Oct 28, 2012

More Oldies-But-Goodies!

Last week's post shared some memorable out-of-print titles that are worth the hunt to find on library and used-book shelves to share with readers of all ages. (No updates on finds so far, but don't give up, you'll love Edna Miller's classic,  Mousekin's Golden House!)

Houghton Mifflin, 1942

Here's an opportunity to enjoy some other classics that have, indeed, been reissued and continue to be available in print. (Woo-Hoo!) These are a series of similarly designed titles written and illustrated by Holling C. Holling, several of which have won Caldecott and Newbery honors, among many others awards.
TREE IN THE TRAIL was a Caldecott Honor book for 1941, setting the standard for other successful titles that followed. A cottonwood tree sprouts along the Sante Fe trail and stands witness to the unfolding of western American history, from Native American to Spanish expansion to homesteading, including the eventual use of its wood. Left-pages use text and black/white sketches, diagrams, inset charts, and maps providing well-researched information. Right-pages use full-color full-page art.

Houghton Mifflin, 1948 

PADDLE-TO-THE-SEA won the  Caldecott honor for 1948. It continues that layout pattern with a mobile story reference. A carved Indian figure in a canoe begins life in the high waters above Lake Superior and travels through the Great Lakes, into the Atlantic, ending in France. In this case the traveling witness takes the reader through the natural, social, technological, and ecological passages that make the Great Lakes a true Wonder of the World.

There is even a quirky little film/DVD of this one made in Canada.

In MINN OF THE MISSISSIPPI, the 1951winner of Newbery Honors, the traveling witness, a turtle hatchling, carries the reader from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

PAGOO is yet another Holling title which offers a detailed exploration of a tide pool through the experiences of a hermit crab. Pagoo's reliance on his instinct drives his actions and reactions, allowing him to survive and navigate a tricky but beautiful biological habitat.

SEABIRD, 1948 Newbery Honor winner, is a carved figure that is the traveling mascot of four generations of seafarers, accompanying each on progressively more advanced means of transportation.

If you read one of these titles, you're likely to become addicted to the art spreads, the graphics, the text, the central characters, or all of the above. These are books that can be enjoyed by the youngest for their adventures and images, but can (and should) grow in significance with readers throughout school years.

These titles may continue in print because of their presence on the Caldecott and Newbery lists, but they could also have been written today by someone targeting the market for picture books with fiction/non-ficiton parallel text and content that can well-serve the widely adopted common core state standards.

Maybe it's true what they say, everything old is new again, at least if it was of the highest quality, and if it won enough awards to stay in print. Are there any other fans of these classics out there? Chime in with your comments!

Oct 22, 2012

A Perfect Choice All Year Long... If You Can Find It

I'll keep this week's post brief and send all readers off on a mission instead. This is the weekend for Wisconsin's Annual SCBWI conference. I'm here to soak up the inspiration and fellowship of writers and illustrators, not to mention the wit and wisdom  of a stellar faculty. 

Prentice-Hall, 1964
In attempting to create quality literature of lasting value for young readers, I was reminded of an all-time classic that is, sadly, no longer in print. Nor are related titles by the talented gentle genius of Edna Miller.

If you're someone who bemoans the fact that Halloween items rear their commercial heads as early as August, and now, long before the end of October, Christmas items make their ubiquitous appearance in stores, here's the book for you. But...good luck finding MOUSEKIN'S GOLDEN HOUSE by Edna Miller. It's out of print, although readily available online, if you are willing to pay or bid anywhere from  $59 to upwards of several hundred dollars.

The good news is that it is such a favorite, such a classic, that you still might find it in libraries. Few are willing to discard it, despite age or condition. You might even find it has been rebound without the appealing cover (but that is a reproduction of one of the remarkable images inside, so you will still be able to see it.)

Or you might know a still-active teacher from decades past (or a younger one who inherited a classroom with such a room library and did not discard by publication date or tattered condition) who might allow you to see it, if not borrow it.

Mousekin is worth the chase. And don't worry about missing Halloween, since this story takes place in the wake of Halloween, bridging that gap between October's end and the onset of Thanksgiving. In fact, Mousekin's story makes an ideal Thanksgiving story, as well as one involving such concepts as food chains, seasons, hibernation, camouflage, and other associations.  (Teachers, think Common Core State Standards.)

Miller's Mousekin was such a beloved character, and her books a perennial financial success, that an array of holiday and seasonal titles were published, none of which are still in print. I was able to track down a few listed at much more reasonable prices, used, and all of which embody Miller's expressive and vulnerable illustrations. Not necessarily the ones pictured, and please don't ask me where I found them, just use your favorite search engine.

Prentice-Hall, is now a major producer of academic materials, and is  a division of Pearson (producing and promoting everything related to standardized tests and academic measurements). Per Wikipedia (take that as a reliable source if you choose to, but otherwise I was unable to track down the corporate history of what was once a leading producer of quality children's books), its trade book publishing ended in 1991, about seven years after it was taken over by Gulf Western. It later folded into various corporate structures and eventually sold to Pearson as a producer of curricular materials.

My call to any and all current publishers of quality children's books is to consider purchasing the print rights to these titles and to release them once again. You'll not only provide access to these incomparable classics to eager young readers, including teachers, librarians, and families. You could well be creating welcome cash flow for your company, since I'd wager my next slice of cheesecake that these would become among the most active on your backlist for decades to come.
(Speaking of commercialism, can we say character franchise and mobile apps, boys and girls?)

So, readers, here is your mission, if you choose to accept it. Start your own search now for MOUSEKIN'S GOLDEN HOUSE. You won't regret it, and your search is so much easier given online tools for used bookstores, library collections, and sales sources. If you get your hands on a copy, see if you agree with my raves, for story, language, character, and images. Then share it. SHARE it, please.

Then continue to search for each of these seasonal and other titles. Perhaps the great DATA COLLECTORS IN THE CLOUD will crunch some impressive numbers that will catch the eye of a savvy publisher.

And then, just maybe, new generations of young readers will have the opportunity to fall in love with Mousekin and share his many adventures.
Let me know how goes your search!

Oct 21, 2012

Stand By- for PB Powersurge!

This week's post will be delayed a day or so (under construction and worth waiting for, trust me).

Today I'm wrapping up a weekend at the annual SCBWI-Wisconsin conference, after which my schedule will resume, recharged and energized by rubbing elbows with rock star writers, illustrators, editors, art directors, and others who have been sharing expertise and brilliance, not to mention laughter and love of books.

My bookbag is loaded and much of the inspiration gained will be shared in weeks to come.

Kudos to our Regonal Advisor, JoAnnEarly Macken and ARA Michael Kress-Rusnick for organizing a jam-packed, seamless weekend to remember!

Oct 14, 2012

Apple Season!

At this time of year distinctive aromas, textures, sounds, and images fill our lives, indoors and out. It's the time of year for pumpkin pies, harvest soups, sweet potatoes, and.... apples?
Carmel apples, maybe.
Bobbing for apples, perhaps.
Otherwise, apples are pretty darn mundane, readily available on store shelves year around, right?
But not because of imports from distant climates, as is true for more fragile fruits. Apples have played a role in everyday diets for centuries because they "keep" so well, throughout an entire year of seasonal climate changes. Even before our modern era of refrigeration and transport, apples could be "harvested" and "kept" all year long,  as cider, applesauce, dried, or just packed in straw in a root cellar. These days they also come in many varieties, new hybrids as well as heritage flavors, each with individual combinations of color, size, texture, and taste.

Greenwillow Books, 2012
In the recent release, SEED BY SEED: The Legend and Legacy of John "Appleseed" Chapman, by Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins, the story of one man's impact on a continent and its residents is depicted with detail and grace. It is also told with impressive thoroughness, inviting readers to move back in time from the windowscape of skyscrapers and  traffic lights to a horizon filled with the tangle of roots, branches, and wide tree trunks. The evocative opening pages move forward to unveil the life of a farmer- a seemingly a unimportant character in history- who changed the future by his example.

John Chapman's life was focused on principles that stand the test of time:
Use what you have.
Share what you have.
Respect nature.
Try to make peace where there is war.
Reach your destination by taking small steps.

Johnny Appleseed was an eccentric, gentle man, dedicated to his principles even when that meant he might be ridiculed or live in lowly accommodations, like sharing a hollow log with a bear and her cub.  The text, illustrations, and back matter in this new title together revealed more than other versions I've read about John Chapman. I grew up in Ohio where Johnny's legacy thrived, watched the Dennis Day/Disney version of Johnny Appleseed more times than I can count, but this biography moved me. The final double spread returns us to a current time and place, ending with a compelling question:    "What seed will you plant?"
Washington Post review can be found here.

On a side note, this provides yet another view of a life that is "different" but deserves our respect, an especially suitable addition to discussion during anti-bullying awareness month, or at any time of year.

Aladdin, 2008

 A related title, perhaps with the longest subtitle ever, is APPLES TO OREGON: Being the (Slightly) True Story of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, Cherries, (and Children) Across the Plains, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.
This book launches the reader right into the past, telling a story that is largely tall tale, but based on a pioneer in 1847, his wife and eight children, and the wagon they towed west to Oregon, filled to the frame with soil and seedlings.
In the midst of this rambunctious and entertaining "Apples, Ho" adventure, an abundance of information about the landscape, chores, laughter, and challenges of a wagon train trip can be harvested from text and illustrations. Filled but not overloaded with figurative language, dialect and dialogue, humor and exaggeration, this book not only appeals, it challenges readers and serves well as mentor text for colorful and distinctive writing. If you've ever attempted to grow anything, especially from seed, you'll appreciate the real-life drama of hauling and watering those seedlings (and siblings) across half a continent. To say they arrive safely doesn't give away the ending (the title gave that away, right?), because this is so much more than a Point A to Point B story.

Both are powerful examples of the ability of picture books, fiction and non-fiction, to extend across ages and continents, time and travails, to touch each of us with surprises and inspiration.
Now go crunch an apple, and then leave a comment about other apple picture book that are "keepers", or even your favorite apple variety!

Oct 7, 2012

Mysteries of Life...and Death

Leaves turn, blaze, drop.
Birds flock, feed, migrate.
Animals store, burro, hibernate.

Life cycles.  Instincts.  Mysteries.

Curiosity about these begin early in life. The lucky ones among us never outgrow this curiosity, never cease to be amazed at these patterns and cycles, relishing opportunities to explore and investigate them with children.

Chronicle Books, 2011
A great place to start is with A BUTTERFLY IS PATIENT, written by Diana H. Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. Check out the Kirkus review, and read it the very first chance you get.

This gorgeous, poetic view of butterflies includes scientifically accurate illustrations, labels, and lyrically described facts as part of the highly acclaimed series of titles by this twosome. The original effort is AN EGG IS QUIET,  which earned awards and acclaim.  Science exploration links for An Egg Is Quiet are offered on many teaching sites. This was followed by  A SEED IS SLEEPY, another acclaimed title. The latest, A ROCK IS LIVELY, is a 2012 release.

Chronicle Books, 2006

Chronicle Books, 2007

Chronicle Books, 2012

Another cycle is evident at this time of year. Halloween pop-up stores fill strip malls, jumbo candy bags overflow on store shelves, and magazine covers feature peeled-grape eyeball snacks, all of which mean that kids will  clamor to share Halloween picture books. Blogs will feature titles from charming to silly to spooky to sentimental, but within a few weeks most will be relegated to closet shelves or holiday storage boxes while Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa books fill displays and blog lists.

Seasonal transitions in nature, especially the highly visible changes here in the midwest,  present perfect opportunities to explore and extend natural curiosity to life cycles, even birth and death. It's an ideal time to share titles like the ones above, titles that can sustain interest and relevance beyond the latest commercial sales push.

Holiday House, 2010
Here are two other titles that are worthy of space on bookshelves year around. THE DAY OF THE DEAD: A Bilingual Celebration, is written and illustrated by Bob Barner, translated by Teresa Mlawer. This is a simple bilingual description of the traditional Day of the Dead commemoration,  including numerous illustration homages to artist Jose Guadalupe Posada's iconic skeletons. The vibrant colors, minimal text, and celebratory images combine with the extended information in the back to make this an interesting and appealing cultural tradition for all readers, and shares Mexican traditions without waiting for Hispanic heritage month in May.
See Kirkus review here.
Chronicle Books, 2001

Every bookshelf should include GHOST WINGS, written by Wisconsin author Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Giselle Potter. As Barbara Joosse always does, she has created a powerful story embedded with rich cultural background. In this case a young girl's close relationship with her grandmother is portrayed in the first few pages. Then the girl deals with stages of grief across several seasons, tying  it all together with the science and tradition of Day of the Dead, monarch migration, and loving memories.  Back matter includes a cultural discussion (with  glossary), science details about monarch butterfly migration,  and a simple guide for adults to explore feelings and activities when reading this book.
Kirkus review here.

In the midst of Halloween sugar highs and strictly seasonal titles, "keepers" like these are the real treat to read,  discuss, reread, and return to throughout the year. After all, death is inevitable, for ourselves and for everyone we care about. Children will be better equipped to deal with the pain and specificity of personal loss when it occurs if they are familiar with the concepts in advance. What better place to find that familiarity than in nature and in books?
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.