Friday, February 24, 2012

I've moved. Again.

This blog is now closed.  I'll be closing comments here, at Crossover, as well as the address.  You can always reach me at

I'm taking a new approach to discussing books online. I'll be blogging books in shorter formats at Crossover Books on Tumblr and on Pinterest (Follow Me on Pinterest).  I won't be running either feed through Facebook or Twitter, so it might take me awhile to find everyone.

Finally, I'll still be blogging for the Working Group for the Study of Russian Children's Literature and Culture  and with my students on a variety of course blogs.

See you all soon and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I will no longer...

be blogging here at Big A little a. I will keep the blog up for archival reasons, but please come visit me at my new blog, Crossover.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crossover Review

Hello, everyone, from Scotland! I have a review of Siobhan Dowd's latest (last?) novel, Solace of the Road, up over at Crossover.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I have a book review of an adult mystery teens will love up over at Crossover. You can check it out here!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Interview with Mary Pope Osborne!

Please welcome Mary Pope Osborne to Big A little a.

Kelly Herold: Thank you for speaking with me, Mary. It is a great honor to talk with you!

Let me start by saying that Tales from the Odyssey is one of my 7-year-old son’s favorite series, so thank you for writing it.

Now on to the interview:

KH: The Magic Tree House series has become a staple in the lives of readers just beginning to read independently. Boys and girls love them for their entertaining storylines, for their use of history and myth, and for Annie and Jack as characters. Were you surprised by the level of success The Magic Tree House has seen?

Mary Pope Osborne: My success as a children’s book author has been the opposite of “overnight.” I published more than 20 books before I started the Magic Tree House series. And the series has grown so gradually in popularity over 17 years, that I don’t think of myself as being greatly successful. But if I am, I wish someone would tell my 3 dogs. They don’t give me any respect.

KH: It is obvious from The Magic Tree House series and from your retellings and nonfiction books, that you really enjoy research. How do you begin researching a project? Do you begin with the idea first, or do you like to browse widely before deciding on an historical era or theme?

MPO: I poke around at lots of different ideas, buy books, look on the internet, talk to kids. Eventually one idea or another takes the lead, and then I really bare down on it. I gather lots of books (a ridiculous amount of books actually) on the subject and start taking notes, and then my story more or less starts telling itself to me. I often feel as if I’m trying to decipher something that already exists.

KH: Tell us, please, about your involvement in The Magic Tree House: The Musical.

MPO: Ah, my favorite subject these days. Four years ago, my husband Will and one of our best friends, composer Randy Courts, started working on a musical based on my book Christmas in Camelot. They took out Christmas so it wouldn’t just be a seasonal show, and they focused on Jack and Annie’s quest to Camelot and the mysterious realm of the Otherworld. Now, Magic Tree House: The Musical is traveling the country on a national tour; It’s a full Broadway-style show with two-story high dragon puppets, over 20 life-size human puppets, Irish dancers, beautiful songs, Knights of the Round Table, Arthur, Merlin, Morgan le Fay, and of course, Jack and Annie.

Will and Randy took my story and made it better. They expanded and deepened it and developed the adult characters, so that grownups can enjoy the show as well as kids. My main “involvement” is that I slip into theaters in different towns and watch it from the back.

KH: Back to Tales from the Odyssey: I’d like to hear your thoughts on the value of retelling classic myths and stories for young children.

MPO: Along with Tales from the Odyssey, I’ve also published Favorite Greek Myths, Favorite Norse Myths, Favorite Medieval Tales, Mermaid Tales from Around the World, and American Tall Tales. And next fall my sister Natalie and I have a book coming out titled The Random House Book of Bible Stories.

So, obviously I think it’s important to expose children to the great stories of the world. I’m amazed and distressed whenever I learn that many children are not familiar with Bible stories. Whether a family is religious or not, children should know the stories – otherwise, it would be impossible to comprehend the countless references to them in our daily lives. Not only do ancient stories link us to one another, but they enrich our imaginations as well. My deep involvement with retelling so many old stories has greatly informed my work on the Magic Tree House series.

KH: You mention on your website that you enjoy school visits. What do you like most about talking to children about your books?

MPO: Sadly I’m so busy these days, producing Magic Tree House: The Musical and trying to make my book deadlines, that I’m not able to make many school visits anymore. But early on, in the first years of writing the series, I visited schools all over the country, well over a hundred of them, and I learned so much. I learned about kids are interested in, and I learned about all the good work that teachers and librarians do. Today, we have a Magic Tree House Teachers’ Club at Random House with over 29,000 members – and every year we give a Magic Tree House Teacher of the Year Award. I credit teachers with doing all the hard work of teaching kids how to read…so that authors like me can do the fun work of writing books for them.

KH: I think my readers would like to know about your writing process, given that you are so prolific. When and where do you write? What is your daily schedule like?

MPO: Since the adventure of laptop computers, I’ve been able to write any place and any time. I love working on Magic Tree House books so much that it’s hard to keep me away from my work. But I take lots of breaks. Whenever I’m working, if I get frustrated or stymied, I get up from my chair, walk a dog or make a cup of tea or look in the fridge or chat with Will…and when I come back to my writing, the problem is usually solved. My unconscious often takes care of problems when “I” get out of the way.

KH: Finally, Mary, I’d like to know a little bit about what you are writing now.

MPO: My next book coming out in March ’09 is called Moonlight on the Magic Flute. Jack and Annie go to Vienna in 1762, and help a six-year-old Mozart give a concert at the palace of the Empress of the Austrian empire. I’ve also completed a book coming out next summer called A Good Night for Ghosts, in which Jack and Annie visit Louis Armstrong in 1915 in New Orleans and help him get on the path to becoming the “King of Jazz.”

Now I’m collecting research to work on a book tentatively called, “Leap Year With Leprechauns” in which Jack and Annie visit the west coast of Ireland in the 1860’s, and make friends with a girl named Augusta, who later became the Irish writer, Lady Gregory, who collected folk stories throughout Ireland and was one of the founders of the Abbey Theater in Dublin. As you might imagine, I’m having a great time collecting information about life on the west coast of Ireland in the late 1800’s, as well as reading folklore about fairies and leprechauns.

You can catch the rest of Mary Pope Osborne's blog tour at the following fantastic sites:

Tuesday 12/16: The Reading Zone,
Wednesday 12/17: Fields of Gold
Thursday 12/18: The Page Flipper
Friday 12/19: The Well- Read Child

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sarah Haskins' Twilight video

Are you just a little tired of Twilight craziness? Then don't miss Sarah Haskins' newest Project Women video on Vampires.

Poetry Friday

This week's Poetry Friday roundup will be held at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books. Enjoy!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Interview with Judy Blume

We all have role models. We all have heroes. But, it's not often we get the chance to talk with one of our heroes, is it?

I was on the road when I received an e-mail about Judy Blume's blog tour. And, you'd better believe that I found the nearest internet cafe, in the middle of the night, to send in my questions.

I've admired Judy Blume since I was in the third grade and checked out Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret from the school library. After Margaret, I read everything available to me as a child growing up in the 70s: Blubber, Deenie, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. And, let's not forget Forever, an honest book about teen love and sex that was restricted in (at least) my school library.

I love and respect Judy Blume's work for its truth, and its soul-shaking honesty, for its clarity and its pitch-perfect dialogue. And, now as an adult, I see that her work for younger children is equally as strong.

Judy Blume is on tour because her latest The Pain & the Great One title has just been released--Going, Going, Gone! with the Pain & the Great One. Most of my questions concern this fantastic series for newly-emergent readers. (Here are my reviews of Soupy Saturdays with the Pain & the Great One and Cool Zone with the Pain & the Great One.)

Here we go...

Kelly: Where do you get your ideas? No, just kidding! My first question really concerns writing for different age groups. I suspect the story you want to tell leads you to your audience. But…is writing for one particular audience more difficult than writing for another? I've always imaged that writing for the newly-emergent reader as you do with The Pain & the Great One series is more difficult than writing for the Superfudge audience. What do you think?

Judy Blume: I find writing for any audience hard! Really hard, especially during the first draft. I dread first drafts. Second and third drafts are easier. After that it's usually fun. Doesn't matter what age group I'm writing for – it's equally difficult for me. I'm not a natural short story writer (though I enjoy writing episodic fiction) and I had to come up with 28 stories for the Pain & the Great One books over a couple of years. This was a real challenge. But publishing is like giving birth – once the baby is born you forget the pain and struggle. Okay, so that's not always true – I vowed after Summer Sisters I was never writing another book. The pain! The struggle! But looking back, I'm so glad I wrote it, and probably I will do it again.

KH: While you've written for audiences of all ages, you've always remained in real life writing realistic fiction. Do you read fantasy or science fiction?

JB: Good question. Actually I think we tend to write what we like to read and I like realistic fiction. I've never been drawn to fantasy or science fiction (though I did read all the Oz books when I was 8 or 9).

KH: The Pain or the Great One--who is your favorite? Really, I do want to know, because I can't tell when reading The Pain and the Great One stories!

JB: Well, that's good! I mean, I'm glad you can’t tell which character I prefer. I don't think I prefer one over the other. I'm like a mother – I try to see both sides.

[Editorial note: I was so The Great One as a child. And my sister was the Pain. We even called each other by these names. Thanks, Free to Be...You and Me and Judy.]

KH: One of my favorite stories in Soupy Saturdays with the Pain & the Great One concerns Abigail (The Great One) and her inability to ride a bike. I love the chapter "The Great Pretender" (told from the Pain's point of view) when the Pain learns he has something over his sister. Not only can he ride a bike and he's 2 years younger than the Great One, but she's been lying to her friends about her bike and why she can't ride it! Then when the Great One tells her tale of finally learning to ride on her own in "Weirdo on Wheels," we're all on her side, cheering her on. Even the Pain (Jake) shows his admiration or, at least, Abigail thinks he does. Hmmm...where's my question? Okay, here it is: What's interesting about Abigail's learning to ride a bike is that it takes a new member of the family--a new Uncle--to teach her. Mom couldn't teach her, Dad couldn't teach her--only Uncle Mitchell could. I found this scenario to be so true. Why do you think children find it easier to learn from near strangers?

JB: Sure, I think it's easier to learn from someone you're not trying to please, or from someone who won't be judgmental. That's why we have Driver's Ed, isn't it? There's so much else going on in the parent/child relationship. Kids don't want to disappoint. Parents' expectations can get in the way. That's why so many kids write to me about their problems. I'm safe. They don't have to get up the next morning and face me at the breakfast table. Parents shouldn't feel threatened by this. It's good for kids to have other adults in their lives – parents of friends, teachers, and yes, uncles like Mitch, who can teach a reluctant learner how to ride a bike.

KH: In Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One, the Pain is victim to a bully and the Great One leaps to his defense, tackling the bully after he steals the Pain's brand new Science Center magnifying glass from grandma. Then the kids learn from Mom and Dad that it isn't always best to confront a bully on your own. The next time the bully attacks--worms on the Great One's head--Jacob tells his teacher and his sister's teacher about the incident. The teachers are remarkably respectful and responsive to this situation. What would you say to children who aren't so lucky with adult authority figures?

JB: This is a tough question, one I asked my best friend, Mary, who's a first grade teacher. She says the child should always tell his/her teacher, and parents. If that doesn't work, the parent can go to the principal or the school counselor (if there is one) to discuss the situation. There are some non-fiction books on bullying written for parents. And Pat Scales, educator extraordinaire did a guide for adults and older kids, available free from Random House. In it, she and I do a Q&A about bullying based on my book Blubber which takes place in 5th grade.

Other sites recommended on Pat's guide:, Bullying: What to do about it?

KH: Thank you, Judy, for speaking with me today. You can catch the rest of Judy Blume's tour at the following fantastic blogs over the next two weeks:

2/2 : Bildungsroman
12/4: Jen Robinson’s Book Page
12/9 : The Well-Read Child
12/10 : Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
12/12 : A Patchwork of Books

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving + Poetry Friday

Happy Thanksgiving to all you who celebrate. I've taken the non-traditional route of a road trip with the kids and my sister this year and, so far, so good.

A few notes:

1. This week's Poetry Friday roundup will be held at Lisa Chellman's place. Thanks, Lisa!
2. I will finally be back with a weekend reviews post on Sunday and will
3. return to regular blogging on Monday with an interview with the one-and-only Judy Blume.

Thank you all for hanging in with me during this slow November.