Thursday, January 13, 2011

Awards Post Mortem

Here is a rundown on what I know and think about the books honored at the Youth Media Awards this past Monday. Oh what a day of surprises it was.  We were able to watch it live in the library.  I had gotten permission to call the 5th and 6th graders who participated in the Newbery Club out of class.  There were also juice and muffins. 

(Naturally I will only be mentioning books that pertain to an elementary library experience.)

Schneider Family Book Award: given for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

If asked to speculate on the Middle-grade award beforehand I’m sure I would have leaned toward the obvious picks: Out of My Mind or Mockingbird. I was thrilled as a bucket of kittens swimming in cream when Jordan Sonnenblick’s After Ever After took the award. I adored that book, and it led me to go back and read Sonnenblick’s prior book about Jeffrey’s brother, Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie. Such great titles for my shelves and my students.

I should begin giving more prior thought to this award. Looking back on previous winners I find many a cherished title in the list: Becoming Naomi Leon, Waiting for Normal, Anything but Typical, and Marcelo in the Real World. Not only that, I find that many of the books that fill the Schneider awards ranks have a strong appeal to a certain segment of my fifth and sixth grades readers. I really need to check child development charts. I wouldn’t be surprises the find that a heightened sense of empathy develops around the ages of 10-12 based on some of the word-of-mouth runs I have on issues type books.

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award:

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia– Did you think it could be anything else?


Lockdown, by Walter Dean – A little on the YA side for this library

Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes – A strong little book, with an enjoyable cast. First Children’s book I can think of that puts the reader in Hurricane Katrina. I had a bit of an abrupt ending for this reader.

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, written by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke. A graphic novel that has been jumping on and off my order list. This clinched it. It is in my next order.

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award:

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Laban Carrick – I ask you, is this not a better world for having Collier’s Illustrations? More on this guy later.

Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, written by Gary Golio – A bio of Janice Joplin Bio won the YA non-fiction award, the sixties are very well represented in 2010 children’s lit.

Odyssey Award: for best audio book produced for children and/or young adults. (If the collection developer for The Davis County Library systems happens to read this, will you please put the following audio titles in your next order?)

The True Meaning of Smekday, written by Adam Rex and narrated by Bahni Turpin – I am ready to road trip with Gratuity and J. Lo again, oh yes I am.


Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman and narrated by Katherine Kellgren - This would be the same Katherine Kellgren who reads the Bloody Jack series? Oh my, what a treat!

The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness and narrated by Nick Podehl – I have yet to read this YA series but according to my sister, who is wise to all things YA, it is fast-paced rollicking ride of a series.

Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly and narrated by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering – More YA that got lots of attention this year.

will grayson, will grayson, - written by John Green and David Levithan, and narrated by MacLeod Andrews and Nick Podehl – This YA has been on my to-read list, but the same sister as above, assured me I should hold out for the audio. Will do.

Pura Belpré (Author) Award: honors a Latino writer of children’s books

The Dreamer, written by Pam Muñoz Ryan – There was much cheering from my Newbery Club kids when this one. The student who read it felt it was very worthy, proving me wrong on its kid appeal.

Now let us tackle the awards I made wagers on, and by wagers I assure you no money changed hands, my pride was the only thing on the line:

Robert F. Sibert Medal: for most distinguished informational book for children.


Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, written by Sy Montgomery – I purchased this book months ago, and promptly put it on my too read list. It is still too be read. But it will I assure you. I was told by a friend that it is the best non-fiction bird book ever, and also works as a Wolf requirement in the Cub Scout manual.


Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca – We have a dance teacher at our school. I slipped my copy to her when it first arrived. She was delirious. I don’t know what Magic that Brian Floca guy has, but I would swear he paints in 3-D.

Lafayette and the American Revolution, written by Russell Freedman – Drat, I had the other Freeman book that came out this year. I was tempted to buy this after finishing Forge, now I shall.

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award: for the most distinguished beginning reader book. (If you are keeping track you will notice that my picks perfectly match the committees, thus proving that this is the committee I should sit on one day.)

Bink and Gollie, written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee and illustrated by Tony Fucile – I will grant you that this book very kid friendly, but really I’m sure it was written just to bring me joy.

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! written and illustrated by Grace Lin – This book raised the level of writing Easy Readers from this point on.

We Are in a Book! written and illustrated by Mo Willems – I’ve heard it said that this is the best Piggie and Gerald book to date, and I won’t disagree. Meta fiction at it’s very best.

Caldecott Medal: for the most distinguished American picture book for children.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, written by Philip C. Stead. Squeals were heard far and wide when my favorite of the year grabbed gold.

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Laban Carrick Hill. Yep, Mr. Collier pulled a twofer. As I was doing my civil rights lessons this week, I pull the Caldecott winners over to the table to catch the kiddos up on the actual winners. Having picked their own winner a few weeks ago I was sure they would be interested. I had Dave nestled among the usual suspect for the week. I wasn’t quick on the draw but a few third graders noticed that other books on the table had medals. They wanted to know what they’d won. I picked up my favorite MKL book, Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by . . . Oh yes, Bryan Collier. Well what do you know? A Caldecott honor and a CSK medal. What’s that glittering on Rosa by Nikki Giovonni? Well looka here, another nice Caldecott honor along with a CSK medal, illustrated by. . . You guessed it, Bryan Collier. Familiar territory for that guy.

Interrupting Chicken, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein. Didn’t have it, my head hangs in shame. Correcting as we speak.

Newbery Medal: for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

Moon over Manifest, written by Clare Vanderpool. Like many I was left scratching my head when this book was announced. If by scratching my head you mean yelping in surprise and crushing disappointment. Not because Moon Over Manifest was going to wear Newbery gold, but because I hadn’t read it, nor did I have it in the library. It was as if I’d failed my purpose in life. I scoured the local bookstores and was able to track down a copy before the day was over. So far, so delightful.

Honors: (My student were quite tickled as each of these titles came up, each book had several readers who could offer a cheer.)

Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm – OH yes, yes, yes, nothing to feel bad about this one and I think it has quite the child friendly cover.

Heart of a Samurai, written by Margi Preus – This has been a big hit with my boy readers, and my girl readers come to think of it.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen – A lovely book of Poetry. Sidman’s books have been collecting quite a bit of bling over the years. I can think of two Caldecott honors, but this may be the first that recognizes her writing. Apparently she is a great big show off because she managed to come out with two stunning books of poetry this year. Be sure to look up Ubiquitous.

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia. When my sure-thing sprang up on the screen, a little too early, I went into a state of shock. Other people in the room wanted to know what my guesses were as to the medal. I really couldn’t even say. All cognitive ability left the building.

Regardless of whether the medal is gold or silver Delphine and her sisters will shine in children’s literature for the rest of time. Thank you Rita Williams-Garcia for writing such a marvelous book.

Check out the 2011 ALSC notable list for many other delicious titles.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Guessing Game of 2011: Who Will Walk with Newbery Gold and other Pressing Questions

The time cannot be put off for my annual prediction of the hoopla that will be happening tomorrow, known as the ALA Youth Media Awards. I’ve been gratified to know that I am not the only loon in the coop for whom the announcement of the Newbery, and her sister awards, is the biggest day of the year. Jonathan over at Heavy Medal compares it to waiting for a visit from St. Nick and Peter over at Collecting Children’s books confessed to level of devotion and obsession that is either awe inspiring or commitment worthy. I particularly like the fake journalist ploy.

Back three years ago when I first heard the term Mock Newbery, I dismissed the fact that an entire committee should gather together and agree on a common title to crown with Mock Gold. I merely read a bunch of books, blogged what I thought and guessed at the winner. I have come to accept that is not really how a Mock should work. But who cares, I love the sense of power I get from embodying a committee of one.

I have been participating in a Mock Newbery with some of my students and I will post how that all rolled out soon.

I have to admit, with fake modesty, my committee has done quite well matching its choices with the legitimate committee. Let us take a look.

2008: 50% and I’d read and blogged all the books.

2009: What percentage is 3 out of 5? More than 50! Sadly I have yet to read the two that slipped in under my radar.

2010: 4 of 5, 80% (I’ve suddenly remembered how to do math). This is disputable because last year I attempted to award my own honors and then predict what the real committee would do. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg slipped in when I wasn’t looking. I had love for him early on, but it dimmed as the year went on and he got no love from others. I’m so sorry I doubted you Homer.

Now that the bragging is out of the way, let’s address this year’s awards. I will dispense with my predictions and just award what my committee will honor.


  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. I know I’m not original here, but really this seems to be the only choice.

  • The Clockwork Three by Matthew J Kirby. I will confess that this same Matthew J. Kirby ignited the fuse to my Newbery addiction, and in fact was part of the chilly group which watched last year’s awards with me. I’ve known Clockwork's story since it was a sonogram. I may not be terribly objective, but my justifying side claims that it is as strong a contender as many other 2010 books. It has already gotten some Mock love from a King County Library in Seattle.  My sister in Portland just informed me that that behemoth of bookstores, Powell’s, had it crowned with their Mock Medal. She didn’t have a camera on her, or I would offer proof.
  • Countdown by Deborah Wiles. This is here less because of it’s innovative format, and more because I adored every ounce of this story. I would break out words like delineation of character and setting and appropriateness of style, but really it has it all. A very deserving choice.
  • Keeper by Kathi Applet. At first I was grumpy because Keeper did not wear me out in the way that The Underneath did, but there is so much to love and admire in this sweet, heart-rending and sometimes delightfully silly story. There is nothing silly about the Kathi’s glorious writing.
(I usually stop with 3 honors, but as the past few years have given more - why shouldn’t I?

  • Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm. Look at that? I didn’t think I was going to type that, but there you go. This book was so yummy I’m going to appease my sweet tooth, sorry, How Sugar Changed the World.
(If Jonathan from Heavy Metal ever reads this his eyes will roll up so far into his brain, a surgeon will need to be called in.  Yep, Jonathan all middle-grade fiction.  That's the way we roll here at my committee.)

If, and when, The Dreamer, How Sugar Changed the World or They called themselves the KKK show up tomorrow I will be clapping and content.



  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Christian Stead, Illustrated by Erin Stead. I go all soft and gooey when I speak of this book, so let’s move on before it becomes embarrassing.
  • Art and Max by David Wiesner. It was good enough for the Snowdecott, so why not?
  • City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, Illustrated by Jon Muth. There is not a thing that can be disparaged about this treat, unless you bemoan the short lives of amphibians.
  • Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCammilo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile. I look forward to filling my shelf with the sequels. If the three of you are listening, I am demanding many, many sequels!


  • How Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos. If you have yet to read this, prepared to be astonished.
  • A Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, Illustrated by Brian Floca. Who knew words and ink could jump up off the page and swirl around the reader with a soundtrack no less.
  • They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group  by Susan Bartoletti. If you can get past the willies of looking into how terrorists justify themselves, this is worth the read.


  • Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCammilo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile.

  • Ling &Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin. This could easily switch places with Bink and Gollie.
  • We are in a Book by Mo Willems.  What's a Geisel without at least a little Mo.
That will about do it. Just a few hours to go until we get to dive under the tree and rip open the presents.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mocking the Caldecott

With the big awards ceremony just around the corner, it is time to dust off the old blog. Those of you familiar with this blogger’s obsessions will not question which awards ceremony I am referring to. I care very little for The Oscars, The Nobels, or Cub Scout Bridging Ceremonies (although there was a time when those little scarf-wearers figured prominently in my life). Naturally what I am referring to are the ALA Youth Media Awards, more specifically the Newbery, the Caldecott, and many other fine and fancy awards. See the full list here. This Monday, January 10, 2011, a year’s worth of reading and analyzing will come to its final conclusion.

In the next few days I hope to make a few predictions, and talk a little about our School’s Newbery Club. Today however it is long past due for me to post the results of what I hope will be a continuing tradition at our school:

Snow Horse Elementary's first annual Mock Caldecott

Known to its closest friends as

The Snowdecott

A few weeks ago I gave a few preliminary lessons leading up to the event on methods of, and quality of illustration. As much as possible I tried to make the students familiar with the books we would be reviewing, because I knew the day of would be too time-crunched to read each book. I chose 10 likely suspects from the 2010 crop of picture books. I made ballots listing each title. As each class, 1st grade through 6th, came for their weekly 30 minute library visits, I laid out the procedure. They would be put into 10 small groups of 2 to 3, and in a few classes 4 (this is Utah after all). They would get about one and a half minutes with each book. When the timer went off they would move to the next table. Once they had rotated through each book they were told to pick up a ballot and rank their top 3 titles. Every first place vote would garner 3 points, reversing on down. At the end of the week, with my crack accounting team of 6th grade assistants, (AKA the Bookends), the results were tallied and the Medalist and Honors were announced. I know this is far from how the actual committee operates, and for that matter far from how most legit Mocks roll. But with over 650 students in 24 classes to process, this is the best procedure I was able to adapt.

Without further blah, blah, blah here is how it all went down:

Fist the 10 nominees:

  1. Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown
  2. Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman, iillustrated by Beckie Prange
  3. Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
  4. Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems
  5. The Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter, Illustrated by Red Nose Studio
  6. The Boys by Jeff Newman
  7. City Dog, County Frog by Mo Willems, Illustrated by Jon Muth
  8. Art & Max by David Wiesner
  9. Flora's Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan
  10. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Christian Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead

The enthusiasm was palpable:

I couldn't get a still shot of this guy.  I don't think he was aware his feet were off the ground.

The results: There was a clear winner by over 100 votes, but the two honor books shared a mere 20 point spread.

The 2010 Snowdecott Honors go to.

Knuffle Bunny Free written and illustrated by Mo Willems

City Dog, Country Frog written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Jon Muth (What can I say we love our Mo in these parts.)

Your 2010 Snowdecott is:

Art and Max written and illustrated by David Wiesner

Friday, August 27, 2010

One Crazy Book Club

I like to brag that I have the world most enjoyable job, and I will take on all the ice cream tasters and mattress testers who want to dispute my claim. Sometimes opportunities come along that take the enjoyable to the realms of enchanting. Recently Jennah Watters from the K-12 Recorded Books Blog offered me the opportunity to hold a summer book club starring one of the most extolled books of 2010, none other than Rita Garcia-Williams’ One Crazy Summer.

(Let me see, would I like to gather together a group of eager young readers and indulge my fondness yammering about fine literature with the same young readers? The answer is a big fat YOU BETCHA.)

Jennah provided an extravagant number of audios, and I provided a perfect number of girls willing to spend a summer’s afternoon in the school library. It goes without saying that the caliber of participants was exceptional. These are girls who spend big chunks of their summer reading without mandates. I would have loved to include a few boys but as I was culling from Summer Library patrons I had to recruit from the troops that walked by. Maybe another time we can get some male involvement. It does have to be said that One Crazy Summer is a very girl friendly tale indeed.

One Crazy Summer is an emotion-packed story of three young sisters, Delphine 11, Vonetta 9, and Fern 7. They have flown from their Brooklyn home the summer of 1968 to travel to San Francisco to spend a summer with their mother, Cecile. A mother they haven’t seen since she walked out on them when Fern was a nursing infant. From their first contact with Cecile, it is clear that she has no use for her offspring. The girls, hoping for seven years of makeup mothering, were instead kept at arms length and shipped off each day for summer camp at the local Black Panther establishment.

I’d read the book some months ago and was already a big fan. Listening to the audio was a whole other level of delightful. Narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson, the book that has been repeatedly lauded for having a strong, genuine voice was attached to an audible voice, in Johnson, which cemented the time-period, location, and cadences to perfection.
One the afternoon when I gathered with six lovely young readers appropriate refreshments were offered. Naturally we had egg rolls, alas, not provided by Mean Lady Ming. They were served with fruit punch, as Big Ma would not have approved of soda pop. Cookies were also involved but there was no literary tie in. Let’s just say that we met in Utah, and I’m pretty sure it is obligatory that any meeting of greater than 3 people must include cookies. Appropriately all were severed on a blanket on the floor. No one was allowed in the kitchen.

We began by discussing our favorite characters. Fern, the youngest sister, was a big hit all around. Sisi Johnson’s reading did well by Fern. Her interpretation of Fern’s clear, strong, little voice was like a love potion, beguiling unsuspecting listeners. Fern’s doggy yips are full on charming. Brinley loved the way Fern balled her fists. Paige liked Vonetta because she was always trying to get attention. A surprise was Shelbi, who was partial to Cecile because, and I quote, “She is the kind of character who changes, and you find the truth about her.” Did I not say these where exceptional girls?

Hirohito was a big hit among this group of Delphine’s would-be peers. The part where Delphine rides Hirohito’s go cart was much lauded. I can only imagine why. The awkwardness of the “China Boy” scene was also admired. (Note to all middle-grade writers: a little romance, no matter how light, does not go unappreciated.)

Not surprisingly the climax at the rally was a favorite. Riley thought the sisters’ recitation of I Birthed a “Black” Nation raised a lot of emotion. They were all thrilled with Cecile reaction, and Fern chance to shine. Brinley liked the end when Fern got excited when Cecile finally called her Fern.

I was struck by how appreciative my very non-diverse, well-mothered group was of Delphine’s, Vonetta’s, Fern’s and Cecile’s story. It reinforced my belief that reading not only provides our young with experiences that broadens their understanding of the world, but also broadens their capacity for empathy.

The girls were able to send along questions to Rita Garcia-Williams. I will be doing another post in the future with her responses.

The chance to sit and luxuriate in this conversation was like a small dose of heroin. I’m ready for another fix. I’m looking forward to starting up my Newbery Club in a few weeks, which will hopefully elicit more experiences of this sort. Thank you to Jennah and Recorded Books for this opportunity.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wallowing in Kid-Lit Decadence

This past week I was lucky enough to attend the BYU Symposium on Books for Young Readers held a few mountain peaks south of me at the majestic Provo library in Provo UT.
For kid-lit nerds it is two days of pure full-fledged geekdom. Each year the good people of BYU and the Provo library coerce (this may not be the most accurate verb as I believe other compensation is meted out) a selection of Children’s writers and illustrators to come to Utah and share their talents, wisdom, and glorious presence with us land-locked groupies. This year’s offerings were particularly exhilarating - the equivalence of a Nemoy sighting at a Trekky convention.
The first day began with no less a living legend to naughty boys, fairies, and pirates than David Shannon. Mr. Shannon regaled us with tales from his childhood up through his stint as Vice- Ambassador to Jon Scieszka. I particularly enjoyed his dissection of his David books. As most people who would be reading this blog would know, No, David came about as a result of a book he wrote when he, the real David was five-years-old. It encompassed the only two words the young author could spell at the time. He said the premise of the books were that David does nothing that every child on the planet has either done or wanted to do. I gave birth to my own David and was able to get a copy of his namesake signed for him complete with an original graphic. Apparently Mr. Shannon, who had a signing line which rivaled the opening of Utah’s first In and Out Burger, was drawing pictures in every book that fell under his pen.

David Shannon Fun Fact: He began his carrier as a journalist illustrator, mostly doing Political art. The hardest part of the switch to children’s books for him was the knowledge that sitting presidents and other weighty people were not seeing his work every day. Let’s hope the existing President, who happens to live with members of Shannon’s current audience, gets glimpses of his most recent work from time to time.

Our next superstar was the entrancing and energetic Elizabeth Partridge. Her enthusiasm filled the room as she related her search for primary sources. She is relentless in her quest for excellence and is just as awed by the people she writes about as we are by her writing. She gave us a great illustration of what it feels like for her once she has collected her sources and is ready to begin sorting and organizing. She compared herself to the cat with the hat balancing the fish and dish and cake and the rake, etc. She says it is like having all this great stuff but is afraid to put it down as it may come crashing about her ears.
She told a breathtaking story of a candlelight ceremony that took place on a recent November evening standing around listen to Amelia Boynton, a 93-year-old woman who had been beaten by police on Bloody Sunday in long-ago Selma, Alabama. As Mrs. Boynton’s listeners were gathered in a close circle about her a voice called out that Obama had just taken Pennsylvania. Which meant that the country where Amelia Boynton was beaten for fighting to get Black people the right to vote a mere 40-something years ago was just about to elect its first African-American President. I KNOW! I just got chills again writing about it.
Another incredible thing that I learned is that Elizabeth Partridge’s godmother was Dorothea Lange. I’m sure most of you were aware of this fact as Elizabeth has written a pretty awesome book on Lange, which I am now the proud owner of a signed copy. She ended her presentation with two pretty incredible slide shows of which she confessed to loving as much as we did.

Elizabeth Partridge Fun Fact: Both she and I were winners in this year’s SLJ's Battle of the Kid’s Books. OK, so her Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children , and Don’t You Grow Weary won the entire kit-and-kabootal and all I got was a t-shirt. But now I can say I own a t-shirt signed by the 2010 Champion. She suggested I send it around and get all the contestants to sign it. I’m considering it.

Our last presenter of the afternoon was our own Brandon Mull. I’m beginning to feel like his stalker. In this past year he visited my school, and just a month ago I attended a writer’s conference where he was one of the instructors. Seeing him and Rick Walton in the halls felt like old times and I’m sure was making him a little nervous. I can personally attest to the fact that Mr. Mull is one of the world nicest people. When he came to my school I coerced him to stop by the library and give my 6th-grade assistants, AKA free labor, the thrill of their lives. As I was pressing him to sign book marks for each of them, I commented that he must get tired of all the signing. His reply was so lovely. He said that he could be laying asphalt for a living and the fact that people value his signature is in no way a burden. His presentation was entirely enjoyable. He showed how his childhood and geography helped form his Fablehavan and other books, AKA the emptiest shelf in my library at any given time.

Brandon Mull Fun Fact: He said his best day of elementary school was when he did a full frontal dive into a gigantic mud puddle his invisible- imaginary friend had dared him to jump over. His teacher would not allow his mud-spattered self back in the school and his mother could not be reached to clean him up. He spent the rest of the day outside the school circling a tree with one hand wrapped about the trunk, absorbed in the stories in his head.

The evening of the first day there is always a banquet featuring a heavyweight keynote speaker. This year’s pièce de résistance was none other than the maven of historical fiction and/or issue based YA brilliance Laurie Halse Anderson.

Upon hearing a few months ago that I would be within fawning distance of the author of Speak my 18-year-old daughter stated that of course I would be taking her along. I looked into it and found that I could indeed, for an added fee, take along a guest. Plans were made. (This next part of the story is where I need to be careful least I sound too whiny.) My oldest son, who has from birth been abundantly aware of my musical preferences, gave myself and my husband tickets to see James Taylor and Carol King, AKA the biggest concert event since the Rolling Stones toured with The Beatles (What’s that you say? Those two never toured together. Well then, the world has never seen it’s equal.)
Unfortunately the dream team of concerts happened to be occurring the same night as - you guessed it, my chance to share air with Laurie Halse Anderson. It was a brutal choice but in the end I sacrificed my ticket to the 18-year-old and spent the night ringside with living legends. Somewhere during the evening a message sounding something like this showed up in our inbox:
I just met the coolest person in the world. She said I was a walking piece of art, and took my picture. (The girl tends to decorate her flesh and jeans with an ever present supply of sharpies) She has a son my age and is going to tell him all about me. And now we are best friends. I love you Mommy and will clean your bathroom for life, for giving me this opportunity.” (OK, so I added the last line, but I’m sure it was understood.)
The next day I was able to do a little catching up with the dynamic LHA during the meet and greet held in the afternoon. This is a chance for smaller groups to bombard the authors with questions. The woman fills up a room with the force of her personality. The passion she puts into her writing shows when she speaks of her audience. It is reassuring that our teens are in such caring and capable hands when they open her books.
Laurie Halse Anderson Fun Fact: Both she and Jim Murphy were terrified of the other when they found out that they had each written books about the same influenza outbreak within a year of each other, Fever 1793 and An American Plauge:  The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Once Murphy discovered Laurie’s book was fiction, and Laurie checked that Murphy had no further sources than she, all was sunshine and rainbows.
The second day began with the unequaled talent of Kadir Nelson. His presentation was breathtaking. That boy has a work ethic that would rival Michelangelo. He holds himself to such a standard of perfection it is no wonder masterpiece and his name show up in the same sentences. He bases the motivation for his work on the theme of Ntozake Shange’s Ellington was not a Street, which Nelson Illustrated: Take something terrible and turn it into something beautiful. While working on the illustrations for We are the Ship he wanted to do more than simply copy existing photographs. To get the stances and physicality of his subjects he took pictures of himself in different poses, using a tripod. He then merged the photos of himself and the subject to get original paintings.

Kadir Nelson Fun Fact: He lost a commission to rabid Yankees fan Billy Crystal when he painted the home team on the wrong side of the stadium.

By now I’m sure you are thinking that the conference must have exhausted Provo’s capacity for Kid-lit magnificence. But hold on to your hats boys and girls because our final speaker was none other than Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLauchlan. A good day in my book is a day I can wake up and listen to the delightful Patricia for a paragraph or two, or perhaps a short novella. Everything she said was either funny or profound, often both at the same time. She speaks warmly of her craft and her family and dogs with utter satisfaction. Listening to her you understand why her characters are lively, thoughtful and quirky.

The person responsible for me being at the conference is my indefatigable Principal, who as we speak in Uganda building houses. Patricia MacLauchlan is her favorite author. As I sat listening to her speak I so wished my Mrs. Bagley could be there as well. MacLauchlan’s son’s family has been in Africa for the past few years, where he was working as a photographer for the Jane Goodall project. Having this tie is but one of many that convinced me that these two compassionate, lively women were kindred spirits.

Patricia MacLauchlan Fun Facts:
  • She admitted to being impressed with the writing ability of her characters in her new book Word after Word after Word, then she remembered who actually gave them their words.
  • She confessed to dying her hair its stunning silvery white, otherwise it would be a boring jet black.
  • She sits on a committee with Katherine Patterson and Lois Lowry who like to remind her that they have each won two Newberys.
 That wraps everything up. I'm not sure what the powers in charge could possible do to top this next year but I will be waiting to see the attempt.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Top 10 Essentials of 2010

In an effort to swell my already healthy ego, my colleagues have requested that I put out a monthly list of the top 10 ten essential new books for our collections. It’s kind of like asking me to finish off that last piece of chocolate cheesecake. (Oh please, if you insist). Upon reflection what I think I’d like to do is a little of this, a bit of that, and some of the other. Meaning I will divide up the top ten into picture books, fiction novels, and books that will go to live in the Dewey section. I will admit, here in this most private and obscure format, that my weak point is going to be non-fiction. Today I will be fudging on that area by recommending books that are not strictly speaking the facts and nothing but the facts, but nonetheless sport a Dewey Decimal number.

Also essential is a relative word in our case. In my district our budgets are based on the number of students we have in our schools, which ranges from just over 300 to over 1000. For those of you who are walking calculators you can see that what might be a must have in one case would easily be a luxury in the other. I plan to qualify what I believe each purchase would bring to our libraries.

1. Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities by Shiga, Jason. Not since the moment Reese combined chocolate and peanut butter have two more complementary companions met in a completely luscious result. Thats right folks it's a choose-your-own adventure mixed in with a graphic novel. We are talking reluctant reader bait in epic proportions. This nifty little package sports maze like paths that lead the reader to the proper tabs that will end in either scientific discovery or certain death. Its durability remains to be seen. I had my copy in circulation for the last three months and so far it has fared just dandy. The pages are some sort of sturdy plasticy substance and the binding seems to be holding its own. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to hold out for library bindings but I’m glad mine is in circulation.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: I would say Very High for those of you who like giving kids books that will keep them enthralled.

2. Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer. There are always two sides to every story and this clever book of poetry takes the view that in every fairy tale there is more than one story that needs to be heard. Using a technique which has been coined reverse verse (if it hasn't already been coined, then I am claiming credit) many of our standard fairy tales are told from the point of view of two different characters, leaving the reader to reevaluate previously held assumptions.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: I would say Fair to Middling. Although this book was the first of the 2010 crop to get the coveted 5 stars, poetry does tend to get reviewed very well and if we are not careful the 800s could soon take over our entire Dewey sections. However, if you, by chance, happen to be planning to do a fairy tale theme over the next year, then this would indeed be an excellent choice.

3. Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy) by Barbara Kearly, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. From the team that brought you What to do about Alice we get this whimsical bio of the master storyteller, told from his daughter point of view. The quotes from the source are deadly funny. Add that to the device of having a child’s journal mixed in the great Fortheringham art and you’ve got an amalgam of witty wonderfulness.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: I will also give this a Fair to Middling rating. This brief volume will not fulfill any required biography assignment. (For that, turn to Sid Fleischman’s, Trouble Begins at Eight). But it is a great read aloud and a lovely introduction to one of our great authors. Also if you want to get a head start on possible Caldecott winners for next year I won’t steer you wrong.

4. The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. I like to call those ubiquitous Rainbow Magic fairy books, little girl heroine. Once they get started they can’t seem to stop. I have frantic mothers coming in begging me to give their little ones something, anything, that won’t trigger their own gag reflex during nightly reading time. Newbery award winner Schlitz has given us a great detox with this luscious little fairy book. The illustrations are intoxicating, the language is musical, the story is divine, and the end papers glitter. Win, win, win, win.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: Very High. You will have no shortage of readers for this, from precocious 1st graders on up to starry eyed 6th graders. I do think it just might be gender specific.

5. Countdown by Deborah Wiles. It is hard to count all the ways this particular book appeals to me. It is historical fiction done like no other. The reader is dropped into 1962 body, soul, and soundtrack. The pages are filled with graphic depictions from the time we live through the October week of the Cuban Missile crises with 11-year-old Franny, who is also feuding with her best friend and living through her first crush.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: Quite High. You will want to give this to all your little historical fiction fans. Failing running into any of those elusive creatures, give them to all the girls who adore Frances O’Roark Dowell's The Secret Language of Girls and The Kind of Friends we Used to Be.

6. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Let’s go back to the 60’s again. Sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are going to spend their summer with a mother who doesn’t want them in a place that is as foreign as a different county – Oakland, California. Thank goodness The Black Panthers are there to provide child care.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: Quite High. This front runner for the Newbery is just darn great writing. The story and the characters are gripping. You will need to do a bit of selling to get it in the right hands, but once there they will be grateful.

7. Pigs to the Rescue by John Himmelman. If you have ever read this book’s predecessor Chickens to the Rescue during a story time you are already heading to the nearest book store to shore up your storytelling cred. Himmelman amps up the hilarity once again with this barnyard tale of good deeds. Spoiler alert: porcine are not nearly as helpful has poultry.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: Quite high. I would say it is a no brainer if you have the first book, but you might need a little selling if you are unfamiliar with this level of silliness. If you are looking for a concept reason for purchasing this, it covers every day of the week.

8. Born Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist by James Solheim, illustrated by Simon James. This amusing account of the narrator’s first year is a laugh a second. Fans of Baby Brains will delight once again at infantile hi-jinx.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: Quite High. This is story time gold, and the perfect baby shower gift.

9. What If? By Laura Vaccaro Seeger. The queen of concept books is at it again. This time with a simple depiction of the rudimentary but tricky social skills of sharing and friendship. Wave this in front of your school counselor’s face and watch her drool with hunger.

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: Fair to Middling. It’s not the best Seeger to come along but it defiantly fills a need, and the kid appeal will be high.

10. Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonathan Winter.  Based on a true story this comical portrayal of a refuge piled boat looking for a harbor is a visual and literary treat. It is illustrated by a studio, using cast off knick-knacks and other junk. Winter is at his best in the telling of this story using phrasing which make it hard to keep a straight face while reading, such as, “Full-speed backwards!”

• LEVEL OF NECESSITY: Very High. A great addition for Earth Day and other environmental needs.