Author Archive

MISS MANNERS for Academics

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Editors Note: We’re pleased and delighted to announce that EarlyWord Kids Correspondent Lisa Von Drasek will be serving on the 2017 Caldecott Award Selection Committee.

Unfortunately, this means that she will be on hiatus as our Kids Correspondent until her Caldecott duties are wrapped up.

She will still report on the occasional “grown-up” title she falls in love with, as she does below:

9780553419429_3ba86Flying under the radar is The Professor is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job (RH/Crown, original trade pbk.) by academic employment consultant and former tenured professor, Karen Kelsky, who gives a no-holds-barred look at the academic market. It should be required reading for PhD candidates, recent graduates, prospective PhDs, and recent-hires on the tenure track.

Although the majority of the books I review are children’s and Young Adult titles, I have a side interest in business particularly professional development and management, so when I spotted a DRC of this book, I downloaded it.

As one of the lucky few who landed a full time academic appointment in an R1 university, I had read Kelsky’s blog also titled The Professor is In as well as her columns in the Chronicle of Higher Education for her practical, snark-tinged advice.

Kelsky has no patience for readers who ignore the obvious. Tenure-track positions are few and far between. Bottom line: there is a glut of qualified graduates for the rare full-time positions. She dispenses tough-love advice laying out the cost (economic and emotional) of trying to land one. “Achieving financial, emotional AND intellectual well being in academia is somewhat akin to climbing Everest blind.” For those who insist on getting on the tenure track, she provides best-case scenarios and information on how to achieve academic and employment goals. For those who do not achieve their goal, she also provides suggestions for repositioning job skills.

A cross between Carolyn Hax, Ask Amy and Miss Manners, Kelsky is the faculty mentor we all wish was in the office next door.

I can attest that her ideas work. Kelsky makes the case for sucking it up, jumping through the hoops and not making excuses. No one has time to write. Write anyway. Are academic leaves available? Apply for them. This was exactly my problem. My teaching and the daily tasks of my department left no time. There was a leave that I could apply for but I hadn’t been in position very long. I thought that my projects weren’t “good enough,” “research oriented enough” or “what these leaves were for.” I went back to the call for proposals only to discover that I had just a 24-hour window before the deadline, so I sucked it up, jumped through the hoops, made no excuses and got my application in.

A month ago, I received a letter from our director that I am approved for a 6 week writing leave. Seriously, this book is life-changing.

Trust the Process!

Friday, February 6th, 2015

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The 2015 Newbery Committee filed into the packed hall at Chicago’s McCormick Convention Center on Monday morning wearing t-shirts that proclaimed “Trust the Process.”

This is a profession not prone to trusting the process (as you’ll know if you’ve ever been through an ALA Council meeting) and there’s inevitably a lot of second-guessing after the awards are announced.

But I have to say that I do trust the Awards process. I trust that Children’s and Young Adult librarians KNOW the criteria. We “get” what a distinguished book is. We listen to all the discussions and read all of the reviews and read and read and read. Then, in our heart of hearts we wish, we pray, we hope. Is it any wonder that on the morning the awards are announced, we scream, we whoop and we cry?

My personal reactions to the Newbery and Caldecott winners, below.

John Newbery Medal

97805441077179781490627571_1beabThe Crossover, Kwame Alexander, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, (also a Coretta Scott King Honor Book)

It was easy for me to “trust the process” in this case because I love this book. In the video below, Kate DiCamillo, last year’s winner, and I picked our favorite books, new and old, to read aloud for a film that went to Paris for the IFLA conference. I sprung my ARC of  Crossover on Kate, because I couldn’t get enough of its engaging sustained voice and juicy language that begs to be read aloud. An added benefit is its high interest subject matter. The conversation we had was organic, not scripted and illustrated how great books bring us joy (pick it up at time stamp 21:43. Note: the galley cover shown in the video is different from the final).

John Newbery Honor Books

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El Deafo, Cece Bell, Abrams/ Amulet

I think I was screaming the loudest when this book was announced. I have been an evangelist for “graphic format” or comics and am thrilled that one of the best books of 2014,  comic or otherwise was recognized. The text is a cross between Judy Blume and Baby Mouse with a little Joan Bauer thrown in. Its a school story, a friendship story, a family story about a girl who just happens to be deaf.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson, Penguin/Nancy Paulsen (also winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, a Sibert Honor and of the National Book Award for Young Peoples Literature).

Not sure there is much to more to be said about Brown Girl Dreaming as it leaves with a Coretta Scott King Award, a Sibert honor as well as a Newbery honor after already winning the National Book Award. The only negative is that all those shiny seals now obscure the exquisite cover. On each reading it is richer with meaning and the story strengthens like tempered steel.

Randolph Caldecott Medal

9780316199988_47010The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Dan Sentat, Hachette/Little, Brown

Some thought this was the dark horse of the group (the only best books list it appeared on was NPR’s), but it’s been on my “best pile” all year. It is a great read aloud with subtle humor and compelling illustrations. Dan Santat has brought a sweet but not saccharine child-centered world to life. It was a big year for great picture books (six honors!), making this a thrilling AND unexpected surprise.

Caldecott Honor Books

9781596437746This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki, Macmillan/First Second

I am huge fan of this author/ illustrator team since Skim (Groundwood, 2010), came out. A coming-of-age graphic novel with mature content, Skim made the Bank Street Best Books of the Year list by the “skin of its teeth” due to passionate advocacy in the face of some opinions that the content was too mature for our audience of fourteen and under.

There IS going to be controversy regarding this title. It DOES have mature content. The Caldecott Committee selected it as one of the best illustrated books of the year. There is an assumption that “picture book” is defined as an illustrated book that is 32 pages long and for elementary school students, but the Award is for a book “for children”and  ALSC’s “scope of services” is ages 0 to 14. This book isn’t for every kid in that age range but it certainly is relevant for some. I trust the process.

And as I look at the rest of Caldecott Honors, there is not one that doesn’t make my heart doesn’t swell as I imagine gathering them in my arms and sharing them with children.

Nana in the City, Lauren Castillo, HMH/Clarion

The Noisy Paint BoxThe Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, Mary GrandPre, Barb Rosenstock, RH/Knopf

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Jon Klassen, Mac Barnett, Candlewick

Viva Frida, Yuyi Morales, Macmillan/Roaring Book Press, (also the winner of the ALA Pura Belpré Illustrator Award)

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, Melissa Sweet, Jen Bryant, Eerdmans  (also the winner of the ALA Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award)

Gifts for Very Young Kids You Don’t Know Very Well

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

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It’s that time of year when many of us are looking for just the right present for kids that we don’t see all that often, and books are a natural choice. As the nieces and nephews and godchildren gather around the tree or finish lighting the menorah, it’s great to offer each one an alternative to the inevitable pile of gadgets and software, and as the saying goes, a book really is a present you can open again and again.

But with the number of titles available, how do you choose? Not a day goes by after Black Friday that I don’t get five or six emails saying something like this:

I’d love some ideas for 5 grandsons, ranging in age from three to twelve. The ten-year-old loves to read, but the twelve-year-old only loves sports. Last year’s suggestions were very well liked!!

When you’re faced with such a plea, a little reconnaissance pays off big. How old is each recipient? Do you have a clue about likes and dislikes — particularly any subjects, toys, or themes that add up to an obsession? Even a small amount of information, will help you achieve the goal of getting a smile when the gift is unwrapped.

To aid you in your mission, I’m offering my picks from the thousands of children’s books published this year, sorted by age group, with notes to help you spot just the right book for that young reader, attempting to answer the question that plagues adult gift givers with children in their lives: “How do I buy a book for a gift for a kid I don’t know very well?”

We’ll divide this into sections.  Below, selections for the very young. In the following posts, I’ll suggest titles for early elementary and older kids.

This is more art than science, so I may have overlooked some of your favorites. Please mention them in the comments section.

For Families With A New Baby Or Toddler

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No Two Alike, Keith Baker, (Little Simon, Board Book)

Particularly appropriate for families with new twins, but it works for others as well.  Baker’s art and ear for language is pitch perfect for young children and their parents. In the book, we observe a pair of red birds making their way in the snow-covered world.

Moo!, David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka, (Bloomsbury, Board Book)

This was a read aloud delight when it arrived as a picture book in 2013. There never was a more expressive story told with just one sound — “Moo.” Now available in a board book edition we can share our enthusiasm with the pre-reading set

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Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa!,  Petr Horacek, (Candlewick)

This heavy stock board book has a comforting familiarity with Horacek’s mixed media illustrations of common farm animals and the noises they emit. As we turn the die cut pages they form a black and white bovine surprise on the last spread (if you’re having trouble imagining that, watch a kid discover it for himself in this video).

Also from Horacek is Las Fresas son Rojas, (Candlewick)

This is a new Spanish language edition of Strawberries are Red a cornucopia of fruit and colors with a die cut surprise at the end.

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Pat-a-Cake and All Fall Down, Mary Brigid Barrett, illus. by LeUyen Pham, (Candlewick Press)

The familiar nursery rhymes are stretched and expanded in these delightfully silly rhyming romps. Have you ever patted a pickle cold and bumpy? A fuzzy caterpillar? Did your recitation of “Ring around the Rosie” include “potatoes in a mound, plopping green peas all around”?

For Families With Preschoolers Ages 2 To 5

This is the age when kids start to get reading ready. It important for them to explore colors, numbers, and shapes as well as concepts like up and down and in and out through pages of a book. The following will bring surprise and wonder from that most jaded of readers, the parent, who often has to read them again and again.

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Countablock, Christopher Franceschelli, ills. by Peskimo, Abrams 16.95

From the team that brought us Alphablock (Abrams, 2013), this is a brick of a book weighing in at almost 1 ½ pounds of counting fun. We count from 1 to 10 as 6 balls of yarn become 6 sweaters and 7 pots of paint become seven colors of the rainbow in bold graphics that include an oversized depiction of the number then we count by 10s to read a double page spread of 100 puzzle pieces (see more interior photos here).

Circle Square Moose, Kelly Bingham,  illus, by Paul Zelinsky, (Greenwillow Books)

The creators, Z is for Moose broke down the structure and predictability of the alphabet book. Shapes are the feature of this reprise of the adventures of Moose whose enthusiasm for the subject matter exceeds his social skills. See below for

 

9789888240852_2afc8Number Circus: 1-10 and Back Again!,  Květa Pacovská (minedition, Dist. by IPG)

This playful, tactile volume with embossing, die-cuts, and interactive lift-the-flaps is an artistic volume that nods to the influences of modern masters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Joan Miró.

 

For Families Sick of Reading the
Same Bedtime Books Over and Over

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Thank You, Octopus,  Darren Farrell, (Penguin/Dial)

Absurdist humor seems to be a winner this year and I would give the prize to this one. The familiar structure of the children’s games “Fortunately/ Unfortunately” and “That’s Bad/ No That’s Good” are used here as a knitted cap-wearing Octopus offers what at first seems a to be typical bedtime rituals of a warm bath, bringing a “Thank you, Octopus!” But, wait, that bath is made of egg salad. “Gross! No, thank you, Octopus!” This holds up to repeated readings, as we explore the ship where the boy and the octopus reside.

Small Blue and the Deep Dark Night,  Jon Davis, (HMH)

Small Blue is white bunny. Small Blue is imagining scary creatures like gremlins and goblins when the lights are turned off at night. The grownup in the house is Big Brown, an enormous bear. Big Brown suggest imagining something fun not scary in the dark like delightful doggies riding unicycles. The bunny’s bedroom when lit is a cozy space of glowing yellow strewn with toys and books contrasting with the deep blues where the fantasy beings appear in the dark. Sure to become a favorite.

Gifts for Early Elementary School Kids You Don’t Know Very Well

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

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Continuing my series of suggestions for gifts that are sure to bring smiles, below are titles for early elementary kids.

Picture Books, Ages 5 and up

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Bad Bye, Good Bye, Deborah Underwood, illus. by Jonathan Bean (HMH)

Underwood, whose Quiet Book won the Geisel Award for beginning readers, has made me see books for emergent readers in a new way. One of my favorite picture books of the year, this just happens to have easy-to-read limited rhyming text. The ink and color pencil illustrations eloquently depict a child’s unhappiness about his family’s moving to a new home and his discovery that the new place has its compensations. Not to be missed.

Pardon Me, Daniel Miyares, (Simon and Schuster)

Here is the book for the kids who couldn’t get enough of Jon Classon’s I Want My Hat Back. Parrot is content to be alone on his small island when first a heron joins him with a polite “Pardon me.” As more animals join him, the more visibly annoyed he becomes. The twist ending will delight listeners while teachers will be thinking of ways to lead a discussion on inference. A keeper.

9781419705182_7bac8100 things that make me Happy, Amy Schwartz. (Abrams)

Amy Schwartz in my mind is one of the overlooked geniuses of children’s books today. She quietly produces perfect books without fanfare that reflect the everyday lives of children with a subtle subversive flair. Her Bea and Mr. Jones was selected for the first Reading Rainbow list and is as fresh and funny today as it was the year it was published, 1982 (give yourself a treat with this flashback to the great Madeline Khan reading it on the show) and there is not a better book about friendship for kindergartners than her 2001 book, The Boys Team.

That said, in her newest creation, Schwarts presents rhyming pairs of word phrases — curly hair…teddy bear, mermaid…lemonade. This is an illustrated catalog, a counting book, an easy reader, as well as delicious word play. The rhythm of the words and page turns slows down and speeds up as we follow a diverse population of children and their adults displaying the author’s favorite things from the simple “polka dots…forget-me-nots” to the sublime “city lights…starry nights” Families will be inspired to move off the page and observe their own world and list the 100 things that make them happiest.

A New Baby In The Family

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The Baby Tree, Sophie Blackall, (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen)

For those who already own Robie Harris’s Its Not The Stork, this is the next perfect book for explaining where babies come from. The narrator receives bits of information from various sources — his babysitter, his grandfather, his teacher, and the mail carrier — but until his mom explains the biological information in plain language, none of it makes much sense.

Gifts for Beginning Readers You Don’t Know Very Well

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

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Continuing my series of suggestions for sure-fire gifts, below are titles for kids who are starting to read on their own, plus a couple of suggestions for family readalouds.

For those who like their easy-to-read books in a traditional format there are some new books with favorite characters:

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Drop it Rocket!, Tad Hills, (PRH/Schwartz and Wade)

Rocket (of the best selling Rocket Learns to Read) is back in what may be the first book a child reads to herself. With very few words on the page, the pictures give clues to the words and most importantly there is a good story. This kind of book is very hard to find. More please.

Waiting Is Not Easy, Mo Williams. (Disney/Hyperion)

Although this is another in the Elephant and Piggie series, it is not just another series book. Librarians sometimes joke that the ALA’s easy-to-read award, The Geisel, should just be given to Mo Willems every year. It’s hard to argue with that. Yet I have to say, as familiar as we are with Willems’s work, this one is amazing and surprising. To say any more would raise spoilers, so ,just trust me on this.

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Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly, Grace Lin, (Hachette/ Little Brown)

Introduce your newly fluent early chapter book readers, the ones who are speeding through Henry and Mudge, to the silly sisters, Ling and Ting. Lin’s comic timing is exquisite in these six short chapters that capture the young girls’ imaginative adventures.

Cock-a-Doodle Oops!,  Lori Degman, illus.  by Deborah Zemke, (Creston, Dist. by Perseus/PGW)

Rhythm, rhyme and repetition combine in this absurdist barnyard tale of a rooster who goes on vacation and delegates his wake up duties to the other animals. This sleeper is a winner.

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Ballerina Dreams: from Orphan to Dancer, Machaela and Elaine DePrince,  illus. by Frank Morrison. (Random House)

The autobiography of an orphan from Sierra Leone, who, encouraged by her adoptive American family, became a ballerina, this is for the kids who are reading independently and want a real story. Also available now for ages 12 and up is Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (RH/Knopf)

The Whale Who Won Hearts: And More True Stories Of Adventures With Animals, Brian Skerry, (National Geographic)

In this short chapter autobiography we follow Brian Skerry, a National Geographic photojournalist specializing in marine wildlife and underwater environments. For a taste of his amazing photos (and his journalistic drive), take a look at this National Geographic video. For even more, see his TED presentation.

Family Read Alouds

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The family with younger children, around 4 to 6, who have enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s six Mercy Watson books, will want her new early chapter book Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Candlewick), set in the same world and a hoot.

Shannon Hale, the Newbery Honor winning author of The Princess Academy (also a great read aloud) presents The Princess in Black, (Candlewick),  a grand adventure about a proper pinkish princess who has a secret life battling big blue monsters and rescuing goat herding boys.

The NYT BEST ILLUSTRATED:
A Judge’s Experience

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

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The New York Times Book Review issue with the “Best Illustrated Books” list arrives in print this Sunday (see my takes on each specific title).

As those of us who have been watching this list for years know, it typically contains a surprising mix of books with popular appeal and those with arty sophistication. Although it is tempting to second guess and speculate on why one particular title made the list and another was left off, these conversations rarely reflect the actual considerations that went into the selections.

I had the honor to serve as a judge one year. At the time, children’s book editor Eden Ross Lipson encouraged us to write and share our process and deliberations. This is an outlier attitude. Most book selection juries, from the American Library Association’s Newbery to The National Book Awards, are asked to keep the discussions confidential, to allow for more free of expression of opinions. I recall that the only requirement imposed on the NYT Best Illustrated judges was to keep their appointments a secret until the announcement was made public. I was bursting but honored the request, even taking a vacation day from work for the deliberations so I didn’t have to disclose my participation to my library director.

(more…)

The NYT BEST ILLUSTRATED:
Lisa’s Takes

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

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The NYT Book Review‘s selection of the ten best illustrated books of the year is offered as simple list, with no annotations. Librarians may want a bit more background on the titles. Below are my takes.

9781442494923_22c98  THE PILOT AND THE LITTLE PRINCE  The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry  9781568462462_ab869

Draw!, written and illustrated by Raul Colon (S&S/Paula Wiseman)

A word-less masterpiece, a sweeping tribute to the power of imagination, this is a technical tour-de-force.

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antione de Saint-Exupery, written and illustrated by Peter Sis (Macmillan/FSG/Frances Foster)

Anyone who has had an eye on this year’s output recognizes that The Pilot and The Little Prince is another Peter Sis classic. The exquisitely detailed illustrations beg readers to pore over them again and again, revealing new insights with each reading.

Harlem Hellfighters, written by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Gary Kelley (Chronicle/Creative Editions)

Pairs J. Patrick Lewis’s fact based poems and Gary Kelly’s dark, haunting illustrations combine in a very personal profile of this World War I brigade that fought in France.

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Time for Bed, Fred, written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail (Walker Books/Bloomsbury)

With spirited watercolor, Ismail coveys emotion and motion with a loose line, indicating the form of the resting or restless or bouncy body of the shaggy dog. A winner for bedtime, story time, or any time.

Where’s Mommy?, written by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (RH/Schwartz & Wade)

This sweet but not saccharine story of a girl and a mouse parallel lives above the stairs and below is depicted with skill as readers enjoy all the tiny details of a “day in the life” The quiet humor of the text is matched in form and color. The very example of a child-centered picture book.

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Here Is the Baby, written by Polly Kanevsky, illustrated by Taeeyun Yoo (RH/Schwartz & Wade)

It is easy to overlook the obvious and familiar. I am grateful that the Judges brought attention to Here is The Baby, a quiet perfect book reflecting day in the life of a toddler. Kanevsky’s rhythmic, repetitive text makes it good to read aloud. Taeeun Yoo, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award for new illustrator, skillfully expresses emotion and light, climate and comfort with specificity of line and color. This is a sleeper that shouldn’t be missed.

The Baby Tree, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen)

I was delighted. Simply delighted to see this on the list. Anytime I had been in a judging situation, humor was the toughest to sell to my colleagues. Blackall has nailed the subject (misunderstanding grown-up explanations of “where babies come from”) with empathy, kindness AND fun.

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Shackleton’s Journey, written and illustrated by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)

Published by a small press in the U.K., this was not reviewed by the professional journals and therefore is not owned by many libraries.  Shackleton’s various arduous expeditions into the Antarctic have been covered in many books and a TV series starring Kenneth Branagh. An example of the arty but accessible (click on the title link to see some of the interior pages), the sketches evoke the feeling of a naturalist’s diary with an almost documentary feeling as we peek into the mundane (six months provisions) isolating hardship (crossing the ice fields) and relief (rescue and survival). Supplies at wholesalers are limited, but this award is sure to result in a reprint.

Haiti my country, written by Haitian schoolchildren, illustrated by Roge (Fifth House Publishers)

As we enter the culture and the land of Haiti through portraits of teenagers, we find ourselves entering their lives and struggles. This picture book can pair well with Youme’s award-winning Selavi: That IS Life, A Haitian Story of Hope, (Cinco Puntos Press, 2004), a book that is essential to all well-rounded collections. (Good news — the publisher tells me that a reprint of this one is coming and it should be at wholesalers in December).

THE PROMISE

The Promise, written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (Candlewick Press)

An urban “Johnny Appleseed” about a young girl whose life as a thief is transformed when she is tricked into planting acorns and witnesses how the resulting trees improve people’s lives. I have to admit that this one did not work for me. As Kirkus puts it, this is “yet another heavily earnest parable,” adding dryly that the idea is “Valid as metaphor though much less so as a feasible plan of action.” Booklist, however, gave it a star.

Girls and Bullying

Friday, September 26th, 2014

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Great news! Rachel Vail has published a new book and her Friendship Ring series is coming back into print.

I first discovered Vail back in 1991, when the novel Wonder (Scholastic/Orchard) was published. She wrote about hidden aggression in girls before teachers, librarians, and guidance councilors recognized that girls, too, are involved in bullying.

Rachel Vail tells stories of girls longing for friendship, of the dance that is friendship, how it blossoms and grows, then withers and dies and sometimes blooms again.

In the just-released Unfriendeda story told in many voices, we see the seduction of the “popular” girl from several 8th grader’s points of view. There’s Truly, who is at first dazzled by the cool kid’s attention. Then there’s Truly’s former best friend Hazel, whose jealously spirals out of control into bitter vengeance. Vail manages to capture family dynamics as well as the nuances of middle school society in this age of social media.

Penguin/Puffin is also bringing back into print The Friendship Ring. A six-book series that tells the same story from several different 7th grade character’s point of view, it was a tour de force when first published in 1998. Unfortunately, the books were originally released in a small format that seemed targeted to an audience too young to appreciate them. Now reissued in paperback, these are perfect for ages 10 and older and there are no worries that a 4th grader might pick them up.

The first four volumes are now available:

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Published 6/12/14″

If You Only Knew (Friendship Ring, #1)

Please, Please, Please (Friendship Ring, #2)

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Published, 9/25/14:

Not That I Care (Friendship Ring, #3)

What Are Friends For? (Friendship Ring, #4)

To come:

Popularity Contest (Friendship Ring, #5)

Fill In The Blank (Friendship Ring, #6)

EarlyWord Kids at BEA 14

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

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BEA is all about discoveries. Follow me, in the slide show below,  as I wander around the floor with my trusty iPad. 

Click on the photos to read more about each book.

Note: if the slide show does not appear, reload the page.

 

Lisa’s “Can’t Wait” List for May

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

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Kids lots of great books to look forward to this month. Below are titles I can’t wait to recommend:

Young Adult

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We Were Liars, E. Lockhart (Delacorte, $17.99, ages 12-up, May 13)

National Book Award winner Lockhart is not an unknown, yet reading this novel shatters preconceptions that I “knew” her work. I was stunned on the first read and enthralled on the second. I’m delighted that it is the #1 LibraryRead pick for May, so adults will get to know this incredible book as well. Below, the LibraryReads annotation:

“This brilliant and heartbreaking novel tells the story of a prestigious family living on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Full of love, lies, secrets, no shortage of family dysfunction, and a shocking twist that you won’t see coming. Though this book is written for teens, it shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone looking for a fantastic read. — Susan Balla, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, CT

Torn Away, Jennifer Brown, (Hachette/Little Brown, May 6)

If you missed Jennifer Brown’s The Hate List, stop what you are doing and read it right now. Ever since that book, I have eagerly anticipated each new title by this author who gets inside the heads of teens and relives their emotional lives. In this one, a tornado has ripped a destructive path through 17-year-old Jersey’s life. Her entire world has been turned upside down, literally and figuratively. If you have kids looking for a weeper, this is the one.

One Man Guy, Michael Barakiva (Macmillan YR/ FSG; Macmillan Young Listeners; May 27)

This title is taken from the Rufus Wainright song (here performed at Central Park’s Summer stage). We follow the “coming of age” of Alek Khederian who finds himself sentenced to summer school to maintain entrance in honor track classes in his sophomore year. Barakiva captures the awkwardness and apartness Alek is feeling as he begins to get to know the cool guy Ethan, an openly gay skateboarder dude. This nuanced summer romance novel leads readers to the unexpected as we feel the heat of NYC summer and the pressures of family expectations.

Picture Books

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The Baby Tree, Sophie Blackall, (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, 4 and up, May 1)

When a child is told a sibling is on the way, the typically expected question is “Where do babies come from?” With a dry humor reminiscent of Bob Graham (”Let’s Get a Pup!” Said Kate and Queenie, One of the Family) the preschooler in this story is given various replies. Babies grow from seeds, come from hospitals and are dropped on your doorstep (see what real kids have been told in the book’s trailer). Blackall skillfully depicts the child imaging newborns growing on trees like apples and swaddled infants displayed at the hospital as if they were vases for sale in a Pottery Barn window.

The preschooler finally does receive accurate answers from his mom and dad and Blackall adds a round-up of additional questions for parents who are navigating children’s curiosity about human reproduction.

Author Robie Harris, (Its Perfectly Normal) is my go-to for the informational book on age relevant sex-ed. She has this territory in What’s in There? All About Before You Were Born(Candlewick Press, 2013).

The Baby Tree holds its own with Robie Harris’s book and the two would be great companion volumes. When this topic comes up there are never too many good books on the subject.

ElizabethElizabeth, Queen of the Seas, Lynne Cox, illus., by Brian Floca, (RH/Schwartz and Wade, May 13)

In the small town of Christ Church, New Zealand, Elizabeth, an elephant seal who weighed as much as 15 Labrador retrievers, lay sunning herself in the middle of the road. People knew that this was not a good idea and made plans to remove Elizabeth to a home far away among her own kind. No matter how far she was relocated, miles and miles away, despite days of swimming through huge waves and against strong currents, she returned to her two-lane highway again and again.

World-renowned swimmer and bestselling author Lynne Cox and Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Brian Floca tell this incredible animal story without anthropomorphizing Elizabeth.

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Count on the Subway, Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender, illus. by Dan Yaccarino, (RH/Knopf)

The writing team of Jacobs and Swender is a known quantity to early childhood educators.Their Children’s Songbag (Gibbs Smith) is a perennial favorite. The text’s jazzy beats capture the rhythms of the subway wheels on the track as Yaccarino’s pictures present a parade of diversity of New York City’s commuting public. Count to ten and back again, I guarantee this is the one to read over and over again.

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FREE TICKETS For the Arbuthnot Lecture

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

There’s still time to reserve your free tickets to hear Andrea Davis Pinkney give this year’s Arbuthnot Lecture on Saturday, May 3rd at the University of Minnesota.

Arbuthnot

RSVP here, or by calling 612-626-9182.

An accompanying exhibit, Rejoice the Legacy! is open through May 14, 2014.

More information here.

Early April Kids Books to Love

Friday, April 4th, 2014

lisabadge
We’re being showered with some great kids books this month. Below are some new arrivals that caught my eye (for my picks of YA titles, click here).

The Pigeon Needs a BathThe Pigeon Needs a Bath!, Mo Willems, Hachette, Disney-Hyperion

Over ten years ago four-year-olds everywhere screamed, denied, and prevented a small blue pigeon from driving a bus. Pigeon has found a hotdog, wanted a puppy, longed for a cookie, stayed up late and I am pretty sure that we are not surprised that now he needs a bath.

9780316The Adventures of BeekleThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Dan Santat, Hachette/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Beekle is a doughy white roundish creature with a golden crown. He is an imaginary friend who lacks a child. Beekle impatiently waits in the land of imaginary creatures for his perfect match until he just can’t wait any longer and journeys off to find the child himself. Santat has created a fantasy world of helpful imagined companions. We meet a navy blue octopus who seems to have mehndi designs trailing up its tentacles, a cheerful wind cloud who helps fly a kite, and a playful salamander-like creature; all part of a community of children in a familiar yet strange landscape saturated with color.

Have You Seen My Dragon?

Have You Seen My Dragon?, Steve Light, Candlewick

Counting from 1 to 20 we wander the street of Manhattan as a the eponymous dragon hides in plain sight. Light’s retro crowded pen and ink drawings evoke the hustle and bustle of the big city with judicious spots of color to help young readers find the 2 red hotdogs in golden buns, 3 purple buses and so on and so on.

Cowy Cow , Chris Raschka, Abrams/Appleseed

When I found out that Abrams Appleseed was bringing the Thingy Thing books back in print, I did cartwheels. When I found out that they were adding 4 new titles right away, I did hand springs. Okay not really, but my heart did. I have adored these simple stories that are just right for the emergent readers since the silly Moosey Moose who pined for long pants to wear on his antlers. Don’t worry, kids get the joke.

Ninja Ninja Never Stop

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop!, Tad Carpenter, Abrams Appleseed

Picture books about ninjas abound:

The Boy who cried Ninja, Alex Latimer, Peachtree Publishers

Wink the Ninja Who Wanted To Nap, J.C. Phillipps, Penguin/Viking Juvenile

The Three Ninja Pigs, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Dan Santat, Penguin/Putnam Juvenile

Nighttime Ninja, Ed Young, Barbara DaCosta, Hachette/Little, Brown

This one with its bold graphics and bouncy rhyme is a delightful romp.

The 12-Story Treehouse   9781250026910_deb21

A year a go I proclaimed my adoration of Andy Giffiths, author of The 13-Story Treehouse, illustrated by Terry Denton, (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends). It bears repeating, especially now that there’s a sequel, The 26-Story Treehouse :

Are you a little sick of the refrain, “Boys don’t read … boys stop reading … boys can read but don’t”?

My not-so-secret weapon is Andy Griffiths. Got a third grader who isn’t in to reading yet? Give him Griffiths and Denton’s The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow! and The Cat on the Mat is Flat. It can mean the difference between a kid becoming a life-long non-reader or a fluent confident reader who knows there are books out there to be enjoyed.

This new title is a not-so-tongue-in-cheek memoir of Andy and Terry who live in a 13-story-treehouse, with all the fantasy rooms a kid could dream up; a see-through-pool, a basement laboratory, a marshmallow shooting cannon, a shrink ray AND the ability to transform a cat into flying catnary (click on the cover to see treehouse in its full glory). Let’s not be sexist about the appeal of this volume. All genders of third graders will be fighting over it.

Register with SLJ and you can have a class/ library visit with Andy Griffiths live from the Twin Cities Rock Star Supply Co.

Best Gift Books for All Ages

Friday, December 20th, 2013

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As a judge for the National Book Awards, I read a lot of books this year. The job is an honor and a privilege, but it is also heart breaking as I regularly fell in love with books that didn’t fit the award’s very specific criteria, or wouldn’t be agreed upon by all five judges.

Now that it’s over and gift-giving season is here, those restrictions are lifted and I find that, as great as the books are that win prizes, they are not necessarily the ones I want to buy for my young cousin for the holiday break.

Below are the books everyone on my list will be getting this year, including several award winners.

9780544106161What The Heart KnowsChants, Charms and Blessings, Joyce Sidman, illus. by Pamela Zagarenski, (HMH)

Speak these words
to send a message to the world:
to chant for what you want,
to bless what you love,
to lament what you’ve lost,
to summon comfort and courage.

This is THE BOOK! I am not kidding.

At last count, I have bought 15. One for Nelle (don’t worry, she doesn’t read my blog) the grown-up cousin who is the keystone of the Von Drasek family, one for late twenties, Kay who taught me to drive, one for Professor Boss who lives down the block and transitioned me into University culture and the neighborhood life. One for my step-sister for her sixtieth birthday. One for my next door neighbor Krista, one of the smartest, most serene, and spiritual people who also has a terrific sense of humor, one for one of my best friends, Sharon who has been there for me for the last 23 years of my life (and quite a few others who are book people and probably do read my blog).

The best poetry speaks to us and tells us we are not alone. This collection of poems provides comfort and courage. Joyce Sidman has given everyone these gifts.

9780714862415_p0_v1_s600How to Boil an Egg, Rose Bakery, (Phaidon)

Eggs are my go-to food. Boil a half dozen on Sunday, I have lunch for a week. I adore a soft-boiled egg on top of roasted asparagus with a sprinkle of truffled salt. It’s no surprise then, that this book is on my list for all ages; I am a great believer in the benefits of families cooking together and there is nothing easier than eggs.

Cookbooks created for children often have excessive warnings (with good reason; grown ups should be asked to cut the carrots with a sharp knife) and are generic in the step-by-step way. The simple beauty of this book based on a favorite food, creates a perfect family gift.

The following have appeared on many best books lists, or were National Book Award finalists and are also on my gift lists.

9781442421080_1e1ae-2The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Kathi Appelt,. illus. by Jennifer Bricking, ( S & S/Atheneum)

This title is not only literary-prize-worthy (see my review in the NYT Book Review), it is also a fine read aloud for the entire family. It also comes in a magnificent audio version, read by Lyle Lovett (Simon & Schuster Audio; listen to a clip here).

Below, the author herself reads from it:

Flora and UlyssesFlora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, Kate DiCamillo, illus. by K. G. Campbell. (Candlewick)

I am pretty sure that I have bought over ten copies of this book to give to all the deserving  seven-year-olds and older  in my life (yes, that includes a few special adults). It is a laugh aloud delight about a cynical well-read girl and her super-hero companion, a squirrel (for a taste of Kate DiCamillo’s humor listen to her interview from Minnesota Public Radio).

F9780375849725_8d093ar Far Away, Tom McNeal, (RH/Knopf YR)

This contemporary spin on thee Brothers Grimm will, as Jennifer Brown writes in Shelf Awareness, “keep readers on the edges of their seats with its overriding sense of danger, lurking like a deep forest surrounding the town.”

9781596433595  9781596436893

Boxers, Gene Luen Yang, (Macmillan/First Second)
Saints, Gene Luen Yang, (Macmillan/First Second)

This two-volume graphic novel deserves all the praise it’s received. It tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy, and Vibiana, an outcast welcomed by Christian missionaries, offering an insightful look at a pivotal moment in Chinese history.