Mar 30, 2012

Psst...Pass It On

How often does it happen that two favorite blogs feature the same remarkable book on the same day? Actually, more often than you might think. Sometimes this happens due to "buzz" or new releases, but sometimes it's a message from the ethernet about books that no one should miss.

With this extra post I'm just doing my part to spread the word.

Today I opened Kirsten Larson's Creating Curious Kids, and found her Perfect Picture Book Friday post (say that fast three times) featuring Vulture View. What do you get when you combine April Pulley Sayre's lyrical text and extensive research with Steve Jenkins's dynamic illustrations to tell the story of fascinatingly repulsive vultures? VULTURE VIEW, a most remarkable creative non-fiction book for all ages, a book that deserves the spotlight on Friday or any day of the week, that's what.

Then I opened a blog feed from another favorite, I.N.K. (Interesting Non-Fiction for Kids), hosted by a stellar array of non-fiction writers. Today Melissa Stewart's topic is Creative Non-Fiction, and the very first image and title to pop up is... ta-da...Vulture View.

The post is packed with sage advice and insight, including a list of some of the best creative non-fiction you could hope to find, all recent releases. High quality, multi-use, multi-age picture books like these are featured in my workshops, including most of these titles. I also recommend subscribing to I.N.K. to stay informed and inspired by the best of the best in the world of non-fiction for kids.

Melissa points out that these are books that engage, inform, generate inquiry, provide mentor text, link to content area studies, and address common core standards. Beyond all that, they are appealing! Kids (and adults) love them, eat them up, can't get enough of them...

like ice cream!

Even when there's "no room for dessert", ice cream melts and goes between the cracks, as I often insisted to my parents. In our jam-packed, digitally enhanced world, inside classrooms and out in the world, kids (and the rest of us) live tightly programmed lives. Literature in general is being squeezed out, including time to reflect, discuss, and question. But...(and you knew this was coming)... there is always room for picture books. Ice cream, when consumed mindfully, is nutritious, satisfying, comforting, readily accessible, and delightful. So, too, are quality picture books.

And they're good for us!

Just remember to share.

Mar 26, 2012

As the Song Says...They've Got To Be Carefully Taught

I'm back this week to give a shout-out to another Nerdy Book Club post, this one by Sherry Hall on March 23. From the count of comments, Twitter, and Facebook forwards it generated, I'm not the only one who was touched by her moving story of the power of reading to and with our children.

Parents (and teachers) often question our individual decisions, but it is the message delivered by our day-to-day examples, encouragements, and even casual comments that filter into young lives and shape them, for better or for worse.

With that in mind, and in honor of March Madness, I'll illustrate my point with a picture book from the year 2000- SALT IN HIS SHOES: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream, by his mother, Deloris Jordan and sister Rosalyn M. Jordan, illustrated by the incomparable Kadir Nelson. If you don't know this title and share my automatic skepticism when it comes to the quality of "celebrity" publications, let me assure you this one is worth a closer look.

It's likely the current generation's Michael Jordan can be seen among the many amazing athletes we are witnessing on the journey from the initial 64 to the final four face-offs during March Madness. If so, he has no doubt devoted his young life to the love and practice of basketball, but also was born with physical gifts far beyond the norm.
This was true for young Michael as well. If you read the acknowledgements in this book you'll find among them his mother's appreciation for Michael's own efforts and his siblings' support, all of which contributed to his success.

This is the story of Michael's frustration at being shorter than the older kids on his brothers' team. The beauty of this episode is not in his mother's advice, but in the success generated by practice, faith, his mother's encouragement, his father's confidence, and his siblings' trust. Detailed reviews of the book can be found at Miss Ladybug's blog and Excellent Kids' Books blog.

Much like the message in Sherry Hall's post, Michael absorbed the rich benefits of his family's support not in a single episode, but over the course of his lifetime.

Since this is still Women's History month, I'll dip back into my bookshelves and take a look at WILMA UNLIMITED: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by the also incomparable David Diaz. Born the twentieth child of a poor black family in Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilma was sickly, struggling, then stricken with polio. Her innate independence was bolstered by a mother who never gave up and siblings who recognized and appreciated her strength. Once again, not a single incident but a lifetime of love supported Wilma as she learned to play basketball by watching, won a track scholarship by playing basketball, and became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.

Beneath the weakness of her early years Wilma, like Michael, no doubt had a genetic package that allowed her efforts to reach that high achievement. But, oh, imagine the invaluable contribution to her success that can be attributed to her family's love and values.

At the risk of becoming preachy (which none of the above references do) I'll share the lyrics of a song from South Pacific. I do so with one eye toward Sherry's reminder about reading with children, and another aimed at the current and upcoming political venom that fills the airwaves, social media, and our conversations. Let's remain aware of young listeners in our families and classes who are learning by the way we read, speak, act, and react.

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Please, read to and with children every day, every age. See in them our future. And stay mindful of the seeds we plant day by day.

Mar 19, 2012

For Peet's Sake, Check These Out!

Let me start by saying I’m a fan of book blogs. Booklist, School Library Journal, and Hornbook were my “suppliers” for hooking up with new titles before the advent of blogs, but now reviews of new and special titles feed right into my digital links. My current vote for the coolest blog about kids’ books goes to The Nerdy Book Club. Day after day, each post reminds me of familiar, well-loved titles or introduces me to amazing new books.

Sarah Wendorf’s March 10 post on Memorable Read Aloud Titles included many of my own favorite titles. Right there, smack dab in the middle of her list, was Bill Peet's The Whingdingdilly!
In case you don't know the book, here's the essence of a fantasy story rooted in genuine experiences: Scamp the dog has been in a mournful mood for weeks, weary of life as a dog and longing for a change. "Oops, be careful what you wish for", right?

There is something in the way Bill Peet captures Scamp's inner voice that reminds me of Katherine Applegate's Ivan of the incredible The One and Only Ivan. It shouldn't be a surprise, considering that Peet was major creative voice behind Disney's Dumbo and many other unforgettable characters.

Bill Peet, like Theo "Seuss" Geisel, Jan Berenstain, and so many other creators of remarkable kids' books, left behind a collection of classics. Just a few of his titles will be listed here with links, but all are featured in rich detail on Peet's web page.

Cock-a-Doodle Dudley, The Wump World, and
Caboose Who Got Loose are some of my favorites. You can view a reading of his eerily timeless, almost prescient Wump World here.
Current picture book publishing emphasizes text of 400-800 words (at most), but his books are perfect examples of complex, vocabulary-rich, multi-layered stories for established readers. In fact, I recommend using a collection of Bill Peet's books to introduce author studies up through middle school and beyond.

I'm not a fan of the famous (or infamous) Accelerated Reader listings, but their reading “levels” for his titles range from a rare 3.5 (Eli), a 3.7 (The Gnats of Knotty Pine, an authentic practice opportunity for silent consonants) through to 6.9 Bill Peet: An Autobiography. More importantly, the length and content allow established readers to consider unknown words, nonsense words, wry humor, irony, deep themes, and complex stories within the time constraints of crowded school days. Some specific word counts include: The Wump World- 1542 words; Whingdingdilly- 3424 words; Huge Harold- 1660 words; Fly, Homer, Fly- 3218 words; and Bill Peet: An Autobiography- 17,358 words. His website offer richly detailed insights into his work, including this sketch of an early version of a cover for his autobiography.

Peet's books are widely available on library shelves and should be making their way into the hands of readers of many ages. Wouldn't it make a great discussion to compare readings of Mo Willems titles and his background working on Sesame Street to Bill Peet titles and his long career with Disney?

After learning more about these two, who wouldn't want to grow up and become a maker of books for kids? It certainly made Bill Peet a happy man.

Mar 14, 2012

Sharing Titles About Women in Canada's History!

Last week a comment by Jen included a lament that she was struggling to find books about women in the history of Canada and Japan.

I'm back today to pass along some titles, thanks to help that reached me through the Twitter- & Blog-o-spheres. (Until someone informs me of the "proper" names for these social networks, I'll keep using whatever works.)

Rather than send this out to only Jen, I thought I'd Jen-erate this short post with some links to the titles. I was amazed that so few turned up, which means that some others of you may also have felt frustration in your searches. And, of course, I love discovering new books for myself and sharing resources as well.

Thanks to Monica Kulling, a Canadian author who writes about American history, these books are first up:

This is from a series that appears to be similar to our more familiar Magic Treehouse series: an adventurous girl and boy travel back into time in Canada's history. This specific title, Make It Fair, relates to women's rights, if my inferencing skills are holding up.

Next up is collection of 25 stories about dogs featuring a beloved Canadian author/artist: EMILY CARR AND HER DOGS- FLIRT, PUNK, AND LOO. Written and illustrated by Emily Carr, a book with dog stories and wonderful pictures has great appeal for all ages and purposes.

Speaking of the appeal of quality art, I'm on a mission now to learn more about our Canadian neighbor, Emily Carr. FOUR PICTURES BY EMILY CARR, By Nicolas Debon makes a great place to start. I'm a huge fan of Georgia O'Keeffe's art and can't wait to learn more about the life and works of anyone who merits comparison to her.

While I'm thanking Monica for these links, I'll add the titles she offered for adult references:

Extraordinary Canadians: Nellie McClung by Charlotte Gray

Extraordinary Canadians: Lucy Maud Montgomery by Jane Urquhart

Extraordinary Canadians: Emily Carr: A Penguin Lives Biography by Lewis De Soto

Finally, a shout out to another virtual friend, Allison, on Twitter. (@Alli_librarian if you want to follow!) She reminded me of the timeless classic, SADAKO AND THE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES, by Eleanor Coerr, illustrated by Ronald Himler (who also illustrated several of the titles in Monday's post about unsung women in history).

So, *virtual hugs* to Monica and Allison. Jen, I hope you found something here that helps. Once again, I rely on the kindness of strangers and hope to be able to pay it forward soon. If anyone knows of other titles to share, chime in!

Mar 12, 2012

Unsung Women... and Titles

All across the blogosphere and print publications the celebration of Women’s History Month is well underway. Engaging posts feature important and worthy picture book titles about women who have made contributions to the course of history. Many of these are recent releases and attention allows these titles to find readers- and fans.

This week I’ll use some older titles to call attention to some unsung, often anonymous women and girls who helped to build this country. These heroines bore the many burdens of expansion and homesteading with strength and courage, but not without fear and suffering. Their names are unsung because the roles they played were so unremarkable, so typical, yet no less heroic.

Sketchy details about real women, sometimes family ancestors, are often the prototypes for historical fiction. Stories based on these family retellings and supported by extensive research generate wholly authentic tales that deserve to be told, offering admirable icons of everyday women.

Ann Turner’s DAKOTA DUGOUT uses only 126 words and Ronald Himler’s richly detailed line drawings to trace one such woman’s prairie years from the days of her soggy sodhouse, blizzard devastation, and searing crop destruction to her eventual life in a clean clapboard home in a thriving community. Each of Turner’s 126 words is precious, especially the final eight: “Sometimes the things we start with are best.”

Eve Bunting, a notable woman of history herself, brings us DANDELIONS, illustrated by Ronald Himler. In this case a young girl tells her version of the struggling, often miserable first year in a sod home on the prairie, desperately transplanting a stray dandelion on their roof. The only hint of time passing occurs on the final page with a view of sprawling dandelions.

These are terrific books to pair with the 2012 middle grade release, MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose. At 225 pages, this, too, is a fairly easy read with few words per page. The story in verse relates not only preteen May B.’s life-or death challenges but also reveals that not all prairie wives withstood the stresses of soddy life.

In each case the simplicity of the words require the reader to engage deeply with ideas and the realities of a ruthless time in our history, weighing the costs and consequences, considering what their own choices might have been.

A humorous but equally revealing tale is APPLES TO OREGON: BEING THE (SLIGHTLY) TRUE NARRARIVE OF HOW A BRAVE PIONEER FATHER BROUGHT APPLES. PEACHES. PEARS. PLUMS. GRAPES, AND CHERRIES (AND CHILDREN) ACROSS THE PLAINS. Deborah Hopkinson’s text and Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations invite repeated readings , raise questions, and encourage further research. Young Delicious (yes, she was named for the apple) is no less courageous because of her age and stands proudly in the ranks of women who shaped America.

Among many other earlier titles, don’t miss THE PRAIRIE TRAIN, written by Antoine O’Flatharta, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. It’s a wild and rollicking view of the impact of railroads in the settlement of the west. Rail passage brought access to supplies, but it also provided the woman and child power needed to make homesteads into homes in that exhausting, demanding new world.

The comparative value of children, not to mention of boys versus girls, is depicted in TRAIN TO SOMEWHERE, also by Eve Bunting, illustrated (once again) by Ronald Himler. Based on true stories of children transported by train from east coast orphanages to stops along the route, they would line up at each station to be selected (or passed over) by locals as needed. Newspapers advertised their scheduled arrival and, quite naturally, able-bodied lads were the first to find homes. In fact, though, these often proved to be little more than unpaid slave markets.

One final reminder, here, of the series of picture books, illustrated by Wisconsin’s own Renee Graef, which introduces younger readers to Laura Ingalls Wilder. MY FIRST LITTLE HOUSE SERIES, including A LITTLE PRAIRIE HOUSE, reveals the humor and challenges of families moving to the outer edges of our land.

Speaking of word counts, I’ve far exceeded a reasonable number of words here, but the potential for titles, links, and tributes goes on and on. The collection sited above includes Caldecott illustrators, Newberry notables, and more starred reviews than you can shake a cornstalk at. So, just as we can search out the everyday heroic women of past and present, I urge you to read, share, and celebrate the books already on our library shelves.

***I hope you’ll also check the links to these authors and illustrators- notables one and all.

Mar 7, 2012

Meet Award-Winning Author Julia Durango

If you're in the Northern Illinois area, or Southeast Wisconsin area this weekend, don't miss this great opportunity brought to you by The Center for Children's Literature at Carthage College.


Durango is the celebrated and award-winning author of books such as

Dream Away

The Walls of Cartagena

and Under the Mambo Moon

Friday March 9th at 6:00 pm at Family Fun Night,
Hedberg Library, on the Cathage College campus in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Books will be available for purchase and autographing.
There is no charge to attend. It's family night- kids of all ages welcome!


Mar 5, 2012

And now let's hear it for WOMEN!

Whether March came in like a lion or a lamb where you live, it ushered in Women’s History Month here in the USA. Initiated as Women’s History Week back in 1981, this annual spotlight has a short track record considering that females have outnumbered males in this country for decades.

If you read my post at the start of February regarding Black History Month you can safely assume those same sentiments apply to this month’s designation.

*sigh of resignation*

In the interest of sharing picture books deserving of a place on any bookshelf any time of the year, let’s look at three titles featuring six amazing women- three history-makers and three authors, all women of distinction in their own right.

When Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming was released last spring I posted a detailed review for the Center for Children’s Literacy. Since its release it has garnered four starred reviews and the coveted SCBWI Golden Kite Award for non-fiction. It’s a comprehensive and authoritative biography that reads like the best of fiction and features extensive photographic and archival images.

Nikki Grimes offers another impressive portrait in Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman (illustrated by E. B. Lewis). Grimes, acclaimed for her poetry and fiction, infuses energy, emotion, and insight into the story of Bessie’s short but influential life. This book has the distinction of winning a Coretta Scott King Honor for the text and medal for the illustrations.

Rounding out this high-flying trio of picture book inspiration is Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride, by Pam Munoz Ryan, (illustrated by Brian Selznick). Ryan depicts an evening at the White House dinner at which Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt slip away to share a night flight over Washington. They return and cap off a memorable evening when Eleanor slips behind the wheel of her brand new car to drive Amelia around Washington. Ryan’s notes in the back indicate the blend of research and imagination underlying her award-winning title.

All three are set in a time before Women's History Month was conceivable, paving the way for those of us who came after. Together they depict an era in which barriers of race and gender were far beyond overt and offensive, to say the least. That familiar old saw, "Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it", hovers over all of us. These three titles offer a line-up of impressive women from that time, each of whom deserves our attention on any day or month of the calendar.

And don't overlook the authors who brought these stories to us, three very impressive women by any measure.

So who do you nominate as an author or history-maker of note?

Mar 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Dr. Seuss!

We all know his books, not to mention the movies, television programs, and commercial products generated by his books.

Here's hoping if you have children anywhere in your life you will take a minute to share one of his stories with them today (and often).

But why not do yourself a favor and learn more about him.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, by Donald Pease provides a well-researched biography.

Oh, The Places He Went: a Story About Dr. Seuss--Theodor Seuss Geisel, by Marian M. Weidt, is a great read aloud for younger elementary kids, read alone for intermediate ages.

When reflecting on the recent passing of Jan Berenstain it is heartening to know that the magic of Seuss, the Berenstains, and so many others will live on in the lives of generations to come.

Ahh, the power of picture books. Happy birthday indeed.

Mar 1, 2012

And the winner is...

Well, not many entered this first give-away but I am excited to share the results.

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), will be sent out to Julie!

I'm happy to report that the randomizing tool selected her name, since she commented on being a Gail Carson Levine fan.

It's a great book to share with kids. Enjoy, Julie, and thanks to all who participated here or on other links for my first ever give-away.

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.