"Chester Cricket’s Tale of the City" by David Ulin

From David Ulin’s LATIMES blog.  January 5, 2011 |  6:00 am.  My mom sent me this review when it was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune. It reminded me how much I love both Cricket in Time Square and Charlotte’s Web by Garth Williams.  It’s a classic that stands the test of time from generation to generation.  Perfect bedtime reading for you and your kidlets.

CrickettimessqMy favorite books for kids are those that start out naturalistically and then go quietly, gently off the rails. “Charlotte’s Web” is a perfect example: E.B. White’s descriptions of New England farm life are so precise, so deftly rendered, that it seems entirely believable when the animals start talking and Charlotte begins to spell out words in her web.

This, of course, is one of the wonders of children’s literature, its sense of the world as mysterious, even magical, its recognition that there is much in daily life beyond our reach. At its best, childhood is like that also, although more often, it can be a landscape of arbitrary rules and inexplicable adult tension, in which too much happens (literally and figuratively) above our heads.

More →

Mind your own beeswax! Take a secret peek into "Amelia’s Notebook"

Got a pretty little reader who isn’t crazy about actually reading?  All the Junie B’s and Judy M’s of the world hold no appeal for her? “Too many words!”  Then check out this fun, colorful series.  Your kidlets will be reading without even knowing it’s good for them.

Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss (ages 7-10, strong girl appeal) is designed as an upbeat, first-person story which resembles a real diary.   The cover bears the familiar black-and-white abstract design of a .99 cent composition book, decorated with color

Got a sweet young reader who isn’t crazy about actually reading?  All the Junie B’s and Judy M’s of the world hold no appeal for her? “Too many words!”  Then check out this fun, colorful series.  Your kidlets will be reading without even knowing it’s good for them.

Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss (ages 7-10, strong girl appeal) is designed as an upbeat, first-person story which resembles a real diary.   The cover bears the familiar black-and-white abstract design of a .99 cent composition book, decorated with color cartoons by Amelia, the book’s nine-year-old “author.”

Inside, on lined pages, Amelia writes about her recent move to a new town, doodles pictures of people she meets and saves such mementos as postage stamps and a birthday candle.

She misses her best friend, Nadia, but her moments of sadness are balanced by optimism-she distracts herself by drawing and by writing short stories. In appropriately conversational terms, Amelia complains that her big sister invades her privacy (“So Cleo if you are reading this right now-BUG OFF and STAY OUT”); gripes about cafeteria food (“Henna says they use dog food); and jokes in classic elementary-school gross-out fashion.  

Readers will understand Amelia’s wish to put her “top-secret” thoughts on paper, and they’ll notice that even though she’s uneasy about attending a different school, she’s starting over successfully. (Reed Business Information, Inc).

Keep in mind that there are some 15 books in the series.  Also, a mildde-school aged Amelia has another series of journals about life after elementary school.

 

How much would you pay for an unpublished Dr. Seuss?

LA TIMES  October 18, 2010 | 10:16 am

Seuss_sports

Dr. Seuss’ book that wasn’t, ‘All Sorts of Sports,’ up for auction

Los Angeles auction house Nate D. Sanders has acquired a lost Dr. Seuss manuscript from a former assistant of Theodore Geisel; the hand-drawn and hand-lettered pages are now up for auction.

The book, “All Sorts of Sports,” was abandoned in the 1960s. It has rhymes and rhythms like many of Geisel’s books: “What am I going to do today. Well, that’s a simple matter. Oh, that’s easy. We could play. There are so many sports games to play. We could swim. I could play baseball … golf … or catch. Or I could play a tennis match.”

But around Page 6, his sports ideas peter out, with the text turning into nonsense. “I could blumf. Or blumf blumf blumf blumf blumf. Or blumf. Or blumf blumf blumf blumf blumf.” After that, the remaining dozen pages are lettered by an assistant and include notes from Geisel.

The auction runs through Thursday; the bidding, currently at about $1,600, has not yet reached the reserve price.

The lot includes a 1983 letter from Geisel on “Cat in the Hat” stationery, in which he remembers the “All Sorts of Sports” manuscript but finds the story lacking. “When you picture these negative scenes in illustrations, you will find that negatives are always more memorable than positives. And I think the reader’s reaction will be, ‘What’s the matter with this dope?’ ”

Perhaps that understanding of what stuck with readers is what set Dr. Seuss apart. After all, who can forget “Green Eggs and Ham”?

– Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Manuscript pages up for auction. Credit: Nate D. Sanders

Easy Reader Series for Girls

Do you have a close personal relationship with a 5 – 7-year-old girl who doesn’t understand why you keep insisting that she go read something when she’d rather do something more fun like eat brussel sprouts or clean her brother’s room?

As promised last week, here are a few “I Can Read” choices that they’ll love.


Amelia Bedelia and the Cat by Herman Parish

Leave it to Amelia Bedelia to find a real cat on a day it’s “raining cats and dogs.” She names him Tiger, and in no time, the two are inseparable and as happy as clams.

But then Tiger gets into trouble. Will Amelia Bedelia go out on a limb to save him?

The cat’s out of the bag—this is an irresistible Amelia Bedelia adventure!

Pinkalicious: Pink Around the Rink by Victoria Kann

After Pinkalicious colors her white ice skates with a cotton candy pink marker, she feels ready to spin, glide, and soar with the best of them. But as the color starts to run off of her skates, she is embarrassed. When Pinkalicious thought she was going to leave her mark on the skating rink, she didn’t mean it so literally. . . .

This I Can Read story will have young readers laughing out loud—until they get pink in the cheeks!

Fancy Nancy: Pajama Day by Jane O’Conner

Nancy is all set to wear something special for Pajama Day at school. But when Bree and Clara show up in matching outfits, Nancy feels left out. Will this Pajama Day be as fun as she thought?

The Five 2011 Newbery Winners

Okay, technically, it’s one winner and the four honor books. I don’t know about you, but on lists like this I almost always find that I like one of the runners-up more than the winner.

Also, I am somewhat pained to admit that I’ve only read one of the five Newbery books. I won’t say which one because, honestly, I wasn’t crazy about it. Nevertheless, the winner looks like a good one. If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

“Moon over Manifest,” written by Clare Vanderpool, is the 2011 Newbery Medal winner. The book is published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

“Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.” (Booklist)

More →

The 2011 Newberry and Caldecott Medal Winners.

The American Library Association announced on Monday the 2011 John Newbery Medal and the Randolph Caldecott Medal. The Newbery Medal honors the most outstanding contribution in children’s literature and the Caldecott Medal honors for the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The ALA also announced more than 20 awards total for top books, video and audiobook for children and young adults at its Midwinter Meeting in San Diego.

It’s a looooooooooong list with lots of different awards so check out the whole thing when you have some time.

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:


“A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” illustrated by Erin E. Stead, is the 2011 Caldecott Medal winner. The book was written by Philip C. Stead, and is a Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing.

Two Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

“Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Laban Carrick Hill and published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.; and

“Interrupting Chicken,” written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein and published by Candlewick Press.

More →

Easy Reader Series That Boys Will Love

The question I  get asked the most often is — can you recommend something my 5, 6, 7-year-old boy will actually want to read?

It’s a tough age, for both boys and girls, because they’re used to being read to and frequently haven’t quite gotten into the habit of reading on their own.  Or they want to read, but get frustrated because the material that interests them is too difficult for their reading level.

Here are three different series, each of which has lots of books in the series so if he likes it you can get more.  I’ve included a sample page from each series so you can gauge for yourself if the reading level is appropriate for your little man.

The Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold is adorable fun with quirky cartoons and zany plots that keeps kids reading and laughing.  In the first book we meet a boy who goes out searching for a smart animal to take to The Amazing Pet Show and bumps into a fly that is intelligent enough to say the child’s name, Buzz. Although his parents and the judges feel at first that a fly is only a pest, not a pet, the insect puts on a performance that astounds them all and wins an award.

Got a little superhero at home?   It doesn’t matter if his favorite crime-fighter is Superman, Batman, Spiderman or even, gulp, Wonder Woman, there are tons of these “I Can Read” books in which good always defeats evil. This series will have them reading without even knowing that it’s good for them.

The P.J. Funnybunny series is a very sweet series that deals with problems that feel relatable to kids.  For example, in this book P.J. thinks that camping is not for girls.  At least, that’s what P.J. and his pals tell Donna and sister Honey Bunny when they want to tag along on a camping trip. But when two mysterious ghosts frighten the boys all the way home, only the girls know the real story.

Next time, I’ll tackle the same topic except we’ll switch genders and talk about girls as emerging readers.

"The Adventures of Nanny Piggins" by R.A. Spratt

Mary Poppins, move over—or get shoved out of the way. Nanny Piggins has arrived!

Why didn’t I come up with this idea?  The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt (grades 3 – 6) is irreverent fun that is impossible to resist.  This is a most excellent choice for out loud bedtime reading that I guarantee will have both parent and child giggling.

As the story opens we learn that Nanny Piggens was most recently employed at the circus as the pig shot out of a cannon.   She assumes the title Nanny when she spies a “Help Wanted” sign on the lawn of the Green family.  Mrs. Green is dead, and Mr. Green is so tight-fisted he refuses to pay a human nanny. So when a pig with no criminal record who will work for ten cents an hour applies, Mr. Green is delighted.

The children—Derrick, Samantha, and Michael—promptly fall in love with Nanny Piggins because she lets them eat sweets all day, watch as much TV as possible and stay up quite late.  She also comes up with the most marvelous ideas, like taking a boat to China to get Chinese takeout.

Even when things don’t exactly work out as planned (and they rarely do), the high-jinks and hilarity make them excellent adventures. Stuffing adjectives into this review is as easy as watching Nanny Piggins stuff pies into her mouth. This smart, sly, funny book is marvelously illustrated with drawings that capture Nanny’s sheer pigginess.

Readers may worry that this first novel is so full of stories about Nanny Piggins that there won’t be enough left for sequels. Never fear!  The last line of the book predicts Nanny will be stirring up more adventures, possibly even before breakfast. (synopsis excerpts stolen directly from Booklist)

School Library Journal's Best Books of 2010

HERE’S SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL’S BEST OF LIST.

VERY COMPREHENSIVE LIST SORTED BY AUTHOR FOR ALL AGES.

While some of the novels here include some historical settings and contemporary concerns, it is fantasy that continues to reign supreme. More original than ever, these selections are frightening, edgy, wildly funny, electrifying, and magical, with protagonists fighting evil in brilliantly created new landscapes, realms, and kingdoms, as well as in our world. This year’s humor is found mainly in the fantasy; most of the realistic books revolve around more serious events—children surviving Hurricane Katrina, a teen trying to understand what his ex-marine brother is going through, three boys who survive by sifting through trash mounds.

Keeper small(Original Import)

APPELT, Kathi. Keeper. illus. by August Hall. S & S/Atheneum. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-5060-8.
Gr 4-7-Ten-year-old Keeper and her guardian live happily with BD (Best Dog) in a tiny Texas coastal community until the day things go terribly wrong. The impressionable youngster decides to take advantage of the blue moon’s magic to meet up with her mermaid mother to make things right and puts her life at risk in the process. A lovely, lyrical book about loss and redemption. (July)

BARRETT, Tracy. King of Ithaka. Holt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8969-1.
Gr 8 Up-When soft and spoiled Telemachos sets out to find Odysseus, the father he barely knows, he encounters danger, betrayal, treachery, and terrifying creatures as he searches land and sea, accompanied by a brazen but loyal centaur and a runaway weaver. In the end, his quest has become one of self-discovery and maturation. With vivid characters and nonstop action, this is a perfect introduction to the classic tale. (Nov.)

zombie.1(Original Import)

BLACK, Holly & Justine Larbalestier, eds. Zombies vs. Unicorns. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-8953-0.
Gr 9 Up-Two authors, each unabashedly zealous about her cause, assemble 12 creature-centric stories intended to settle that age-old debate: Which are better, zombies or unicorns? Penned by YA’s elite, these edgy, finely crafted tales reach far beyond the expected shambling corpses and shimmering steeds to ponder themes of love and loss, moral dilemmas, and the state of modern society. (Oct.)

BOYCE, Frank Cottrell. Cosmic. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-183683-1; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-183686-2.
Gr 5-8-Twelve-year-old Liam Digby looks so much like a full-grown adult that he’s accepted as an in-flight chaperone for a thrill ride that sends a group of kids into simulated space. When the experiment turns into the real thing, he faces the challenge of his life. This wild adventure is as funny as it is serious, and Liam’s problem-solving skills, based on his success with role-playing computer games, serve him well. (Feb.)

More →

NY Times Best of 2010

Notable Children’s Books of 2010

 

Illustration by Jakob Hinrichs

BUSING BREWSTER
By Richard Michelson.
Illustrated by R. G. Roth.

Unpaged. Knopf. $16.99. (Ages 6 to 10)

Brewster is a black child living in a segregated neighborhood in the early 1970s. He’s not dreaming of a way out, only of starting first grade with Miss Evelyn — until his mother announces that he and his brother will be bused to the “white school” an hour away. The understated honesty of Michelson’s writing and Roth’s art capture the period perfectly in this tale, one of this year’s New York Times best illustrated children’s books.

CENTER FIELD
By Robert Lipsyte.
280 pp. HarperTeen/HarperCollins. $16.99. (Ages 12 and up)

Lipsyte’s pitch-perfect young adult novel follows a jaded but likable suburban kid who wants only to play center field, where it’s “open and clean, no foul lines or crazy angles.” But it takes time to get there. The suburb he lives in, with its neglected teenagers, overworked adults and scheming, self-serving authority figures, seems like a stand-in for early-21st-century America.

DUST DEVIL
By Anne Isaacs.
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Unpaged. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99. (Ages 5 to 9)

In this gorgeous sequel to the Caldecott Honor-winning “Swamp Angel,” the brave and resourceful Angelica Long rider, all of 16 years old, once again proves herself worthy to wear the boots of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill or John Henry. Zelinsky’s precise and witty illustrations, in American primitive style, match Isaacs’ text, which captures the outsize tone of the frontier, where the soil is “rich enough to open its own bank.”

More →

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President

“If War and Peace had a baby with The Breakfast Club and then left the baby to be raised by wolves, this book would be the result. I loved it.” –Jon Stewart.

I guess to be fair, it should be noted that Mr. Lieb is a producer on the Daily Show.  Nevertheless, Jon Stewart is spot on.

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President by Josh Lieb (12 – 15) is a deliciously wicked YA book that will appeal to the 12 and up crowd but also to those finicky, difficult-to-please middle school boys.

Twelve-year-old Oliver Watson’s got the IQ of a grilled cheese sandwich. Or so everyone in Omaha thinks. In reality, Oliver’s a mad evil genius on his way to world domination, and he’s used his great brain to make himself the third-richest person on earth! Then Oliver’s father—and arch-nemesis—makes a crack about the upcoming middle school election, and Oliver takes it as a personal challenge. He’ll run, and he’ll win! Turns out, though, that overthrowing foreign dictators is actually way easier than getting kids to like you. . . Can this evil genius win the class presidency and keep his true identity a secret, all in time to impress his dad?  (product description)

I dare you to click here

How much of Oliver’s elaborate world as a 7th grade evil genius is in his mind and how much is actually happening remains a bit unclear.  But then again, I suppose the simple fact that a grown woman is even pondering this question demonstrates just how fully realized Oliver’s world feels to the reader.  Although Oliver’s incredible universe is bigger-than-life, the theme of a boy striving for his father’s love is subtle and touching.

Lately it seems that the list of anti-hero, evil geniuses is growing.  I’m pretty sure Oliver is my favorite one yet.   Loved this one.

Why Judy Blume is Still Awesome

We must, we must, we must increase our bust!

It’s true.  Judy Blume is kind of my hero.  I remember stalking the shelves of Arlington Heights public school library when I was in third grade hoping to find “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” so I could check it out for, like, the twenty-fifth time.  The librarian, seeing what book I was attempting to check out, yet again, would cheerfully suggest other titles that she hoped would inspire me to broaden my literary horizons.  I would listen, smiling and nodding, then thank her for her input and shoved ”Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” into my backpack.

Unlike many other beloved titles from a childhood long ago and far away, Judy Blume’s books continue to hold up.  Why?  Other than well-rounded characters and excellent plotting, one might posture that it’s actually because she dares to tackle controversial topics that pique kids’ interest like racism (Iggie’s House), menstruation (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret), divorce (It’s Not the End of the WorldJust As Long As We’re Together), bullying (Blubber), masturbation (DeenieThen Again, Maybe I Won’t) and teen sex (Forever).

Ms. Blume has written 21 some novels with sales exceeding 80 million copies that have been translated into 31 languages.  Considering her brave approach to “controversial” topics, it shouldn’t be a surprise that she is one of the most censored authors of all time.  I say good for you, Judy Blume!  In fact, on the list of the top 100 most challenged books between 1990 and 1999 at the American Library Association, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, comes in at number sixty.

This book tells the tale of an eleven year old girl, Margaret Simon, who is growing up with no organized religion (her father is Jewish and her mother Christian).  She, nevertheless, has a close personal relationship with God who she sees as her friend and confidant, someone she talks to when she cannot seem to talk to anyone else about important issues in her life.  When assigned a yearlong independent project at school, Margaret chooses the weighty task of studying people’s beliefs.  Through serious yet sometimes comical situations, the book also deals with several other taboo topics: Margaret having to buy her very first bra; having her first period; jealousy over other girls having more curvaceous figures; and, of course, boys.

Apparently the book lands on the “most censored” list because it deals openly with sexuality and religion.

The Judy Blume books are awesome Christmas gifts.  If you have emerging readers, then start with “Freckle Juice.”  The publishers put together some excellent boxed sets for the holidays for slightly older readers.

Best Boxed Sets Gifts for Readers 4 – 8

If Santa is looking for some gift ideas for good little emerging readers, I have a few suggestions.

1.  What do the Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, A to Z Mysteries, Andrew Lost, and Nate the Great series have in common? Not only are the main characters spunky and lovable kids whose exciting adventures have captivated readers for decades—they’re also all found in one place in the Favorite Series Starters boxed set.

This is the first-ever sampler of its kind, introducing young readers to five favorite series through the first book in each. Kids will be clamoring to read more—and will have five different series to pursue—after they’ve read the “favorite firsts” in this collection.

This is an awesome collection for any young reader.

2.  How did four strange teachers get into this little box?

Meet a teacher who eats bonbons, a principal who kisses pigs, a librarian who thinks she’s George Washington, and an art teacher who dresses up in pot holders! They’re all inside this box! They must be getting pretty crowded in My Weird School Collection by Dan Gutman.

3.  Ivy and Bean are two friends who never meant to like each other. This boxed set, Ivy and Bean: books 1 – 3 by Annie Barrows,  is a delightful introduction to these spunky characters. It includes the first three books in the Ivy and Bean series and a secret treasure-hiding box with a surprise inside.

"The Golden Compass" by Phillip Pullman

Read the book.   Don’t see the movie.

“The Golden Compass” by Phillip Pullman (grade 7 and up) is the first in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy.  It’s easily the best of the three books and can confidently stand alone.  In a landmark epic of fantasy and storytelling, Pullman invites readers into a world as convincing and thoroughly realized as Narnia, Earthsea, or Redwall.

Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors.  First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe.

He leaves Lyra in the care of  Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her.

In this multilayered  narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title.  All around her children are disappearing, victims of so-called “Gobblers” being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their animal daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being.  And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved in this horrible experiment.

If you have a teen who likes to read and hasn’t read this series, buy it for them for the holidays.  But be warned, once they start reading you may not see them again for the rest of winter break.

As an aside, I must also confess that while glued to this book, I fell head over heels in love with a polar bear.  Read it yourself, and you’ll know why.

Bookshelf 2.0 developed by revood.com