Feb 27, 2012

The Benefit of a Bad Example

This week I received the ARC for Gail Carson Levine’s new book of poems, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems. Illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Harper)

At only eighty pages, this little collection is jammed full of poems sharing the title, form, and unrepentant attitude of the famous William Carlos Williams poem:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

In an introduction that doesn't appear until page eighteen (after many poems have had their say), Levine lays out the simple pattern then challenges readers to write some, too. Her offerings involve topics ranging from fairy tale twists to sibling blackmail and beyond. Levine's wry perspectives and Cordell's wickedly clever line drawings put me in mind of a timeless favorite of my early years, Edward Lear.

As Edward Lear’s two hundredth birthday approaches, a year-long celebration of his life and life's work is underway.

There are many titles to explore, in books and online, but I love His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, by Edward Lear, Masterminded by Daniel Pinkwater, Illustrated by Calef Brown. Featuring colorfully portrayed favorites, this begins with Pinkwater’s biographic salute to Lear.

Lear was a game changer in children's literature, instrumental in generating a paradigm shift from “morality tales” about good boys and girls to stories and poems that were purely entertaining, (even if sometimes just a tad scandalous).

Pinkwater's blurb on the back fold shares his initial discovery of Lear. Like Pinkwater, I remember my first time, so to speak. I found a tattered collection of Lear limericks on a weekly library search and promptly proceeded to read anything with his name on it. Then I read them all again. And again.

From the inimitable "The Owl and the Pussycat" to his lyrical "A is for Apple" and on to his limericks (my personal pick as favorites), Lear never settled for the mundane, embracing nonsensical images and playful language that tickle the ear and the mind.
(Side note: Lear's line art can be seen on the introduction page of this book and in many online examples.)

I consider any comparison to Lear high praise indeed, and it's well-earned in Newberry-honored Levine's sassy and stimulating collection of false apology poems. I can't imagine anyone reading this without a smile.

And so, Ta-Da... my first give-away is officially launched:

Contest Rules!

Prize- One ARC of FORGIVE ME, I MEANT TO DO IT: False Apology Poems, by Gail Carson Levine, Illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Harper).

To Enter- Leave a comment on this post. Just say hello, if that’s all you want to do. But I’d love to read your thoughts about the post or the blog in general.

Deadline- Between midnight, February 26 and 6:00 AM, Wednesday, February 29.

Winner Selection: Selection from all entries will be completed using Random.org
If an alternate is needed, remaining entries will be resubmitted to Random.org.

Winner Notification- Winners will be announced on March 1, here and on Twitter @PBWorkshop. To be contacted directly, include your email address or twitter@ in your comment. Without contact information, winner must respond no later than Sunday, March 4 or another name will be selected.

Who May Enter- Everyone is welcome, but the prize will be mailed only within the USA. If you are from another country and want to enter anyway, the book can be mailed to someone you know in the USA.

Psssst- pass it on....

Feb 20, 2012

A Peek at Picture Book Presidents

Monday is officially "Presidents' Day".

My grandpa, George, named for Washington, was born at the end of the 19th century in Appalachia on February 22. It's been a favorite story among kin that he married Martha, whose birthday was the Fourth of July.

So call me sentimental, but I appreciate Presidents' Day as more than just a bank, stock market, and post office holiday on which to shop for discounted linens.

In a post at the start of the month I commented on the importance of acknowledging significant history throughout the year, not just on designated days or months. I hope you'll share these featured titles year 'round.

This week, though, I'll put them in the spotlight in honor of Grandpa George's memory.

First up: Presidents' Day by the incomparable Anne Rockwell. She has the ability to make any subject not only appealing but accessible for even the youngest readers or listeners. Key historic facts about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, all honored on Mt. Rushmore, are shared through a simple story about a school play.

Equally appealing and informative is My Teacher for President, by Kay Winters. When it comes to discussions about desirable qualities and character traits in a president (as opposed to rants and attacks), we might do well to make this required reading for all voters. In fact, a civics or poli-sci class could share this and launch a spirited debate about which qualities (apart from money and party affiliations) are most essential in a candidate for president. Includes a lovely dose of inside jokes and tongue-in-cheek parallel situations.

If you don't already know Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin I'd have to ask- where the heck have you been? With the same addictive appeal as Click Clack Moo and related titles (images, irony, repetition, and humor) Duck for President takes a seriously funny look at responsibility with "the grass is always greener" undertones. If you don't believe me, you can view the entire book on this book trailer video. But no peeking at the last page until you've seen or read it all!

You may feel that the abundance of titles related to Lincoln would have exhausted the subject. Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life by Martin W. Sandler offers remarkable and unexpected insights into Lincoln's presidency.
If you are impressed by the impact of social media on presidential politics, imagine the effects of nascent photography on Lincoln's presidency (and power). He was the first president whose image reached the majority of Americans, (albeit after a much greater time lag than with FaceBook or Twitter). His was the face loved or hated during the Civil War, his were the first presidential decisions, signings, speeches that were visually recorded and widely distributed. He was the first of our presidents generally felt to be "known" by the citizenry, for better or for worse.
Take time to look at the archival photographs in this book, even if you don't read a word (but I dare you not to read once you open the cover).

With any luck at all you'll have found some new titles here to explore and share. Just remember to keep them in the mix throughout the year, especially this political year. If you have other titles to recommend, please leave a note.

Feb 12, 2012

To-Be-Read Piles: Make Room for Picture Books!

I hope anyone who reads this is already aware of the incredible blog: Nerdy Book Club. 
If not, go check it out. I’ll wait here until you come back. *hums, taps toe patiently*

Their February 12 post offers a video Valentine to the “to-be-read” stacks of some followers. I wasn’t surprised at the predominance of middle grade, young adult, and adult books displayed, and I was pleased to see some old favorite titles alongside recent releases.  

It was disappointing, though, not to see more picture books in the stacks, although a few were included.  Once again I found myself wanting to parade up and down virtual streets like a newsboy of old, hawking PB titles that deserve everyone’s attention, especially established readers.

Donalyn Miller’s earlier post on the value of read-alouds pointed out many advantages of sharing text aloud. Including picture books in that mix offers an ideal opportunity to focus on the intended topic, theme, or skills in a concise way, building interest, curiosity, and motivation for further reading.

Reading aloud picture books and including them in collections provides fertile content for :
§  Searching for the author’s FULL MESSAGES
§  Confirming/validating/debating responses from the book
§  Empathizing and identifying with emotions, conflicts, and relationships
§  Recognizing subtext and subplot

So, instead of my intended post this week, let the PB hawking hereby begin.

Along with titles on my feature book tab, consider these to launch a theme about historic or current racial issues:
DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE. By Laban Carrick Hill, Illustrated by Bryan Collier.  
SKIN AGAIN. By Bell Hooks, Illustrated by Chris Raschka. 

 Follow with

IGGIE’S HOUSE. By Judy Blume 

ELIJAH OF BUXTON. By Christopher Paul Curtis.  

And how about these pairings:

 Use WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak to launch A MONSTER CALLS. (Inspired by an idea from Sioban Dowd) by Jim Kay, Illustrator Patrick Ness.

TEMPLE CAT. By Andrew Clements, Illustrated by Kate Kiesler.  
THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT. By Byrd Baylor, Illustrated by Peter Parnall.
Pair these with ANY books about what it really means to be rich.

JELLYBEANS. By Sylvia van Ommen. (Caution- there are many "Jelly bean" titles- this is the one you want!) Pair with ANY books involving death, questions about afterlife.

HORNBOOKS AND INKWELLS. By Verla Kay, Illustrated by S. D. Schindler.  Pair with any books with a colonial setting.

I could go on and on,  but the  possibilities are endless and my virtual voice is getting hoarse, so that will do it for today.  I hope at least one or two are new titles for you and they might make it onto to your own to-be-read list. If anyone else wants to chime in with suggested pairings, give them a shout out here. 

Feb 7, 2012

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens!

Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by John Hendrix  
Random House Children's Books 
$17.99, 40 pages

Two hundred years ago today a boy was born in Old London. He was only one of countless boys and girls born in poverty, destined to a life of struggle, destitution, and eventual imprisonment for unpaid debts. And yet today his life and accomplishments are celebrated throughout the world. 

All because of his stories.

Whether you are a Dickens fan or not, I urge you to read and share this remarkable book about his early days in Old London. The compelling second person voice of Deborah Hopkins pairs perfectly with the intricate detail and shifting perspective of John Hendrix's illustrations. It's a book worth many repeated readings and explorations.

A Boy Called Dickens offers something for every age, including relevance to issues of our times: poverty, loneliness, child labor, and family relationships. In our media-driven world kids crave fame at any cost. In this case Dickens recognized the power of storytelling and harnessed that power. His writing not only brought him security and fame in his own time, but has made him a timeless literary icon. 

More extensive reviews can be found at Becky's Book Reviews  and Through the Looking Glass Review.

And NPR's Morning Edition has a segment today that offers persuasive arguments for adults giving the Dickens classics a current reading- despite any distasteful residue from being force fed in high school.

So, Dickens fan or not, check out this remarkable book- and feel free to comment on your own Dickens opinions!

Feb 5, 2012

What's so special about February?

Groundhogs, Valentine's, even presidents- I'm on board with their time in the spotlight every February.  
In fact, I get really excited when that attention spills over to a few extra days of eager reading. 
A quick search on Amazon for "Valentine-children" lists 513 paperbacks, 180 hardcovers, and 24 Kindle titles on the topic. A check for "Groundhog-children" lists 31 paperbacks, 21 hardcover, and 1 Kindle title. Most of these are picture books, and most will be circulated and read only during this month.  
When it comes to "presidents-children" the listings explode to 1341 paperbacks, 851 hardcovers, and 38 Kindle titles. These are predominantly picture books, but include a range of biography and non-fiction titles in other formats. These are more likely to be found by readers throughout the year, although often in relation to various assigned studies rather than random personal selection. 
So, devoting an entire month to focus attention on African American history sounds like a great idea. An Amazon search on the topic "black history-children" produces lists of 804 paperbacks, 627 hardcovers, and 25 Kindle titles. More than enough material to choose from for 28 days, even 29 days every leap year, right? 
Maybe, but let's review the math.  
Groundhog > one day > one European tradition >50+ titles.
Valentine's Day > one day >one saint &/or tradition > 700+ titles
Presidents' Day > one day > 44 presidents > 225 years of history > 1450+ titles
African American history > 28 (29) days > 450+ years of history > 1450+ titles
Something about this just doesn't add up, in my opinion.  

Most of the titles on topics related to African American history and heritage are higher quality literature than typical holiday titles, many are even award-winning. Yet they are just as likely to be relegated to this brief time in the spotlight. In too many cases these titles are boxed or shelved and "pulled out" during February as if they are groundhog or Valentine titles, to be plopped back into the "February" storage space when the month is over. 

Even when the quality is superior, many of the titles featuring African Americans are variations on the most familiar tales and heroes. If you read my previous post, you know I'm all for sharing the story of  Martin Luther King, Jr. But let's be sure that other names and stories are shared throughout the year. As Kadir Nelson's award-winning Heart and Soul: The Story of African Americans makes clear, those names are legion and their stories deserve attention all year long. 

Here are just a few examples, with summaries via Indiebound.org:
 Freedom School, Yes. by Amy Littlesugar, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. 2001.
When their house is attacked because her mother volunteered to take in the young white woman who has come to teach black children at the Freedom School, Jolie is afraid, but she overcomes her fear after learning the value of education. Full-color illustrations.

More than Anything Else. by Marie Bradby, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. 1995
After slavery ended a family struggles to survive, with father and sons shoveling salt from dawn to dark. The younger boy's compelling thirst is for the power of letters, of reading.  Only indirectly on the last page do we see this story depicts the early days of literacy development for Booker T. Washington.

Richard Wright and the Library Card. by William Miller, illustrated by Gregory Christie. 1997.


As young man in the segregated South, young Richard Wright--now a noted American author--was determined to borrow books from the public library. Named a "Smithsonian" magazine Notable Book for Children. Color illustrations throughout.

Ron's Big Mission. by Rose Blue and Corrine J. Naden. Illustrated by Don Tate. 2009.
Nine-year-old Ron loves going to the Lake City Public Library to look through all the books on airplanes and flight. Today, Ron is ready to take out books by himself. But in the segregated world of South Carolina in the 1950s, Ron's obtaining his own library card is not just a small rite of passage - it is a young man's first courageous mission. Here is an inspiring story, based on Ron McNair's life, of how a little boy, future scientist, andChallenger astronaut desegregated his library through peaceful resistance.

Consider sharing other recommended titles in the comments, and let's make sure that history, everyone's history,  is woven into our lives all year long.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.