Friday, January 29, 2010

For Newbery Fans

Every January at their mid-winter meeting, the American Library Association (ALA) announces the Newbery Medal winner. The author of the winning title appears on national tv the very next day. Sales of the winning book escalate. Enter any library or bookstore and you’ll see Newbery winners set aside, waiting for you to realize you need these books. They have been adjudged and acclaimed quality literature. That’s how I discovered THE DARK FRIGATE by Charles Boardman Hawes whose book won the 1924 Newbery. Alas! The author died in 1923.

Two Newbery medalists are related. Do you know the only father and son authors to win the Newbery? They are the Fleischmans, Sid and Paul. Sid is the father and of course, the older, but his energy and his continued outpouring of lighthearted and humorous books make him seem ageless. Both have written many books and won numerous awards. Sid Fleischman’s Newbery winner was THE WHIPPING BOY, 1987. Only two years later, Paul, the son, won for JOYFUL NOISE, 1989.

My bookshelves are home to a Fleischman section.

By Sid: HUMBUG MOUNTAIN, MR. MYSTERIOUS & COMPANY, and the hilarious McBroom series which kept my children giggling for many hours.

and many others from both writers.

Both published new books in 2009:

Check your own shelves for Fleischman favorites. If your children are grown but haven’t yet moved their books, you might find you already have several written by this father and son duo. And if you don’t have any, you have lots to discover.

To me, father and son do not write alike. The common thread is talent. Everything else is a great story told well by master craftsmen. What do you think?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Would You Do?

What would you do to keep a loved one alive? How far would you go? Would you risk your own life? Would you give up everything?

THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson, Holt, 2008.

Seventeen-year-old Jenna is recovering from a serious accident. Her memory lapses are frustrating. She asks, “Why can I remember the details of the French Revolution but I can’t remember if I ever had a best friend?” What she learns about her existence is agonizing as well, bit by bit, bringing character to life and reader to the edge of her chair.

This futuristic novel will stay in your mind long after you read the last page. It stays in mine. It’s very different from two other futuristic YA novels I’ve read, FEED by M.T. Anderson and CANDOR by Pam Bachorz. All have different lessons to teach, or to ponder. Do we want a world like the one created for these characters? Do we want to take parts of these worlds and put them together for our own descendants? Or do we want to live in the world we create and stick around for centuries?

Toss this one into a group of teens for a lively discussion.

Monday, January 25, 2010


At least it seems that way to Trevor, the new kid in 7th grade. It’s a common scene. New kid in school tries to fit in. Not so common is that he does it pretty well. However, the secrets driving the life of this particular new kid keep him hopping to hide them.

INVISIBLE LINES by Mary Amato, Illustrations by Antonio Caparo. Egmont, 2009.

The book opens with Trevor, his mom, and his young siblings moving into substandard housing in a school district struggling to cope with recently re-drawn boundaries. This redistricting throws privileged teens into contact with disadvantaged ones. The haves and have nots bump up against each other in a cruel way. Trevor is determined not to be defeated, however, no matter what life hands him. His own dad is in prison and his mother barely makes it through each day as the single parent to Trevor and his half siblings, a kindergartner and an untrained toddler whose father is never there and always behind on child support.

Trevor has talents honed in the school of hard knocks and he tries to put these to use to get what he wants, a spot on the elite soccer team, a place in college track classes, especially science and art, and entry into an exclusive group of boys that has everything. He disdains his mother’s life but, observing how poorly certain other adults take their responsibiitie to their children, he realizes she could have opted out. A subplot emphasizes that a baby should be born into a family that is ready for it. Another subplot, dealing with the study of mushrooms and how they work, parallels how friends and neighbors interact.

The author dedicates this book to “to all the Trevors I have known.” Boys and girls in middle school will read through the story fairly quickly thanks to the large print, lots of white space, and “cool” drawings. They won't forget as quickly, however. They will be wondering if a boy or girl like Trevor is sitting next to them in class.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I’m a basketball fan living in a football state. Football is #1 where I live. So is the state university's football team which just won a national championship. Basketball is #1 in the state where I grew up. That state university is cheering on a team that's unbeaten this year. Soon, that team could be #1 in the NCAA polls. Sports fans know which teams we’re talking about. Anyhow, believe it or not, there are other sports besides football and basketball! And if you want to know about them, sing about them, have fun with them, here’s a book you and your family will enjoy no matter your sports preferences or singing talent.

GOING, GOING, GONE and other silly dilly sports songs by Alan Katz, illustrated by David Catrow. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009.

Choruses of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep” with new lyrics written by the jocular Katz and renamed “My Father Says We’re going Cycling” and “Tennis is a Complicated Sport” were probably not meant to be part of the repertoire of a university show choir. However, songs like “Controlling Your Bowling” and “I’m the Goalie” are great fun to sing when you’re stuck in the car trying to leave a parking lot after a big game. Illustrator Catrow, who must chuckle while he works, has teamed with Katz on other witty books. Do they get together and sing?

My team plays its games not far down the road from the one everyone is talking about. It's OK if that state team is at the top today. My team hasn’t peaked yet. Wisely, they’re waiting ‘til March.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What’s Your Favorite Kate DiCamillo Book?

This Newbery winning author has many wonderful books to her credit, so a discussion of favorites could be great fun. Movies were made based on her books BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE and THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, the Medal winner. Others have won numerous honors. The latest to appear on bookstore shelves couldn’t come at a better time. For a weary world, coping with shaky ground from earthquakes to economics, here is a children’s book that offers a message of hope. Young readers need this–and so do we.

THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka.

When a magician asks for lilies, he doesn’t expect an elephant to come tumbling through the roof. And yet the elephant was necessary for so many reasons in the lives of many people in the small city of Baltese “at the end of the century before last.” This elephant mattered most to ten year old Peter Augustus Duchene. I will not tell you how and why but I will tell you this, “...the truth is forever changing.” Enjoy!


Monday, January 18, 2010

Step by Step to Freedom

The Civil Rights movement is receiving attention from children's writers, much to the surprise of its participants. They don’t see themselves as heroes. When authors seek them out to tell their stories, they are gracious and willing to share, but many seem awe-struck that we really want to know.

MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge, Viking, 2009.

What if you couldn’t vote? How hard would you work to be able to do that? You’d have to register first. Would you stand in line for days, in the rain, despite rude comments from bystanders, despite the frustrations of rules that changed on some unknown person’s whim? Could you pay retroactive poll taxes? Would you pass the literacy test? While adults worked to overcome the obstacles, children stood with them, some so young they had to cling to their mothers' skirts, bearing the inconveniences, the indignities, and the insecurities of their parents and families.

Elizabeth Partridge is an award winning author whose focus on the march from Selma to Montgomery, known as Bloody Sunday, and the events before and after, grant the reader a bystander point of view. It’s as if we were there.

Nonviolence is an amazing commitment. Partridge interviewed those who stood firm in support of it even though they and their loved ones suffered beatings and endured many stays in jail. The march from Selma to Montgomery is a testament to their courage and endurance.

For my own work on the Civil Rights movement, I’ve been grateful to Joanne Blackmon Bland for guidance. Author Partridge quotes her to conclude this thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written book: “ was not a black movement–it was a people movement. And the future has to be a people movement, until injustice is stamped out in any form.”

Thoughts to ponder on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Walter’s Fave

Walter is not yet two, but he knows a good book when he sees it. His mom thought it might be the friendly faces created by Tomie de Paola that caused her son to climb on her lap and ask her to read the same book over and over again–eleven times in three days. Maybe Walter thought those fun loving kids pictured on the pages were like his own friends.

THE SURPRISE PARTY by Annabelle Prager, illustrated by Tomie de Paola.

Nicky’s birthday is only days away. He wants to celebrate by throwing a party. Of course, he wants to invite lots of friends. This is how you get lots of presents, he says. However, the kind of party Nicky wants costs too much. He has a great idea. What if his friends give him a surprise birthday party? Then the expense won’t be Nicky’s problem. He asks his best friend Al to help. Al doesn’t quite see how you can surprise yourself, but he agrees to try and soon the two are engaged in the secrets and subtle humor that six and seven year olds find hilarious. Actually, Annabelle Prager wrote this book for grades 1-3 as part of an early reading program. In five chapters, the author's carefully chosen words and the illustrator's charming characters carry the young reader through to a surprise ending.

Now that you have the gist of the story, here is more about Walter. During this holiday read-a-thon, his parents realized that every time they came to the word SURPRISE written in caps, Walter was ready to shout, “‘prise.”

How long do you suppose it will be before, SURPRISE!, Walter will be reading books on his own?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Today's weather report shows a warming trend--at least this week. However much we hope for summer, tho', it's still not the time to create a trail of discarded hats, sweaters, and coats. Here's a charming dissertation on those lumps of cloth on the floor.

BUTTON UP! Wrinkled Rhymes by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Petra Mathers.

This is a collection of poems about favorite articles of clothing. "Bertie’s Shoelaces," "Violet’s Hiking Hat," and "The Song of Harvey’s Galoshes" lead off this rhythmical tribute to winter wear. Dedicated to a group told not to forget their jackets (the poet) and a set of three “at night in their jammies”(the illustrator), one can only imagine the inspiration behind each illustrated verse. My favorite is “Clyde’s Costume” but I’ve ordered the whole book to give to a special little boy.

We say "Bundle up!" at our house. Today I'm saying, "Button Up!"

Monday, January 11, 2010

From A to ZZZZZ

Here's an addition to the bedtime routine for toddlers that might help them learn their letters. What? You sing the alphabet song for that? Why not both?

THE SLEEPY LITTLE ALPHABET by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Each little alphabet letter has personality plus and like every child at bedtime, not one of the 26 clamors to climb into a bed or crib. F is full of fidgety wiggles and G has got the googly giggles. Rhyming and racing, each lively letter has boggeley eyes and a jaggedy smile. How long before sleep time? Awhile.

The action starts to slow, hugs and yawns and what do you know? Each letter cuddles and a dreaming they go–except naughty N. There’s always one!

Illustrator Sweet won a 2009 Caldecott honor for A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS by Jen Bryant. Author Sierra has won awards, too. If there’s a book shelf in your nursery, this should be on it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


What if you witnessed the tragic death of most of your family members and then discovered you had the power to keep death from happening to others? Would you protect those who want to harm you, too? A talented story teller pulls readers into this tale so deeply, not even howling winter winds will distract.

STEALING DEATH by Janet Lee Carey

All 17 year old Kipp has left is his little sister and he vows to keep her safe. Enter a white horse that can fly, witches, nomads, bone throwers, dragons, higher powers, and the ever present destructive forces. Set against a vivid landscape, the adventure races onward and Kipp and his readers must hang on tightly for the ride. Young middle school readers will be so tangled in the story threads, they won't want to put the book down until the last knot is tied. Older readers will appreciate a philosophical depth.

All you need is a comfortable spot beside a crackling fire.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hibernation: A Good Idea for All!

Record cold temperatures grip our country. Gray skies. Dark afternoons. What better time to volunteer to rock a baby to sleep for a nap or the night. Here's a lullaby book just right for your mood.

SLEEP, BLACK BEAR, SLEEP by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Brooke Dyer.

This is an illustrated poem created by a seasoned team. Jane Yolen has written hundreds of books for all ages and Heidi Stemple is her talented daughter. Brooke Dyer's art is well known and much loved. The story focuses on a variety of animals as they snuggle down and go to sleep in winter. The tiny listening baby is encouraged to sleep, too. If you are the reader, you won't need encouragement. This warm tale may be for little ones, but it will have its effect on you.

How come it's only bears we hear about hibernating? Surely people are smart enough to take this on, too!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Is Your Family Weird?

Most kids think their families are weird, but they haven’t lived in the village of Eel-Smack-By-The-Bay and they haven't lived in the Bellweathers' lighthouse home. Now at the beginning of a new year might be a good time to introduce your tweens and young teens to these highly creative and, well, yes, odd family members.


This weird family is composed of triplets, two teenagers, a pet albino alligator, and parents who believe in giving children full rein over their own intellectual pursuits. Who cleans up the inevitable messes? The put-upon butler tells this tale of plot and planning as he anticipates his release from a rather unusual term of employment which actually began 200 years ago. It's OK to turn your middle grade reader loose with these quirky characters. No parental restrictions needed. This book is pure fun. Unless you are the Bellweather butler.

Hillview School Library