Fuse #8

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Roger Sutton just posted the Horn Book Fanfare List - Best Books of 2006. It's gotta be the most peculiar list I've seen yet this year. Take a gander. If you don't find yourself saying, "Really? Really really?", at least once, I'll eat my hat.

Richie Partington (if you're on the child_lit listerv, you'll recognize his name) has come out with his own 2006 pics. Richie finally gives my Hardinge-classic the luvin' it deserves. Thank you, Richie!

No Two Are Alike

Yesterday I cooed and ooed over eggs painted by a variety of different children's book illustrators. Today we turn our eyes instead to snowflakes. Snowflakes for a good cause, no less. Yes, Grace Lin and her husband Robert Mercer, according to the Blue Rose Girls blog, "compiled this little gem of a book that features a collection of snowflake art created by dozens of children’s picture book illustrators." The book is called Robert's Snowflakes: Artists' Snowflakes For Cancer's Cure and features work by Eric Carle, Denise Fleming, Marjorie Priceman, David Shannon, Emily Arnold McCully, David Macaulay, Graeme Base, Ian Falconer, David McPhail, Trina Schart Hyman, four of the Blue Rose Girls, and many others. Not only that, but it also sports some poems by Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Janet Wong, Jennifer Holm, Charlotte Zolotow and Crescent Dragowagon, April Halprin Wayland, Carole Lexa Schaefer, Elaine Magliaro, etc.

You can get all the info you'd possibly need here, along with some great shots of the snowflakes inside. Honestly, this might be a good holiday gift for the kidlit lover on your list.

And just to remind you how talented Ms. Lin is in other areas as well, here's what she made for Thanksgiving as posted on her blog.

Turkey Cupcakes. Genius. Is there anything she cannot do?

A Bit of the Old Thursday Round-Up

It's time for the round-up of news insightful, intriguing, or bizarre.

On the bizarre verging-on-disturbing end of the spectrum was this recent headline, Brooklyn judge pens kids' book about unchecked immigration.
In "The Hot House Flowers," self-published by Judge John H. Wilson, an envious dandelion releases her seeds into a hothouse, where they grow and eventually use up so much water and food that there's none left for the plants that were already there.

In the end, the master of the hothouse _ clearly standing for God _ removes the dandelions, and when the original dandelion tries to send more seeds in, the hothouse flowers trample the seeds so they can't grow.
Um... wow. I think Kelly at Big A little a said it best. "ewww".

And speaking of sending messages through children's books, The Star News Online had a great article recently about changes made to North Carolina textbooks over the years. It's always interesting to look at how "history" changes.

Now a week or so ago I cheered loudly over the upcoming Moomin comics collection by Tove Jansson that was released on November 1st. If you would like a closer look at what is actually in that collection, this site has lots of the strips available for your viewing pleasure.

And finally, we've some info on the upcoming Arthur and the Minimoys feature, based on the book by Luc Besson. According to the wonderful Cinematical,
"A mixture of live-action and computer graphics, Martha Fischer previously reported on the interesting cast that contains the voices of pop music icons Madonna and David Bowie. Now it's time to add a whole mess of non-musical names to the list. There are the funny men, like Jason Bateman and Jimmy Fallon, but there are also a whole slew of actors known for their macho image. With the likes of Harvey Keitel, Chazz Palminteri and Robert De Niro also in the film, do the Minimoys have their own collection of mini-mobsters?"
Haven't a clue. Here is the trailer in any case. So odd.

Harriet and Artemis Sitting In a Tree...

I don't have any difficulty writing blog postings every day because there's always going to be some kind of kidlit news out there somewhere. It's more difficult for the authorial blogs, I think. Unless the writer in question is on tour, they may find it hard to come up with much in the way of subject matter. So imagine my delight when I saw the newest topic of discussion on the Longstockings blog. The Question of the Week is: Which two characters from children's or YA literature would make the perfect couple? The answers may surprise you. A tip of the hat to a cool question.

Review of the Day: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Scholastic. $22.99

I’ve been very good. I had a copy of this book sitting neatly on my desk and I read it well over a month ago. Review a book too soon though and everyone will forget about it when the title hits bookstore shelves months later. And since Selznick’s latest doesn’t come out until March I was trying to keep a lid on it. I think I did very well indeed and I deserve a treat. And that treat shall be the chance to review the book properly at long last. My logic may be faulty, but it’s all I have.

No one can really summarize a book any better than the author proper. So what is, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” anyway? “… this is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” In short, what you have is a book that can’t really be lumped into a single genre. With the rising popularity of the graphic novel, authors have been looking at how to let the visual elements of a given story complement the text. Some will weave graphic novel elements in and out, panels on one page, text on another. Others prefer a kind of “Captain Underpants” melding with cartoonish pictures. And while all these books are fun reads, none of them have ever really had the (for lack of a better word) gravitas you’d find in a classic text-only children’s novel. Until now, that is. “Hugo Cabret” is a risk. A 500+ page book that’s told just equally by pictures as it is by text. It is also like nothing you've ever seen before. No other children's book has even come close.

Without Hugo Cabret, none of the clocks in the magnificent Paris train station he lives in would work. Though he’s only a kid, Hugo tends to the clocks every day. But there’s something even more important in the boy’s life than gigantic mechanics. Hugo owns a complex automaton, once his father's, that was damaged in a fire and it is his life’s goal to make the little machine work again. To do so, he’s been stealing small toys from an old shopkeeper in the station. One day the man catches Hugo in the act, and suddenly the two are thrown together. Coincidences, puzzles, lost keys, and a mystery from the past combine in this complex tale of old and new. The story is told with pictures that act out the action and then several pages of text that describe the plot elements. The final effect is like watching a puzzle work itself into clarity.

Selznick is juggling so many different elements and inspirations in this book that you honestly expect the result to be a muddle. Okay. So you have a story involving old-timey movie-maker Georges Melies (he's the old shopkeeper) whose image in this book was modeled on children’s book author Remy Charlip (also an influence). You have an automaton, the history of automatons, and the history of movies themselves. There are photographs of old films mixed in with some bizarre sketches. Then you throw all of this together and add in a story about a boy, a girl, a one-eyed man, toys, keys, and a train station. Boom! Instant book. The fact that this title ISN’T a mess is downright bizarre.

They say that the mark of a good musical depends on how well the songs advance the story’s plot. You can’t just have your characters burst into song and then act like nothing ever happened. The case could be made too for books like “Hugo Cabret”. If there is a picture in this story, it has a purpose. Nothing here was included on a whim. When the book breaks from word to image, it has to be done just right. It has to feel natural. At one point in “Hugo Cabret” our hero is nearly trapped by the Station Inspector. The book reads, “The Station Inspector saw the bandages and loosened his grip, at which point, like a wild animal, Hugo escaped.” What follows is a thirty-six page chase sequence that comes across like a black and white film. And the real star of this show, in the end, is Selznick’s art. The man is doing things with mood and lighting that give the book just the right mysterious feel. Selznick’s pictures are done, for the most part in graphite with plenty of shading involved. At the same time, he knows how to get the viewer involved in what they are seeing. There are moments where the “camera” is zooming in on a particular shot and instantly gets your attention. In the book’s opening, we begin with a shot of the moon that pulls back and follows young Hugo. Then suddenly, we see Hugo look over his shoulder and the picture hits you hard. We’re on the eighteen or nineteenth page and already we’re deeply interested in what we're seeing. We want to know more. Hugo does have some magnificent bags under his eyes at times, and he and the old man's granddaughter Isabelle sometimes look rather similar, but on the whole it’s hard to find anything wrong with what Selznick has chosen to place in this book.

Admittedly, not everything works as smoothly as it might. Selznick has to keep everything in this story moving constantly. Nobody wants to see picture after picture of people just sitting around and talking, after all. So really, the downside to this kind of book is that some degree of characterization and description is lost in favor of plot and theme. The kids in this book go from liking one another, to hating, to liking again in a manner that feels a tad awkward. Motivations are sometimes murky, even if they’re explained later down the line.

But the allure of this book for kids can’t be stressed enough. Selznick is most familiar to children, at this point in time, because of his covers of such Andrew Clements books as “Frindle” and “School Story”. When kids see a Selznick cover, they know to grab it. Children who like big thick Harry Potter-sized tomes will pluck the multi-colored “Hugo Cabret” from its shelves without hesitation. Ironically, though, this is a perfect title for reluctant readers. Though the page count will scare off some, those who’ve been shown the insides will appreciate this unfamiliar form of storytelling. Unlike a graphic novel or a picture book, however, you can’t understand “Hugo Cabret” through pictures alone. You can try, I guess, but you end up with a very different tale from the one Selznick has written. The nice thing is that in spite of all the complicated details and influences at work here, the story itself is straightforward and interesting.

Extra kudos for the spine of this title, by the way. Publishing houses too often forget that sometimes the spine of a book is all a customer is ever going to see of a title. And if there were a Best Spine of the Year Award, I think I know who the winner might be. The spine and back are of Hugo’s face, lit from the side. Just his left eye and part of his cheek are visible on the spine, with the title, author, and publisher information shoved to the bottom. It’s haunting. Does haunting sell? You bet your sweet bippy it does.

It’s hard to say whether or not this kind of format would work with any other book. Really, it’s the fact that so much of “Hugo Cabret”’s plot revolves around black and white movies that allows this book to jump so easily between image and text. If you did something similar with a story about, oh I dunno, a lion in the jungle, it might feel odd. But given Selznick’s subject matter and his careful use of both his own illustrations, movie stills, and sketches, the book holds together. The writing is second to the illustrations, but it’s still heads and tales better than most of the crummy kidlit you’ll stumble across. Sometimes you hold a book in your hands and it feels like a classic from day one. “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” radiates that feeling.

On shelves March 1, 2007.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Best Books From Kirkus

You know what this world needs more of? 2006 best book lists. Boy there just aren't enough of those out there. With that in mind, I have very good news. The Kirkus listing of Best Children's Books of 2006 is out. On the plus side, someone has finally loved Elisha Cooper's Beach as much as I have. On the down side, no Fly By Night in sight. Again, the only conclusion I can reach is that editor Karen Breen never saw the book. My Christmas list just seems to keep on growing and growing this year.

Thanks once again to Kids Lit for the link.

A Tricky Situation

Every day I post a review on my blog and every day I copy that same review onto its Amazon.com page. Before I ever started writing reviews for School Library Journal and the like I broke in my baby teeth on Amazon. Over the years my writing has improved a little and I like to look at the occasional Amazon page to see how many people have (or have not) found my thoughts useful. The danger in doing this sort of thing is that any kid that has to do a book report can lift my words and use them in a homework assignment. I like to believe that a teacher would spot this kind of thing, but that may be wishful thinking on my part.

What should I do, then, when I find my words not on a 4th grader's encapsulation of the newest Newbery winner, but instead in an Alabama newspaper?

A sharp-eyed spotter (who may remain nameless if she likes, or come out and attest to her catch-the-plagiarism skills) brought my attention to a children's librarian. She is the person responsible for writing this article not too long ago. In the piece she summarizes three children's books coming out this holiday season. One of them is Once Upon a Banana. Here's what she says about the book:

“Once Upon a Banana” is slapstick comedy for kids which borders on the insane. The details by illustrator David Small, coupled with the plain, good storytelling (and amazing absence of true bodily injury) make this book a kind of contemporary silent film that will have no difficulty entertaining our pint-sized Buster Keatons.

The story begins with a man and his monkey making a living on the street. The monkey suddenly takes off like a shot to sample a delicious-looking banana sitting at a grocer's stall. Eating the banana and tossing the peel causes a burly motorcyclist to crash into a ladder. That ladder, in turn, has a painter on it who falls into a shopping cart full of vegetables. The ensuing wacky chain of events leads to messy city streets and an indescribable twist of fate for the man and his monkey. Fun...fun...fun!

Now it is entirely possible that two people might read this book and both would come up with phrases like "pint-sized Buster Keatons", "borders on the insane", and "amazing absence of true bodily injury". However, here is my review of the book, done not too long ago. This version is not word-for-word at all times, but I'm more than a little puzzled by her editing of my work. Read the first two paragraphs of my review and then read hers. Honestly, I don't mind it if people use what I've reviewed, but I like to get a little credit for it now and then.

Do You Trust Me?

At the end of any given work day I may find myself scrounging about the office in some vain attempt to locate a book worth reviewing on my blog that night. I get my books from fellow librarians, directly from publishers, from authors, from editors, and from people who just want me to see something that they think is worth giving a second glance. Heck, nine times out of ten my books come from the huge pile of ARCs sitting in my boss's office. I honestly don't keep very good track of how one book or another falls into my lap. Then I saw this link through Jen Robinson's Book Page:

The pitfalls of receiving free books, or how not to risk your book blogging credibility.

Personally, I think it's time that book bloggers came clean. It might sound ridiculous, but I honestly think we need a code of conduct. We need to tell our readers when we are reviewing free books or when we are taking part in marketing exercises, because if we don't we run the risk of just becoming yet another cog in the public relations industry. And surely the reason we all started blogging about books was because we were sick of the mainstream media's treatment of books. If we don't clean up our act now, we might as well forget any notion of reading unbiased, reliable and truthful reviews online, because how will we ever be able to tell the difference between a genuine review and one written on obligation? I don't think it is any exaggeration to say that our credibility as book bloggers is at stake.

There's more to it than this, but you get the general gist. I don't spend sleepless nights fretting about my credibility, partly because I don't get paid for this blog. It's amazing the lackadaisical manner one can adopt when one's spending money is not endangered by your online hobby. However, it would be silly of me not to acknowledge that maybe you faithful buckaroos and buckarettes want to know if I've a personal stake in any of the books I promote. You already know that I attend publisher parties with frenzied eye and growling tum. Does that mean I'll refrain from grinding into the dust an undeserving book beneath my sensible librarian heels? Of course not. Books sent to me personally by an editor or author are titles I tend to treat differently, yes. I will never post a negative review of a book I received in the mail directly from its creators. Nor, for that matter, will I ever feel compelled to talk it up. My reviews are always my own honest opinions. I once used to review for an online book review website (which shall remain nameless) that preferred positive to negative reviews of, quite frankly, horrid titles. I'm never EVER going to go back to that again. I think what I think and that's all there is to that. If you send me the book you've spent five years slaving over and I don't like it, I'm just not going to review it. On the flip-side, I may never have gotten around to reading your book in the first place. Assume nothing.

So if you want to know how it is that such n' so a book has come to my attention, you may ask and I'll try to remember. The aforementioned article, by the way, seems partly inspired by a publisher's recent attempt to wrangle bloggers into posting positive notes on one of their titles. Kids, if I don't put ads on my blog (and I don't) then I'm certainly not going to shill for anyone. You may not know me, but you can trust me. I promise.

Please feel free to also check out Gail Gauthier's response to this same article, which is entirely eloquent. And on the opposite side of the spectrum (from Chicken Spaghetti) is Deliver Us From Latter-Day Pooters which is an amusing look at book blogging from a deliciously British P.O.V.

How Much Do They Go For?

At this moment in time the Donnell Central Children's Room is displaying a lovely array of fabulous picture book art from those books clever enough to appear on NYPL's 100 Books For Reading and Sharing (nope... still not online yet). Everyday I get to walk by an image of Dracula with some spinach caught in his teeth or the fearsome shot of a chicken wielding a cake cutter like it was Excalibur. I don't think about how much this pictures might be worth because I have a hard time remembering that people collect such things. Then I take a trip to Every Picture Tells a Story and it hits me like a pail of bone-cold water. Located in Santa Monica, this gallery specializes in fine kiddie lit art. Fancy yourself a giclee of Leonardo the Terrible Monster? For a mere $250 you may have one of 400 of the things. The studio itself has some fairly impressive events, and I admit to coveting one of those Mary GrandPre images in my spare time. So y'all know where you can go for my birthday shopping next year.

Thanks to Children's Illustration for the link.

Egg Auction

And while I'm on the topic of art you can purchase, let's talk poultry. Not all the news I hand you is up-to-date, I admit. Take, for example, the Open Fields School Great Goose Egg Auction. Thacher Hurd, Gail Gibbons, Marla Frazee, Leo and Diane Dillon, Susan Jeffers, Eric Rohmann, Emily Arnold, McCully, Ed Young, Paul Zelinsky (it moves!), and even Grace Lin (amongst many many other) earlier this year all contributed their own unique paintings... on eggs.

The press release about the auction of these puppies had this to say:
Perennially popular, and always eggciting, this event is the largest fundraiser for Open Fields, a small, independent elementary school founded in 1971 in Thetford Hill, Vermont. Rolled out every two years, the Great Goose Eggstravaganza has earned as much as $18,000 in just three hours of spirited bidding, with eggs going for as little as $25 and as much as, yes, $1,000. It is a tribute to the excellence and creativity (and sense of humor) of Open Fields that it can attract such a gaggle of locally and nationally famous artists to regularly cook up an egg for this auction.
Every two years, eh? A pity. I wouldn't mind seeing a flurry of different artists every year. In lieu of that, I'll simply leave you with my favorite of the lot. It's by D.B. Johnson.

Someone Doesn't Like Octavian Nothing

I know. Weird, right? But according to author Gail Gauthier at Original Content one Ms. Emily Bazelon at Slate isn't enthralled. Like Gail, I haven't read the book. Nor have I actually met anyone who, after reading it, had anything negative to say about it. Trust Slate to find someone to give an alternative opinion. Interesting stuff.

Review of the Day: Thunderboom! Poems For Everyone

Thunderboom! Poems For Everyone by Charlotte Pomerantz. Illustrations by Rob Shepperson. Front Street. $12.50

Okay, see, now I’m mad. As I write this review we’re in the thick of November with December only a couple days away. I was, until this time, under the distinct impression that I had seen almost all the best books of the year pass under my nose in one form or another. And I was perfectly content to write 2006 off and start munching on some tasty 2007 titles when into my lap fell Charlotte Pomerantz’s, “Thunderboom!”. A book, mind you, that has been out and about since March of this year. That means that for a good eight months, at least, nobody told me about how splendid this book was. Nobody has properly sung its praises. Nobody has showered it with awards and kisses or quoted lengthy passages from it to kill time. Nobody has loved “Thunderboom!” properly and I want some answers, people. What is up with this? The only logical conclusion I can reach is that, like me, the rest of the world has somehow missed the advent “Thunderboom!” and is sitting around waiting for a wake-up call. Well, wakesy wakesy, world. We’ve got a magnificent picture book of poems on our hands and it’s time to sit up and take some notice.

Broken into forty-one short poems, this collection touches on an unexpected variety of subject matter. Some poems are as short as four lines, while others fill page after page with their stories. With gentle rhymes and a particularly kooky point of view, Ms. Pomerantz lets the creative juices flow. You might find a tribute to Margaret Wise Brown or ten foreign language translations of the word “Thunder”. You might see a Passover poem and then turn the page to see the Three Wise Men reimagined as Three Queens of the Orient (diapers in tow). There are love stories, near escapes, weddings, fights, silliness, and the occasional hymn of praise. Spotted with lovely watercolor images, this is one of those books you simply can’t read just once.

I don’t know enough about poetry to know what constitutes a work of great genius. All I can really work with is my own set of instincts and preferences. That said, I like every single poem in this book, and I consider some of them to be brilliant. The problem with so many books of poetry for kids out there is that they just don’t know how to balance poems that kids would want to read with the really well-written poems that kids could love if they were only able to discover them. The joy of “Thunderboom!” is that these poems are enjoyable in lots of different ways. Children will enjoy hearing someone read to them (or read for themselves) the poem “Drowsy Bees” which contains such tongue-twisting lines as, “You’d call them humble bumble shees / Or humble drowsy bumble shees.” Some poems have a story, as with the back and forth debate between a Growly Bear and the girl who refuses to hand over to him her yummy pear. I expected to find amusing poems. What I did not expect, however, was to find that some of the verses in this book carry a certain amount of emotional weight. The poem, “The Moonstruck Witch” is a love story about an ugly old crone and the heavenly body that loves her as she is. It's simple, but it hits a chord somewhere deep in your sternum. It’s wonderful. Just a lovely little joy. “Song of the River Lady” was another beautiful piece, though it is unfortunately just a little too long to reproduce here for you. I’m afraid you’ll simply have to find the book to appreciate it.

Any parent that has ever opened a Sunday selection of the New York Times Book Review will find illustrator Rob Shepperson mighty familiar. His pen and inks are hot property when it comes to other places like The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. It shouldn’t strike anyone as too surprising then that Mr. Shepperson’s transition into kidlit is seamless through and through. Pomerantz’s poems are sometimes so silly and so peculiar that only an illustrator with a clear vision of his own would pair with her work. As it stands, Shepperson apparently is o’erflowing with the stuff. Take, for example, the adorable, “For Humpy My Dumpy”. In the poem a woman bemusedly talks about her husband, Humpy, who is the “egg of my life” and for whom she cares deeply (even though he has a penchant for perching on high walls). I suppose an illustrator who wasn’t paying attention and who read the poem at a glance might think that it was Humpty Dumpty Ms. Pomerantz was referring to. They might scribble in the standard bow-tied egg on a perch shot we’re all so familiar with. Shepperson instead has clearly examined the poem and thought it through. His Humpy is a man who has been lovingly bandaged up by his wife who is seen sitting below him with her first-aid kit close at hand. It actually took me seven or eight glances at the picture to notice that there is also a large strategically aligned trampoline below Mr. Humpy. That’s how Shepperson gets you. At first you give each picture a tiny glimpse, but those people who go back and look at the images closely will find details and peculiarities hidden through and through. What, for example, are we to make of the picture of young Isabelle riding a carousel made entirely out of different kinds of men rather than horses? I dunno, but methinks the child psychologists may have a field day with this one.

Oh, naughty me. I haven’t even talked about what the art in this book looks like, have I? Well, it seems to me that Shepperson is at his best when he’s drawing small images. That might not work in a picture book format, but for a book of poetry the style is perfect. Each poem has a delicately colored and shaded series of tiny watercolored images. The size and plentitude of these pics depends on the length of the poem. In some cases, Shepperson’s art gives a child-friendly air to poems that might not read well without a fun or pretty picture. While I'm thinking of it, I would also like to commend someone (The author? The editor? The illustrator?) for making the poem “Here They Come” the first in the book. Not only is it a great read that will convince any casual parent that this book is well worth purchasing, but the image opposite the poem is full-page, fun, and a great opening to the book. Bravo, one and all.

There are silly poems, and funny poems, and touching poems, and truly beautiful poems. There are poems in different styles and poems that scan with pitch-perfect perfection. I will now write here my favorite poem. This is not, I would like to point out, a poem that gives you a fair feeling for the book. After all, this one is going to fly right over the heads of the little ones. Still, any writer that knows enough to include a piece of writing that will appeal to adults as well as kids is a writer worth knowing. Here, for your literary amusement, is the limerick, “Bloomsday”:

“A lady called Molly – yes! – Bloom
Kept Leopold plants in her room.
When friends cried, 'Enough!'
She replied in the buff,
'Let a thousand Leopolds Bloom.' ”

So so awesome. As I mentioned before, I’m not a poetry person, and I rarely find a book of verse that makes me want to hug each and every page. I tell you right here and now, however, that this is a jewel. An undiscovered dream of a book. Once I finish writing this review I am putting it safely on my bookshelf, and Lord help the man, woman, or child that tries to take it away from me. Need a book of poems to give to a young ‘un you know? Hand over this one. Just don’t read it beforehand, or may not find yourself particularly inclined to part with it so soon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tinkering With "The Tin Men"

You know what the problem with The Wizard of Oz is? I can't think of a single mutant or lobotomy patient anywhere. Have no fear, though. The Sci-Fi Channel is here to attend to all your scary Oz-related needs. I'd summarize this, but better for you to hear it straight from the horse's mouth. The info below is from Dark Horizons. Remember, I am not making any of this up.
The network has given a green light to "Tin Man", a six-hour original miniseries described as wild SF reimagining of "The Wizard of Oz" reports Sci-Fi Wire.

The story follows DG, a young woman plucked from her humdrum life and thrust into The Outer Zone (the O.Z.), a fantastical realm filled with wonder, but oppressed by dark magic. DG discovers her true identity, battles evil winged monkey-bats and attempts to fulfill her destiny.

Her perilous journey begins on the fabled Old Road that leads to a wizard known as the Mystic Man. Along the way, she is joined by "Glitch," an odd man missing half his brain; "Raw," a quietly powerful wolverine-like creature longing for inner courage; and "Cain," a heroic former policeman (known in the O.Z. as a "Tin Man"), who is seeking vengeance for his scarred heart.

Ultimately, DG's destiny leads her to a showdown with the wicked sorceress Azkadellia, whose ties to DG are closer than anyone could have imagined.
You had me at "monkey-bat".

And For the Alice Aficionados

From Oz we go to Wonderland, in a welcome change of pace. Now it's hard not to like Alice In Wonderland. Good old Alice. Long ago I read an article that pointed out that unlike Dorothy, her Yankee equivalent, Alice never whines in perpetuity about wanting to go home. Nope. Alice is sensible to her core, but she's also perfectly content to explore her surroundings before going back to dry dull reality.

So here's the skinny. There's to be a graphic novel of the "real" Alice coming out by Brian Talbot entitled Alice In Sunderland. Mr. Talbot is the fellow who brought you YA librarians A Tale of One Bad Rat. Those of you familiar with that book will be particularly confused by this radical change of pace. Some of you will also give a small cry of protest and say that the "real" Alice idea was already examined, in graphic novel and novel novel form, in this year's lamentable Looking Glass Wars. Consider Talbot's book the classy alternative, then. Here's how he describes his book in an interview with Publisher's Weekly:
Alice in Sunderland is a 320-page graphic novel with the themes of storytelling, history and myth in a form I've been describing as a "dream documentary." It is not one story but literally dozens, short and long, the central spines being the history of Sunderland and the story of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell (the "real" Alice), both of whom had connections with the city and surrounding area.

The stories are told within the structure of an imaginary performance on the stage of the Sunderland Empire Theater, the shorter ones interwoven within the two main threads and consistently underpinned by the stage setting. As the Empire is an Edwardian music hall, the work is a "variety performance" in that different visual styles are utilized for each story, according to its needs.
This article in PW contains the whole of this interview and shows shots of the book that take the old breath away. It's being released by Dark Horse, but libraries should keep a keen eye out for it next year. Hopes are high.

Care For Another Best Books List?

Ever heard of Leonard Marcus?

Of course you have. You have all, after all, enjoyed his collection of legendary Harper Collins editor Ursula Nordstrom's letters as found in his book Dear Genius. I'm sure you thrilled to his recent wonderful series of interviews with fantasy authors in The Wand and the Word. Or maybe you liked the picture book he created with his wife about that sock monkey.

I bring this up because it looks as if Parenting Magazine gave Mr. Marcus the chance to list his picks for the Best Books of 2006. A co-worker of mine assures me that the online edition of this list is more extensive than its print equivalent.

It's a very unique collection, to say the least. Amelia Bedelia Under Construction? Really? Really really? The fact that Fly By Night was not included can only mean that Mr. Marcus has not yet read the book. The next time I see him in The Central Children's Room I'll be sure to thrust a copy into his hands. Poor man. To have lived so long and yet to have never really lived at all. *sniff* Kinda makes you cry, don't it?

Middle Grade Fiction Nominations

Better late than never. Here are the books that were nominated and are currently being considered by the Middle Grade Fiction committee for this year's Cybils Award.

Alabama MoonWatt Key Farrar, Straus & Giroux
All of the AboveShelley PearsallLittle, Brown & Co.
Ashley Enright Investigations Lauren E. Smith Publish America
Battle Cry Jan Neubert Schultz Carolrhoda Books
Black Duck Janet Taylor LislePhilomel
Blue Joyce Moyer Hostetter Calkins Creek Books
Bread and Roses Too Katherine Paterson, Clarion Books.
Breathe Cliff McNish Orion Children's Books
Caddy Ever AfterHilary McKay Margaret K. McElderry
Charlotte In ParisAnnie Bryant Beacon Street Girls
Clementine Sara PennypackerHyperion
Clue In the Linoleum Lederhosen, The M.T. Anderson Harcourt
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset SistersLesley M.M. Blume Knopf Books
Desperate JourneyJim Murphy Scholastic
Drowned Maiden's Hair, A Laura Amy Schlitz Candlewick
Fairies of Nutfolk Wood, The Barb Bentler Ullman Katherine Tegen Books
Finding Day's BottomCandice RansomCarolrhoda Books
FiregirlTony Abbot Little, Brown & Co.
Fly By Night Frances Hardinge Harper Collins
Framed Frank Cottrell Boyce Harper Collins
Georgie's Moon Chris Woodworth Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Goodnight Mrs. Dinglewall JoAn Martin Great American Books
Green Glass Sea, The Ellen Klages Viking Juvenile
Half-Moon Investigations Eoin Colfer Miramax
Happy KidGail Gauthier Putnam Juvenile
Heat Mike Lupica Philomel
Here Lies the Librarian Richard Peck Dial
Higher Power of Lucky Susan Patron Atheneum
Holbrook: A Lizard's Tale Bonny Becker Clarion Books
Home In a Wilderness Fort: Copper, 1844 Charlotten Otten Arbutus Press
Home and Other Big Fat Lies Jill Wolfson Henry Holt & Co.
Hugging the Rock Susan Taylor Brown Tricycle Press
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life Wendy Mass Little, Brown & Co.
Julia's Kitchen Brenda Ferber Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Kichi In Jungle Jeopardy Lila Guzman Blooming Tree Press
Kiki Strike Kirsten Miller Bloomsbury
Larger-Than-Life Lara Dandi Mackall Dutton Juvenile
Loud Silence of Francine Green, The Karen Cushman Clarion Books
Manny Files, The Christian Burch Atheneum
Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Kate DiCamillo Candlewick
Misadventures of Millicent Madding: Bully-Be-Gone Brian Tacang Harper Collins
Mystery of the Hats, TheEddie Lay Publish America
Out of Patience Brian Meehl Delacorte Books For Young Readers
Penelope Bailey Takes the Stage Susanna Reiche Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
Penny From Heaven Jennifer L. Holm Random House
Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything Leonore Look Atheneum
Rules Cynthia Lord Scholastic
Secret of the Three Treasures Janni Lee Simner Holiday House
Shug Jenny Han Simon & Schuster
Strictest School In the World, The Howard Whitehouse Kids Can Press
Swan Town: The Secret Journal Of Susanna Shakespeare Michael J. Ortiz Harper Collins
That Girl Lucy Moon Amy Timberlake Hyperion
Toys Go Out Emily Jenkins Schwarz & Wade
Uncharted Waters Leslie Bulion Peachtree Publishers
Vanishing Act Jon Feinstein Knopf Books
Victory Susan Cooper Margaret K. McElderry
Vive la Paris Esme Codell Hyperion
Weedflower Cynthia Kadohata Atheneum
Wright 3 Blue Balliett Scholastic
Year of the Dog Grace Lin Little, Brown & Co.
Yellow Star Jennifer Roy Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
Younguncle Comes To Town Vandana Singh Viking Juvenile

Review of the Day: The Shivers In the Fridge

The Shivers In the Fridge by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky. Dutton. $13.50

When I think of Paul Zelinsky I think of shiny gold thread spun onto spindles, thick lustrous hair cascading down a tower’s wall, and maybe even a glimpse of early Americana involving a certain tall tale. Basically, Zelinsky’s a picture book chameleon. You never know exactly what kind of style is going to erupt from his pen next. In 2006 he pulled that magnificent Emily Jenkins book, “Toys Go Out” out of his bag. This was soon followed up by “The Shivers In the Fridge”, and is a colorful unexpected style and story. Author Fran Manushkin has quite a few books under her belt already, but I daresay that aside from the George Foreman picture book she helped out on, this may well be her best-known work yet. Good thing too, as the story is a rather engaging romp through iceboxes both cold and mysterious.

Something isn’t right but the Shivers family can’t quite put their finger on what it is. Sonny, his mom and dad, and Grandma and Grandpa have been living in a perpetually cold and dark space for quite a while, and they’re having a hard time remembering what it’s like to be warm. This soon becomes the least of their concerns, however, when unexpectedly and without warning, an enormous hand keeps appearing out of nowhere to snatch various family members away. First Papa disappears when scaling Buttery Cliff. Later Mama meets a similar fate when she takes a warm dip in the fast solidifying “Emerald Lake”. By the end, only Sonny is left. Gathering his courage, the young ‘un is snatched out of the cold ... to find his family members are all safe and warm. The Shivers are actually refrigerator magnets, and now they get to do what magnets do best. Stay on the outside of the fridge.

A good thing they never had to deal with mold, eh? Now I’m gonna level with you here. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book and a great little story, but I’ve a quibble with the art. I know, I know. Criticizing a Paul O. Zelinsky production is tantamount to criticizing Picasso in his blue period. Zelinsky’s meticulous attention to detail is legendary. The man has what it takes to bring everything from classic storytime singalongs to animated stuffed animals to rich, vibrant life. I can’t continue, then, unless I confess something to you. You know his early work? I’m not talking his “Dear Mr. Henshaw”/”Strider” period, but the “Rapunzel”/”Rumplestiltskin” era. THAT, to me, was his best work. I loved watching the man replicate the style of the old masters. Oh sure, I could appreciate his cross-hatching pen-and-ink style too, but give that man a set of oils and watch what he can do with them. Whoof! “The Wheels On the Bus” always kinda stuck in my craw. Obviously if you’ve Zelinsky’s talent, you’re not going to imbue everything you illustrate with the same style. In the case of “The Shivers In the Fridge”, Zelinsky creates a world both familiar and unfamiliar to children. His colors are bright, cheery, and constantly appealing to the old eyeballs. So what’s my petty objection? Am I going to whine and moan over the fact that, in this particular case, Zelinsky has selected a style of drawing that does not appeal to me in the least? Yes. Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer my fate. Simply take a glance at the cover and ascertain whether or not it pleases you. Either A) The cover is hunky-dory/cute as a bug’s ear and I’m a raving loon or B) You can see my point of view, but I’m obviously thinking too much about a picture book or C) You agree with me entirely and hang on my every word. Whatever your choice, I would like to assure you that Zelinsky has by no means dropped the ball on this book. He seems to have put just as much work into it as any other title in his oeuvre. It's just not my bag, baby.

The melding of text and image is, in this case, seamless. Even if the characters in the book are clueless as to their surroundings, child readers will pick up on what’s happening immediately (if not being entirely certain as to what The Shivers really are). It’s here that Manushkin’s writing stands out. First of all, there’s something great about the fact that the character of Grandma is a nasty, negative, perpetually sour old coot. She can't stop moaning and groaning about any and everything. Dull authors make all their characters indistinguishable and nothing grabs a child reader properly like a little character conflict. Just put an antagonist into your story like Grandma and watch the child to book interest ratio increase respectively. As professional reviews have noted, the humor in the story cancels out any vague fears your preschooler might have about the tale. Best of all, Manushkin taps into a love that all kids can get behind: Living in a world of gigantic food. How cool (no pun intended) is that?

I do not recommend that you read this book in the frigid months of winter, by the way. Just glancing through the book myself I found myself shivering right along with the family in the fridge. No, this would be a title better suited for those hot and lazy summer months. Pull this puppy out when the high heat of July renders children limp and prepped for a good cold-weather story or two. As tales about refrigerator magnets go, I just can’t think of another book that speaks to their plight quite as eloquently as this. Here’s hoping that in the sequel The Shivers do battle with a home computer. Fun fun fun.

For those of you with an additional interest, Mr. Zelinsky recently sent the following information out:

Hello, friends

This is a small announcement but it's big to me, because after a huge long time of thinking about it and doing something about it with the help of others, and fiddling with the results, I finally finished and posted online my little animations that go with the new picture book "The Shivers in the Fridge" by Fran Manushkin.They were great fun to do, and the none-too-simple program I used, Adobe After Effects, was fun to scratch the surface of.Please take a look: go to http://www.paulozelinsky.com/shivers.html and click on the links to the animations: the bigger ones if you have broadband, smaller if you don't.
All best,

Monday, November 27, 2006

New Blog Alert - Prestigious Edition

Good news authorial blogging community. Julius Lester has just started blogging. You may all duly add A Commonplace Book to your blogroll. My favorite post thus far: I Love Women's Fashions.

Thanks to Kids Lit for the link.

What I Missed - Big A, little a

Well, Kelly informs us that the newest edition of Edge of the Forest is up. There appears to be a piece on the web magazine entitled Blogging Writer that I may have missed before. This month's is the ever-amusing Lisa Yee. Kelly also latched onto a Harry Potter contest I hadn't heard of before. It's just for a signed bookplate by J.K. Rowling but, I mean, c'mon. Like that wouldn't make you the envy of all your friends and neighbors (said the children's librarian). Kelly's on my Cybil Middle Grade Nominating committee and as such she's started to review some of the books that have been nominated. Like this, for example. And yes, I'm pretty much recapping the people in my blogroll. Sweet honest laziness.

What I Missed - Bookshelves of Doom

Leila, who is so complete and up-to-date when it comes to kidlit news it makes me kinda wanna cry, was working full throttle as I lazed away my Thanksgiving break. She caught Linda Sue Park's great piece on judging the National Book Award this year. You may wish to read the Oz and Ends posting on the same Park piece, by the way. Mr. J.L. Bell happens to say, "This addresses one of the questions I've had about awards like the NBAs and the Cybils: Does the judges' work of reading so many novels so quickly, with the prestige of the award on the line, affect how they read and evaluate?" Certainly the Cybils have to be read far faster than any other book award out there. I've sometimes wondered the same thing as Mr. Bell, I guess.

Back to Leila. She found this amazing create-your-own-cover site that appeals to my bookflap fetish. And for the librarians out there, she found a good site for MLIS-appropriate tattoos.

What I Missed - Read Roger

When the going gets tough, the tough link to other blogs in hopes of distracting you from the fact that I've not nothing on my plate todday.

Great great posting on Read Roger today talking about the likelihood that a graphic novel will ever garner itself an already existed prestigious award. His conclusions? Not so much with the likely. Over break he also tore down two books that caused me to break out in hives when I saw them on bookstore shelves. THIS is why people hate New York, and frankly it's hard to blame them.

Didja Miss Me?


That was a more than welcome relief. Thanksgiving break is a glorious time, and I feel refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to gulp down a couple more books in my gi-normous stack of To Be Reads. Greensboro, NC is (as always) hopping. Aforementioned baby Alexa is shown here, thereby securing her place as the world's easiest-baby-to-put-to-sleep:


While in NC I happened to stop by my brother-in-law's workplace and saw some sheets of an upcoming Joss Whedon graphic novel (not the Buffy one) that were being inked. I also stopped by the downtown Greensboro Public Library, and its children's room is magnificent. They've a great display of a lot of new titles for perusal and though I questioned the fact that the teen and children's sections are still in one room (a very large room, at that) it was renovated just 7 years ago and looks fab. If you happen to be in that part of the country, please do yourself a favor and check it out.

So what did I get you while I was away? Not much, admittedly. I was mostly too busy being inadvertently rude to my in-laws by sticking my nose in book after book after book (though everyone was very nice about it). However, these two delicious tidbits have come to my attention. I may attempt to post more as the day goes on too (though undoubtedly everything I tell you will be old hat, yes?).

While driving down from NYC, I had my trusty Onion at my side. I have this fantasy where The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Onion join forces. In this dream, The Onion becomes a continuous crawl at the bottom of the screen of the two shows. Until that happy day occurs, however, I'll have to continue to get at least some of my fake news in a print format.

So I'm reading about the Cat In the Hat 1997 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float disaster, Guitar Hero 2 (awesome), and Grey Gardens: The Musical when I stumble on a little section entitled, "Tips For a Tryptophan Buzz". Here, since the article is not online, is what it had to say:

Read The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine
A bizarre and long out-of-print children's book by the post-modern fiction writer Donald Barthelme, The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine has just been reissued in a nice hardcover edition by The Overlook Press. Calling it a "children's book" is reductive, though kids with a mind for weird word stews will find much to thrill over when not fixating on artful images culled from old Victorian wood-cuts. One page shows a pirate knitting on a rocking chair beside a Buddha on an urn; another features elephants tumbling through the air. Yet another includes a decorous French wine menu that could well be used as a checklist as your evening grows long.
A quick trip to Amazon and faith and begorra, thar she blows. The book's description varies a little from The Onion's recap.
From the brilliant mind of Donald Barthelme, the National Book Award-winning tale for children of all ages.

One morning in 1887, Mathilda went out into the back yard and discovered that a mysterious Chinese house had planted itself there overnight. She had wanted a fire engine, but the mysterious Chinese house was intriguing too. From inside came strange sounds: growls, howls, whispering, trumpeting.

Plucky Mathilda walks right in. She finds all sorts of peculiar things: a sulky captured pirate, a giant popcorn-popping machine, an elephant that falls downhill once a day—truly "every kind of flawless flourishy footlooseness." Mathilda gets to see everything in every room, guided by the hithering thithering djinn, who even arranges to leave her a souvenir that is just about exactly what she wanted.

Renowned author Donald Barthelme presents Mathilda’s escapade in a witty and whacky text with collage illustrations made entirely from nineteenth-century engravings. It’s a unique, fun, and ultimately wonderful book.
If Amazon is to be believed, then this book won a National Book Award about 1972 and was FSG's original baby. Wikipedia says that Barthelme (long repressed memories of having to read Snow White in college are coming back to me) wrote it with his daughter, though who knowing the site I can't vouch for its accuracy. I do wonder who the marketing force behind this puppy is if it got into The Onion but hasn't appeared elsewhere in the news that I've seen. The kicker for me was that not only does my library branch have a copy of the original, but we even have a circulating copy that, none too surprisingly, is out at the moment. Cool, eh?

In other news, NPR's website has a great little piece on a newly minted National Book Award winner, November 24th, entitled M.T. Anderson: Eats Broccoli, Paces and Hums. As titles go, this could have stood a rewrite, perhaps. The site is called Novel Ideas and in honor of National Novel Writing Month NPR asked fiction writers, "to explain the essence of creating a novel, from how they write to their approach to writer's block." So while I was looking at Anderson's I saw that they'd done one on Blue Balliett as well as Nancy Werlin (who wins the Cutest Authorial Picture Award), and Jeanne Birdsall (remember The Penderwicks?). And who do I have to thank for bringing this to my attention? None other than the author of the amazing and beautiful Frankenstein Made a Sandwich, Adam Rex. Thank you, Mr. Rex. Not a bad link to come home to.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

We Go, We Go

A happy Thanksgiving to you all out there in Internet voidy land. I'll be back on Sunday having read multiple interesting books. Have a good one.

PJ Not Directing El Hobbito

I keep telling you that I'm about to go on vacation and then *BANG*! All kinds of craziness breaks out. For example, there is the fact that Peter Jackson will not be directing The Hobbit for New Line Cinema. Why would that be? It's simple. They are out of their blooming minds, it seems. It gets better. Apparently they want to do not only The Hobbit but also a "LOTR prequel" of one sort or another. Sounds a bit Star Warsy to me, but who am I to judge? In any case, I imagine the fans of the Jackson-man are not pleased. Mad fans? I predict that New Line is in for some dark days.

The resident husband, by the way, told me that it's all a sham and that it's a Peter Jackson power play so that his lawsuit goes the way he wants it to. You be the judge.

Disney Done Bought My Baby

My baby, in this particular case, meaning my best beloved Three Investigators series. Less than 3 days after I mentioned these books in passing, the movie blog Cinematical took it upon themselves to offer up this little tidbit of delicious delights:
When I was growing up, Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw and Bob Andrews were my Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. And I guess that would make Alfred Hitchcock my Dumbledore. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you probably never read Robert Arthur's "Three Investigators" series of books. The young adult novels followed three boy detectives and originally featured Hitch as a supporting character (he's since been written out of all the books due to a lack of participation by his estate). After finishing all the "Encyclopedia Brown" books, and before I began my Agatha Christie phase, I spent a few years attempting to read all of the "Three Investigators" books, which was difficult since they weren't as popular as some other youth detective novels, and there was no such thing as Barnes & Noble (as it exists today, at least) or Amazon. I wonder if any kids appreciate the library today as much as I did back then.

Come Easter, Disney will be releasing the first in a planned franchise, The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island, which was the sixth book of the series (they weren't as chronological as the Harry Potter books).
In answer to Cinematical, yes. Kids do appreciate the library. Sometimes.

I took a closer look at the IMDB page the site linked to so as to learn more about the players. The kid playing Jupiter Jones is actually named Chancellor Miller, so he'll probably welcome the relatively less silly name. On the other hand, he is NOT fat, which pisses me off royally. Nick Price, who plays Pete Crenshaw, is perhaps best known for his role in Because of Winn-Dixie. As for the kid playing Bob Andrews, Cameron Monaghan was Winthrop in the Matthew Broderick version of The Music Man some years back. What happened to that odd made-for-TV movie musical craze, by the way? Did reality shows kill it? Should we be grateful?

Thank you, Dan, for the link.

Review of the Day: Babymouse - Heartbreaker

Babymouse: Heartbreaker by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm. Random House. $5.99

The book I was initially going to review for you today has been put on the back burner for the time being. It's a little too lovely for me to slam-bang out a review at this time of night. I'll spend more time crafting my response to it in an organized 8-hours-of-sleep fashion. In the meantime, I found that though I wrote this review quite a while ago, I never posted it. Enjoy it, then, in all its delicious hot pink glory.

Here is a typical day in my library. I set out four or five copies of the newest “Babymouse” series around 10:00 a.m. on the graphic novel shelf. Around 11:00 a.m. a patron of the girl-like persuasion will ask if we have any copies of “Babymouse” in. With falsely swelled head I will lead the patron to the place I last put the series, only to find every single last stinking copy is gone gone goneski. I’m trying to give you some kind of an idea of just how popular this series has proved to be. Whether your patron is a newbie to the series and wants, “Babymouse: Queen of the World”, or has read every last single installment in the series up to “Babymouse: Rock Star”, I can assure you that if you purchase, “Babymouse: Heartbreaker”, you’re simply setting yourself up to loose your copy to a fanatic fan pronto. Are you a librarian desperately in need of higher use stats? Meet the solution to all your woes. In this particular book in the series we see our plucky heroine doing what she does best. Eating cupcakes (though not as many as she might have), thinking about boys in an off-hand fashion, and dreaming up impossible fabulous dreams.

It’s Babymouse’s faaaavorite holiday of all time. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a hint: It involves pink. That’s right. Valentine’s Day is nigh and Babymouse has a lot on her mind. For one thing, it seems that her elementary school is having a dance and trusty standby Wilson is going with someone else. Suddenly Babymouse needs a date, but nobody is coming to mind. Either everyone’s already taken or they’re not interested in going. Even the creature that lives in her locker is giving her grief on the subject. In the end, Babymouse decides to go to the ball all by herself. Fortunately for her, there’s somebody there who thinks she’s absolutely fabulous. Someone she may have overlooked (or vice-versa).

I think part of the reason I love the “Babymouse” books as much as I do is that they’ve converted me to pink. I used to think that pink was a girly color. In the 1980s I was all about the hot pink (preferably paired with electric blue or just black) and even had a Pogo Ball in that color. Then I got older and eschewed my earlier love of the shade. Now the team of Holm & Holm have come up with a way of making me love pink all over again. And unlike other children’s books of limited palettes (like the “Olivia” books, for one), at no point does Matthew Holm betray me and introduce another color like, oh say, electric blue. There’s also the fact that when it comes to the art, “Babymouse” books are misleadingly simple. They look easy enough. But as you can see by “Heartbreaker”, there’s a fabulous moment when Babymouse has a crises of confidence and the page is just of her curled up from a distance with the only light a pinkish hue crosshatched through her bedroom window. It’s pink noir at its finest.

Why You Should Buy This Book: In one of her dream sequences, Babymouse is dancing with Duckie on a dance floor. Duckie, at the same time, is saying (and I am not making this up), “Nobody puts Babymouse in the corner”. Come ON, people! How can you resist that? And did I mention the peculiar fact that in her fantasies Babymouse sometimes ends up as a guy? When she decides to go to the dance by herself she suddenly envisions a “Gone With the Wind”-type situation in which one character is Scarlett O’Hara and Babymouse is, oddly enough, Rhett. I’d say that raises the bar on original characterizations, wouldn’t you?

As with the other “Babymouse” books, there are the old standbys. Cupcakes. A snarky narrator who discusses various situations with our heroine. Dream sequences ah-plenty. And, of course, the locker creature who gets quite a lot of page time in this book. In the end it doesn’t matter if this is the first Babymouse book a kid reads or the last. It’ll definitely whet their whistle for future installments. Babymouse forever!

On shelves December 26, 2006.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

School Library Journal Weighs In

The good people of School Library Journal are offering their very own list of the Best Books of 2006. Here's how they described it all:
Fiction reigned in 2006. On this list of 67 titles, you will find contemporary issues wrapped in emotionally charged, power-packed plots; fresh, original fantasy; unusual coming-of-age novels; gripping historical fiction; and downright funny family stories. Nonfiction included some fascinating introductions to the natural world, unusual treatments of standard topics, and a compelling account of a topic that in less competent hands would be a dust-collecting shelf sitter. The arts made a strong showing, with dazzling introductions to Dizzy Gillespie, Robert Johnson, and Langston Hughes and a stunning graphic novel from a classically trained ballerina. There are fewer picture books on the list this year, but we love the ones that are here. They all have memorable protagonists starring in stories brimming with child appeal.
First and foremost, I was impressed that they kept it at 67. Does this number change every year? And how on earth does a committee of five limit themselves like that?

In any case, a scan of the titles is more than worth your time. Some inclusions made me sad. Some made me ecstatic (FLY BY NIGHT, FLY BY NIGHT, FLY BY NIGHT), and there was more than one exclusion that left me scratching my head. But since I'm on the Newbery you'll simply have to infer where those feelings were placed. I will say, though, that I was happy to find at least 2 graphic novels displayed this year. Happy happy, joy joy.

Gene Yang Interview

There's a nice interview with National Book Award nominee Gene Yang at my new favorite blog The Sandbox. This cool pic was just a bonus. Pretty awesome, eh? HMOCL nomination anyone?

Found a New Blog

And while I'm on the topic of this new Sandboxy blog, I found this link through them. It's Bone in video game form. I'm not one for video games (unless they're of the Sid Meier eat-your-brain-away variety) but you can check out the cute little free download as a preview to the game. I'm rather charmed.


A moral warning signal should probably go off when a sane and rational person starts agreeing with the FOX News celebrity gossip. Still, I prefer to look at it as a wonderful example of how Madonna is a uniter and not a divider. Everybody dislikes her, regardless of race, creed, political affiliation, etc. Lest you think I've gone completely insane, however, I will point out that Galleycat made some excellent points when they pointed out that this article discussing the fact that her latest children's book has not made the mad bank expected of it,

A) says her numbers were low, but the 9,000 units she has sold would be more than welcome by real children's authors
B)"goofs by misinforming readers that the book was published in 1993, rather than 2003."
C) "blames negative publicity stemming from the pop star's adoption of a Malawian infant, with her kabbalistic tendencies thrown in for good measure."

The piece is immediately followed up with info on the Mary Poppins musical that just opened on Broadway.

Admiration: 101

For the designer-lovers out there, you may find quite a bit to love in Bob Staake's "artists, designers, cartoonists, illustrators, architects and visual aesthetes", that inspired him one way or another. Bob Staake, I will remind you, wrote The Red Lemon, one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2006.

The influence that caught me off guard?

Diane Arbus

Thanks to Children's Illustration for the link.

Smart Authors Show Covers

A post on Tea Cozy regarding DL Garfinkle's recent display of upcoming covers reminded me why I love authorial blogs as much as I do. What's the best part of any movie? The trailers that come before it starts. Similarly, the author that takes the time to show a cool cover has an edge over the author who doesn't. Consider the Mitali Perkins posting of her new book, or Lisa Yee's So Totally Emily Ebbers. That's what the people pay their money to see. Well done one and all.

Title: The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music

The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music by Bret Bertholf. Little Brown and Company. $18.99

Maybe I should have a rule that if you can’t find the cover of an upcoming book online, you shouldn’t review it. Maybe. I’ll get back to you on that one. The thing is, I would have waited too if this book weren’t so fan-freakin’-tastic. I literally whined, moaned, and groaned so loudly that Little, Brown & Company felt morally compelled to shut my yawp by sendin me an ARC.

Now I am not what you would call a big fan of country music. I know my basics, and I’m vaguely aware of its history, but truth be told country is not all the prevalent on my iPod. So the question I have to ask myself here is, do I feel sufficiently qualified to read and review a children’s non-fiction picture book with the title, “The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music”? I mean, if I don’t know my Charlie Rich from my Johnny Bond, how am I going to be able to sufficiently judge how well author/illustrator Bret Bertholf has convered this particular genre’s highs and lows? In this particular case, I have my ever-loving, country listenin’ husband to turn to. Side by side we read through Bertholf’s book and came to a single conclusion. For all its flaws, and there are one or two, this is a jaw-dropping piece of history. The pictures are stunning (if occasionally difficult to make out), the facts always interesting, the history correct, and the storyline faithful. Add in the fact that Bertholf has managed to literally give face to almost every single person who ever even THOUGHT about singing about their mean-eyed cat and you’ve a book that looks, acts, and is like no other.

Did you know that you might be a country singer and not even know it? It’s true. And Bret Bertholf is going to show you why. Concentrating the whole of his attention on the American South, the book dips deep into the past to talk about how people would kill time in the olden days. There wasn’t a lot to do, aside from creating your own music. Then, slowly, technology began to change everything. There was the radio and the record players. Those, in turn, led to the first country music star, Jimmie Rodgers. Time goes by and different musical forms like gospel, jazz, and honky tonks changed how the music sounded. WWII came, the singing cowboy was born, and Nashville grew and grew. With humorous asides, ridiculously in-depth pictures, and more than its fair share of humor, the book shows exactly how country music came to be, and where its future may lay someday.

This is Bret Bertholf’s first solo picture book and I would like to point out that the man has credentials out the wazoo. From the bookflap I’ve learned that not only can Mr. Bertholf yodel (no mean feat) but he’s also a part of the group named Halden Woford and Hi-Beams. You may have heard them on A Prairie Home Companion in the past. The book reflects what is obviously his long-standing love for the heroes of the country world. Obviously at some point Mr. Bertholf thought to himself that it would be a shame to mention only some country music stars and not others. The solution? Endpapers. Starting with 1920, every year since that time is given one train car and one singer/musician sitting on top. Each person is presented like a well-rendered bobblehead doll, their features recognizable and (mostly) cheery. My husband assures me that in many cases, the year that a particular star rides does not always correspond to when they really hit it big. There’s also an inclusion of Bing Crosby that’s sure to have a purist or two scratching their heads. The train ends, curiously enough, with 1999. I suppose the author didn’t want to judge too soon the more contemporary stars of today. Could it have killed him to include a Dixie Chick, though? That's a personal beef. Not a professional one.

Every face in this book is different. Every single one. That may not sound like much, but once you begin to notice it, it takes on a certain appeal. My favorite image of the book was a remarkable shot of people standing in line for soup during the Depression. Bertholf, in his agreeable fashion, explains the basics of what happened by offering up a hypothetical situation where a person has handed all their money to Stocky Margaret. But take a gander at the faces in the line. There are at least seventeen of them and each one is different, historically accurate, and deeply realistic. Now turn to the Nashville section. On stage you can see Jake Tullock breaking it down with Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. That’s not the impressive part. The musicians have their back to us and we can see in the dim light the faces of the audience members. Now Bertholf could have made the audience dark or drawn a generic face or two. Instead he has given each person there a personality, a hairstyle in keeping with the times, and, even in some cases, an action. It’s mesmerizing. I have a very hard time looking away from it just to continue writing this review. Wow.

Now the art is wonderful in some ways. You have paper dolls one one page and a kind of fill-in-the-blank songwriting sheet on another. I love Bertholf’s art. I just wish I could show it to large groups of people. Time and time again the artist will proffer fabulous scenes or images or people, yet do so with an incredibly dark earth-toned palette. The illustrations in this book were done with colored pencil, “and Caran d’Ache crayon on Canson pastel paper.” This means they are always amazing. Unfortunately, it also means that they are very very dark. A couple spreads, like a sudden discussion of “Countrypolitan” and Patsy Cline, will lighten up the book once in a while, but more often than not the images are hard to see. If, as a children’s librarian, I want to show a group of kids “The Rules of Bluegrass”, I won’t be able to because the page is so dark brown and grey that it’s almost black. Bertholf obviously created this book with one-on-one parent/child reading in mind. Had he lightened things up a little, though, this would make for an excellent readaloud to whole classrooms. A pity.

For the most part, Bertholf is more interested in pinpointing the important moments and influences on country music than in spending a lot of time talking about some of the implications. This isn’t to say he doesn’t reference that history obliquely. On a two page spread entitled Gospel Roots we see two different gospel choirs. One the left-hand page are white singers like Bradley Kincaid and Abby Hutchinson. On the right-hand page is a black gospel choir, segregated from the white choir and containing members like Bessie Smith and Thomas A. Dorsey. You won’t get an explanation of why the Confederate flag still flies or even of how racism has influenced the music throughout the years. That isn’t to say, however, that Bertholf isn’t going to allude to it once in a while.

Now when it comes to non-fiction, kid-appeal is key. If you can wrangle a child into getting interested in a subject that they may or may not have cared for right from the start, you’re worth your weight in kiddie lit gold, my friend. Mr. Bertholf most certainly falls into that category. First of all, the aforementioned pictures, for all that you probably couldn’t make them out from a distance of five feet, are wholly entrancing when seen up close and personal. Apparently Mr. Bertholf (and I’m getting this second-hand) lured Little, Brown & Co. into showing an interest in this book with a little two-page spread sent to them entitled, “How To Yodel!” It’s in the finished product, I should add, and it’s quite a magnificent spread. A large mouth, the gutter of the book falling neatly somewhere around the wisdom tooth area, opens as wide as possible as the words, “Don’t Look” and “Where Yodels come from” point to the gaping maw. All kinds of tidbits like this make the book hard for a kid to put down. There’s a section on Country Pets that tells you about Hound Dogs, Hawgs, and the cutest l’il ole Varmints you ever did see. There’s the Big List of Country Names where you take the initials of your real name and come up with your country music alternative (I’m either Cooter Loudbottom or Goober Loudbottom). There are monsters and hot rods and puzzle pieces and all kinds of stuff falling about the place. There's even a peculiar yet adorable "squeezel" that a lot of children will have a fun time finding on one page or another.

Lest you feel from what I’m saying that Bertholf is making fun of the country music genre, allow me to put your mind at rest. Sure, he plays up some of the sillier aspects. The singing cowboys, big hair, and sequin-riddled clothing are all present. At the same time, however, you get a true sense of his respect for the genre at large. The meticulousness of his history and the number of names he’s able to pull out are impressive. I was more than a little disappointed to see that Bertholf did not include a Bibliography of sources, however. I think this was a huge mistake. Libraries that want to classify this book as non-fiction will be all the more reluctant to add it to their collection when they find that the author has not backed up his facts with any reliable texts. And what about kids who want to learn more about country music? Wouldn’t a list of websites, books for further reading, and general articles have fit in like a dream? Sure, there’s a list at the story’s end of all the famous faces that cropped up in earlier pictures, but that does little to bolter the book’s credibility. As I review this title I’m looking at a very early ARC (it’s not even due out until April 2007). That leaves plenty of time to slap together Bertholf’s sources and come up with a kick-ass Bibliography, yes? I sure hope so.

The book changes constantly from spreads that are horizontal to those that are vertical, but I don’t feel that this upsets the nature of the reading any. Just keeps you on your toes. Now, I know that I haven’t even mentioned half the stuff you’ll find in this book. It’s detailed within an inch of its life and if I had more time I’d talk to you about the peculiar look Bob Dylan sports in this title, or the fact that Dolly Parton’s boobs are, to put it mildly, unrecognizable. But I can’t cover everything Bertholf has done, and that’s okay. It just means that when April rolls around you’re going to have to remember to seek out and read THE most memorable country music picture book for the kiddies. It has its flaws, but they don’t keep it from being the best of the best. Keep your eyes peeled.

On shelves April 1, 2007.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

HMOCL 19 On Display

There's an interview with recent National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson over at The Book Standard. He's interviewed by Kirkus as part of a December 1st Best of Children’s Books special. When asked about his influences he has this to say:
I learned a lot about crafty plotting from The Great Brain, about atmosphere, melancholy, and whimsy from The Moomins, about sorrow from The Juniper Tree, about claiming the arts from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, about cliff-hangers from The Hardy Boys, and about how to set up my own construction-paper discothèque from Dynamite! magazine.
I am deeply sad that he wasn't also a fan of my beloved Three Investigators books. Ah, Jupiter Jones. Where are you today, my friend?

Link courtesy of Bookslut.

Where I Be and Where You Should Be

I'm not at work this week due to Thanksgiving break, so that means only one thing. Less posting on my part. You'll certainly get some updates today and tomorrow, but once Wednesday rolls around I'll be in a gigantic rental car listening to Harry Potter VI on CD while driving to Greensboro, NC to see my adorable newborn baby niece. Other bloggers will tell you that their nieces are even more adorable. Do not believe them. They lie between their teeth. My niece is the cutest and I should know. After all, I see little tiny babies at work all the time. And brother, they don't hold a candle to my little Alexa.

Anywho, I'll post when I can, but you may not get as much from me this week. Just remember to get your Cybil nominations in by midnight tonight and all will be well and right with the world.

Here's some info for today, anyway. Not too long ago I wrote a piece on how Cheerios was putting children's books into their boxes. I had assumed that the books would be of the same quality as those "free" DVDs you can get with your Product 19 (i.e. Week-end At Bernie's). When I discovered the the books were not only good but not the usual boring classic fare, I was stunned. I have now learned that the driving force behind this miracle was a little organization called First Book. Take a gander at this mission statement:
Giving children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books.

Books stir the senses, inspire the imagination, and spark a love of reading that can last a lifetime. Access to books is essential to reading development, yet many children from low-income families have no books at home or in the childcare centers they attend. There are millions of children waiting for your help. Donate to put new books into the hands of children
in need.

Not too shabby.

One of the best things about the site is the blog, which is actually a collection of podcasts with children's authors & illustrators. It updates with startling consistency. I've also just added a podcast portion to my blogroll for this sort of thing. A big thank you to Ellen for the info.