Monday, October 31, 2005

Rupert the £6m Bear

Fergus Sheppard reports for the Scotsman that Rupert the Bear has sold: "Entertainment Rights (ER) has paid £6 million to Express Newspapers for a two-thirds controlling stake in Rupert, and plans to market the Rupert brand across television, DVDs and other merchandise."

A new animated TV program is in the works.

Happy Halloween!

And in candy news...

KidsPost (Washington Post) runs down some important Halloween related statistics. The most popular Halloween costume? Princess. More than 100 pieces of candy gathered? Forty-five percent of trick-or-treaters reach this magic number. And, number of parents who sneak candy from the plastic pumpkin? Seventy percent. (What?!? Only 70 percent? I've taken to purchasing a bag of 100 Grand to save myself the trouble and disappointment.)


It's finally Halloween. My youngsters have been strung out for over a week in anticipation.

In honor of the occasion, take the Ghosts and Spirits quiz at the Guardian. (I didn't do so well, I must admit.)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Francesca Simon

Stephanie Merritt interviews Francesca Simon, author of the wonderful Horrid Henry series today for the Guardian.

The Horrid Henry books focus on Henry trials and travails as the naughty child of "two liberal parents." They are truly funny and appeal to children who also like the Ramona books or My Naughty Little Sister.

Here's the interesting part:

  • "Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the Henry books have never found a US publisher, despite being published in 20 countries. 'The reason I'm always given is that they're too British which, considering I'm American, is very funny,' Simon says, grinning. 'I think they're just considered too subversive. But it's a very conservative climate there now and children's books are invested with great power; there's this idea the child might copy something. I always say to kids, "Henry is horrid so you don't have to be." It's the same reason adults love murder mysteries, not because they're going to go out and kill someone but because fiction allows you to explore these emotions in a safe way. But maybe they're afraid American kids might discover sibling rivalry.'"

These books are worth ordering online (Amazon and Powell's have copies in the U.S.) or looking for in a good bookstore. They're excellent bedtime read-alouds for both girls and boys who have a bit of naughty behavior in them.

The Worst Witch Saves the Day

Kate Kellaway reviews Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch Saves the Day for today's Guardian.

The Worst Witch books truly are a lot of fun for kids who have just begun to read fluently on their own. For some reason, though, they haven't taken off in the U.S. They are ideal reads for kids who just aren't ready for the Harry Potter reading or the Series of Unfortunate Events irony level.

Kellaway writes of Murphy, "Jill Murphy is one of the most engaging writers and illustrators for children in the land. She writes with gaiety and charm about the fallibility of humans, elephants (she is responsible for the Large family), cats and trainee witches. Weakness is her forte."

(I also adore the Large Family--especially All in One Piece.)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

For Younger Readers

No theme today for Elizabeth Ward (Washington Post), but she reviews four new novels and a picture book aimed at the 8 and above reader.

Ward discusses Zizou Corder's Lionboy: The Truth, Sallie Lowenstein's Waiting for Eugene, Walter Dean Myers Autobiography of my Dead Brother, and Toni Trent Parker's Sienna's Scrapbook: Our African American Heritage Trip.

The fifth novel she reviews is Adam Gopnik's The King in the Window. I love Gopnik's essays. The King in the Window is at the top of my reading list and, as I just finished crying my way through Each Little Bird That Sings (Deborah Wiles), I'll begin reading the Gopnik today.

Ward writes, "Gopnik, a journalist and author of a well-received collection of essays on Paris, may have tried too hard with his first children's book -- certainly, he belabors his metaphors and overdoes the Francophilia -- but fantasy-loving, computer-savvy kids with a literary and historical bent will probably forgive him." Most reviews have been similarly mixed, but I'll still give it a try.

(The King in the Window reviews in the Los Angeles Times, the Library Journal, and at Powell's Books.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Still looking for a costume?

Halloween's upon us and what to do if you don't have a costume?

Mary K. Feeney found a solution for the Washington Post. She asked five Washington designers to, "using a white sheet of any size and up to $25 in accessory materials, create a costume that could be made by Weekend readers before the witching hour begins Monday."

4 cute and 1 beautifully creepy (Horror, Tabled) costumes result.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Letting the kids help...

Misty Harris covers Indigo Books (Chapters Bookstores in Canada) and their unique market research for

Indigo Books has a 10-member junior advisory board made up of teenagers. And it seems to be working. The stores showed a 21 percent growth (after removing Harry Potter from the equation) in the 9-16 category. Here is a very interesting quote from the article:

  • "According to Heather Reisman, chief executive at Indigo, the company wouldn't snub a novel that deserved exposure. But if the junior advisory board members are all holding their noses, she says: 'the difference in the amount of exposure and promotion (the book gets) can be quite significant.' Last year, for example, Reisman says a particular title -- which came 'highly, highly touted' by its publisher as the next big thing -- was only judged lukewarm by Indigo's senior reviewers. When the junior advisory board also gave it a collective thumbs-down, the book was taken off the fast track.

Ms. Reisman is a very smart woman.

Halloween Books

Halloween is everywhere! Susan at Chicken-Spaghetti has just commented on several of her favorites, including Corduroy's Halloween, which was a frequent preschool choice at our house as well.

Jacqueline Blais roundsup some of her favorite Halloween books today for USAToday. Of special note, in my opinion, is Elizabeth Hatch's Halloween Night (ill. Jimmy Pickering).

Our two most loved Halloween books currently are Kay Winter's The Teeny Tiny Ghost (ill. Lynn Musinger) and A Beasty Story (the collaboration between Bill Martin Jr. and Steven Kellogg).

A completely off-topic comment here: For a fascinating discussion about online book retailers and access, check out Maud Newton and the Literary Saloon today. (This discussion was inspired by Maud Newton's interview with Dave Weich of Powell's Books yesterday.) My Smalltown is a prime example of Two Americas, so this discussion interests me very much.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Audio Books

Nikki Spencer choses "The Ten Best: Children's Audio Books" for the Independent.

Selections include Frank Cottrell Boyce's Millions (read by Stephen Tompkinson), I, Coriander, by Sally Gardner (read by Juliet Stephenson), Diane Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle (read by John Sessions), and The Beasts of Clawstone Castle, by Eva Ibbotson (read by David Tennant).

Audio books can save a long drive and they're great to clean to as well (if one must clean that is...)

Golden & Grey

Golden & Grey (An Unremarkable Boy and a Rather Remarkable Ghost) is a new type of ghost story. Written by Louise Arnold, Golden & Grey features a boy and a ghost who become bound together by a simultaneously uttered "Life is not fair."

The novel begins when Tom Golden, who has recently moved, is tormented at his new school. Grey Arthur is a ghost who hasn't yet found his way in the ghost world. He's not serious enough to be a Sadness Summoner and not mischievous enough to be a Poltergeist. When he hears Tom's "life is not fair," he decides his job is to be an "invisible friend."

(In one of the most funny scenes in the novel Miranda, a poltergeist, explains to Grey Arthur that he's got it all wrong in his choice of career: "'Human children,' said Miranda slowly, trying to keep the grin from her face, 'have invisible friends that only they can see.' She paused to let this sink in. 'They Are Imaginary. That's why they're called invisible! They don't really exist.'")

Grey Arthur is cast into doubt. Should he remain an Invisible Friend if such a thing doesn't really exist for a ghost? But when Tom has an accident and, after a head injury, can finally see and communicate with Arthur, Arthur stays on in his role and all sorts of scary adventures ensue.

Golden & Grey is a cute, page-turning read for the 8-12 set.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the back of the bus, died last night at the age of 92.

Her life and quiet activism inspired many authors of children's literature as Parks' most famous act of defiance during the 1955-6 bus boycott in Montgomery, AL, is one that was not only an iconic act of resistance, but also one children can relate to easily.

Parks even wrote her own children's book I am Rosa Parks (Dial, 1997) and colaborated in another title called Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth with Gregory J. Reed (Lee & Low, 1997). In Dear Mrs. Parks, letters to Rosa Parks are included--letters she answers to today's children.

Other well-known titles about Parks include David A. Adler's A Picture Book of Rosa Parks, Faith Ringgold's If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks, and Eloise Greenfield's Rosa Parks (Trophy Chapter Books). There also have been several easy-to-read biographies published about Parks.

ETA: Camille at BookMoot recommends Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues by Harriette Gillem Robinet, a novel told from the point of view of a young teen. Thanks, Camille! Some other titles of note are being mentioned by members of the child_lit listserv today, including: Nikki Giovanni's Rosa (ill. Bryan Collier).

ETA2: Cynthia Leitich Smith has recently published a short story, "Riding with Rosa," inspired by Rosa Parks in Cicada. (March/April 2005).

(Also, for a wonderful piece about Rosa Parks (by Daphne Muse) check out today's post at Read Roger.)

Do you have a favorite children's book about (or by) Parks?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Reading Zone

Check out Reading Zone, an informative and fun new site for children, teachers, and grownups.

Reading Zone is designed for those three types of readers, and the grownups' page is particularly good. It shares book news, book lists, and favorites for adults interested in children's literature and/or reading to their children. For children, there are competitions and ideas for further reading after Harry Potter or Alex Rider.

According to Publishing News, Reading Zone is "the brainchild of The Bookseller’s Children’s Editor Caroline Horn."

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Gillian Flaccus covers WriteGirl for the Los Angeles Times (via the AP) today.

Here is their website. What an amazingly awesome organization! (Excuse the teen speech, I'm just truly blown away by this organization.)

WriteGirl pairs an "at-risk" girl who wants to write with an established writer in the LA area. They stage performances where the girls can read their work and publish anthologies of their writings. WriteGirl 4 is now out and can be purchased at Amazon and a couple of independent booksellers.

This is the sad part of the story:

"Taylor, a former singer-songwriter, was forced to cap student enrollment at 50 and says she hasn't actively recruited new girls in three years. All the teens in the program — many from the city's most troubled inner-city schools — have gone on to college. The group gets requests every day from teachers, camp directors and nonprofits to expand or start similar programs elsewhere, something WriteGirl hasn't been able to afford yet."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Saturday's Sunday Reviews

There's lots of children's literature in Sunday's New York Times Book Review.

  • This week's "Bookshelf" is devoted to the little ones and features such titles as Traction Man is Here!, Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs, and Diary of a Spider. Most of the books reviewed are picture books, but two middle-grade novels also get the treatment: Many Ly's Home is East and Zizou Corder's Lionboy: The Truth.

  • Lois Metzger reviews Patricia McCormick's second YA novel, My Brother's Keeper. My Brother's Keeper is told from the point of view of a second child, Toby, who thinks his eldest brother is doing drugs. "Toby knows all the signs, from videos shown at school. 'What I don't know,' he says, 'is what you're supposed to do when it's your brother and not somebody in a video.'" That's a perceptive question for a seventh-grader and an interesting premise for a novel.

  • Jan Benzel reviews two new picture books dedicated to the library--Megan McDonald's When the Library Lights Go Out (ill. Katherine Tillotson) and J. Patrick Lewis' Please Bury Me in the Library (ill. Kyle M. Stone). McDonald's story is one for bedtime. The animals and puppets come to life after the lights go out in the library. Benzel praises Tillotson's illustrations in particular. Please Bury Me in the Library is a book of poetry and includes such funny verses as "The Classic." Benzel quotes, "'A children's book is a classic/ If at six, excitedly/ You read it to another kid/ Who just turned sixty-three.'" Hmmm...I wonder which books Lewis is referring to?

  • Finally, Jessica Bruder reviews another slightly macabre picture book, The Perfect Pumpkin Pie, written and illustrated by Denys Cazet. The Perfect Pumpkin Pie tells the tale of, "Old Man Wilkerson, a grumpy glutton who dies before he can taste the pie that his wife, Mrs. Wilkerson, has baked for him one Halloween night. It is 'a perfect pie, round and brown as toast.' And just as he raises a forkful to his lips, Old Man Wilkerson kicks the bucket. " Oh, this one sounds great!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Again, from the U.K.

I am always a little sad when I read the book pages in the Times, the Guardian, the Independent. I may be biased because I'm a bit of an anglophile, but I have always loved British Children's Literature most of all (Don't get me wrong, I love American kids' books too, but my childhood travels and a 2nd grade in the U.K. rubbed off on me.)

Today there are rave reviews for two new titles in the U.K.

Leslie Wilson reviews Adèle Geras' Ithaka for the Guardian. (Ithaka was also last week's "Children's book of the week" in the Times.) Wilson's conclusion to her review says it all. She writes, "This is the kind of novel whose images, as well as its characters, stay with you after you've finished it: the searing Greek sunshine, the grey olive groves, the dim, lamplit streets at night; the beautiful, archaic-sounding poetry into which Geras has rendered Penelope's weaving, lapping like sea-water; and the sea-god Poseidon himself, glittering with scales, breathing out threats against Odysseus in a throat-burning stench of fish and salt and seaweed. Marvelous."

The good news is that Ithaka will be out January 2006 in the States.

In another rave review for a children's book, Amanda Craig recommends David Almond's newest novel, Clay. In Clay, a new boy arrives to town and befriends Davie, a boy who has been bullied by the town tyrant, Mouldy. The new boy, Stephen Rose, fashions a creature from clay to attack Mouldy. Craig writes, "How Almond manages to make a work of art out of the simplest words, many of them dialect, is akin to Stephen’s powers over clay, and indeed this novel is about whether God exists, creating us as Stephen creates his mysterious figures."

Well, I guess we'll have to wait a bit for these titles, but at Michele at Scholar's Blog has noted, U.K. residents have to wait for good things too (her complaint was regarding Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, a valid complaint for sure!)

More Reviews

Sally Williams reviews recent picture book releases in the U.K. for today's Independent.

Of special interest are:

  • Roald Dahl's Song and Verse, compiled by Quentin Blake. There has been much recent interest in the project and I'm thrilled to see it is a success. Williams writes, "From the Centipede Song to Augustus Gloop 'The great big greedy nincompoop!'; from the epic Toad and the Snail to the dashed-off five-liner for the manager of Coutts Bank, this anthology confirms that Dahl was doubly gifted as writer of prose and verse. With the verses loosened from their traditional homes into a flowing charge, this book carries you, smiling, from beginning to end. " I can't wait until Roald Dahl's Song and Verse is published in the U.S. (U.K. publisher is Jonathan Cape)
  • Lauren Child has a new "picture" book--The Princess and the Pea. Williams explains, "Lauren Child sets the action in tiny paneled rooms made from card, peopled by paper cut-outs and furnished with objects typically owned by miniature specialists." Hope this one makes it to our side of the pond by spring...

Also in the Independent today, Nicholas Tucker reviews recent teen lit, including Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief and Frank Cottrell Boyce's Millions.

Nautical Tales

Christina Hardyment reviews Nautical tales of knights and northern lights (two of which are published in the U.S. currently) for the Independent. The tales she discusses in her review are intended for the 8-12 year-old audience.

Of note for U.S. readers:
  • Hardyment praises Carl Hiaasen's Flush for being a, "gripping, funny and entirely satisfying story."
  • Volume 8 of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's The Edge Chronicles is out in the U.K. and Hardyment couldn't be more pleased: "Writer Paul Stewart and illustrator Chris Riddell combine in creating an unputdownable story, this time that of Quint Verginix's adventures in Sanctaphrax's exclusive Knights Academy." We'll see this one soon, I believe.
  • Cornelia Funke's Inkspell gets another thumbs-up.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Emily Gravett

Michelle Pauli has another fantastic interview for The Guardian today. She's spoken to Emily Gravett, a finalist for this year's Nestlé children's book prize 'five and under' category for the picture book Wolves.

Gravett's story is a true rags-to-riches (or at least an "it's never to late") tale and well worth reading even though Wolves hasn't been published in the States yet. Gravett seems like an interesting person and I especially appreciate that she is willing to admit she returned to school because she was bored. As Pauli explains, "The sheer tedium of being surrounded by four walls, bringing up a baby in the middle of the Pembrokeshire countryside after years spent on the road, prompted Gravett's next move."

And a good move it was. Can't wait until this one is out in the States.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Magic Nation Thing

Well, she's done it again. Zilpha Keatley Snyder has written another magical novel for the 9-13 set. I've been a fan ever since I read The Egypt Game as a child. I counted The Egypt Game as one of my most favorite novels along with The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.

Magic Nation Thing tells the tale of Abby O'Malley, a twelve-year-old girl from San Francisco. Abby's parents are recently divorced and her mom starts a Detective Agency as a means of employment. That's when the trouble begins.

Abby's talent is not new. She first discovered it in preschool, but learned to discount it as her "magic nation" thing. One of her mom's cases, however, brings her powers back to life. A young girl has disappeared and Dorcas O'Malley is hired to investigate. Amongst the evidence is a locket, a locket Abby can't resist picking up. When she holds the locket, it becomes warm and Abby sees a vision--a vision of the young girl at Disneyland. Case closed, but Abby's life becomes more difficult. Her best friend, Paige, is interested in using Abby's talents for sometimes frivolous purposes. And, Abby tries to prevent her mother from finding out that her talent is working, as Dorcas is interested in a familial history of magic.

Snyder's writing is simply magical. Her sentences are snappy, clear, and sharp. Abby O'Malley is a wonderfully real heroine and you're squarely in her corner from the start. I have one small quibble with the novel, though, and that is I really didn't like Paige, Abby's best friend, and I couldn't see how Abby liked her. But I guess that is characteristic of friendships in general during the middle grade years. (If anyone else has read this novel, please let me know what you think about Abby and Paige's friendship.)

A highly recommended read for the 8-14 reader.

Daniel Handler Interview

Tracy Grant interviews Daniel Handler for today's "Style" section of the Washington Post.

As you all know, The Penultimate Peril came out yesterday and "we're 12/13ths of the way through -- in case you're not good at fractions" Handler notes (helpfully) in the interview.

It's a short but sweet interview. My favorite interchange is the following:

  • TG: "What do you say to people who ask why you've written books where such horrible things happen to kids?"
  • DH: "I say, 'Dear Lord, what's that behind you?' Then I run away. [He laughs.] I'm puzzled why someone would want to read a book that told the reader that everything was going to be okay as long as you behave well. That has not been my experience and I suspect it's not the experience of people in the Washington area."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

100 Best Novels in English

Time critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo roundup what they find to be the best novels in English from 1923 to the present. And it is not a bad list, either, despite the fact there are only 2-3 children's books on the list: Are You There God, It's Me Margaret?, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Lord of the Rings. (I'm not sure you can call The Lord of the Rings children's literature, though many youngsters do read and love it.)

I was pleased to see most of my adult faves on the list--Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, Nabokov's Pale Fire, Ian McEwan's Atonement, Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird (a painful read, but great novel). I had a few quibbles re: specific works (Why Money and not London Fields? Why Under the Net and not The Book and the Brotherhood? Why Never Let me Go and not An Artist of the Floating World?), but otherwise not a bad list for a "top 100" list.

Filming "Encyclopedia Brown": A Hollywood Tale

Filming Encyclopedia Brown is not as easy as it looks. Take decades of the Hollywood treatment, one producer, and a disgrunted writer (Donald J. Sobol) and what do you get? No movie yet. Via the New York Times.

(I have to say that $25, 000 is not much for movie rights for such a well established series. No wonder Sobol is upset.)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Leonardo the Terrible Monster

I found Mo Willems' adorable Leonardo the Terrible Monster at the library on Saturday. I thought this was lucky as it was published just in time for Halloween.

In any case, Leonardo the Terrible Monster is terribly cute and funny. Our sweet little monster can't compete. "He wasn't big, like Eleanor. And he wasn't just plain weird, like Hector." Moreover, "He didn't have 1,642 teeth like Tony." (A footnote informs the reader "Note: Not all teeth shown.")

When I was running the book under the scanner, my four-your old said, "That looks like a good book!" I said, "Yes, many people say it is good. It's about a monster." "Ah," he said (literally), "It must be one of those monster books where the scary monster turns out to be not so scary after all." It is probably not spoiling the surprise to let you know that my little critic was correct. I guess Leonardo's eyebrows on the front cover betray his monsterness.

Highly recommended for the 3-6 crowd. As mentioned, Willems is a master at facial expression--must be all that work in animation he's done.

101 Poems about Childhood

Michael Glover reviews an edited volume entitled 101 Poems about Childhood for the Independent.

101 Poems about Childhood was edited and compiled by American poet, Michael Donaghy, who passed away suddenly last year. While the volume is not aimed at children per se, it seems as if it would be a nice introduction to poetry for the tween and early teen set. "The focus," Glover writes, "is not so much on so-called childish behaviour, but the way in which a child's mind works and develops." The volume contains poems by Marvell, Wordsworth, Whitman, and Bishop, among others.

Glover's concluding paragraph to this review is particularly eloquent. He writes, "Michael, you have done us proud in this book - not least for the fact that, like the best of children, you lacked pomposity and self-importance, another familiar blight of poets."

The Water Mirror

Well, the wait is over. This weekend I got my hands on a copy of The Water Mirror.

Kai Meyer's The Water Mirror is one of the most interesting middle-grade fantasies I've ever read. Thanks goes to Margaret K. McElderry Books for publishing this gem. Special appreciation is due as well to Elizabeth D. Crawford who translated the novel from German beautifully.

The Water Mirror begins as Merle, 14, and Junipa, 13, are traveling to the home and workshop of Arcimboldo, creator of magical mirrors. Merle and Junipa are orphans and apprenticed to the mirror-maker. Arcimboldo's house sits on the Canal of the Expelled in a Venice under siege at the hands of the Egyptian Empire. Venice is nearly abandoned, regal homes have been stripped for their wood, and the city is a dark, empty, and threatening force.

The only hope left for the Venetians is The Flowing Queen, a godlike creature or force who has protected them from an Egyptian assault. But there are traitors in their midst and Merle becomes embroiled in a battle for the city, escaping with the Flowing Queen and a flying obsidian lion.

The Water Mirror is the first in a series and that's a good thing as it doesn't really have an ending. In addition, there are so many elements in the story I can't wait to read more about. What happens to Junipa, Merle's friend who Arcimboldo cures of blindness by fashioning for her mirror eyes? What role do the magical mirrors play in this world? What happens to the other apprentices on the Canal of the Expelled, including Serafin, an apprentice for the only other craftsman on the canal and who inadvertently involves Merle in her fight for the city?

I can't wait to find out what will happen to Merle, her friends, and Venice. (By the way, the German fascination for Venice is an intriguing cultural phenomenon.)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday Links

Julia Ewan briefly reviews M.I. McAllister's The Mistmantle Chronicles: Urchin of the Riding Stars for the Washington Post's "Style" section today. "Just when you think a squirrel named Urchin couldn't possibly carry a story for almost 300 pages, you get drawn in by the tale of the orphan boy whose mother tried so hard to save him." According to Ewan, McAllister has created a beautiful, complex squirrel world in this first of a series. (It would be nice to know what they're up to when they are running across your roof at 3 a.m.)


The BBC reports that Philip Pullman has criticized the filming of the Narnia series. It's a very odd article and seems to be pieced together based on previous interviews, none of which are cited directly.

Pullman, at some point told the Observer, that the Narnia books are "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice." In addition, Pullman notes that "it's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue. The highest virtue - we have on the authority of the New Testament itself - is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books."

Not new news, but an interesting use of journalism by the BBC nonetheless.


Sheldon Cashdan reviews The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature: Traditions in English for the Los Angeles Times. Edited by Jack Zipes and others, this latest volume in the Norton series weighs in at 2, 472 pages. Aimed at the academic market, the volume is, "divided into 19 chapters, among them 'Myths,' 'Fairy Tales,' 'Science Fiction,' 'Verse' and 'Adventure Tales,' as well as a unique chapter devoted to comics." Cashdan laments the fact that many more recent titles, including the Harry Potter, Oz, Babar, and The Little Prince books, are not included while Anne Boleyn's letter to Henry the XVIII "professing her innocence on the eve of her execution" was. Cashdan notes (in a delicious, understated tone), " It's hard to view this as an example of children's literature, much less a model of persuasive letter-writing."

Cashdan concludes, however, " Such caveats aside, the anthology is worthy of praise. The introductory remarks in each section explain the background for the subgenres and offer a historical overview. It is difficult to appreciate the significance of fairy tales unless one knows that they originally were meant for adult consumption and featured scenes of rape and incest. The steps the Grimm brothers undertook in transforming these stories into "household tales" provides a context for understanding the contribution the stories make to children's literature."

Saturday, October 15, 2005

For Younger Readers

Hooray! Elizabeth Ward has another "For Younger Readers" article in Sunday's Washington Post. (Isn't today Saturday? It seems newspapers are headed the direction magazines took long ago.) This week her theme is Halloween, which is coming up faster than expected this year.

Ward lists this season's best Halloween books and in her opinion they are:

Dave Horowitz's The Ugly Pumpkin. This title is everywhere in the bigbox bookstores, so it must have done well this season. Ward writes that it is the "rhyming, vegetable version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling" and that "this book's festive ending and wryly comic art outweigh the darkness of the theme."

Debby Atwell's The Warthog's Tail. In this picture book, a young witch encounters a sleeping warthog blocking her path. That's already a promising opening! The young girl tries magic, which doesn't work and she's unsuccessful until, "an old man chances by to explain the subtler magic of persuasion."

Mo Willems' Leonardo the Terrible Monster. I've seen this one about everywhere and I think I'll pick it up today because of this recommendation: "Willems, ever his own man, eschews a Halloween palette for this pitch-perfect yarn about a small monster with an identity crisis."

Ward also recommends another in Paula Danziger's Amber Brown series, Orange You Glad It's Halloween, Amber Brown? and a middle-grade novel by Catherine Badgley, Pippa's First Summer. Ward writes that, "Badgley, a research scientist, tracks a female bat from the summer day she is born 'as lightning struck the barn and rattled the old beams' to the night months later when 'snowflakes swirled over the forest [and] Pippa hung between her mother and her friend, deep in sleep.'"

I've just got to get those costumes going...

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Nobodies

It's been a crazy week at work, so I was happy to have E.N. Bode (Julianna Baggott)'s The Nobodies to distract me.

The Nobodies is the sequel to Baggott's firt novel for children, The Anybodies. An anybody is a, "person who by nature or training can transform objects into reality" and who can sometimes change their own shape. One of an anybody's most spectacular talents is the ability to shake characters out of books. Our heroine, Fern, gets in trouble at the beginning of The Nobodies for shaking a rhino out of a book.

Fern lives with her grandmother in a house built, literally, of books. The house is "populated with creatures that have been shaken from books—Borrowers in the walls, hobbits in the yard, Indians in the cupboards. It's situated where the sidewalk ends, beside a peach tree with the most enormous, one might say giant peach."

This summer those creatures shaken from books—the nobodies—are calling to Fern. Through notes sent in bottles, they beg Fern to free them from the evil Mole. Fern is not entirely sure who the Mole is, but she finds out soon enough when she goes away to Anybody camp, Camp Happy Sunshine Good Times. (Love that name!) At the camp all sorts of adventures ensue and Fern learns her true powers as an Anybody.

The Nobodies is an exciting adventure tale and a true page turner. But it is also more than that. Baggott's narrator is a slightly paranoid writer who believes her writing instructor is trying to off her. Fern is a spunky heroine who sticks up for the underdog. An important character, who is introduced only at the end of the novel, says to Fern, "And there's much to learn from you. Somehow you make it seem worthwhile sticking up for people, trying to understand them, listening and making your way in the mess of people and all the time hoping to do some good for the people you don't even know."

The Nobodies is an engrossing, hilarious, and uplifting novel. Highly recommended for a smart middle-grade reader.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Cornelia Funke and literary influences

I think Cornelia Funke is one of the best writers for children writing today. I loved Dragonrider and Inkheart. Inkheart has replaced Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as my 9-year-old's favorite read. Her copy of Inkheart, bought this summer in an English-language bookstore in France for some amazing amount of money, is so worn now pieces fly out of it as she carries it around the house.

I am stunned to read today in the Publishers Weekly "Children's Bookshelf" newsletter that the inspiration for Mo was none other than the actor Brendan Fraser. From this tidbit of an article we learn, "When Funke sent the book to Fraser, she included the inscription: 'For Brendan Fraser. If you ever read this to your children, tell them it was their father who made these pages breathe.'" What a nice note! What a surprise to this reader. Just shows you that influences can come from anywhere.

On a related note, Michele at Scholar's Blog has recently reviewed a number of Funke's novels. (See September 4, 25, and October 3 for her reviews.)

B*tween Productions

Tania Ralli profies Addie Swartz, founder of B*tween Productions, for the Boston Globe (registration may be required after first reading). B*tween Productions publishes a series of books for girls ages 9-13, the Beacon Street Girls.

Ralli writes that the Beacon Street Girls, "as a whole tries to help girls face their many challenges. They are concerned with fitting in, wearing the right clothes, and coping with school pressures. Sitting alone in the cafeteria is mortifying. And with so many mixed messages about what it means to be a woman, vulnerability sets in, child development specialists say." Simply put, middle school has always been more difficult than junior or high school.

The latest title, Lake Rescue (#6), deals with diabetes, and childhood obesity and its social ramifications. The series is written by Annie Bryant and illustrated by Pamela M. Esty.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

National Book Awards--Young People's Literature

Via Read Roger, the finalists for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature are:

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks (Alfred A. Knopf)
Adele Griffin, Where I Want to Be (Putnam)
Chris Lynch, Inexcusable (Atheneum)
Walter Dean Myers, Autobiography of My Dead Brother (HarperTempest)
Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings (Harcourt)

These books are all very different from one another, so much so that I think it would be difficult to decide between them!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Jacqueline Wilson

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti points to a wonderful article in today's Slate about Jacqueline Wilson.

Moira Redmond discusses "Who Is Jacqueline Wilson?" and why Ms. Wilson is not very popular in the U.S., when she is one of Britain's favorite children's writers. I have also always wondered this. Wilson's books are amusing and down-to-earth. Her young protagonists are both "unusual" and "normal" and often have to deal with difficult situations--situations created by unbalanced parents, school situations, and other such problems of everyday life (no dragons here). I adore The Illustrated Mum, a book every British young girl/woman under the age of 25 must have read at least once.

So why aren't Wilson's books read much in the U.S.? Redmond thinks this is because young Americans haven't found the books themselves yet and that Wilson's books are the type kids like more than their parents do (though Redmond makes a good argument for adults reading these books too). "If young Americans could find them for themselves, they'd probably love them" Redmond concludes. I agree, though I do think because Wilson's novels contain a lot of U.K. slang, a glossary may be in order for U.S. youngsters not familiar with British English.

Suitable for Children?

Philip Kerr (author of the Children of the Lamp series) weighs in on the G.P. Taylor kerfuffle in one of the most hilarious articles on children's writers I've read in a long time (in the Independent).

Kerr writes that an American tour taught him how to behave himself early: "A three-week tour of American schools in 2004 left me convinced me that it is impossible to be too conservative when it comes to speaking engagements involving children." He then elaborates on the public personae of writers from the "the two queerest fish flapping in the sandpit of children's literature" (Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie) to writers who didn't even like children (the list is long here but includes Enid Blyton and A.A. Milne). Kerr himself is opting for the "old git" persona perfected by Roald Dahl. I think that's preferable to the spinster one Kerr mentions at the beginning of his piece as the most common perception of a children's author.

A very fun read.

(I didn't know Ransome's wife was Russian and secretary to Trotsky! How interesting.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Oppel Website

Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy has directed me to Kenneth Oppel's magnificent website dedicated to the worlds of Airborn and Skybreaker. There are "newspaper articles," log books, plans of air vessels including the Aurora, a funny explanation of phrenology, and other such gems. Great for teachers and fans of Airborn and Skybreaker.

I'm currently reading Airborn and can't wait to get a review up in the next day or so.

Monday morning links

Liz Rosenberg reviews two new fables for older children in Sunday's Boston Globe (registration required after first reading)—Mordecai Gerstein's The Old Country and Jonathon Scott Fuqua's King of the Pygmies. Rosenberg likes both novels and says of The Old Country, "Gerstein has a few things to say about war and human nature -- in the sly form of a fable he can preach without being preachy, examine a terrifying world without terrifying his young readers. There are twists and surprises right to the end."

King of the Pygmies is a YA novel in which the main character begins to hear voices. Rosenberg raves about this one, writing, "King of the Pygmies never falters in its commitment to Penn's voice and story. It doesn't settle easily on the side of magic or of medicine, suggesting instead that the world may be more complicated, more terrible and beautiful and unnerving than we could ever believe."


Laura Miller of Salon was lucky enough to get to talk to Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman. Lots of interesting discussion about the fragmentary nature of British fairy/magical tales. Clarke and Gaiman say that it is this very fragmentary nature that has led to such interest in the magical in the U.K. Interesting conversation!


Verlyn Klinkenborg examines E.B. White's essay "Memorandum" today in the New York Times. Klinkenborg notes, "The essay begins with the words 'Today I should' and it ends not because White has run out of things that he should do but because it's getting dark, and his piece is already plenty long."

I love Klinkenborg's conclusion to the essay. He writes, "So why don't I get up and do the chores while the weather's good? And why didn't White stop typing and at least - at least! - 'carry a forkful of straw down to the house where the pig now is.' There is the writer's work, for one thing. But there is also the counterpoise of all those tasks that need doing. For the moment, it feels better to put everything off."


Sunday, October 09, 2005

What's With This Room?

New from Little, Brown and Company--What's With This Room?

Tom Lichtenheld's newest picture book tackles that age-old problem of the messy room. We're dealing with that problem today. The rooms get cleaned up or no 4:30 showing of Wallace & Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

What's with this Room? is told from beleaguered parents' point-of-view and begins: "Your stuff and your things/are in such disarray,/we just can't believe/you live here this way./Your shoes in a pile,/your shirts in a bunch,/and there in that corner,/is that yesterday's lunch?"

There's underwear, monsters, fungus and spores, and a variety of creatures. On my favorite page, the child explains he's prepping an archeological dig: "Those clothes aren't heaped up just because I'm a pig,/I'm actually creating an archeological dig./In a couple of years I'll give you a chance/to dig and discover my petrified pants." The illustration accompanying this text is great. The child sits in a lawn chair above layers of clothing labeled "kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade."

Time to get those kids organized. My closet could use some work too (sigh).

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Meet Cho Chang

Aidan Smith interviews Katie Leung for The Scotsman. The woman who would be Cho, Leung is an eighteen-year-old Scot of Chinese decent. She has no prior acting background and was busy studying for her Highers during the filming of Goblet of Fire. It's a nice article if you're interested in the Goblet of Fire movie. What struck me, however, is the fan reaction. Smith writes,

"After she landed the part, some 'I hate Katie' websites sprang up and encouraged criticism of her. "I hate her because she gets to kiss Daniel Radcliffe," was probably the entry that got closest to the problem for these 'fans'." Wow! Also, most interestingly, "Some of the website vitriol came from fans of established Chinese and Korean actresses who mocked Leung's Scottish accent; but she can hardly be blamed if, as seems the case, the producers chose her precisely because of the Scottish-Asian mix."

Exactly. Rowling never said Cho Chang had an accent.


Jacqueline Blais interviews Kurt Vonnegut for the USA Today. In the interview we learn Vonnegut likes Law & Order (especially with Jerry Orbach, of course), he thinks humans have "trashed the joint" (earth), and that wise people "are despised" in the U.S.
Most interestingly, Vonnegut says that among the good things are:

"Librarians, too — "not famous for their physical strength" — who resist having books removed from shelves and refuse to give names of people who have checked out certain books in the era of the Patriot Act.

'The America I loved,' he writes, "still exists in the front desks of public libraries.'"

What a wonderful quote. I have to admit that I had no idea what really cool people librarians are until I started this blog and reading all the book blogs out there (Camille at BookMoot, Tasha at KidsLit, and the author of TangognaT come to mind immediately.)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Amanda Craig reviews Kenneth Oppel's Skybreaker for the Times. A sequel to Airborn, Skybreaker returns to the air with cabin boy, Matt Cruse, his beautiful love, Kate, and an airship filled with gold. Craig writes, "fasten your seat-belt for some terrific reading."

I haven't read Oppel's books, but they're now on the top of my reading list. (Skybreaker isn't out yet in the States, but Airborn was published in May.) Craig makes an excellent point at the beginning of her review, writing, "One of the maddening things about the present boom in children’s fiction is that so few would-be J. K. Rowlings realise the speed with which they need to hook their readers’ attention. Children should not and do not endure boredom in a book. This is especially true of boys, who will give a story one paragraph at most before the siren call of the PlayStation blots out all thought. "

I think she is definitely right here whether or not this need for an immediate hook is a good or bad thing in a reader. In any case, her review hooked this reader!

Craig includes a list of "airship" related books at the end of her article
Michelle Pauli contributes another fascinating interview to the Guardian. Today, Pauli interviews Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus trilogy. I really love Pauli's introduction to the interview in which she asks the question, "Now, with the trilogy complete and his reputation as bestselling author and publishing phenomenon confirmed, I wondered if success had changed him."

Fortunately, Pauli discovers that, "if anything, he is even more engaging now, with the increased confidence that commercial success, critical acclaim and a happy family life brings."

Stroud admits to political commentary in his works, saying, "it's quite nice to have different levels." (Note: the U.S. does not fare well) Stroud also discusses his approach to writing which is very disciplined and knowledgeable (he worked as an editor before full-time writing).

Finally, Stroud expresses admiration for his audience, both kid and adult. Regarding the younger readers, he notes they've "'all been trained on Harry Potter at an early age, so they're not frightened of fat books."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Is Halloween the New Christmas?

An article in Publishers Weekly asks the question, "Is Halloween the New Christmas?"

Well, of course it is. Halloween is so much fun. I've always loved it, even when I lived in Scotland long ago and actually had to perform a trick (a memorized Burns poem was sufficient) to get a treat.

The article (author?) mentions many great books, but my two favorite Halloween titles are missing. I love Kay Winters' The Teeny Tiny Ghost (ill. Lynn Musinger) for its cute, frightened baby ghost. And I adore Bill Martin Jr. and Steven Kellogg's A Beasty Story: "In a dark, dark wood there is a dark, dark house. In the dark brown house there is a dark, dark stair." We used to know this one by heart.

Halloween is soon! What will you and/or the kids be for Halloween? We're still undecided.

How to grow a Dr. Seuss garden!

Tony Kienitz discusses creating a Dr. Seuss garden today in the Los Angeles Times. Kienitz' sources are unique. He interviews a seven-year-old, a kindergarten teacher, and illustrator Jimmy Holder. Suggested greenery includes Trombone squash, Sea holly (Eryngium amethystinum), Contorted jujube, and Corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana). Here's the willow ---->

I'm not much of a gardener, but a Dr. Seuss garden sounds like fun!

Permanent Rose

Permanent Rose

Okay, so I'm a little late to this book, the Casson family, and Hilary McKay in general. (Tasha at KidsLit, for example, reviewed Permanent Rose in June.)

I still wanted to write about it, though, because it is such an interesting, unusual read. And not just for its characters who are, indeed, unusual. This summer at the Casson household there are a lot of people home. Artist mom, Eve, heads up the household, though the kids are mostly left to their own devices. Eldest daughter Caddy (Cadmium) is home and tenuously engaged to be married to Michael, your standard nice-but-maybe-too-nice guy. Sister-cousin Saffron (Saffy) is on a mission. She wants to find out who her real dad is (mom was Eve's sister), while at the same time developing a "heart of stone." Indigo, the only brother of the crew, hangs out reading L'Mort D'Artur, sometimes aloud to Rose. Others join the family as well—Michael, the fiancé, Saffy's best friend, Sarah, and David, an out-of-place boy entranced by the Casson family.

But people have left the Casson household as well. Dad has absconded to London and is living with his glitzy artist career and new girlfriend, Samantha. And, Rose grieves over her friend, Tom, who had to return to the United States suddenly. He hasn't called nor written and Rose is concerned.

What I really loved about this book is that the world is presented from Rose's nine-year-old point of view. Tom's lack of communication is far more significant to Rose than her dad's new girlfriend or the identity of Saffy's father. The fact that a friend has not called worries her much more than her father's many failings.

Friendship is the central theme of Permanent Rose in the end. Indigo's reading of The Death of King Arthur, emphasizes to Rose the importance of friendship and to what lengths friends will go to support one another. Sarah's friendship with Saffy is shown to be a special bond—a warm, giving, true friendship. And Rose learns to accept the sweaty, awkward, out-of-place David because he tries his very best (and finally succeeds) to be a good friend.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Wolves, Quills, and History

Edward Rothstein takes another look at A Little History of the World for the New York Times today. E.H. Gombrich wrote A Little History of the World in six weeks when he was 26 years old and it was published (in Germany) after Gombrich left Austria for England. Rothstein writes of the history, "It is a remarkable book, written in an amiable, conversational style, effortlessly explaining, without condescension, difficult matters like the achievements of Charlemagne, the monetary system of medieval Europe and the ideas of the Enlightenment. Yet nowhere - at least before the last chapter added in the 1980's - is there an explicit sign of the troubled world in which it was written. An unwavering faith helps give the book its voice; the problem is that it is not fully warranted. " Indeed.


Michelle Pauli talks to Michelle Paver about her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness books, Spirit Walker and Wolf Brother, in an excellent interview/profile for the Guardian. Paver discusses her research in great detail and says she lives her books: "For me it's not fantasy, it's reality," says Paver, "and it's incredibly important to me to make the reader feel that they're right there in the forest with Torak." Really interesting article.


The Literary Saloon discusses the failure of the Quills awards this morning. I wonder if Rowling will win? I wonder if she will turn up for the televised awards ceremony?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Babar and his critics

John Liu has written an extremely interesting article on the political aspect of Laurent de Brunhoff's Babar books for the Harvard Independent. Liu writes,

"And it is true: the Elephant Kingdom seems to have reached the end of history. Babar no longer builds cities, or governs much at all; instead, he does yoga, takes world tours, and visits art museums. In 1993's The Rescue of Babar (Random House), he even remarks, "Let someone else be king," with the sigh of midlife ennui that seems to be only partially enhanced by a drug slipped to him by the "striped elephants". Even the blood feud with the rhinos -thought to be representative of both Germans and Communists in their heydays - has abated to an uneasy truce. "

Liu discusses Babar's critics, who have accused the author and his books of promoting a nationalist, colonial worldview.

(As an aside--Liu's account of the French Library and Cultural Center in Boston is amusing.)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Nestlé Children's Book Prize

Emily Gravett, author of Wolves, has been nominated for the Nestlé Children's Book Prize. Louise Jury profiles Gravett for the Independent today. Gravett wrote Wolves as a college project. She was a non-traditional student, attending classes after 8 years living in a van.

Wolves was also Nicolette Jones' children's book of the week recently in the Times (August 21).

Other nominees in the picture book category include
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers and The Dancing Tiger by Malachy Doyle (illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher).

6-8 years:

The Whisperer by Nick Butterworth
Michael Rosen's Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake
Corby Flood by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

9-11 years:
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
The Scarecrow and the Servant by Philip Pullman
The Whispering Road by Livi Michael

Sunday Book Reviews

Nick Owchar reviews new Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys titles for the Los Angeles Times. (Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth:Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her is also reviewed today for the LA Times.)


Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch Saves the Day is "Children's Book of the Week" for the Times. Nicolette Jones reviews this latest volume in the pre-Harry witch boarding school series. Pitched at whatever comes right after "emerging readers," these books are very sweet and lots of fun. And, as Nicolette Jones notes, "a great joy of the series is Murphy’s black- and-white illustrations, entirely clear and in tune with the text. Best of all are the perfectly pitched expressions on the face of Mildred’s cat Tabby — registering fear, surprise and contentment."


Alyson Button Stone has written a nice article about historical fiction for the Metro West Daily News (Framingham, MA). She reviews Beth Hilgartner's A Murder for Her Majesty, Christina Bauer's The Pirate Queen, and Sally Gardner's I, Coriander in an attempt to find something other than fantasy. Stone writes, "these books are geared for teen girls. History is sometimes intertwined with time travel or fantasy, and there is always a lot of estrogen-based empowerment." In addition, there is a nice list of historical fiction for girls at the end of the article.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

School Plays

Yikes. It's October already, nearly time for the first school play of the year!

Elizabeth Ward reviews three new books "for younger readers" for the Washington Post. All three books have at their center the school play.

Ward writes that Swimming in the Monsoon Sea , by Shyam Selvadurai, "is also that rare thing, a coming-of-age story that transcends labels and deserves to be called literature, plain and simple." Selvadurai has published two novels before and while not specifically for young people, they are all coming-of-age stories.

Bruce Clements' What Erica Wants focuses on a girl in the center of a divorce. The chapters alternate between her voice and the voice of her clinical psychologist. A role in the school play helps Erica to find her own way in the divorce and the world.

Finally Sharon Creech has a new one: Replay. The tale of a twelve-year-old boy stuck in the middle (aren't we all to some degree?), Leo finds validation in his drama teacher's school play, "Rumpopo's Porch." Ward writes that, "the book comes in scenes, not chapters, and includes a cast list and the complete, very funny text of 'Rumpopo's Porch.'"

Ward has a way of selecting really good kids' books and I always look forward to her column.