting banned in some podunk town somewhere. “The Agony of Alice” does, after all, so maybe “The Loud Silence of Francine Green” will too. Between the anti-McCarthyism and menstrual cycles there’ll be plenty for uptight parents to faint over. I just hope it gets into enough young hands before that happens.

To the best of my knowledge, Cushman has never been inclined to write a sequel to any of her books. You’re not going to find “The Midwife’s Apprentice II: This Time It’s Personal” on your bookshelf anytime soon. Still, “Francine Greene” ends on an ellipses if ever there was one. Spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph, people! Sophie and her father have disappeared without a trace and Francine has told off the boy she likes without actually disliking him all that much. And then in the last scene there’s a kind of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” moment where instead of throwing a drinking fountain through a window Francine throws a wastepaper basked into a furnace and then goes to confront her own version of Nurse Ratchet. Heck, this book is VERY much like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, now that I mention it. Questioning authority in a time and place when such an action was severely frowned upon (as opposed to today HAHAHAHA!). In any case, the book ends on a kind of high note but with the reader perched precariously on the edge of their seat. If Ms. Cushman has any pity in her heart, she should hear the cries of her readers and write a sequel to this book. There is still much to say.

So I loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. Will kids love it? Well, if it comes down to them having to read historical fiction for class and they have to read this or “My Brother Sam Is Dead”, I think I know which way they’re going to incline. I personally am going to do everything I can to get kids and parents both to read this book in their spare time. It’s a wonder, a marvel, and a mighty good read. Cushman is stronger than ever and her writing has all the humor and intelligence her fans have come to expect. A great new direction from a master of kiddie lit.

On shelves August 14th.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cabot v. Rowling

Meg Cabot has issued a response to J.K. Rowling recent Announcement of Untimely Death. Ooh! That Cabot woman's got spunk.

Your Cell Phone Has Dreams Too, You Know

Technology frightens me (said the blogger). Kids today and their newfangled cell phones, and ringtones, and Blackberries, and what have you. That said, the news that there is a Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus ringtone (it screams, "LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!") has its charm. Then again, I have to wonder how that tone might go down on a New York metro transit bus. Knowing MTA, they might let you. Thanks to MotherReader for the heads up.

From the Nation That Brought Us the Clangers and Bagpuss

One of these days I should actually sit down and read Flanimals, rather than just use it as an excuse to talk about its creator. I mentioned him not too long ago, and already he's in the news again. It looks as if Ricky Gervais has made it into the unholy realm of stop-animation British television. The English and their stop-animation. I was raised on it and I ended up fine, so hopefully the same will be said of children viewing this latest venture. Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

Review of the Day: Yellow Star

I will admit to you right here and now that there is a kind of children's book I tend to avoid, if I can. The Holocaust children's book. I've read plenty of Uri Orlev in my time and I know my Anne Frank, but that doesn't mean I look forward to reading this kind of literature. So when the buzz began ah-hummin' around, "Yellow Star", I wasn't exactly primed to listen. First one librarian began to sing its praises. Then another. Then a whole chorus of on-pitch clever librarians in syncopated rhythm. I couldn't help but hear what they had to say. Apparently the book was so good that it sucked away about 20 minutes of discussion during a committee meeting in which we had seventy-some other books to talk about. Under such praise I had no choice but to locate myself a copy and read it myself. Normally when a book garners buzz of this nature, it has a very hard time living up to it. Jennifer Roy, however, should fear no such feeling. Her book has all the reality, depth, intelligence, and sheer compelling narrative to grab the attention of any child who is required or enticed to read this tale. Worth the hype, to say the least.

This is a true story. It was repeated to author Jennifer Roy by her aunt Sylvia, born Syvia Perlmutter. In 1945 the Lodz ghetto in Poland was liberated from the Germans. "Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children. I was one of the twelve". Told in verse, the book charts Syvia's life between the ages of four and a half to ten. During that time we see the world through Syvia's eyes. Her family was, like most Jews, rounded up and put into the Lodz ghetto. An attempt to reach "safe" Warsaw never worked, and the family was forced to stay under grueling conditions. As the Nazis started to send off Jews to the concentration camps, including children, we watch as Syvia's father uses extraordinary persuasion and intelligence to hide, protect, and help the children around him. Filled with close calls, luck, and a stifling oppression, this is a gripping narrative that brings the true horror of the time into fast and frightening relief.

Some librarians of my acquaintance got into a high-spirited debate when they tried to figure out why this book was catalogued as fiction rather than as a non-fiction memoir. To my mind, Roy may have had to change some small elements of her tale to make it into a readable work. Since the story is told in first-person verse and is a biography rather than an autobiography, it technically falls into the world of fiction, even if every little word written in it is true.

Maybe it was the fact that this was a real story or maybe it was Roy's first-person narrative, but there is something about this book that feels more true than any other children's Holocaust novel I've ever encountered. Granted, I haven't read as many as I could, but Roy's voice in this book hits a vein of reality, shocking in its immediacy. In cases such as this, I like to point out that depressing books aren't my style. I was the kid in school who avoided, "The Bridge to Terebithia", like the plague since I knew it was renowned for being "sad". But while "Yellow Star" isn't exactly a laugh riot, but there are moments of levity to it. Rather than depressing, the book plays out like a thriller. Will Syvia be found? How can a small child escape or influence her own surroundings for the better? I don't want to label this book an action-novel, but when this puppy moves, it MOVES. And the sheer heroism coupled against pure unvarnished evil is written in such a way that kids everywhere will not only be able to read it but understand it on a truly immediate level. All this makes, "Yellow Star", one of the strongest children's books I've ever had the pleasure to read.

You hand this book to a kid. The kid glances at the cover, glances at the title, then tells you that they don't like books like this. When they say this to you, insist that they read it. Use the old, "It's a verse novel so it's a really quick read", excuse if you have to. Just do whatever you can to get this book into the child's hands. It's an amazing story and an even better read. Strength is in its bones.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Yet Another Review of the Day: Vampire Loves

Can you tell I'm posting all the things I read at the ALA Conference at once?

Now, I swore to myself I'd only review children's books. I told myself I didn't have time for all the young adult novels, books, and GNs out there competing for attention. And I think I did a pretty good job at avoiding anything and everything YA until "Vampire Loves" fell into my lap. Even then, I wasn't convinced that I'd want to read it. For me, author/illustrator Joann Sfar is a touch-and-go kinda guy. On the one hand he's written a whole range of infinitely interesting graphic novels with a unique comic edge. On the other hand, I was not blown away by his "Sardine" series for the kiddies. But there was something about "Vampire Loves". Partly it was the cover design. Partly it was the premise. And partly it was the snatch of dialogue on the back of the book between Ferdinand and Lani. Before I knew it I was staying up late devouring, "Vampire Loves" as quickly as my little brain could parse its dialogue. By and large I do not read YA graphic novels, but when I do you better believe they're going to be pretty special. "Vampire Loves" is.

Ferdinand the vampire is a delicate sensitive soul, by and large. His girlfriend, Lani, recently cheated on him with his good friend Michael and the two have been apart ever since. Ferdinand would love to get back together with Lani but she's just so utterly unremorseful about everything that occurred. In the meantime, he has other thoughts to occupy his mind. There's fellow vampire Aspirine who absolutely adores Ferdinand in spite of all his efforts to escape her. There was a Japanese girl he met in Paris that seemed an ideal mate for him until he lost her. And in the meantime there are people like the Tree Man who's been dating Lani and a peculiar mass murderer that Ferdinand is asked to track down. In the end, the book is more a look at relationships, dating scenes, and the difficulty of finding someone to love (or, in Ferdinand's case, seduce), even when there are plenty of people to choose from.

Elements I've found so difficult to stomach in Sfar's past works turned out to be a strength in the case of "Vampire Loves". In the "Sardine" books, Sfar's storylines jump willy-nilly from plot to person to person to plot without much in the way of logical transition. The same could be said of this book, but here it works to the author's advantage. Now we can see Ferdinand's past relationship foibles with the ladies. At the same time, Lani's subplot is carefully laid out and in some ways she comes across as the most believable of characters. Sfar sometimes even stops the action dead and will fill a page with something entitled, "A few notes on the protagonists of this story". These come across more as rough sketches than filled out story elements, but what they add is infinitely interesting.

As for characters, Sfar is at his best here. Adults reading this book (and there are bound to be more than just me) will find some of the people in this story horribly familiar. Ditto the relationships. At the same time, Sfar isn't afraid to just toss in a new character, say a Golem or a Jewish bookstore owner, without any preface or understanding. Under normal circumstances, this kind of thing would bug me. Here, it comes across as an extra added tasty treat, filling out an equally colorful narrative.

I wish that I could say that "Vampire Loves" is for kids, and certainly there's a lot to it that children would enjoy. But there is a bit of sex talk (that'll go over their heads, but still...) and just the adult nature of the relationships in this book calls out for a more mature reader. Honestly, if a nine-year-old asked me for the book I wouldn't hesitate to hand it over. There are some references to drug use and some sex discussions, but interestingly enough the act itself never occurs on the page.

I like my graphic novels, but I don't read them as voraciously as most. In the end, however, "Vampire Loves" is probably one of the best YA GNs to come out this or any year. A compelling story, it actually had me thinking about the characters long after I put the book down. Who knew you could get so much depth out of a cartoon bloodsucker? As "Buffy the Vampire" has taught us, vampires make for wonderful metaphors, both on the page and off.

Another Review of the Day: Jumping the Scratch

When you think of books in which mysteries take place, your mind instantly falls back onto Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, or maybe one of those charming Hardy Boy types. The full-range of mysteries in children's literature, by and large, is not particularly impressive. And the exception to this may lie in a single author of children's books; one Sarah Weeks. Beginning with her debut novel and impressive beginning, "So B It" and continuing with, "Jumping the Scratch", Weeks gives kids mysteries that go beyond secrets in old clocks or messages in lemon juice. Her mysteries are the day to day unexplained occurrences that make life so doggone interesting. In "So B It", a girl unravels the story behind her mother's past. In "Jumping the Scratch", however, the person holding the key to the mystery is the narrator himself. And he's not going to give up his secrets without a fight.

Jamie is miserable with a capital M. When he lived in Battle Creek, everything was "normal as cornflakes". He went to school with lots of friends. He adopted a stray cat who liked him and only him. Things were great! Then everything went wrong. His cat got run over in the street. Then his dad ran away with a cashier. Then his favorite aunt was involved in a freak accident at the cherry factory where she worked. And NOW he and his mom have gone to live with Aunt Sapphy up in Traverse City in a trailer park far from his friends and school. Oh. And there was one more bad thing that happened to Jaime, but he doesn't like to talk about it. All the reader knows for certain is that it involves butterscotch in some way and a button pressed firmly into a cheek. Now Jamie is going to try to erase the memory of that occurrence entirely from his brain, which at the same time trying to cure his Aunt Sapphy's own short-term memory loss. To do it, he'll have to befriend oddball Audrey, a girl who wears men's plastic glasses frames, and attempt to excise everything bad that he doesn't want to recall from his brain. Either that, or tell someone what happened.

Any children's book with even an oblique reference to child abuse is going to have to handle their material with infinite care. For example, Lois Lowry's recent, "Gossamer", is a lovely little title, but many people have had serious issues with how it deals with a boy's abusive situation. In the case of "Jumping the Scratch", adult readers instantly understand what it is that Jaime is trying to forget (though perhaps not the details). Children, on the other hand, won't know until Jaime finally flashes back to the horrible moment in question and they see first hand the incident. What adult readers will not instantly understand are some of Jaime's quirks. They won't immediately comprehend why he collects empty cherry cans or walks through snake-infested grass every day after school. Weeks takes infinite care in slowly revealing what her hero has suffered and in describing his elaborate coping mechanisms. At the same time, you feels he's a real kid. This is the kid that impatient adults (his teacher being the best example) have no time to understand and care for.

I was a little reluctant to believe some of Weeks' points, however. That after suffering at the hands of an adult male, Jaime would trust an adult male (albeit an author) so soon seemed a bit of a stretch. Then again, Weeks doesn't make Jaime out to be the kind of guy who instantly trusts anyone. I was reminded of a similar children's book, Jane Gardam's, "Long Way From Verona" (right down to the overly enthusiastic teacher) in which a kid's life is changed by an adult author who visits her class. It's an interesting trope. More problematic is the miracle deus ex machina that allows Sapphy to retain her memory at the end of the book. I'm no doctor but the sheer convenience of it all may ring a little false, even to young 'uns ears.

When an author writes a book and it's a hit, people immediately sniff around that author's second with the sole hope of determining whether or not that book is better or worse than it predecessor. They're hoping it'll be worse. With Weeks, it isn't like that. "Jumping the Scratch" is, to my mind, almost as good as "So B It", but an entirely different novel. It has a compelling and easily understood protagonist and has the added benefit of taking place in Traverse City (much like this year's other Traverse City tale for kids, "The One Left Behind" by Willo Davis Roberts). A title well worth checking out from a unique and powerful voice.

Children's Books and the Dating Scene

It's in competition with Unshelved as the best children's literature comic strip out there. The advantage may have to go to Unshelved, however. Tales From the Slush Pile doesn't seem to have a regular website.

I Was Just Happy It Listed, "Great Zot!"

Uh-oh. Looks like I'm getting a bit slap-happy. But how can you resist the Wikipedia List of fictional expletives? It includes words from Artemis Fowl, House of the Scorpion, and Animorphs, and therefore belongs on this blog (you knee-biters).

New Toy For the Kiddies

Me want.

Where My Brooklyn Peoples At?

All my friends in town basically live in Brooklyn. I live in Manhattan, which is unfortunate as each week-end sees me taking the lamentably slow moving trains from Brooklyn back to Morningside Heights where I reside. On the other hand, that's when I'm able to finish all my reading. But by and large it's fairly common knowledge that all the cool stuff occurs in Brooklyn these days. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that recently a reading series began so as to help raise money for an elementary school's library.
Writers who have volunteered for the series, which carries a $10 admission fee, are mostly Mr. Grand's friends and acquaintances and fellow Brooklynites. Among them are Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, Paul Auster, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Safran Foer and Rick Moody. So far, the readings have earned $12,000.
To top it all off, Brooklyn is where 826NYC is currently located. I'm o'erflowing with jealousy.

Hospital Objects To a Girl Growing Up

That's one way to describe the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children's reaction to Alan Moore's recent Lost Girls. This is the same hospital that Barre gave his books' rights to long long ago. Those rights are up in 2008. And by the way, I seriously take issue with the fact that the Geraldine McCaughrean Peter Pan book was nowhere in sight at the recent ALA Conference. Naughty bad publishers.

Just Kidding

Some good news. Last week I reported on how the Porter County library board in Indiana was taking away library cards from their homeless children. Well surprise surprise they've changed their minds. I wonder whether all the bad press had anything to do with it. Hm....

Pooh In the News

Lest you fear that this blog is turning into some kind of Pooh crazed fansite, I would remind you that I happen to work with the guy. Today I am recuperating from ALA (all that good food really knocks a gal out) but I was able to give Win a call.

WTP: Bear here.

Fuse #8: Hey, Pooh dude. Look, did you hear this thing about A.A. Milne's daughter and Disney suing the estate of long-time Pooh licensee Stephen Slesinger?

WTP: Who is this?

Fuse #8: Cut it out, Pooh. Have you or have you not heard of this?

WTP: (examining left paw) It may have come to my attention.

Fuse #8: Well, don't you find it a little odd that Clare Milne is working WITH Disney on this?

WTP: As I understand it, they only paid her legal fees.

Fuse #8: Oh, c'mon Winnie. You know how Disney is and you know how much it makes from you. You're their second hottest character. Right behind Mickey Mouse.

WTP: Yes yes yes. But put Sterling Holloway's voice on anyone and they instantly become popular. Look, this is fun but there's a group of British tourists here, all hankering to have a word with me about coming back to England someday. You understand, don't you, darling?

Fuse #8: *sigh* Bye, Pooh.

Review of the Day: Valley of the Wolves

I become inordinately happy whenever I have a chance to discover a new children's book title from a foreign land. The dearth of translated children's books available in the current American market is shameful, to say the least. I've had the pleasure of reading German and Indian and British titles galore. One country I did not enjoy until now, however, was Spain. Now that problem has been solved. Though it reeks of Tolkein influences through and through, "The Valley of the Wolves" is a rather joyous and exciting book ready to be enjoyed by hoards of fantasy-loving kiddies.

Dana didn't realize right off the bat that she was the only one who could see Kai. Honestly, it didn't make sense. Ever since she was six-years-old Dana and Kai have been best friends. He's just a normal blond kid who helps her out with her chores and plays games with her. It's with great shock that Dana realizes that to everyone else, Kai is her "imaginary friend". None of this seems important, however, until the day the stranger on the horse saw her. The stranger turns out to be a rather important mage and before she knows what's happening, Dana and Kai are going to the man's tower home. There, Dana becomes an apprentice in magic and her powers grow. Yet when she starts seeing more mysterious visions and finds a mystery at the heart of her home, Dana must decide what to trust and what to avoid if she wants to stay alive.

Garcia has taken the old "imaginary friend" idea and given it a particularly nice spin. Kai as early friend and, later, object of real affection manages to conceal his background so well that even the canniest of readers will probably fail to figure out what he is. In hindsight it seems obvious, but reading the book you'll be honestly baffled. Garcia is magnificent with her characters as well. There's a bad guy in this book, sure, but the villain isn't all twirling of the moustaches and evil laughs. There's a depth to each person we meet, especially poor intangible Kai. Plus, there's a connection to the characters that comes across as especially alluring. No one can doubt the depth of feeling Kai and Dana feel for one another. The ending of the book also invoked a little of that old, "The Amber Spyglass" by Philip Pullman, as well.

Ah, but it is incredibly difficult to read a book these days with elves and dwarves in it without wanting to retch. Are we so lacking in creativity that we must continually turn to elves and dwarfs when we want something pseudo-magical? "Eragon" did it. "The Spiderwick Chronicles" did it. Now "The Valley of the Wolves" has done it. To Garcia's credit, that's where her reliance on Tolkein begins and ends. Honestly, the dwarf and elf in this story could have easily been human and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference to the tale.

As for her storytelling, Garcia keeps the action going at a steady clip. Exciting scenes are never bogged down in useless details. The book trips lightly over five or six years without feeling lost or, for that matter, necessary. All in all, this is a more than worthy fantasy addition that may well go unnoticed for all its charms. I'm also especially fond of the 3-D effect the cover has if you stare at it in just the right way. Definitely a rather nice take on the old a-child-learns-magic genre, currently so popular. Even reluctant readers should enjoy it.

Making Up For Lost Time

As you can see, I'm doing my damndest to make up for lost time. All sorts of interesting articles were posted while I was away and it's my job to find the kiddie-lit news of greatest interest. And what, I ask, could be more interesting than Wizard of Oz conspiracy theories? Living up to its name, Oz and Ends reports on this too little explored phenomenon.

Lust For Life

First of all, the release date for the next Harry Potter movie has been announced. Just make sure you're not doing anything on July 13, 2007.

Also, there are few things more morbid in this world than Harry Potter fans discussing who's going to die in the final installment of J.K. Rowling's series. I admit it. I do it too. Now it seems as if a character has received "a reprieve". Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

And obviously this was a big story for me to have missed. The bloggers are up in arms. Here's one on Harry living and one on Harry dying.

Missing Roger

Oh poo. It seems as though Roger Sutton was at the same Simon & Schuster party that I was. That'll larn me not to try to speak to new people. I highly encourage you to read his take on both that and on the later Newbery/Caldecott proceedings (though I do take serious issue with any discussion of Shannon Hale that contains the word "coltish"). Also take some time to view pics of Nina Lindsay in a glorious mask at the following.

A Gift To You

Hello, my sweet darlings.
I just discovered that my long lengthy delightful post-Newbery piece that I typed up until 1:00 a.m. yesterday never posted. You can imagine my delight. Hopefully this time it'll go through without any difficulty whatsoever.

As you might suspect, I am home. Sitting, watching my Stephen Colbert, enjoying the fact that the temperature in my home is not above 75 degrees. The trip home was just as harrowing as the trip TO New Orleans. This time we sat in the plane for NYC on the runway for a good 4 hours with a perpetually talkative pilot blasting his happiness at getting to spend all that time with us. I was seated in front of Raul Colon and I believe Nikki Grimes was somewhere on the plane, so that was fun.

To make up to you the fact that I did not post appropriately (or, for that matter, daily) here is a link to something absolutely wonderful and odd. It brings together the two things I love. My co-worker Winnie-the-Pooh and artists with too much time on their hands. Take a look.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Listening To Their Cantinas. Drinking Their Mint Juleps.

I have good news to share. Chris Raschka is still alive. I will explain.

To continue where I left off, as of yesterday the prettifying for the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet went a touch awry. Here's a useful traveling tip for all you culture lovers out there. Should you happen to find that your eyebrows have turned into connected furry masses and you have left your tweezers at home, do not attempt to shave between the area using your men's razor. This is not a wise course of action. It is rather, the best way to produce a bright red gaping gash in a highly visible area. whee

In any case, prettification reached its peak and because I ended up with an extra ticket I was able to get hubby in as well. As it happens, librarians aren't exactly security conscious when it comes to hubbies. We were able to waltz into the ballroom in question without having to flash any paper tickets as proof of our legitimacy. This is not to say that come the next Banquet I want any of you to sneak in unawares. I guess it's sort of the honor system course of things. But if you do crash, seek me out. I'd love to hear your reasons behind doing so.

I want to also state right now that I am probably the newbiest of the newbies out there kiddie-lit-wise. I like to pretend I'm wise and all knowing and over the age of thirty, but these are all lies. Damn dirty lies. So this was my first Newbery/Caldecott Banquet and as such I was, how does one say, blown away. Seriously blown. First of all, roughly 100,000 people were in attendance. Other people will give you conflicting numbers saying there were far less. Do not believe them. There were 100,000. I counted. Everyone was dressed to the nines and sitting at tables with navy blue tablecloths. Hubby found a table of nice librarians and I was invited to sit with the Boyd Mills Press/Front Street crew. This was all due to the very kind invitation of Nancy Hogan. Let that be a lesson to you all. Small delightful presses like Boyd Mills are not afraid to include wayward children's librarian bloggers into their midst. Anywho, I was at a table with notable personalities, including the rather handsome and Hot Men of Children's Literature-insipient Jason Weber (HI, JASON!). Charming man. I was also at a table with Suzanne Bloom. Ever read A Splendid Friend, Indeed? If not, go away and read it. I refuse to write another word until you've given it a glance. As it happens it was my Amazon review and not my blog that alerted Boyd Mills to my presence in the world. As for Ms. Bloom, she is a hoot. We spent half our time talking Disney villains, book sequels (hers), and various bookish folderol.

Free Items Found At My Seat: One harmonica (care of The Hello, Goodbye Window). One program for the evening. One cd of the acceptance speeches which I would podcast from this blog if I had any technical knowledge whatsoever.

Then the awards themselves. Projected onto a big screen were the presenters. For the sake of brevity I shall catalogue my thoughts as they popped into me head:

After the listing of the Newbery committee members: I know two of them! (my thoughts are never much more complicated than this after several glasses of mighty fine white wine)
After Alan Armstrong received his award: Nice fellow
After Susan Campbell Bartoletti: Young woman
After Shannon Hale: I want to befriend this person. I want us to hang out together at brunch on Sundays and talk trash celebrities. This is the award winner of the evening I would most want to find myself sitting next to on an airplane (this may sound odd, but I hear that almost everyone has this reaction after seeing Shannon Hale for the first time).
After Jacqueline Woodson: I know her. No glasses.
After Newbery Award Winner Lynne Rae Perkins: Young! So young. So very young. She has reddish hair and is not 75. I'm so confused. Why is she wearing a dalmation shirt?
After hearing Perkins' speech: Best damn Newbery speech in years, I dare say. Not a single reference to the usual Newbery speech tropes. These usually include a) How the author got the phone call and b) The librarian that befriended them when they were a child. This was a speech a person might wish they had the mental ability to concoct out of their own brain, only to find it only resides in the craniums of such authors as the fabulous Lynne Rae Perkins. The only woman who could have won for 2006.

Okay. Then the Caldecott came. The white wine was now fading and I was beginning to allow my brain to coalesce. I drank some more, quickly.

After the listing of the Caldecott committee members: I know one of them!
After Marjorie Priceman received her award: Ngh.
After Bryan Collier: Five tables have stood up in response. Goodness me.
After Beckie Prange: Lovely lovely lovely.
After Jon J. Muth: Hello, Hot Men of Children's Literature, Part 20 In a Series.
After Caldecott Award Winner Chris Raschka: Please don't mention Donnell. Please please please don't mention Donnell.

I should state here and now that not only did Mr. R not mention Donnell, he was charming. Effusive. Admittedly, I never knew a person could mention their own volunteer work to the extent that he did without coming across as pompous, but he managed it brilliantly. The speech, when you hear it online/read it in Horn Book, is a long remarkably thoughtful series of observations and clever notes. It was also, and I can't stress this enough, amusing. Speech writers everywhere could take some notes from Mr. Raschka's book.

Norton Juster also briefly had some words to give on the matter, but his speech was far more off-the-cuff. He mentioned that he had been accused of NOT being able to play the harmonica like the grandfather in the book. A quick rendition of Oh, Susanna was enough to prove such naysayers wrong. Even better, he was then soon accompanied by Raschka on the cantina. Throw in Daniel Handler on the accordian and you'd have had a sweet little band of uncertain pedigree.

By the way, the food at this shindig was amazing. Salads of walnuts and apples. Thick juicy steaks served with large luscious pre-peeled shrimp. A dessert that involved ice cream, caramel, and bananas served in such a way that the bananas tasted less like fruit and more like soft sugar. Delicious. You were up a tree if you were vegetarian, of course. I, for my part, was in heaven.

Then everyone watched the Carnegie winning The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and went into another room where all the winners were in a reception line to shake hands. Like a wedding but one in which you don't get to throw anything at the person in the prettiest dress (which would be Shannon Hale, by my count). I did not do the line. I knew Jackie Woodson, but what do you say to her? Hi, Jackie. Nice award. No glasses? I couldn't imagine anything I could mumble that would matter in the least to these people (though the devil on my right shoulder was prodding me to mention Donnell to Mr. Raschka . . . I declined). Instead, hubby and I walked through a brain-twisting casino and went promptly to bed.

Today the only interesting thing I did that you would like to hear about was a visit with Bill Joyce. A swell fella, to say the least. The invitation promised absinthe, but unsurprisingly the squeamish W Hotel would have none of it. Instead there were mint juleps and beignets in abundance. I got to speak to Mr. Joyce about his New Yorker cover that never was (story on that to follow one of these days) and his work on various movies. I also learned who Bill Morris was. I asked another librarian and she confirmed what I suspected all along - I'm too young to understand half of what goes on around me. There are worse states to be in.

Oh. One other interesting thing happened today. I met a Mr. Angus Killick, Director of School and Library Marketing for Hyperion. I have decided to construct a small cardboard idol of Mr. Killick for my bedroom, at which I might freely worship at his feet. If you say the name "Angus" to many a librarian, they know immediately of whom you speak. I did not until today. Now I not only have a Hyperion contact (leaving Candlewick as one of the few major publishers not in my rolodex) but a future Hot Man to boot. It's been a productive day, to say the least.

By the way, I tried to post this yesterday. No go. So here goes try #2.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Swag. Sweet, Glorious, Suitcase-Clogging Swag.

All right, where was I?

Ah yes. Yesterday. After plopping myself down on the Convention Center's clean but less-than-heavenly carpeting to report (later on I would discover their benches and pinch myself accordingly) it was off to go to the different publisher booths for goodies. I had on my possession a list of those editors that had made contact with me in the past and every once in a while I would put in a hopeful, "Is [enter name] around?". To which the response every time (except for at Harper Collins for some reason) was, "No, they stepped out just five minutes ago". Lackaday. I was not prepared, by the way, for the author signings. I knew that they happened sometimes, sure. Each major publisher would have a little schedule that people could follow if they were looking forward to bending the ear of a Walter Dean Myers or An Na. I distained such schedules partly because I am spoiled (example: I would think, "I don't need to see Jennifer Armstrong again) and partly because I was unaware of how these booths work. They give you free books. And I'm not talking ARCs here (of which there are plenty) but honest-to-goodness hardcover first editions. In no time flat my right shoulder was hanging somewhere around my mid-section and I was making multiple trips to the Bag Check station. I saw an author Who-Shalt-Not-Be-Named (because I got their book signed for my mother and she reads this blog) who had a line of 100-some people across from a poor author Who-Shalt-Not-Be-Named (because he made me sad) with only one fellow in his line.

Because I am naturally shy, I have a hard time introducing myself to people and convincing them that I am worth talking to. The Central Children's Room moniker hanging about my neck helped a little, but I still couldn't say the word "blog" and get much of a response. More fool you Candlewick!!! I managed to determine that Matthew Reinhart, who created Encyclopedia Prehistorica with Robert Sabuda, is hotness incarnate. Just FYI.

Later, while nosing about some book titles, I ran into Mo Willems who has switched from calling me Fuse Lady to Blog Lady. To his quip, "Still blogging?", I responding with the clever comeback of, "Guh?". You can bet that he was impressed. I spent the rest of my time skittering away to stare longingly at the author with 100 people in his line.

Laden with more books than I can read (I've got the sequel to Donuthead, sweeties) and directing husband with car to pick up my overly laden little self, it was time for the parties.

Publisher parties are grand. They spend countless oodles of dollars to feed you for free. Plus you get to talk the ear off of their authors. Publisher party #1 was Random House. My husband is a filmmaker and not a librarian but we quickly found ways to sneak him into all sorts of stuff. In the case of publisher parties, it wasn't hard at all. Nobody checks for your MLIS degree at the door. So off to the Louisiana Children's Museum we went and the food was faaaaabulous. The first person I managed to corner? None other than author and fabulous blogger Mitali Perkins. She is, should anyone ask, charm incarnate. After talking about everything from Hot Men of Children's Literature (one was present and there was a future potential addition there as well) to me writing a YA novel (?!?) we moved on. I must say, for sheer people-I-know, the Random House party was the best. I ran into Child_lit-ers, the head of children's services for all of Brooklyn, librarians from as far away as Oakland, CA and even the occassional publisher. Shana Corey, who once came to my library bearing pink cupcakes with Matthew Holm, came over and said howdy. She then turns to a woman next to her and says in, what I would characterize as a misleadingly casual, voice, "Do you know Tammy Pierce?"

Oh, sweet mother of God. What exactly is the protocol for answering that kind of question? What do you do when someone asks you, "Do you know [enter famous author name here]"? Do you allow your eyes to pop out of your head and roll willy-nilly around your ankles? Cause that's what I did. Worse, I did it while babbling incoherantly for a good five minutes. Ms. Pierce, needless to say, is no fool and was patient enough to wait out my jibber-jabber until I could say something halfway decent. Eventually the conversation turned to how she used to read the book, Sexuality Psychopathica as a child ("I didn't know you could DO that with sheep") in response to my childhood love of Trixie Belden. As conversations of the evening went, this one was hard to top.

Then it was off to Party #2. We were thinking of doing the Penguin Putnam event as well, but they had been very silly and scheduled it at the same time as the Random House party. Party #2 was Simon & Schuster instead. In an interesting twist, the authors at the party were told to wear palpitating colored balls around their necks which would identify them in the darkened room as the "writers". Unfortunately, no one seemed able to wear these balls without cracking the inevitable, "Boy, I hope no one has epilepsy" joke. Over. And over. And over. In time, all the authors tossed them over their shoulders and wore them like aging ravers (sans the requisite pacifiers).

Husband and I waylaid Neal Schusterman right off the bat and drilled him for information on the old subway tunnels of New York (as per his book Downsiders). I've always been especially fond of the failed pneumatic tube subway system that was installed during the time of Boss Tweed. It worked (Schusterman was unable to say exactly how) but was never officially approved of. After Neal we purloined the books that were scattered hither and thither about the room and I found a whole contingent of NYPL teen librarians wandering about. I also ran into this year's Newbery Chair (I won't say who, in case it's not meant to be official) and a Multnomah County librarian of infinite charm and taste.

My husband, very good at patiently listening to me debate other librarians over the relative merits (or lack thereof) of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, came into his own when Peter Parnell entered the room. You know Peter because he wrote And Tango Makes Three. We know Peter because he was my hubby's writing professor at Columbia this year. Alongside Justin Richardson we had a great discussion of various Tango debacles and debates.

Then it was home. Today has been low key in comparison. Just attendance at Random House's Fall Book selection this morning and a day spent eating at the Napoleon House, wandering around the French Quarter, and eating beignets at the Cafe du Monde. It's a tough life, I know.

Someone just walked through this lobby saying, "We didn't really stalk Anderson Cooper, but so many people went!" That would be the clue for me to sign off here and get all prettified for tonight's Newbery/Caldecott Banquet thingy. Remember, the goal of the evening is to make sure that Chris Raschka never mentions the fact that years and years ago he was tossed out of the Donnell Central Children's Room. If that story is preserved in the annals of time alongside other Caldecott acceptance speeches I will have no choice but to launch myself over the white tableclothed dining tables and strangle him personally with my bare hands. Let us hope it does not come to back. I feel a touch too tired to give a good old-fashioned strangling.

Till tomorrow, sweetmeats. I'll let you know if Raschka is still amongst the living or not.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


We have arrived.

It started yesterday. Arriving at the airport with husband in tow, we came to our gate nicely early only to find that the entire NYPL contingent got seats on the same flight as my own. The thought occurred that should our plane crash, New York Public Library would find itself critically short staffed (particularly in the children and YA areas). To top it all off, the flight was 5 hours late, allowing me to read and finish, “Valley of the Wolves” Laura Gallego Garcia as well as “Jump the Scratch” by Sarah Weeks. Reviews forthcoming. On the plus side, Jack Gantos was on my flight with his daughter (I think). I pointed this out to my husband who immediately replied, "Gigantos?". We have now decided the name our first born child must be "Gigantos". Unless it's a girl. Then it'll be Gigantas.

Once we landed it was straight to a dinner at the Sun Ray Grill where husband and I would be meeting the charming ladies of the children’s literature bloggosphere. Amongst them were such notable names as Liz B. of A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy fame. Also joining were Carlie Webber of Bergen County, Susan Quinn of Cean County, Jill Ratzan and Annie Wrigg of Columbia, MO. Oh. And Linda Sue Park. Did I mention Linda Sue Park. Yeah. Linda Sue Park was there. Dinner was swell (the servers would nervously ask librarians at other tables whether you needed a degree to work in a public library) and the company charming.

Then it was on to a Booklist presentation called, “What’s So Funny?” featuring Jack Gantos, David Lubar, Lisa Yee, and Mo Willems. We missed the Willems portion (lackaday) but caught Yee and Lubar. Abandoning our company, husband and I sped to our housing, which was going to close its registration doors at 10.

Which brings us to today. I am sitting on the floor of the well-carpeted Morial Convention Center. It's a lovely space, but (as you can see) a little short on seating. I've never seen such huge hoardes of librarians in all my days. It's enough to make you blush. I've chatted up quite a few publishers and gave them my card with my blog on it. HI PUBLISHERS!!!! The smart ones gave me their cards too. And I'm a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of librarians in the world. Look at 'em all! Look at 'em!

Tonight I'll be crashing the aforementioned publishers' cocktail parties and start the serious schmoozing. Until then, it's a big game of find-the-free-stuff. Ten points to Stone Arch Books for the Bazooka Joe bubble gum.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Off I Go!

Ever since I started this blog lo these many months ago, I haven't really had a vacation. This is because I am a workaholic freak. Now ALA is nigh and tomorrow at 10 in the morning I fly far far away to The Big Easy. In preparation I purchased the 2003 edition of the Time Out New Orleans guidebook. I knew perfectly well that the book would be just a touch out of date, but the maps in the back were just so darned purdy. Had I known though that the New Orleans Today section was subtitled, "A new mayor, a new basketball team - what could possibly go wrong" (I am NOT making this up . . . I swear this to you) I would have bought it sight unseen anyway. Talk about inviting trouble. Don't the good people of Time Out know anything about attracting the evil eye?

I will attempt to post once a day in a timely and interesting fashion. Please wish me luck. I'm gonna miss you guys. *sniffle*

Kids And Their Newfangled Storytimes

When I was a kid there was a dying mall in my hometown. The dying mall (which, by the time I hit teenhood had almost completely kicked the bucket, save for a single movie theater) had several slightly creepy aspects about it, but none so creepy as the story phone. A child would sit on a small stool, remove a brightly colored plastic phone from a hook, and immediately hear a creaky recorded voice tell them a story. An experience like no other, that.

Now it's 2006 and the times have a-change-ed. Today kids can listen to classic children's audio stories online, and even download the text to read along. It doesn't have quite the same appeal as holding sweaty neon plastic to your ear amongst derelict stores, but it'll do. Thanks to Kids Lit for the link.

Blogger Wuss (that would be me)

It pays to whine.
MT Anderson took pity on me after I held a small blog-sized tantrum over the difficulty in finding pictures of him online, wearing glasses. He sent me the following:

Dear Ms. Bird:

Sorry you had trouble finding photos of my mug. Attached, the full image. As you can see, it also includes some of Children's Literature's Hottest Monks.



Aside from the fabulous idea of Children's Literature's Hottest Monks (let's see... The Sign of the Qin comes to mind...) I take an immature joy in the fact that Mr. Anderson's initials are the same as that of New York's Metro Transit Authority. hee hee hee.

Here's the pic. It is a dandy.

Review of the Day: For You Are a Kenyan Child

Essentially I’ve come to the conclusion that Ana Juan could come to my home and hit me over the head with multiple frying pans and I would STILL worship at her feet. You know that fantasy everyone has where a famous children’s book illustrator walks up to you one day and says, “I made this incredibly beautiful painting, pre-framed, just for you”? You don’t have that one? Well I do. And the illustrator in question would be Ana Juan. My goodness me, how that woman can paint. From her Fellini-esque, “The Night Eater” to the biography of “Frida” that only SHE could have illustrated, Juan is consistently brilliant in whatsoever she chooses to do. So when first-time picture book author Kelly Cunnane found that, “For You Are a Kenyan Child” was to fall into the creative hands of Juan, one can only imagine her response. The pairing of an artist who’s picture book work, prior to this title, has been almost solely fantastical with a playful but realistic author makes for a unique book. One that reads as well as it looks.

A child wakes in Kenya, “in the green hills of Africa, sun lemon bright over eucalyptus trees full of doves”, to herd his Grandfather’s cows. He’s instructed by his mother to watch them carefully, but the cows won’t mind if he slips away for a moment to see who else is up and about, will they? There’s Bashir who bakes some pancakes in the morning, and the great black monkeys that perch in the trees. There’s the village chief who is carving a magnificent lion and Grandmother who offers “sleeping milk, sweetened with crushed charcoal, fresh from the gourd”. Distracted further by friends and playmates the boy finally makes it back to the field . . . but the cows are gone! Grandfather has come for them, and though all he says is, “Let’s go home now”, it’s clear that the boy has been chastised. Home they go and everyone falls gently to sleep, “like you, like us”.

No offense to Ms. Juan, but there have been times when her stories did not match the beauty of her pictures. Campbell Geeslin’s, “Elena’s Serenade”, was a good idea for a tale, but the text itself was stilted and off-putting. That’s a danger that never comes up when you’re reading Cunnane’s words. First of all, she’s taken the gutsy idea of writing the book in the second person. I’m sure that other children’s book writers have done this in the past, but none are coming to my mind. The whole book is telling the child reader exactly what “you” are doing at this moment in time. It’s fabulous. Using the conceit of a playful child visiting everyone in his village, the book is also able to visit all kinds of denizens of this small Kenyan village. The tone is a playful one, imparting information about Kenya so seamlessly within the text that you never feel you are “learning” anything. Rather, it all flows together in a beautiful logical fashion.

And then there’s the factual information. In a small section at the front of the book, so out of the way that you wouldn’t necessarily know to look for it, there is, “A Note About the Text”. In that space Cunnane explains a great deal about Kenya itself, its languages, and common terms of greeting and response. She then follows this up with a Glossary of words with a pronunciation guide to boot. This was all mighty informative information, but what the heck was it doing on what should have been the publication page? The publication information, more baffling still, is instead at the back of the book. Under normal circumstances this situation would be switched. A child would finish reading the book and then their parent would show them the Note About the Text and the Glossary for further information. Why the publisher inanely switched the two is baffling. Now we’ve critical info hidden obliquely at the front of the book where few would think to seek it out. Bad, Antheneum! Bad!

Finally, there are the pictures. Juan has filled her illustrations with all the emotion and color best befitting a tale of this sort. The hero, a wide-eyed child of irrepressible energy, is followed perpetually by a similarly big-eyed bushbaby. Kids could play “spot the bushbaby” with this book if they wanted to. It certainly does appear to pop up in every pic. The full range of Juan’s talents are put to the test with this book. From the sprinkled flour on a tabletop to the silky hairs on a great black monkey’s tail, textures seem to leap out at the viewer. And, as always, each painting is imbued with an odd inner light. They glow and pulse with deepening shades and tones. Best that you see it first-hand to appreciate it.

Should you wish to pair this Kenyan tale with a picture book, set in the Cameroon, of equal beauty, consider reading both, “You Are a Kenyan Child” alongside Lloyd Alexander’s, “The Fortune-Tellers”, for a truly eye-popping storytime. Altogether, this is a gorgeous tale, easily one of the most beautiful you’ll find. A necessary addition to any and all library shelves. Top drawer.

A Fuse #8 Production: Official Kiddie-Lit Conferencer?

Perhaps foolishly, I have signed myself up to be one of the Conference Bloggers of the American Library Association's Conference in New Orleans. This is a good PR move on my part, but it does suggest that I shall have to take time to report regularly on the comings and goings of the conference proper. I should note right now that I won't be at the conference until Friday, so if any of you have stopped by for updates, you'll have to wait on it. Nothing exciting will happen before Friday anyway. Also, since this is my first ALA Conference, I'm going to take it slow. Not too many informative sessions involving the term, "Get Excited About". Not too many speakers. Just schmoozing with all the schmoozable abilities at my command.

I feel that I am up to this bloggish challenge (not least because the Conference Center has - HA HA - wireless internet access). With that in mind I have taken a gander at the other library bloggers with an eye towards the competition. The children's literature competition, that is.

As it stands, I'm in the clear. The American Association of School Librarians has a blog, but as of this writing it mostly consists of students saying, "Hi!", in a remarkably perky fashion. I'm familiar with Hockey Librarian and librarygrrrl but I'm not sure how. Neither of them are children's librarians anyway. YALSA has a blog, but they're teenish and I'm kiddish. The two mix only when it comes to middle readers (The Amulet of Samarkand is OURS, dammit!). Quiddle seemed to fit but then I discovered all her references to YALSA. J'accuse!

What are we to conclude from all of this? I hereby proclaim myself the ONLY children's librarian to appear as a Conference Blogger. Ho ho! The power. She rushes to me head. My schedule to follow eventually.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lego Cuts 1,200 Jobs

Who's going to break the news to Michael Chabon?

The Surprise? He Was Cute.

All right. Quick now. How am I going to justify this one?

Um . . . okay! I've got it. Ricky Gervais has thus far written two picture books about Flanimals (not to be confused with Scranimals). Therefore we can label him a celebrity author and connect him to children's literature in some vague and tentative fashion.

That said, if you're a fan of The Office (the real one) you have no choice but to go to this site. If you are not a fan of The Office, you should still check it out. The man is funny. Painfully, agonizingly funny, but funny nonetheless.

Review of the Day: Follow the Line

Is it bad that the first thing I thought when I picked up this title was, “Oh! An Etch-a-Sketch book”? I can be forgiven for this. After all, when a book’s gimmick is identical to that of a beloved childhood toy, you’re automatically going to associate the two together. And, I might add, to the book’s advantage. If everyone that picks up, “Follow the Line” gets the same warm fuzzy feeling they get when they think of playing with their Etch-a-Sketches, it’ll be justly deserved. This is a rather amusing little title with an equally amusing premise that’s bound to be read over and over again by a certain segment of the child population.

The book actually begins with its cover. Starting with a line that begins at the bottom of the “F” in the title, “Follow The Line”, a single white stripe spells out all the letters against a deep black background and then goes off the side of the cover. The line moves across the bookflap, onto the endpapers, around the publication information on the title page, and with a flip we suddenly find ourselves in a city. Buildings, windows, steps, etc. are created by a single sinuous line alongside a brightly colored setting. As we follow the streak we encounter questions about the number of flowers or TV antennas around. When the line escapes off the page, we too escape and find ourselves now creating faces and people and babies and dogs. The book continues in this manner throughout. The line never breaks or cheats and following it means twisting, turning, plummeting, and soaring according to the illustrator’s whims. Finally, at the end, the line leaps across the endpapers, onto the bookflap, and to the words, “The End”, situated on the book’s back cover. Simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.

Laura Ljungkvist may well fall into the category of Author/Illustrators Who Are Too Cool By Half. First of all, check out Ms. Ljungkvist’s website for this book at followtheline dot com. She’s a design maven who high-tailed it from Sweden to Brooklyn (currently the hippest borough) and ended up working (according to her bookflap), “in fields ranging from fashion to finance”. Sheesh! And now she wants to do picture books. Who’d have thunk it? I’ve always had a kind of touch and go relationship with picture books that dwell in the realm of good design. Either they go absolutely crazy like, “The Graphic Alphabet” by David Pelletier did (it's perhaps THE most ridiculous “children’s” book ever constructed with good design in mind) or they come across as simply sublime, as in David Carter’s, “One Red Dot”. Ljungkvist, I’m happy to say, falls squarely in the “sublime” category. The illustrations in this book are crisp and clear with fabulous colors against a kind of retro-fifties style. At the same time, Ljungkvist has done what Pelletier never deigned to do. She’s made each and every page interesting for kids. Sure, they could just follow the line with their finger, but that’s not the only amusing aspect to this title. On each page the author has slipped in questions like, “How many fences are there?” or “How many babies are awake?”. It’s a line game, sure, but it’s a counting game and an I spy game as well. Clever girl.

One critic of the book pointed out that the images in this title aren’t ALL created by the line. When you look at the forest scene with its skull-like mushrooms (it took me a while to figure out what they exactly were) there are plenty of stumps and trees and even a pond with waterlilies that aren’t part of the line itself. Imagine how dull the book might have been if EVERYTHING was made up by the line, though. It might be an interesting exercise, but I applaud Ljungkvist’s ability to incorporate simple forms and figures alongside the wacked-out nuttiness of her over-compesating line.

In a funny way, the book this reminded me the most of was that old crazy classic by Ann Jonas, “Round Trip”. Of course, the conceit of that book was less follow-the-line as it was read-the-book-upside-down-and-rightside-up. In any case, these two picture books would pair beautifully together. If you have a kid who likes one, they’ll probably like the other as well. You might even want to go a little crazy and pair the book with Norton Juster’s deeply amusing, “The Dot and the Line: A Romance In Lower Mathematics”. Only if you’re feeling quirky, mind you. As it stands, “Follow the Line”, is the perfect gift to give to a child so as to appear intelligent to the child’s parents while still handing the kid something they might actually enjoy. A fun and enticing item.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hot Men of Children's Literature: Part 19 In a Series

I'm getting this one in just under the wire. Here I was, sitting at the Reference Desk for long swaths of time, and I almost completely forgot to do today's Hot Man. Truth be told, it's wearing on me a little. It's probably rather freaky if you're a Hot Children's Author to Google your own name and find yourself staring at a posting by some freaky librarian about how, sight unseen, you're some kind of physical god.

That said, I would like to chastise today's Hot Man for not having more pictures of himself online. It's not like I have some scrapbook of Hot Authors to page through to get my images, after all (note to self: If such scrapbook exists, purchase it). Now I really wanted to get a picture of today's guy wearing glasses. Trust me on this. Some guys are all about the frames. But all I could find was a teeny l'il itty bitty Google image. And he doesn't even have a website! What is up with that?

All that said and done, I present to you today's fella:

a tiny M.T. ANDERSON!


ADDED 7/7/06:
This just in! The good people at Harcourt have been kind enough to furnish me with EXACTLY the kind of picture I so desire. Behold!

Originally uploaded by Ramseelbird.

He's the one not in a dress.

"Inconceivable!", Raves the Tiny Unimportant Blogger

I review for School Library Journal quite regularly (they keep sending me books, for some reason) and though the quality has taken a slight upturn as of late, I'm not above sending some poor author into the pits of I-hated-it hell. To the best of my knowledge, these negative reviews have never been selectively blurbed. "What is selective blurbishment?", you may ask (assuming, of course, that you think "blurbishment" is a word). A recent New York Times theater piece sums it up perfectly.

Of course, I've never actually picked up a book I disliked after writing its review. For all I know there's some pitiful soul out there meticulously reconstructing my heartfelt detestation of multiple badly written books.

Thanks to Critical Mass for the link.

No Library Cards For Homeless Kids

It's not the rule itself that's going to kill the library system. It's the fact that they're rescinding an earlier policy. That and the fact that adults living in shelters don't have any restrictions whatsoever.

Baby You're a Lost Cause

I can never remember what you guys do and do not know about. Until now I haven't mentioned Alan Moore's new graphic novel Lost Girls, simply because it's been so prolific in the news. But there's always the off-chance that maybe you haven't heard of it. And talk about applicable to children's literature! If you're unfamiliar with it, this new work is from the man who brought us The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the GN and NOT the movie) as well as my beloved Top Ten. Now he's created a pornographic work involving Wendy from Peter Pan, Alice from Alice In Wonderland, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. It's far more than that, but that's how it's going to be described by the people who seek to protest it. Check out the Neil Gaiman review he wrote for Publisher's Weekly. I own a copy of Paul Gravett's, Graphic Novels which included a snippet from Lost Girls, prior to publication. Interesting stuff to say the least.

The 48-Hour Book Challenge Encapsulated

Thank God for Big A little a. I don't think we'd ever have anything organized if not for the heroic efforts of Ms. Kelly Herold. Now that the 48-Hour Book Challenge promoted by Mother Reader is done (I didn't tabulate my efforts due to pure unvarnished laziness) we can see ALL the books that were reviewed during that time on Ms. Herold's new posting. Sweet child of mine, it's intense.

You Must Have Been a Beautiful Babymouse

Previously I declared author/illustrator Brian Selznick to be the Nicest Guy In the World. Now I'm going to have to rethink the title. Not because Brian is any less nice. He's a peach. A doll. But I just met an author/illustrator who has made a serious effort to usurp Brian's Nice Guy throne. I don't suppose any of you are familiar with a little thing called Babymouse? Written by Jennifer Holm and penned by her brother Matthew Holm the books are on the New York Public Library's Summer Reading List and we literally cannot keep them on our shelves. We've tried, but they fly off with a shocking frequency. Well, just last week who should stop by and see me at my Reference Desk? You got it. Mr. Holm himself. He was with his charming, adorable editor (who wrote down her name on a piece of paper currently unavailable to me at this time). And what did they bring to me me me?


Sweet, delicious, hot pink, self-referential (if you've read the books) cupcakes. This picture is a touch misleading. When I initially opened the box it was full of yummy squishy cupcakes. By the time I got my camera they had been devoured by perpetually cupcake-hungry librarians. This is true.

But was that all he brought? Oh no, sir. No no no. Mr. Holm also presented me with this:


Look at that beautiful thing. He framed it just for us. Framed it! And it's for the library. I was absolutely thrilled to death. But wait! There's more!




I was, suffice it to say, blown away. I'd mentioned Babymouse on my NPR gig thing, so I guess this was his way of saying thank you. But man oh man, it was out of this world. So the new Nicest Guy In the World? Matthew Holm. I kid you not. Now go read Babymouse.

Review of the Day: Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher

When they look back through the annals of time and determine how best to remember 2006, I hope that future historians remember this as The Year of the Stolen Shadows. As of this moment in time I have read FOUR, yes, FOUR children’s books that involve the misappropriation of shadows and were published within 4 months of one another. You have your, “Shadow Thieves” by Anne Ursu, your “Peter and the Shadow Thieves” by Dave Barry, “Charlie Bone and the Hidden King” by Jenny Nimmo (which involves a missing shadow from a portrait), and now this. “Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher” is the only book that falls into this rather unique category and is also a picture book. Playing up all kinds of silent movie tropes (to say nothing of radio), it’s an amusing middle ground between picture and comic books. Not the most original book of its kind I’ve ever seen, but nice just the same.

Golly gee willikers! It’s bad enough that poor Jackie somehow managed to loose his lunch pail at school today, but did he have to go and loose his shadow as well? It’s not like it was his fault, after all. He was just walking home from school when some rapscallion absconded with the shadow that was rightfully his. After consulting with Mr. Socrates, “the smartest man alive”, Jackie learns that there’s only one villain foul enough to be behind such a crime. Yes folks, The Shadow Snatcher is back in town and he’s up to his dastardly tricks. Now Jackie is off to face this terrible foe before his shadow is used for purposes strange and dire.

Obviously the comic book format of this book (done in tasteful black and white) is going to be the real lure for any kid that snatches the funny papers from their parents’ newspapers every night. Now according to his bookflap bio, Larry DiFiori has apparently, “illustrated over seventy-five books for young readers, eleven of which he also wrote”. Odd. I’d admittedly never heard of the fellow before, and a search of him on Amazon yielded few results. That may be because DiFiori has worked primarily as a kind of commercial kids book illustrator. I was a little too happy to discover that one of his illustrated books included, “The Radish Day Jubilee (A Fraggle Rock Book Starring Jim Henson's Muppets)”. How awesome is that? I grew up on The Fraggles, so you understand my glee. As far as I can ascertain, this is the biggest publisher DiFiori has worked with and it’s certainly the most original product (shadow stealing tropes aside). DiFiori works in all kinds of interesting tips of the hat to old timey silent movies and figures. The Shadow Stealer himself, on the other hand, is the spitting image of that old radio show hero The Shadow. Odd to make him a villain in this fashion. Hm. From the Hamburgler-type crook outfits (all bowler hats, black and white stripes, and eye-only black masks) to his Keystone Cops with their Mickey Mouse gloves, this book is quite the looker indeed.

Looker it is. Storywise, it has a ways to go. Basically what we have here is a tale about a boy who is sent to face a hoard of comic villains on his own. Sure, they’re silly, but it’s odd to see an adult in a book sending a child off INTO danger with the admonishment, “You’ll think of something. Just be brave”. Um . . . thanks. There are other problems as well. The story is fairly sparse, and that has nothing to do with its comic book format. It seems to be far more interested in chase and action than story and character. Sure it looks like a comic book, but even comic books need to do some good storytelling.

I’m being a little hard on this puppy, aren’t I? Ah well. There’s no denying its rollicking tone and adventurous style. If you’re on the lookout for comic-styled picture books, there are plenty out there to choose from. My personal favorite might be Gregory Rogers’, “The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, and the Bard”. There’s also the mighty original, “Seadogs”, by Lisa Wheeler or “Sparrowboy” by Brian Pinkney. All of these place format just behind story. I have little doubt that DiFiori will be churning out better and better stuff as time goes by. Definitely a must-have for any comic-styled picture book collection. Worth a gander and a glance.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ann Arbor Wins It All

I bet you didn't even know that the ALA gave out awards for the best library websites around, didja? Well they do. And it looks like the Ann Arbor District Library got the prize this year. Of course it's all so very esthetically pleasing. All that taupe. The clean lines. The white spaces. A quick scan, however, shows something missing. Something somewhat important. Where's the children's site? Where, for that matter, is the teen site? They list plenty of events for kids and teens, true. But where are their websites? Is ALA informing us that we can all ditch our children/YA pages now and move on to more feng shui-ish layouts? Apparently so.

Step Right Up! Step Right Up! Test Your Skills!

Librarians like myself apparently have so little to do that they search endlessly for quizzes, games, and other bits of kiddie lit trivia with which to train their little brains. For the record, the children's literature portion of Trivial Pursuit:Book Lover's Edition is incredibly difficult. Definitely give it a whirl if you've a chance.

Thanks to the mechanations of Those Who Are Cleverer Than I (i.e. my boss) I found First Lines. It's pretty much what it sounds like. Some of these are not children's, granted, and some most definitely are. With the exception of things like Swiss Family Robinson and Shane I didn't do too badly. My favorite category? Periods are for Sissies (though I admit that I mistook their meaning, at first).

Fifty points if you can name the book that goes with this one (no peeking):
The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a
pond of clear water in it.

Review of the Day: Witch Catcher

I'm a little exhausted after the measely four or five reviews I wrote for the 48-Hour Book Challenge. Those puppies take a good 45 minutes to write! In any case, here's my normal review of the day. Nothing fancy schmancy.

There are some authors that I associate directly with my own childhood. E.B. White. C.S. Lewis. Shel Silverstein. By and large these authors have two things in common. They wrote for children and they are dead. One particular author from my childhood, however, bears only a single similarity to those I’ve already mentioned. Certainly she writes for children, but she is definitely not dead. Not even close. I remember well, “Wait Till Helen Comes”, which remains one of the best-written children’s ghost stories out there today. Imagine my delight then when I found that not only is Hahn still writing, but she’s still churning out some fairly interesting fare. “Witch Catcher” takes some of Hahn’s old stand-bys (not being able to trust your own family members, rare friendships, etc.) and reworks them into something new. Plus there are fairies. Lots of ‘em.

If your father’s spooky old uncle died and left him a gigantic mansion full of beautiful antiques, you’d be thrilled right? Jen certainly is. Not only does she get to live in a kind of West Virginian castle, but there are lots of things to discover. For example, behind the house is a kind of free-standing tower. Despite her dad’s warnings to keep away from it, Jen sets about exploring and finds a beautiful iridescent bottle the size of a softball hanging from the ceiling. This domestic happiness is short lived, however, particularly when Jen’s dad starts dating an overly sophisticated antiques dealer by the name of Moura. Moura is fascinated with the contents of their uncle’s home, but her real goal is to find something she calls a “witch catcher”. A witch catcher that sounds suspiciously similar to the sparkly glass thing Jen already discovered. When the object breaks by accident, Jen suddenly finds herself enmeshed in the trials of a girl by the name of Kieryn who is the daughter of the fairy queen and has been trapped by Moura, a witch. Together the two must free the rest of Kieryn’s fairy kin, break the love spell between Moura and Jen’s father, and trap the witches threatening the fairy land.

The book includes yet another girl with a dead mother living with her devoted father. My mother-in-law once pointed out to me how prolific this particular genre story is. Heck, Disney practically built its empire on it! So I was a little disappointed to see that Hahn had written yet another story with that particular type of family. There are some loose ends left hanging after it comes to a close too. At one point one of the bad guys buys a painting of Kieryn the fairy girl, and we're left to wonder what sinister plans he has for it. I would have loved to have gotten some more information but Hahn isn’t particularly interested in following that line of thought. Just the same, she gets down the wild nature of fairies fairly well. Even after Jen has helped them all escape a fate worse than death, it becomes crystal clear that despite her aid, the fairies still may have sinister plans in store for her.

In a little Author’s Note at the end, Hahn says that the impetus for this novel came when she discovered real witch catchers at a craft fair about fifteen years ago. Enchanted by the story behind them she bought one, hung it in her window, and then set about coming up with a story worthy of such an interesting object. The book is being promoted as “Ms. Hahn’s first fantasy novel”, which is downright bizarre. Ghost stories aren’t fantasy? What are they then? Fact?

Fairy stories abound in children’s libraries. This particular book, however, doesn’t really go into the logistics of their ways. This belongs far more to the genii in the bottle type stories than intensive peerings into fairy lore. As it goes, this particular book will certainly be much beloved by those kids who enjoyed “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and stories like Katharine Langrish’s, “Troll Fell”. It wasn’t the most original work of fantasy I ever encountered but it proceeds at a fast clip, has just the right balance of good characters vs. evil ones, and contains a swell plot to boot. Not an outstanding work in its field, but a nice tale all the same.

On shelves July 24th.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Will No One Stand Up For Goofus?

Oz and Ends this week-end had an amusing post concerning the recent story in the Boston Globe celebrating the 60th anniversary of Highlights. Oz and Ends had this to say on the matter:
The August issue will explain the concept of a billion this way: "If Goofus stacked a billion children on his shoulders, they would reach the moon, wrap around the moon 11 times, stretch back to the earth, wrap around the earth five times, and there would be enough kids left over for 34,944 Little League teams."

But where could we possibly find a billion kids stupid enough to trust Goofus to hold them up?

A good point. Check out the link for thoughts on the revamping of Goofus and Gallant (horrors!).