Fuse #8

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Kookiness

Happy Halloween, girls and boys.

We here at A Fuse #8 Production love the Halloween season. As such, today we're all about the Halloween-related material going on 24/7.

First of all, if you haven't yet seen author Lisa Yee's own method of celebration, you're missing out. I've always associated Peep jousting with Easter, but I see now that it can be a year-long joyous celebration if you just handle your props... uh... properly.

And from bookshelves of doom The Best Thing Ever (her words) and on video.

Plus a biography of Charles Addams is out. Its conclusion? He was "sociable and debonair".

Wrapping up, my new favorite site. Having provided me with such morsels as this:

... it also sports interesting pics from Wizard of Oz, Alice In Wonderland, and Harry Potter.
And that's just for starters!

Costumes Costumes Costumes

I love Halloween. I love Halloween costumes too. I already had my Halloween party this past week-end, and my guests were there in full force. These included, but were not limited to,

People Who Had Been Attacked By Robots and Got Away

People Who Were In the Midst of Being Attacked
(I am on the left)

And the Occasional MySpace Page

There were others, but I think you would have had to have attended a Quaker college to appreciate them fully.

What I really love, though, is when a costume takes it to another level.

I found this via the ever-interesting files of the BB-Blog. You may have to blow it up a little to understand what it's doing. He looks great, but I doubt he'll be able to squeeze through any doorways.

Ghastlycrumb Tiny Quiz

Everyone and their mother commented on this last week, but today is the day to appreciate it fully. Here was my result in the Ghastlycrumb Tiny Quiz:

Which Gashlycrumb Tiny are you?

B is for BASIL assaulted by bears.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

I shouldn't complain. There are worse ways to go. At least this one has the prestige of probably being the way in which Stephen Colbert also fears to die.

Thanks to Big A little a for the link.

A Cat Headed Poodle Walrus

My mother writes me and says that this is funny.
I do not believe her, but I check out the link anyway.
Five minutes later my co-workers think I'm having a seizure at my desk, the way I keep twitching and making loud inappropriate noises.

Best of all, it's Halloween-related (tangentially), so that's all right. Honestly, I wish I could write blogs posts like this. It's just too too good.

Review of the Day: Behind the Mask by Yangsook Choi

Behind the Mask
By Yangsook Choi
Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374305222
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

Around early October, children’s booksellers and librarians perform synchronized shudders as an influx of bad Halloween titles swamp bookshelves everywhere. You can’t get away from them. Will the parents walk off with the repugnant tale of a little witch who just wants to be loved or something ironically sacchrine involving a boy who learns to share his candy? Whatever the case, the sheer piles of Halloween-inspired dreck is heady. With that in mind, a book like Yangsook Choi’s, Behind the Mask comes across as a breath of fresh air in the midst of all this garbage. Choi tells a measured tale of a boy’s wish to have the best and scariest costume for Halloween and throws in a good measure of Korean history and culture along the way. Consider this book the antidote to all the colorful horrible Halloween books that end up clogging the kiddies’ brains.

Kimin has a problem. A Halloween problem. He has no idea what to dress up as this year, and his mom isn’t being much help. All she's done is suggest that he look through his grandfather’s old belongings stuffed away in two heavy boxes. Kimin is aware that his grandfather was once a famous dancer in Korea, but he’s just uncovered a hitherto buried memory from when he was younger. When he was very little, Kimin spied on his grandfather late one night, only to find that the beloved relative had transformed his own face into something horrific. Now, going through the old boxes, Kimin discovers a scary mask that is EXACTLY the face the boy thought he saw that night. Now everything is clear for Kimin, and better still, he’s found his new costume. His choice of disguise comes off as a hit with the other kids, but when Kimin accidentally bruises his family’s priceless family heirloom it’s his mother he’ll have to explain everything to in the end.

Choi makes certain to end her book with a useful Author’s Note at the back, explaining fully what a Talchum, or mask dance, really is. Now I’m not entirely certain why great Korean-American picture books are more plentiful than picture books from many other cultures these days. Maybe it’s just my own perception, but when you’ve such high quality titles like Linda Sue Park’s, The Firekeeper’s Son and Bee Bim Bop alongside, The Have a Good Day Cafe, by Frances and Ginger Park, you begin to take notice. This is by no means Choi’s first book for children, but for those of us who are unfamiliar with her work, it makes for an ideal introduction. The story itself is intriguing. I was particularly interested in Kimin’s repressed memories of seeing his masked grandfather and how that played into the plot. The last image in this book is of the boy asleep under the formerly “scary” mask, which gives the story a lasting feel of comfort. For me, the illustrations were touch and go. Some of them, like Kimin staring longingly out his window on a dark creepy night, have a wonderful tone and feeling to them. Others, like group shots of children on the playground, come across as two-dimensional and flat. By and large these illustrations carry the story along well (though my husband pointed out the Charlie Brown-ish shirt on the cover as a touch distracting).

For those amongst you who might want to pair this title with another dance inspired picture book, consider, Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin by Michelle Lord. Both books use similar illustration styles, but while one speaks of traditional Korean dance, the other concentrates on the dancing style of young girls in Thailand. The two together would make for an eclectic storytime. Original, interesting, and fun, this book is bound to garner itself some well-deserved attention.

On shelves now.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Plus Some Anne With An "E" News

Apparently the success of Geraldine McCaughrean's Peter Pan In Scarlet is giving people ideas. Craaaaazy ideas.
Budge Wilson, a Governor General's Literary Award finalist with twenty-nine novels to her name, has been commissioned to write the prequel, titled BEFORE GREEN GABLES. "When Penguin asked me to write this prequel, I was faced with an enormous challenge. But it was this challenge that made me want to write the book. "Given the appalling deprivation and emotional starvation of Anne's years in the Thomas and Hammond households and during her four agonized months in the orphanage, one is mystified as to how she became the person she was when she made her first journey to Green Gables with Matthew Cuthbert. How could she have become so vibrant a person, so talkative, so articulate, so optimistic, so full of extravagant dreams? This was the enticing puzzle that drew me into the project."
Because when you sit down and think about it, there just aren't enough bad ideas in this world being put into play.

Budge, for the record, has never had a book that took America by storm. This, however, may launch her little name heavenward.

Thanks to Galleycat for the link.

"He Has Six-Year-Old Teeth, Which Means Half of Them At Right Angles To One Another"

Podcasts are slowly becoming less frightening to me. Why this change of opinion? Credit, in part, this lovely lovely podcast with Eoin Colfer. I've seen him speak and he won my love instantaneously. And once you've won my love, my dearest darlings, that love can never be taken away. This is the only man you can listen to and really adore when you hear him teasing and plotting against a six-year-old with an unnatural resemblance to Gollum. Irish storytelling at its best.

Oh. And here's some Jonathan Stroud talking a bit about Ptolemy's Gate. That's fun too.

Adoption = Book Promo

Man oh man.
What some people won't do to sell a book.

Again, thanks to Galleycat for the link.

Review of the Day: The Cat With the Yellow Star - Coming of Age In Terezin

A couple of years ago, Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner collaborated together to bring the world a picture book by the name of “Brundibar”. Based on the opera that the Jewish children of the Terezin concentration camp had to sing, the book was filled to brimming with good intentions and sadly lacking in any and all factual information. It was more a labor of love than a book meant to enlighten children as to the significance of its content. When “Brundibar” came out, it felt as if it was reliant on a book that had not yet come to exist. Where oh where was the children’s work of non-fiction that would tell younger kids what Terezin was, why “Brundibar” was important, and what it all meant? Three years later, Holiday House publishes Ms. Susan Goldman Rubin’s, “The Cat With the Yellow Star” and a gap in children’s collections everywhere is filled. And quite frankly, no other book could have felt quite as satisfying as this.

The story of young Ela Stein begins on Kristallnacht in Sudetenland, after it was annexed to Germany. Ela was eight when that terrible night occurred, and she and her family soon ran away to Czechoslovakia. Then, in 1942, Ela was sent with her mother to Terezin from their home. A converted fortress, the camp was a place where Ela and the other children who lived with her in Room 28 would secretly study, learn art, and cast themselves in the opera Brundibar. In the show, Ela was cast as The Cat and the Nazi leaders of the ghetto decided that they would use the children’s show as an example to the Red Cross of how well they treated their Jewish prisoners. Of course, of the 10,632 children sent to Terezin, only 4,096 survived. Ela was one of those survivors and the book shows how she grew up, met her friends from that time period years later, and has participated in Brundibar productions ever since. The end of the book shows a magnificent series of shows performed by children and Ela’s presence at them over the years.

The title is a rare creation: A children’s book memoir under fifty pages. As with her other 2006 publication, “Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter”, Ms. Rubin is particularly good at writing factual biographies for younger readers. She knows that you can pen a book without growing overly reliant on chapters of fifty pages or more. As such, a lot has been left out of “The Cat With the Yellow Star”. The book makes the assumption that kids reading this will already be familiar with Hitler, the Holocaust, and The Final Solution. “The Cat” concentrates primarily on Ela’s tale, and explanations will not be forthcoming for those kids that don’t already have some of the basics of this story down. A person could learn so much from this book too. The fact that in 1945, “the Nazis turned Terezin over to the International Red Cross” as a way of liberating the prisoners amazed me. Ela’s mother even stayed on when her daughters left because she had been hired by a female Russian officer as a maid. Rubin carefully culls all the information she has been given, then keeps the book moving seamlessly from page to page. You may not be able to remember all the names of the girls as Ela befriended them, but you care for them just the same.

The level of documentation in terms of pictures, photographs, records, and images in this book is also astounding. Paintings created by the children of Room 28 are reproduced here and are sometimes able to shock because of what they leave you to figure out on your own. For example, there is a watercolor created by Ela’s friend Helga called, “Arrival In Terezin” that shows families walking past a guard into the camp. Look closely at the picture and you’ll see that everyone in the picture is smiling pleasantly, as if this were just a Sunday stroll in the park. Why would Helga present the people in this picture this way? Was it because she worried that the guards might see it and hurt her if they thought it was anti-Nazi propaganda? Was she just automatically making the smiles without thinking about it? Pictures of this sort raise all kinds of interesting questions suitable for debate amongst child readers. Of course, it would have been nice to be able to get a little more information from some of them. There’s a photography of the “special ghetto money” printed specifically in Terezin that shows an old man with a beard holding two stone tablets with Hebrew writing on them. The bills themselves even have small stars of David on them. Why would the Germans have taken this level of care in creating money for people they were just intending to kill anyway? Was this a part of the Nazi effort to fool the Red Cross into thinking that people were being taken care of? Maybe just a little more info here and there wouldn’t have been out of place.

Not that Ms. Rubin ever skimps on the quality source material. The Acknowledgments alone are worth the price of admission. Ms. Rubin’s Source Notes are of equal interest, to say nothing of the excellent list of Publications, Articles, Videos/DVDs, Sound Recordings, Interviews, and Internet Sites all clearly presented and beautifully aligned. If I’m going to get picky I might suggest that Ms. Rubin could have placed her four sentence Author’s Note at the beginning of the book (where it would have put everything to follow in context) rather than at the end, but that's neither here nor there.

All in all, this is a truly impressive piece of work. It pairs rather nicely with Kushner and Sendak’s, “Brundibar” (which only makes sense in conjunction WITH this book, to be frank) as well as the recent Jennifer Roy title, “Yellow Star”. “The Cat With the Yellow Star” really makes an effort, though, to show how life in a concentration camp wasn’t the be all and end all in Ela’s life. She made friends, left, created a life of her own, and is still speaking about what happened to this very day. This book is a testament to her strength, and it tells an important story to an audience that might otherwise never hear it. Certainly worth eyeing, at the very least.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wikipedia As a Teaching Tool

Like many librarians I have a love/hate relationship with Wikipedia. On the one hand, the very marrow of my bones starts to quiver whenever I hear someone refer to it as a research tool (someone = my husband). On the other hand, what's my one-stop destination of I want an all-purpose definition for something like, oh say, rutabagas.

What place could Wikipedia possibly have in the classroom? As always it's Monica Edinger with the answer. When a technology guru spoke to her class about the pedia of wiki, she took one look at a crummy plot summary of Charlotte's Web on the site and knew she had a lesson on her hands. The post is, in fact, so useful that next time I see Monica I'm going to try to wrangle her into making it an article for School Library Journal or some other national publication. Necessary reading, to say the least.

The ALA List of Books

I love long rolicking recommended book lists. And the ALA List of books recommended for the upcoming gift-giving season is here for 2006. Some interesting choices spot the list. I hadn't even really heard of Sue Corbett's Free Baseball, and The Entrance Place of Wonders: Poems of the Harlem Renaissance as selected by Daphne Muse has never crossed my doorstep. More to read, I see.

Took A While, But It's Here

It's been so long since someone claimed that graphic novels were not "real" literature that I was in serious danger of thinking them legitimate writing.

Thank God we've Tony Long to put us in our place.

Aw. Cry me a river.

Galleycat said it far better than I could on the matter:
Sounds like somebody's got a "real novel" gathering dust in a drawer someplace (or, these days, taking up space on a hard drive), and I bet he's a crummy draughtsman to boot. Comics newsblogs are being restrained in their attention to Long's whiny complaint, but bestselling author Neil Gaiman, who flits between comic books and real novels with the greatest of ease, gets in a blistering oh-shut-up retort: "I suppose if he builds a time machine he could do something about Maus's 1992 Pulitzer, or Sandman's 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, or Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan winning the 2001 Guardian First Book Award, or even Watchmen's appearance on Time's Hundred Best Novels of the 20th Century list. Lacking a Time Machine, it seems a rather silly and antiquated argument, like hearing someone complain that women have the vote or that be-bop music and crooners are turning up in the pop charts."

Review of the Day: Mama's Saris

I guess I never really realized that it was a universal instinct. You are born. You grow a little older. And then one day your raid your mother’s closet, trying on her dresses, shoes, scarfs, and so on for the sole purpose of becoming, if only for a little while, older. I remember trying on my mom’s wedding dress once, in all its frilly early 70s lace glory, and I was not a child usually prone to “playing dress up” as it were. Imagine then if you had a mother that wore clothes that had names like Zardosi, Banarasi, and Kalamkari. Pooja Makhijani has taken a very simple concept and has expanded it to encompass the whole wide world. With simple language and just the right words, she conveys better than anyone what it can mean to a daughter to find herself made into the image of her mom.

A small girl is about to celebrate her seventh birthday and you know what that means. Time for Mama to pull out the suitcase of saris she always stores carefully under her bed for special occasions. On this day in particular she lets her daughter pick out which sari to wear. Will it be the black chiffon one that “shimmers like the nighttime sky”? Or how about the blue with the gold flowers that dance along its border? No, nothing but the brilliant orange, “with edges that look like they have been dipped in red paint”, worn on the day when our little girl was first brought home from the hospital will do. Only, it’s not enough. The girl wants to finally wear a sari of her own, and this time, because it’s her birthday, she’s finally getting her wish. She is swathed in blue, bangled to match, and then in the final crowning touch is given the kiss of beautiful glittery bindi right in the center of her forehead. And when asked what she thinks, the kid answers in delight, “I think I look like you!”

There’s an awfully helpful Author’s Note at the beginning of the book that provides quite a bit of sari-related information for people who, like myself, haven’t been initiated into the world of Kantha and the like. Says Ms. Makhijani, “I wrote Mama’s Saris after realizing that my own fascination with my mother’s fancy clothes was not unique. It seemed as if each of my female friends, regardless of ethnicity or age, remembers being captivated by her mother’s grown-up clothes.” True nuff. Extra points for the rather nice Glossary of terms, also at the front of the book, that defines everything from what a didi is to chaniya choli, alongside pronunciations. As for the text itself, it really does convey the yearning many a little girl feels towards becoming as glamorous as her mother. Add in the extra delight of dress-up and you’ve got yourself a book that speaks to all kids of all persuasions.

Now sometimes the stars align in just the right way to allow a first-time picture book author like Ms. Makhijani to be paired with just the right illustrator. What this book required was an artist that could match the author’s eloquent ode to the sari in a realistic fashion. A messy illustrator or representational one working primarily in the realm of splotches and blots would not have done this book any justice at all. Elena Gomez is no newcomer to the world of picture book illustration, but she has yet to be recognized fully. And in the case of "Mama's Sari", she proves herself to be especially good at repeating vibrant patterns in this story, and everything from the bedspread to the saris to the wallpaper is reproduced here magnificently. I also enjoyed the moments when the narrator would discuss a moment from the past and Gomez would accommodate by showing the characters from that moment as snapshots lovingly framed and fallen against a multitude of glorious fabrics. Interestingly enough the artist’s figures are far more natural when they aren’t side-views of faces. Sometimes a shot from the side will look a little forced or unnatural. It rarely happens, however, and she makes up for these with pictures like the magnificent view of the girl’s mother smiling in her vibrant orange and red sari, as her daughter pouts over her left shoulder, simultaneously entranced and envious.

All in all, a soft and sweet little book. Written with love and illustrated with obvious care, it definitely is a keeper through and through. Consider adding it to your own collection should you feel you need to beef up your mother/daughter selection. A perfect Mother’s Day gift, to say the least.

On shelves May 2007.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Review of the Day: Changeling

When you find yourself a New York resident living and worked right smack dab in the center of this magnificently overblown city, you being to lose your perspective. Sure, I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but living in Manhattan is like drinking from the water of Lethe. I forget little things, like the fact that the world does not, in fact, revolve around NYC. So when I pick up something like “Changeling”, I find myself in a difficult situation. The book is a heckuva lot of fun, but I have to remember that all the places in it are New York-based. My responsibility as a reviewer, then, is to determine how well “Changeling” will relate to a kid living in Alaska or Hawaii. Will non-New Yorker children enjoy this book? Well, quite frankly I can’t see how they wouldn’t. I mean, it’s not the deepest piece of fiction you'll ever peruse, but it certain does owe a certain amount of allegiance to the form and function of fairy tales and quests. Plus it’s fun. Did I mention that its fun?

We’ve all read plenty of stories from the point of view of Changelings in the past. Sometimes, as I’m sure you all know, a human baby will be exchanged for its fairy Changeling double. The Changeling will grow up as a human, never quite knowing why it's different from its fellows. Well Neef isn’t a Changeling, but a child stolen by the fairies at quite a young age. Since then she has grown up in Central Park as the official Central Park Changeling. Her world exists apart from the world we live in, where all sorts of supernatural beings interact. As a human, Neef is naturally curious and when her curiosity upsets the Green Lady of Central Park (the ruling Genius) she comes in direct contact with the Changeling that once replaced her. Now Neef and Changeling are bound on an impossible quest to get the both of them home as fast as humanly, or rather magically, possible.

There’s no denying that the book has a distinctly Manhattan (not Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, or Bronx) feel. The Green Lady of Central Park, for example, could have sounded like your standard Midsumer Night’s Dream fairy queen. Instead, she’s far more prone to say things like, “Okay, kid, here’s the scoop.” And then there are little details, like the fact that even otherworldly spirits would kill to see “Wicked” on Broadway, if they could. I appreciated too the fact that Sherman wasn’t afraid to play with some old NYC standards. For example, the author had the wherewithal to notice that Kay Thompson’s, “Eloise”, is a good example of pure unvarnished evil. In this book she rules the Plaza Hotel and is the “official Patroness of Spoiled Brats everywhere.” Also, though I’m sure it’ll stick in the craw of some, for better or for worse George M. Cohan is now a vampire (and that goes double for Lynn Fontanne).

I did have a bit of a problem with the book equating Asperger’s Syndrome with Changlings. It seemed a risky correlation for Ms. Sherman to make. She’s never blatant about it, of course, but a quick examination of Changeling’s personality (she says that when she was younger she needed a therapist to help her develop social skills) coupled with the note in the book’s Acknowledgment section that reads that someone, “gave me an invaluable education on Asperger’s Syndrome”, was enough to put my hair on end. We don’t really want to equate Asperger’s with someone being physically from another world, do we?

So how does the book hold together as a whole? It’s very nice. For anyone who enjoys a good series of impossible quests, this book may be right up their alley. The character of Neef is willful without ever becoming annoying or unsympathetic. I was a little surprised at the ending, personally, but it’s entirely possible that Ms. Sherman is setting this book up to be the first in a series, if it does well. The types of fairies found here also have the same feel as those you’ll see in Eoin Colfer’s, “Artemis Fowl”, so fans of one may enjoy the other. And Sherman is kind enough to provide us with an elaborate glossary of the supernatural beings that crop up in this book.

And now, a personal kvetch. Early in the book we learn that, “Important New York places – Wall Street, Broadway, Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library, the Village – have Geniuses.” Very cool. And just at the beginning of Neef’s quest it is suggested that she visit the library to get some useful information. I, an employee of such a system, was briefly delighted. Then Neef doesn’t go, and we never get a glimpse of an otherworldly library system. Alas. The mentions of the library (there are two) suggest to me that there may have been a scene there in an early “Changeling” draft and that they were cut out so as to keep the narrative flowing smoothly. And while I celebrate the hopping speed of the book itself . . . bummer.

All in all, a pleasant little creation that deserves a look-see. Both Tamora Pierce and Holly Black were kind enough to give blurbs for the final book, so if you know of anyone who enjoys titles by either of them, you may wish to consider handing this little number over as well. A New York book that doesn’t require that you live here to appreciate it. And in spite of the all too obvious lack of librarians, a great read.

Notes On the Cover: Okay. Who did Delia Sherman’s agent bribe to get this magnificent cover? I mean, seriously people. Do you know what the odds are that a person with their first stand-alone children’s book (she’s worked on children’s anthologies in the past) would get this kind of eye-popping glamour? Very very high. I’m reviewing off an ARC here, so I can’t tell you who the cover artist or designer was that came up with this most spectacular piece of fantasy-laden magnificence. Needless to say, if a kid is into fairies, you will find yourself completely and wholly unable to wrench this puppy from their sticky little hands. My sole objection is that Neef is often referred to in this book as having a round belly. The waif on this cover, however, looks like she could use a sandwich or two. Otherwise, it’s perfect perfect perfect. Viking really does spend quality time on their covers.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bad News. Really Really Bad News.

My husband warned me last night that if I didn't post about this ASAP, someone would beat me to it. That someone was Oz and Ends (of course) but I'll put in my two-cents as well.

Remember that whole Path to 9/11 brouhaha involving a film that was, to put it lightly, less than entirely accurate?

Remember director David Cunningham?

Guess what's he's working on now?

Director David Cunningham ("The Path to 9/11") will helm fantasy epic "The Dark Is Rising" for Walden Media and 20th Century Fox reports Variety.Part of a five-book series by Susan Cooper, "The Dark Is Rising" focuses on a youth who discovers at age 11 that he's a Sign Seeker, last of a group of immortals dedicated to fighting a growing presence of dark forces. He comes to the realization that he's charged with saving the world.Cunningham has already headed to Romania, where he'll prep the film for an early 2007 start and a September 28th release. The studios hope to launch a major kiddie fantasy franchise along "Narnia" lines

I knew that Walden Media was owned by a right-winger, but I never dreamed they'd get their hands on Cooper's masterpiece. Guess that scene in The Dark Is Rising where Merriman says the battle in the church is not one for the rector to fight (page 143, in case you're curious) won't make the director's cut.

For more info, definitely check out the take at Oz and Ends.


This just in via the ALSC listserv:

It is with sadness that we report that Theodore Taylor, author of numerous award-winning titles, including Harcourt's Billy the Kid, The Weirdo, and Timothy of the Cay, passed away this morning at his home in Laguna Beach.

A former merchant marine in World War II, he worked as a journalist before becoming a press agent in Hollywood. He was an associate producer and worked on seventeen major films, ending with Tora! Tora! Tora!

Talyor is perhaps best known for his modern classic, The Cay (1969). Over the course of twenty-three years following the publication of The Cay, Taylor received more than 20,000 letters from readers requesting a sequel to the beloved bestseller. In 1993 he published Timothy of the Cay, a prequel-sequel, which garnered many accolades, including an NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, an ALA Best Books for Young Adults, the Judy Lopez Memorial Award, and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

A Trip To the Brooklyn Arden

You guys are all perfectly aware that we're having a kidlit drink night on November 6th at Sweet & Vicious around 6 p.m. again, yes? Good, because Cheryl Klein has offered a kind of plea:

I will buy a drink for the person who comes up with the best alternate name for said drinks night; the name must contain fewer syllables (and especially fewer plurals). I nominate "Happy Bunny Hour," but I'm sure you all can do better. Take it away!

Too many bunnies for me. I'm still recovering from the one on LOST. Anyone have a smattering of inspiration they'd like to share?

Actually, that's not Cheryl's only recent plea. She also mentions that she is editing a, "book-length retelling of 'Rumplestiltskin' that has been described as 'a mystery, spun with a ghost story, woven with a romance, and shot through with fairy tale.' It is very, very good, and will be published in Spring 2008."

Great book, but again we have no name. Offer your suggestions to Ms. Klein if you are feeling extra extra brilliant. No making names with the word "spindle" in them either. The "Rumplestiltskin" story does not involve spindles. Know your spinning wheels, people.

Challenge (Usually They're More Interesting Than This)

I was sitting at the Reference Desk, minding my own business, when I came across the following statement on the Chicken Spaghetti blog:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig around for that "cool" or "intellectual" book on your shelves. (I know you were thinking about it.) Just pick up whatever is closest.

I did. Here's what I found:

"I would like to know the truth about all these rumours and I am Your devoted Uncle, Aesculpaius Cultellus. Six weeks later, Gladius Ensa, the nephew, a captain of the VII Gallic Infantry, answered as follows: My dear Uncle, I have received your letter and I have obeyed your instructions. Two weeks ago our brigade was sent to Jerusalem. There have been several revolutions during the last century and there is not much left of the old city."

Dull, eh? This is a good kidlit quiz question, by the way. Can you name the book? In a way, it's the first of its kind.

And I Thought I Was So Special

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Foo. I'm off to change my name to Moxy Freedomfighter then.

Thanks to Librarianne for the link.

Six Word Stories

Everyone on the web has apparently been talking about these, so I see no need to stay silent on the subject. As I discovered initially through bookshelves of doom, dozens of writers recently attempted to create stories consisting entirely of six words. My favorites?

I’m dead. I’ve missed you. Kiss … ?
- Neil Gaiman

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card

Easy. Just touch the match to
- Ursula K. Le Guin

and my favorite

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
- Alan Moore

And then there is the Saints and Spinners version. These are little more kidlit friendly:

Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White:
Some pig! Some spider! No bacon.

Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth, by Patricia Clapp:
"I hate you!"
"Kiss me."

The contributers had some nice ones as well, including:

Lord of the Rings:
"This ring's heavy."
"Throw it away"

Review of the Day: Andy Warhol - Pop Art Painter

The construction of your average everyday children’s book biography is a complex proposition. You have to examine your biographical subject and determine their kid-friendly appeal. If, for example, you are doing a biography of an obscure Pope of limited charm, you may wish to reconsider the task at hand. If, on the other hand, your subject is the infinitely amusing, not to say fascinating, Andy Warhol then you may have better luck. Next, this may shock you, but not all children are the same age. What age group are you writing for? It sounds backwards, but it’s sometimes more difficult to write for younger rather than older children. Author Susan Goldman Rubin, however, has taken the challenge and has fashioned a book that someone under the age of 11 might find of interest. Finally, your pictures. With very few exceptions, young kids are not going to pay your book a whole lot of mind unless you find some cool and colorful photos/art with which to spot your book. In this sense, Ms. Rubin has not been entirely fulfilling. And so, “Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter” is a great read and will certainly have young ‘uns grabbing for it, but it could have been a bit more forthcoming with the pretty pretty pictures of his work. Just my two cents.

He was born Ondrej Warhola in 1928 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Slovakian parents. Never the most athletic of children (at age eight he came down with rheumatic fever), Andy loved comics, paper dolls, and coloring books. Once well, he started going to art classes and it was clear he had found his calling. Readers watch as Andy goes to school, moves to New York, and starts drawing shoes for Glamour magazine. Real pop art was soon to follow as Andy challenged what made something important and worthy of consideration. Can a comic be art if you blow up a frame? What about something as simple as a soup can? What is the worth of celebrity? By showing Andy’s life and the choices he made, Rubin is able to show us a man, his unique style, and why that man and style were important to the world.

Rubin takes certain steps to make the book kid-friendly right from the start. The almost picture book size of this ten by ten inch title makes it clear from the get-go that kids who pick this puppy up won’t have to contest with any 500+ page tomes. The text then pops out at the viewer on top of colored squares that change their hue with the turn of every page. The author also knows that kids like to read about famous people AS kids, so we get a nice glimpse of Andy’s younger years. Mind you, there are only 48 pages in this book and 15 of those are just a Time Line, Glossary, Source Notes, References and Resources, Illustration Credits, and an Author’s Note. Now one of my favorite books about Andy Warhol was, “Uncle Andy’s”, by James Warhola. In that book, Andy Warhol’s actual nephew recounted how he used to visit his favorite uncle once a year and discover through him what “art” was. Rubin doesn’t mention this detail, but does show and tell about Andy’s love of kids. As the book says at one point, “ ‘Children were drawn to Andy like a comic character with his wig askew, glasses and ... jeans,’ remembered Bob Colacello who worked for him for twelve years. ‘Andy loved to talk to kids. He found it interesting.’” And with this book, kids can find Andy interesting right back again.

Here is what I loved. I loved that at the end of the book there was a small section entitled, “Some Museums Where You Will Find Work By Andy Warhol.” Why doesn’t every single biography of an artist DO this? It is infinitely more useful than some of the other stuff they cram into the back of children’s books. Just the same, there is the occasional peculiarity. The Time Line is a bit of an extravagance here. More space filler than anything else, each date included is huge and the nine pages of Time Line after Time Line seem excessive. I would have loved to have seen a lot more of Andy’s work in the book too. Just exchange 8 of those Time Line pages for a couple portions dedicated solely to displaying some cool Warhol work and I’m there. Otherwise, it rankles with the rest of the book.

The other day I covered three tables in my library’s Story Hour Room with books published in the year 2006. At 4 o’clock that day I led in my homeschooler bookgroup, a small collection of kids between the ages of nine and twelve. I told them that we’d be doing something a little different that week. Instead of everyone reading the same book, the kids would have a chance to grab whichsoever book most tickled their fancy. They’d take it, read it over break, and return it to me the next week. Some kids snatched up Susan Cooper’s, “Victory”. Others took great pleasure in reading Janet Taylor Lisle’s, “Black Duck”. And sure as shooting, one of my more reluctant readers found a great deal to love in “Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter”. It’s a lovable book. There are things that I would have changed about it, but that doesn’t make it any less of a wonder. If you’re going to have one children’s biography of Andy Warhol, let it be this one. Definitely a keeper.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Not Velveteen or China, But Something Far More Precious

You are all well and truly familiar with the CBC or Children's Book Council, yes? I don't mention them very often on this site as they are a gigantic organization of such depth and learning that merely looking at their website causes me to quake in my sensible librarian shoes. The CBC, for the uninitiated, is "the nonprofit trade association of publishers and packagers of trade books and related materials for children and young adults." They do a great deal of good work with promoting National Children's Book Week and Young People's Poetry Week.

You might think a group of such importance would be lacking in a sense of humor.
You would be wrong.

Yes, it seems that for the third year now there is to be a "Know-It-All" competition/party called the CBC Trivia Challenge, where staff of various publishers, "compete for bragging rights and, quite possibly, the tackiest trophies you'll ever come across which have been dubbed The Golden Bunnies." This year they will be hosted by none other than Mo Willems, everyone's favorite MC.

Think you know your kidlit trivia? Think again. Here are the 2005 questions and the 2004 ones as well. As you can see, 2005 displayed a definite uptick in difficulty. I didn't do too badly with the 04' list, but once you get to the final challenges of 05' you can just write me off as an ignorant goober. If any of you have ever played Literary Trivial Pursuit and found, to your shock and horror, that the children's book category was really really hard, prepare to relive that shock here.

And Trust Me, Smith/Scieszka Patter Is Hard To Replicate

Stripped Books is an irregularly published, non-fiction strip
covering book- and comics-related events in comics form.
As you can tell from the site, it hasn't been updated since April of this year. I consider this a particular shame since the events recorded on the site are great. I like how creator Gordon McAlpin will attempt to do one strip or another in the style of the artist featured. For example, for Jon and Lane Go To Barnes & Noble (Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith, to exact) Mr. McAlpin does a rough Lane Smith approximation. And the Marjane Satrapi speech is almost eerily good. Mr. McAlpin was last interviewed in June, so hopefully more posts will be forthcoming.

Thanks to KT Horning for the link.

Our Frightening Youth

I tell ya. Kids today. I don't know where the youth of America is headed. With their rock and roll and their interwebs and their movie posters.

Take this young 'un, for example. She attends school in Santa Monica and last year in her 7th grade class she created this book-related movie poster:

What scares me is that a middle schooler is creating cooler stuff than half the adult movie poster-makers (there must be a better word for that) out there today.

Thank to Beth for the link.


Consider these three little items too small to warrant their own separate posts. I just discovered that The Toothpaste Millionaire, for years beholden to a crappy ancient cover, has finally been reissued with a new look. Observe:

Place this one in the It's About Bloody Time file.

In other news, I'm in the New York Times . . . . . . obliquely on the review page for the book Deadly Invaders (I'm found under "Read a review"). Hey, man. Beggers can't be choosers. Watch now as I make a headfirst lunge at their Sunday book review section.

And finally, the Forbes list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities was announced this week. Wave hello to Dr. Suess and J.R.R. Tolkein. You can't take it with you, and you can't stop it from pouring in once you're gone.

Review of the Day: Everlost

Simon and Schuster’s favorite Shusterman is back and he’s cooked up a doozy of a new title for general consumption. Proving to the world that he likes a little gritty with his nitty, Shusterman takes a dark turn with a tale of death, life, and an entire world that exists in-between. It’s an elegy to the historical New York region and a fun new way of looking at the nature of ghosts. Because essentially, “Everlost” is a ghost story at its heart. Kids and teens alike will enjoy the story’s arc, and though there are a few loose ends waving about here and there, it’s an enjoyable read just the same. A book with a chance at being remembered as Mr. Neal Shusterman's best.

Two complete strangers collide in a car accident on a treacherous bit of road. Neither person (both children) was wearing their seatbelt at the time. They die, but that’s just on the second page. It seems that Nick and Allie have knocked one another off-course when they were traveling towards "the light" and the two of them find themselves stuck in the middle of a beautiful leafy green forest. They are in the Everlost now, a land somewhere between life and death. No one who ends up in the Everlost is ever much older than fifteen or sixteen, and now our heroes find that the rules they used to live by no longer apply. There is no pain here, but as Afterlights (or ghosts) the kids can only stay in ghostly areas or they’ll sink to the center of the earth. They also have to avoid monsters, roving gangs, forgetting who they are, and falling into comfortable eternal ruts. To get some answers, Nick and Allie join up with the long dead Leif and head towards the Everlost version of New York City to get some answers. How do they leave this impermanent world? Where would they end up if they left? And what is their purpose after all?

Engaging? Entirely. If Shusterman wanted to write a book on how to create first chapters with a bit of bite, this might not be a bad title to reference. Right from sentence one the book gets the reader in a throttle-hold and never lets go. This book has plenty of magic, escapes, villains, mystery, and more to entice a couple reluctant readers here and there. I suspect that reading a chapter a day to a class of kids would work especially well.

The author does an excellent job of thinking up his perfect little world. In fact it's too meticulous in some ways. He has rules for everything to the point where little details that didn’t quite fit would nag at me. For example, once in a while food crosses over to Everlost and children can eat it. As such, Nick at one point gets trapped in a pickle barrel full of Everlost brine. It can’t hurt him, but it’s significantly unpleasant and he stays there for quite some time. Now one would think that Nick would figure that the best way to help his situation would be to drink the pickle brine and keep it from surrounding him if it’s so nasty. Silly? Oh my, yes. But creative kids readers may find lots of situations like this where the heroes don’t act in quite the manner you’d prefer. I also found it interesting that though Allie uses her smarts in various ways, getting herself out of a couple difficulties (though she seems to need rescuing just as often), she never actually saves anyone. Nick, at one point, is captured in quick succession by two wholly different villains. And though Allie works tirelessly to try to save him, in the end he rescues himself alone. Perhaps as a result, Nick ends up with a heroic job to do by the story’s finish while Allie’s fate is left unclear.

Of course Shusterman's language is always a treat. For example, at one point a bad guy has chained a bunch of kids upside down since the only way he can think to torture them is to bore them to death. They just hang there, but Shusterman is quick to remind us that there was always, “the occasional fight, and group sing-along”, which I found rather charming. This is the same evildoer, by the way, who when he finds out that his captives are having a rather nice time says to his best henchman, “Do we have something vile to pour on them?” Shusterman also creates what may be this year’s cleverest villain. You won’t know this person even is a villain for most of the book (though I’m sure that some canny souls will figure it out fairly early in). At the end, however, the real baddie is unveiled and the book ends on a wry note. I don’t know if the author has envisioned sequels to “Everlost” as of yet, he could certainly set himself up for a series here, if he wanted one.

Now there is one little aspect to this book that had me scratching my head and kvetching softly under my breath. The only places an Everlight can remain safely are places that have, like people, met their demise but were well-loved just the same. Old Penn Station, for example, is alive and well in the Everlost. Ditto the Steeplechase Pier and the Steel Pier. However, the Twin Towers appear in this book, and their very inclusion can only be called a calculated risk on Shusterman’s part. How comfortable will readers be seeing the Towers up again and housing hundreds of child ghosts? Is that cool? Is it too soon? As someone who wasn’t a New Yorker on 9/11/01, it doesn’t bother me. I just wonder how people who were in NYC will feel. There is also a mention of the as-of-yet nonexistent Freedom Tower that throws the book for a loop. Perhaps that part of the story will make more sense when and if the tower ever is built.

Some bits in this book work and some don’t. The parts that work include the Hindenburg (minus Nazi tail fins) in a grandiose entrance and the clever usage of a diving horse from Atlantic City. Parts that don’t quite gel include a bizarre reference to Roswell and another to Amityville. But in spite of these little bursts of peculiarity, the book holds together nicely. I didn’t see the twist coming at the end (even with my knowledge of Greek mythology). I liked the people in the book and the ways in which Shusterman chose to break up the text. The world of Everlost has seemingly thought of everything, which is swell. And when you get right down to it, kids are gonna eat this thing up. It may well be Mr. Shusterman’s best work, and it’s certainly an enticing read. Fun. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Condensing Monte Cristo

I cannot post from YouTube.
Am I letting this get me down?
Am I going to let it continue to get me down?
Am I going to find some kind of a workaround just the same?
You betcha.

The YouTube goodie I wanted to feed you involves the all new spooky world of book trailers. We've heard about them here and there, even if we've never seen one up close and personal. What about book trailer book reports, though? Where do they fall into the grand scheme of things? Danged if I know, but this summary of The Count of Monte Cristo has won me over. I'm still trying to figure out if it's authentic. I mean, do teens today still use the term "rad"? Really? That's back in style? Whatever the story behind it, though, consider this to be a possible alternative to those dry book reports we used to give in school when we were young. Now all you need is a projector and an iPod and voila! Instant craziness.

I Went To a Marvelous Party

I received the following anonymous comment this week:
Am I the only person who raises her eyebrows at the money these big publishers throw around? Am I the only person who thought that the Lemony Snicket thing was a huge waste of money? Can't a presentation be professional and appealing (and user-friendly) without overt extravagance? Shouldn't a great book or a great list stand on its own?
It's all in how you look at it. Allow me to point out, however, that the Snicket party was not, is not, and never will be the norm. This was a once-in-a-lifetime blowout event of publisher extravagance that likes of which I shall never see again. But see it I did and now you can too.

The full experience was already written here, so I'll just give you a walking tour of the space.

Okay, so you come in and this is the kind of place you find yourself in.

Kinda cool. You go up the first flight of stairs and see that someone has been given a liberal amount of freedom with that oval mirror in the hallway.

It doesn't take much to create the VFD eye symbol, it seems. And really, it wasn't until I uploaded these pictures that I noticed that this involved magic market at all. Live and learn.

This next little set-up worked on a number of levels. Give it a long look.

The casual passerby could be forgiven for thinking that the face above these framed portraits was their own. At first it looks like a very dirty mirror. Then, as you lean in closer, you see that either you have grown a moustache or that's a painting you're examining so closely.

You have already seen the bathroom/Reptile Room, but here are some action shots.

My husband actually has to physically remove himself from the room when that second picture comes up. He has a snakes in bathrooms fear. No, really. He does.

I found this cutie tucked away one of the space's many hidden rooms.

And then we get to the ridiculous overabundance of delicious food. See the round thing sitting in the center of the table below?

Do you know what that is? I'll give you three guesses. Soup? No. A gigantic melon the size of a punchbowl? No. Ice cream? No no no. It's cheese. The largest parmesan cheese in the world. You basically walk up to it, grab a knife, hack off a chunk, and devour it. And that guy in white behind it? Slicing mozarella as we speak. Turn around and you had the macaroni and cheese and pot pie . . .

. . . albeit in teeny tiny ramekins. So that was that. I did not get a photo of Mr. Handler since it seemed rather silly. No one else, for the record, was taking any photographs and I felt a bit gauche. Gauche and librarianish. Hence I left and attended the official release of the book at Barnes and Noble. My view of Mr. Handler at the previous party had been from a 2 foot to 3 foot distance. My view of him at Union Square?

He's the one on the left with the accordian. Stephen Merritt is on the right singing the song Shipwrecked. Yes, I really was that far away. On the down side, not the best view. On the upside, I saw these kids below me.

Do you see what they're doing? By the yellow wristbands you can tell that somebody stood in line at 10 in the morning (for a 4:00 signing) so that they'd get a closer view of Mr. Handler when he signed books. Until that happy time occurred, however, they were perfectly content to sit on the floor painting this elaborate picture of a book entitled, "Violet's Diary" instead. He could sing all he wanted at the front of the room. They were having none of it until they finished the last touches on this, his present. Note the nice use of VFD on the left photograph. A pleasant end to a remarkable experience.

Republican Finds a Use For Children's Books

Unfortunately it's ... well.... here's the title of the article:

Candidate Proposes Using Textbooks As Shields

As Maud Newton said, "Note that this link is not to The Onion", hard as that may be to believe.
Bookninja, on the other hand, had this to say on the matter:
A school type in the US has suggested all students be provided with thick textbooks to use as shields during what seem to be the weekly shootings down there. Nice metaphor. I remember that old version of Snakes and Ladders based where the justification for a climb or slide was based on a set of morals. One of the longest snakes had a girl leaning back, relaxing at her desk, obviously slacking off from studying. At the bottom of the snake, the same girl was huddled in rags on a bench. If you don’t use your books wisely, you’ll end up fashion-poor and cold. Or in this case, if you don’t use your books wisely, you’re likely to be shot dead by that nutbar kid you’ve been pushing around at recess. Of course, students are free to open these books as well and see if there’s anything useful inside besides the Kevlar pages.

For People Who Wear Prefer To Wear Words On Their Chests

I'm not one of them, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy this from afar. It's cute, but I incline more towards the Radical Militant variety.

Daily Shout-Out

Today's shout-out goes to Virginia Walter, professor in the UCLA MLIS program. Ms. Walter is one of the proud, the few, the MLIS profs who acknowledge and even go so far as to recommend blogs in their contemporary children's lit classes. Ms. Walter is the author of such books as Teens and Libraries: Getting It Right, which means she knows her stuff. Boo-yah, Ms. Walter! We of the Fuse salute you.

Review of the Day: Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventure

I know that Book Buds already reviewed this puppy, but until I finish reading my current novel, I'm down to posting about picture books. Fortunately, this one's a hoot.

You take Viviane Schwarz and you add her to her partner in crime Joel Stewart and things happen. Craaaazy things happen. Crazy mildly disturbing things, but with enough goofiness to allow the duo their place at the children’s literature table. If the innate surrealism of writing “The Adventures of a Nose” together wasn’t enough for them, now they’re back with “Shark and Lobster’s Amazing Undersea Adventures”. The entire book feels like someone picked up a picture book, found the format dull, and decided to shake things up a bit. Okay, maybe more than a bit. A LOT. Charming and wacked out all at once, this is undoubtedly one of the more eclectic titles of the 2006 publishing year. Like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Shark has a confession to make to his best friend, Lobster. Maybe shark is big and scary with lots of sharp teeth, but do you know what he fears more than anything else in the world? Tigers. Now no one else under the ocean has even necessarily heard of tigers, but what shark says about them is enough to give ‘em all the heebie jeebies right quick. After some fast thinking the underwater denizens set about building a protective fort. When that turns out not to be enough, though, they enlist the unknowing help of a sleeping monster. The monster, however, finds itself a little put-out regarding the role it’s supposed to play and after some thrilling chase sequences the it returns to the briny deep. As for shark and lobster, they decide that tigers aren’t anything to be afraid of and all is well in the end.

Now the book is one of those rare horizontal formats. You know what I mean. The kind of thing where you read the story with the book on its side, up to down rather than side to side. Other books have done this in the past of course. I think the best known was probably “Tops and Bottoms” by Janet Stevens (and IT won a Caldecott Honor). Inevitably the reader has to ask if this was a necessary way of presenting the book. I mean, is the author/artist just doing this for kicks or do they have a real reason for wanting elongated pages? “Shark and Lobster” definitely justifies the format, to my mind. The first full spread, after all, shows shark floating frightened in a beautiful blue sea. If a kid can look at this image and comprehend what’s going on then you’ve no need to fear for the rest of the book.

I began this review by talking about how weird this book was, and you might have gotten a small sense of that from my discussion of Shark’s fear of tigers (finned tigers!) or the fact that you read the book from top to bottom. But those weren’t really the weird parts. Remember when I mentioned that Shark and Lobster decide that the only thing to do is find a monster to help them prevent the onslaught of tigers? Allow me to describe this monster to you a little more fully. It has seven eyes, a light at the tip of its tail (on a lantern), what looks like butterfly wings, some tentacles, two arms (wrists akimbo) sticking out of the top of its skull, and freakiest of all, hundreds of high-heel wearing women’s legs. Hundreds. Oh... and a forked nose. She’d be cute if she wasn’t quite so DADA. Time and again, the legs are what stop people when they stare at this book. I’ve never really seen anything quite like them in a children's title before. Monsters come and monsters go, but few look as if they’ve spent their spare hours modeling for Dali on the side. I, personally, think the monster is heavenly, but I guess I could see how some middle-of-the-road people would be seriously weirded out by her appearance. In short, consider handing this book to a kid with easygoing parents. Those of an uptight nature may find monster-dear just a tad off-putting.

With this book, Ms. Schwarz does the writing and drawing and her husband is relegated to coloring only. There’s quite a bit of hand-lettering and some illustrations are drawn in ink, but color-wise this puppy’s been digitally filled in. And that’s all right. It’s not your mother’s picture book and it doesn’t want to be. Instead it’s goofy, and sweet, and will end up being one of those books that plague librarians in future years. Example: “Uh, hi. Do you remember a picture book, it came out in the early 2000s, and it had some ocean stuff with a shark. And there was a monster too, I think. And... and okay, I know this sounds crazy, but I think there were tigers? Does that sound right?” I don’t envy those future librarians. I do, however, hope lots of kids grow to read and love this interesting English import in all its goofy little glory.

Oh. And I've grown rather attached to Ms. Schwarz's blog too. She's British, as it happens. Spells words funny like "favourite". And since I've never run across a British children's author blogger, I may or may not be adding her to my blogroll. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What's Little, Brown, and Read All Over?*

I have been a librarian with the Central Children's Room since January 2006. Less than a year. What I have accomplished in my time alongside such luminaries as the perpetually kvetching Winnie-the-Pooh? Well, I seem to have acquired an odd form of snobbery. A girl goes to 3 publisher presentations and suddenly she's under the distinct impression that at 28 she's seen it all and bought the t-shirt. She has not, for the record, seen it all. That much was proven yesterday when I attended the Little, Brown & Company Spring 2007 preview.

Joining me was none other than the illustrious Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, And a Tea Cozy, my co-worker Warren of Children's Music That Rocks, Monica Edinger of Educating Alice, and many more. Warren, Liz, and I arrived just a touch early at the Time-Warner building, directly across the street from Radio City Music Hall. The Time-Warner building is apparently under the distinct impression that they are a very important location in dire danger of horrible happenings. As such, they are the only building housing a publisher that requires that you have your bag x-rayed on the way in. I almost took off my shoes, it was so airport security-ish. Odd doesn't quite describe the experience.

Once you are inside, however, you proceed past incredibly famous photographic prints and goldfish bowl-like rooms containing board meetings towards the fan-freakin'-tastic Victoria Stapleton who is walking towards you in red shiny heels that would make Dorothy of Oz's tootsies seem drab in comparison. Some publishers will hand you a plate of cheese at their previews. Others satisfy you with a scone and a glass of orange juice. You wanna know what Little, Brown & Co. do? They give you hot foods, cold foods, tiny sandwiches, deviled eggs, spicy chicken, cheesy sticks, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies that are crunchy on the outside and chewy at their center. They give you real honest-to-goodness coke in a glass with ICE. Then you sit down at a table to indulge and perhaps kick yourself for eating lunch that day.

The real joy though is that this house's previews are one of those sit at a table affairs. You eat food and the editors come to you to tell you about their books. The rotate from table to table and all you have to do is munch on your fourth cookie as they describe why this book will be popular or that book a hit. There is, of course, art along the sides of the room for the viewing pleasure of the audience, and a wall of free ARCs with cute little red bags to put them in.

Unlike Random House, LB&C doesn't give you a powerpoint spreadsheet for glancing at afterwards. Therefore, I will only be able to tell you of the books I took home that looked especially promising. Lemme see here...

Atherton: The House of Power by Patrick Carman - I was disappointed with Carman's Elyon trilogy, but was persuaded to give this new series a go for the following highly scientific reasons:
1. It is a 2-parter rather than a trilogy with less than 400 pages, so that's nice.
2. It has a pretty cover and involves a world shaped like a dreidel.
3. I like the premise. It seems to bear some strong similarities to The Edge Chronicles at times, but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli - If you happen to be at a party with Alvina Ling, have her tell you the background to how this book came about. Little, Brown seems to have a pretty good cover season coming up (which is a relief when you consider the fate of poor All of the Above), and this one is perhaps the prettiest of them all. No title on the cover, of course, but then neither did Stargirl.

Miracle Wimp by Erik P. Kraft - I don't read or review YA much, but when I heard that this was the same author as those early chapter books starring Lenny and Mel, I liked the idea of an writer skipping middle readers entirely and creating something older. That and it looks like a quick read.

The God of Mischief by Paul Bajoria - I reviewed the first book in this series The Printer's Devil for SLJ a year or so ago. In my review I pointed out that Bajoria got super sloppy with his ending and NOTHING was resolved. It's a testament to his otherwise engaging writing that I'm willing to give this puppy a chance. But if there isn't an explanation for that mysterious snake behind the wall in this book I am going to be seriously pissed off.

Celeste's Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E. Tate - A relation of our own dearly beloved Don Tate, I hear. This looks good. I like the premise, I like the author, and I think it might be worthy reading. We shall see.

A mysterious picture book about the history of country music that is SO COOL that I couldn't help but mention it - It's illustrated by the up-and-coming Bret Bertholf (ironically enough, also the illustrator of The God of Mischief) and it was by far the most impressive piece on display. Unfortunately I didn't write down the title and LB&C wasn't handing out any ARCs of picture books. *growl* Amazon doesn't even have the book up yet, so memorize this name instead - Bret Bertholf. Bret Bertholf. When the book comes out you'll know what I'm talking about. It's Frankenstein Eats a Sandwich meets Honky-Tonk Heroes and Hillbilly Angels.

There had been a mention of a "surprise guest" for the evening in my invite, but I hadn't given it much thought beforehand. Turns out that Marc Brown was stopping by for a howdy. He's recently illustrated a book with Rosemary Wells about obesity (delivered, I might point out, after my second brownie and third chocolate chip cookie) and he signed posters for one and all. I had him sign one for my new little niece born this past September, though hopefully her parents won't think I meant it as a hint or anything.

Maybe this will amuse only me, but at first I was especially amazed that the LB&C presentation didn't feature roving bands of attractive young women. Young editorial females of incredible chic are usually prowling around their own publisher parties, usually in large groups. For most of the day, however, I didn't see any except for the people talking with us and I wondered if this would be an event free of under 30-year-olds by the dozens. That curiousity was well-satisfied when Mr. Brown took to the podium. Suddenly these attractive young women popped right out of the woodwork, clustering around the doorways to hear what the creator of Arthur had to say. *snicker*

All in all, a fine fine showing. Classy white tablecloths, great guests (kudos for getting someone who could call Mr. Rodgers a "good friend"), fabulous food, books galore, and even some mentions of the Class of 2k7. So if you happen to get an invite to one of these shindigs, do yourself a favor and go. My 2007 galley pile is now reaching immense proportions and I couldn't be happier.

*With apologies to Alvina.

New Search Engine

Which is putting it mildly. The future of search engines or the reason why Target is offering a sexy librarian costume this season?
Personally, I'm rather entranced with her handsome intern. He only crops up once in a while, though.

Where the Wild Things Ain't

Not every day is full to brimming with a wide assortment of delicious children's literature news. The sad truth of the matter is that bloggers like myself must sometimes scramble to find anything even tangentially related to my profession. Some days this is easy. Let's say, for example, that Maurice Sendak decided to tap dance naked at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes. Now THAT would be a good news day! Too good, probably. It would be better if he tap danced naked with the Rockettes in my living room. I'd be the only one who knew about it, making mine the exclusive blog to watch. This goes double if I remember my digital camera.

Then there are days like today. I mean, aside from the already described Little, Brown & Co. Spring preview, there ain't a lot to say.

So what do we do when the going gets tough?
We blog about freezing shadows, THAT'S WHAT!

This high-tech strobe freezes shadows on the wall – you keep moving, but your shadow doesn't. Add doodles, details and other drawings with the special light pen.
Oh, BB-Blog. The hours of enjoyment I've suffered at your hands more than makes up for my hollow little lie of a life.

Not too long ago I showed you some cool clouds from the bloomabilities blog. Now I've a whole lovely link to billions of freaky creations like so:

... or this ...

And in a final bit of this-has-nothing-to-do-with-kidlit schtoof, wherefore do they fear my love?

Shout Out To My Kidlit Peep

This one's going out to Judy Freeman who, in turn, gave Fuse #8 one heckuva shout-out at the Rutgers University writers' conference on Saturday. Judy, I only just heard of this and I totally owe you a coke. I was mentioned alongside Planet Esme as a hip and happening blog to visit. I'm so proud. Ms. Esme and I both do the book a day thing (she does more books but I do more days), and it is an honor to rest in such distinguished company. I'm off to powder my nose.

Party on, Judy!

Review of the Day: Noah's Mittens

I grew up the daughter of a fiber artist. There are, of course, a couple distinct advantages to growing up surrounded by wool day and night. You never lack for warm colorful sweaters. You eventually learn how to spin yarn from wool on a real live spinning wheel. You can dye wool with Kool-aid once in a while for kicks (this is true). On the other hand, there was one element of my fiber-rific life that never really won me over. My mother loved creating little brightly-hued felt balls out of wool. Just take an old pair of nylons, stuff a ball of wool into the toe, tie it tight, throw it in the washing machine and voila! Instant felt. I had actually forgotten about my felting past for a spell, until I picked up Lise Lunge-Larsen’s recent attempt to spice of the Noah’s Ark story. Entitled, “Noah’s Mittens”, the book sent me back to my feltin’ youth with a rush of memory. Though I’ve seen plenty of picture books talk about sheep, where wool comes from, and sometimes even how to spin fiber, I’ve never seen anyone try to explain the process of felting to children. Credit Ms. Lunge-Larsen, then, with being one of the first.

Thought you knew the story of Noah? Think again. There’s more to that tale than meets the eye. As we all remember, Noah was told to build an ark and, because he asked good questions, he was able to create it, stock it with two of every kind of animal, and set sail. Not everything was hunky-dory on the voyage, however. Noah had sealed the boat with pitch which had seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, that meant that “no moisture or heat could escape”. And even then, that might not have been so bad, had the sheep not suffered so terribly. Trapped in a situation where the wool fibers would lock together and shrink in the hold, the sheep are soon trapped in white, tight felt. Noah cuts it off and all is well, until the ark comes to a stop at the top of snowy icy Mount Ararat. Now Noah must make use of this new substance if he’s going to find a way to navigate down the mountain in peace and comfort.

You may remember illustrator Mr. Matthew Trueman from his eye-popping work on what may well be called the best Rosh Hashanah picture book ever, “The Day the Chickens Went On Strike”, by Erica Silverman. As an artist, Mr. Trueman gives this book enough zip and verve to attract the eye, sometimes against its will. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not Noah’s Ark oriented, and this title could easily have escaped my notice had Houghton Mifflin failed to engage Mr. Trueman’s talents. “The illustrations are mixed media using pencil, gouache, acrylics, and collage, with an overglaze of oil paint”, says the publication page. In other words, gorgeous. Pictures of Noah, whether he’s plowing a field or tumbling down a flight of stairs are packed to brimming with energy and action. At times, his fingers and toes become geometric, echoing the boxy pattern of the ark and its denizens. Squares of action or characters float on top of the wavey seas, sometimes with hash marks scrawled to count the days. Best of all, Trueman isn’t afraid to go for the clever visual gag. When two beavers set about chewing the ark to pieces in the hold, the image ties in nicely to Lunge-Larsen’s appropriately vague statement that Noah would, “settle disputes” onboard.

The story, as it happens, was thought up when the author learned from a friend that Noah discovered felt upon the ark. In fact, in a final section of the book entitled, “Facts About Felt”, the writer goes on to say that “the oldest pieces of felt ever found were discovered in Turkey, home to Mount Ararat, where the ark landed.” Such a statement was just bound to end up in a picture book someday. Why not now? The story actually holds together rather well. Mount Ararat being a mountain and all would OF COURSE have been covered in snow when the Ark landed. There are little elements to the tale that work rather well too. I liked how Lunge-Larsen was careful to mention that Noah was smart because he asked good questions. I liked the characters, the plot, and the way in which the book was written. The book doesn’t go into why God thought it would be a good idea to rain for 40 days and 40 nights, though. In fact, the words 40 days and 40 nights never appear in the text. Be aware then that this book is making the assumption that kids are already familiar with Noah’s tale and don’t need to hear it word for word recounted here.

I adored too the aforementioned facts at the back of the book that mention felt’s appearance in everything from the felt shield and helmets of the Chinese warriors to the end of your felt-tipped pen. Of course, it would have been nice if the author had provided some quick and dirty instructions for creating your own felt. I guess wool is not as abundant in some places as in others, but cheapo yarn can certainly be felted just as easily. Maybe the publisher didn’t want to give up the space, though. Besides, at least there’s a nice little Bibliography of four feltmaking books for those kids, parents, educators, and librarians that might be interested in creating their own felt creations.

A bit of a quibble with one element of the book, though. The back flap’s illustrator info reads that the mighty talented Matthew Trueman, “had fun researching the wall carvings, murals and other art of ancient Israel, Mesopotamia, and Turkey.” I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud or anything, but in the midst of all this research is there any particular reason why he failed to look up how many children Noah had? Cause that last image of Noah, his wife, and his young son sledding down the side of Mount Ararat, for all it’s charms, is short about two other sons and three wives. I believe that a person can change little elements of stories to their liking, but when Ms. Lunge-Larson wrote that, “God told Noah and his family to go and people the earth”, that whole peopling process is mighty hard when there’s just one kid on the page. I think Trueman missed the whole two by two element here.

That’s okay, though. I, personally, could just page through this book all day, enjoying the pictures I find there. For sheer beauty, Trueman’s work is hard to match. And it’s nice to see the process of felting finally getting its kiddie lit due. I may complain long and hard when my husband accidentally felts my favorite scarf in the dryer, but I still have a respect for the process. A rather lovely book.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hog Heaven

The owner of this book didn't find the surprise ending a bit funny.
I, on the other hand, think it's a stitch. I will now dedicate every inch of my being towards finding more copies to add to my collection.

Thanks to the Blue Rose Girls for the link.