Thursday, December 31, 2009

Party Time!

If only librarians,teachers, archivists, researchers, fellow writers and other creative souls, encouraging editors, booksellers and publishers who really, really care about books, and family members and friends who love and support writers unconditionally could celebrate the ringing in of this new decade together,


Happy new year and happy reading.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Baby, One Rocking Chair, One Book

Winter nights are great for moms and dads who like to read to their babies. Parents build memories and babies build vocabulary. All might decide that learning through books is a good way to spend a cold night or a rainy night--or any other kind of night. I don't believe watching TV together accomplishes the same thing, but that's my personal bias.

It's surely warm in the jungle while we in the US are shivering, so here's a picture book to take you there.


As the title promises, this is a bedtime book. It's also a counting book. And a rhyming book. And more. The author introduces animals one doesn't often tell a baby about: One rhino, three leopards, six peahens. There are familiar animals, too, like monkeys, ducks, and elephants. Number ten is a gatefold page, a visual surprise. The author is also the illustrator. His fine art creates a jungle setting both lush and soothing. By the time the elephants lumber into view and join the mass slumber party, the entire jungle is asleep --and perhaps the baby on the lap as well.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


If the song is right, that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, bored people must be the unluckiest people in the world. Readers are never bored, just between books. If boredom has set in at your house during this Christmas holiday or winter break or time that everyone is home and climbing the walls, try reading. A good book can be difficult to find if your potential readers have made up their minds there is no such thing, but don't give up. Keep trying. Bring them home, leave them lying around. Books, not kids. A little boredom might drive non-readers to pick up a book when no one is looking. This blog might introduce you to an author or a title you wouldn't have discovered otherwise. I hope. The following title is a new release from Egmont.

CANDLE MAN: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance by Glen Dakin

This is surely considered a “boy” book. It has lots of slime and goop, heart stopping action, no romance or gushy girl stuff, and a 13 year old boy who comes out of enforced seclusion to discover he can save his friends with a touch. But he has to be careful whom he touches. Enemies only. I won’t tell you why. Girls will probably like this book, too. This one did. The good news is, this is only Book One. The author promises more.

Do you have an 11-13 year old reluctant reader at your house?

Monday, December 28, 2009


On Christmas Eve 1914 the British and German armies faced each other across the Western Front and a strip of land called No Man’s Land. The men heard each other singing familiar carols, even though they didn’t understand each other’s words. By the end of Christmas Day, some of the opposing groups of men had declared a truce, met each other to exchange food and gifts, and in spite of orders from their superiors, refused to fire AT each other, even going so far as to let each other know when they’d have to fire so the men would be sure to be in their trenches with their heads down. Kids who see war glorified in movies or video games might find this sobering account of what the soldiers in the trenches cared about a thought-provoking black and white contrast with full color animation.

TRUCE by Jim Murphy
An award winning author of nonfiction, Murphy's window on World War I brings this conflict as close as the accounts we see of current wars on today's newscasts. I've heard about this truce and read brief articles, but here is something I didn't realize: This Christmas truce was unique in that it was not arranged by the officers but came about through actions of the men under them. This truce also lasted longer than other truces, such as the ones during the Civil War which were arranged so burials could take place. Those truces also came with time limits. This one did not. Along some sections of the Front, there was no truce. Along another section, the truce lasted until March.

Before you turn your reluctant reader boy loose with this one, read it yourself and be prepared for questions.

In the meantime, in a new year, we can hope and pray for a truce that has no end.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Something about peppermints endears this sweet striped candy to everyone. Who doesn’t have a peppermint story?

THE PERILS OF PEPPERMINTS by Barbara Brooks Wallace.
In 1980 when Barbara Brooks Wallace wrote PEPPERMINTS IN THE PARLOR, it wasn’t enough for her readers. They wanted more. In 1993 the book was reissued. Those new readers wanted more, too. Finally, in 2003, the sequel appeared. This is not the usual Christmas peppermint story. How peppermints figure into the plot is quite unexpected, as any good story would have it.

I’m grateful to 4th grader Carolyn Calvert-Grimes for speaking up for this book so today’s readers can discover it, too. The main character is plucky, resourceful, and the ending turns out to be about as satisfying as, well, as many peppermints as Mom would let you have plus a few extras.

And then there are all those other books with alliterative titles that Mrs. Wallace has written. Although it took her a few years to write the long awaited peppermint sequel, her pen was not idle. There are hours of great reading just waiting for today’s readers.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is a Book a True Gift?

My mother read to us beside the Christmas tree every night from the time the tree was decorated until Christmas night. Then the holidays changed gear, visits from the relatives took over, and this lovely time together was packed away with the tree ornaments for the next year. I'd forgotten about this until I read THE TRUE GIFT and it made me think this was the perfect book for reading aloud to one child or the whole family, maybe as a holiday ritual before bedtime or just after supper.

THE TRUE GIFT, A Christmas story by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Brian Floca. Written by the Newbery Medal winning author of SARA, PLAIN AND TALL, this is the tender story of a young boy’s belief that no one should be alone at Christmas and that even cows have feelings of loss and loneliness. Author MacLachlan has a gift for telling her stories in few words, always the right words, and this book is only 81 pages long, divided into ten chapters. Brian Floca's illustrations evoke the wintry magic that makes a child feel like Christmas must be coming and makes him certain that it will.

What is a true gift? Ask your little listeners.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Underneath the Christmas Tree

I still don't have my very own copy of my favorite book for the last two years -- because I keep giving it away. When I finished reading it the first time, I knew it would be considered for major awards. And it was. It was a Newbery Honor Book and a National Book Award finalist. That's pretty good consideration, don't you think? Maybe Santa will put this under my tree--again.

THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt with drawings by Ben Small.
When the author was interviewed during the National Book Award festivities, she said she hoped the reader would realize there is always a choice between good and evil. Both protagonist and antagonist must choose. When their lives, like threads, cross each other, tangle each other, and unravel at the last possible minute, what is left? Is it good or evil?

The writer’s magic pulls the reader deeper and deeper into a swamp of intrigue. How does a boy grow up to be an evil man? Is there any possibility of backtracking, becoming that boy again? Can natural enemies build a warm and loving family? Can loyalty triumph over terrible and tremendous odds? And what about revenge? Who should seek it? Who should take it? Can it be used for good?

This is a story that will stay with the reader--even if the book keeps changing hands.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Hanukkah Book!

What could be more appealing to small readers than bouncing bunnies? Here's a book that introduces Hanukkah in the hoppiest of ways. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) The author has written many books about religious observances and considers the preschoolers at her temple to be her surrogate grandchildren. Parents and grandparents will snuggle up their little ones with this one.

HOPPY HANUKKAH! by Linda Glaser. Illustrated by Daniel Howarth.
This is a warm and cozy introduction to family traditions. What does Hanukkah feel like? The author brings family together to light candles, eat latkes, and play dreidel, carefully engaging the bunny children. They choose the color candles for the menorah, sample the potato latkes, bask in the glow of candles during the blessing. The connection is made that the menorah with its burning candles is placed in the window for all to see just as Jews have done for generations. But what makes it feel the most like Hanukkah? I'll leave that for you and your snugglers to find out for yourselves.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reissued and Ready for Readers Today

I asked my writers' group, the Leaky Pens, which books they'd want to receive for Christmas gifts. We had a great writerly discussion of books. Then Deanna Calvert, the one among us with the youngest reader, said her daughter Carolyn loves books by Edward Eager. Some were published in the mid-fifties and have been reissued. Two of the reissued ones are available within our large metropolitan library system. Your library may have them, too. Another source would be independent booksellers. Don't forget those wonderful used book store owners who seem to know every book ever printed AND where to lay hands on each one.

Here are two enjoyed by Deanna's daughter:

THE TIME GARDEN and HALF MAGIC by Edward Eager. They come in both hardcover and paperback. I haven't read them, but Carolyn is a voracious reader and an excellent judge of quality books for her age group, readers in the middle grades. Since reading levels vary, your own resident reader is the best test for interest and readability. A good audience for these books would be within the age range of 8-12.

Deanna spent hours researching books to keep her daughter's reading appetite satisfied. I'll share more of her finds later. Her research time benefits the rest of us and our young readers. What a gift! Thanks, Deanna.

How about you ? Discovered any great titles lately?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gifts of Hanukkah

This is a season for giving--of ourselves as well, our cultures, our sense of history, all that we have become and can share with others.

Today Hanukkah begins. For Jewish readers, it's a time of rededication. For those who are not Jewish, it's an opportunity to learn more about the faith of others as we grow in our own.

ON HANUKKAH by Cathy Goldberg Fishman is written from a rich background of heritage with the heart and skill of a teacher. A good book for reading now, this will lead you to more titles by the same author when other Jewish holy days and festivals are observed.

Do you have a favorite children's book about your own faith that would build bridges of understanding within your child's circles or your own?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Giving Books? Suggestions

Finding books under the Christmas tree was both delight and dilemma. Should I read one all day--which I knew I'd finish by bedtime--and how could I choose which one to read first? Or should I read the first chapter of each one, then read the second chapters, and keep the order going until all were finished? Which method would make the magical stories last longer?

Deborah Wiles is a favorite author of mine. If I found these 3 books under my tree, the old familiar problem would rush out to greet me with a huge smile on its face:

Deborah's characters endure, like friends in a town I could well have lived in when I was ten. I read these books out of order and was tickled pink as us small town folks say to find some of the lesser characters in one book take on major roles in another. Order doesn't matter. What matters is that a young reader you love is going to thank you for introducing her to Comfort Snowberger, Peach, Dismay, and .....

Now, how about you? What book(s) would have caused you to be late for Christmas dinner?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Books for the Holidays

If you were ten years old, which books would you ask Santa to leave under your tree?

I know which ones I'd choose, and I'll tell tomorrow. The bad weather coming this way is already making my computer frustratingly slow.

Think I'll turn off the computer and curl up with a good book.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kids Coping with War--Iraq

This week I've featured books about war. Most of them have been about how the family at home copes, especially the kids. Do you know of others? Please share in the comments section.

If you've read the two books by Joyce Moyer Hostetter, BLUE and COMFORT, you will see great similarities between Ann Fay and Rachel Ann in BACK HOME, discussed below. Yet, the two wars are more than half a century apart. How we fight "the war" may have changed, but the struggles at home seem much the same.

BACK HOME by Julia Keller.
Soldiers returning from war often are not the same husbands, fathers, sons, or daughters who left the home front. Rachel Ann's dad survives horrendous injuries but lives to sit slumped in his wheelchair, unable and unwilling to get better. How can a 13 year old help? Rachel Ann is the oldest. Her sister Marcy is 8 and her brother Robbie is 4. Rachel finds herself trying to smooth over all the bumps in the family’s road. She sees that her mother’s struggles are valiant but often unappreciated.

The author refers to "the quiet daily heroism of those who struggle with brain injuries." The patient is only one of those people. Keller chronicles therapy, friends and neighbors who help at first and then slowly slip away, and relatives who don’t agree with the mother’s choices for treatment and further care when improvement ends. The reader sees and feels the impact of a soldier’s traumatic brain injury on the family’s love and support. As the cover blurb says, "Dad’s war is over, but the battle’s just begun."

If you're searching for just the right book for a family going through this traumatic experience, this may be the book.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Iraq--Kids Coping with War

Yesterday I talked about how kids coped during World War II. Flash forward to today.

HEART OF A SHEPHERD by Rosanne Parry.

Brother is the youngest of a family of boys. He's not quite ready to go away to high school when his dad leaves for Iraq. Mom left to follow her art career several years ago, so Dad's deployment means Brother and his aging grandparents are the only ones left at home to run the ranch. The older boys are away at boarding school, college and in the service, too. When the siblings come home for a visit, they act as if Brother is still the boy they left behind months before. He sets out to show them he has become a man.

Family members who have scorned the title of "little brother" or "baby sister" will relate to Brother's struggles and cheer him on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

WWII--Kids coping on the home front

War seems like an unlikely topic for a discussion of children's books. However, reading can lay the foundation for any youngster trying to develop coping skills--and don't we all need those? Children at home while their loved ones serve in the military are serving, too, in ways adults might not imagine.

The following two books have a gentle tone. The characters are as warm and believable as your next door neighbors. Their lives are changed, however, by a war far from their vegetable garden. Where do they find the strength to live the next day?

BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.
Ann Fay Honeycutt grows on you. From the first time you hear her voice, soft as honey but strong as the sulfur and molasses her North Carolina kin might have used to ready themselves for spring, you won’t stop listening. Ann Fay’s daddy goes off to war "to fight Hitler" and leaves her, only 13, to be "the man of the house." No matter what the crisis in her family of Momma, younger sisters, and little brother, she stands up to the task. Then a polio epidemic strikes. And Daddy is still away at war.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story. Ann Fay survives and is the main character in a sequel, COMFORT, which may not have been in the original plans of the writer. Maybe author Hostetter couldn’t let Ann Fay go, and, like the rest of us, wanted to know, "What happened next?" It’s enough to say both books are about kids coping with war and its aftermath. You’ll want to hear Ann Fay tell you how.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Revolutionary War

December makes me think of General Washington at Valley Forge. What would he think about our ability to wage war today? Later this week, I'll talk about other more current war books for kids, but here's what it was like for one Revolutionary soldier.

BY THE SWORD: A Young Man Meets War, by Selene Castrovilla, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Headmaster Benjamin Tallmadge planned to study law, but he couldn’t resist the fight for independence. He and his horse Highlander joined George Washington’s troops and made the Revolutionary War their war. Neither had experienced battle or knew the sacrifices that would be expected. Beautifully designed and illustrated, painstakingly researched, and written in vivid, action-packed prose. The reader is present in every heart stopping scene.

The great thing about many current nonfiction picture books is that all ages can read, enjoy, and learn from them. This is one of those. Someone in your family will love it for the horse story. Another will appreciate the historical research. Others will stare endlessly at the pictures.

How did the readers in your house react?

Hillview School Library