Monthly Archives: April 2008

hey people! gossip girl here

Not really, but close. Literally really close.

So I was walking to school today, through Central Park as usual, but when I came out at 90th and Fifth I saw a bunch of trailers, lights, and a crowd. Now we see them filming around New York all the time. Many of us have dealt with situations on our streets, in our buildings, and more. (They filmed Madonna and a cougar on my block, if you want to know, and wouldn’t let me out my door.) But there were a bunch of squealing girls here.


Those chairs are for certain members of that hot show, Gossip Girl. I laughed and a 4th and 5th grader also on their way to my school looked at me puzzled. Once I explained they nodded and went on, not interested at all. Not the right age or, in one case, gender. to be interested. These, on the other hand were:

They waited for Serena, I mean Blake Lively to emerge.

Soon she did (with a teeny little dog clutched to her chest) and they followed her (escorted by the quintessential burly security guard) as she walked to Madison and up the steps of another trailer where she posed with the rabble of private school girls before leaving. The guard suggested they go to school. I laughed and said I had to get to school too. (My camera died so no snaps of this, I’m afraid. Check gawker.)

Ah, just another day in the Big Apple.


you know you love me.


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Want a Cuddly Iorek?

Look no further. Walmark has packaged this little cutie with The Golden Compass DVD released today. Together for just $19.96!

What’s that you say? Iorek isn’t suppose to be cute? Or cuddly?

Who cares; it is a Beanie Baby, a collectible!


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So Much for Signing

When we ask someone to sign a book, should we necessarily be asking the book’s author?

Blogger Bookwitch on Accidental autographs in the Guardian.

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The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

Wow. What a book. What a story. What an amazing piece of writing.

Now I admit it took me a while to read this one. While I definitely enjoyed sad animal stories as a child, now, with the occasional exception, I avoid them. And so, when I received a gorgeously packaged ARC of Kathi Appelt‘s The Underneath, I admired it (as it is handsomely illustrated by David Small) , and then read the flap. “An abandoned calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up dog….” Nope. Not for me. Until someone told me it reminded her of Russell Hoban‘s The Mouse and his Child which happens to be one of my favorite books. So yesterday, feeling lousy with allergies, a head cold, and a painful hip (can’t run which is misery for me), I pulled out the ARC and read it.

And was immediately and utterly drawn in. I read without pausing till I was done. What a remarkable book. It is an adventure, a story of myth and magic, of sadness, of family — and is very beautifully done indeed. Yes, it is sad. Yes, there are abused animals. Even worse, some dead ones too. But, oh my goodness, is it rich and complex and gorgeous. I would have loved, loved, loved it as a child.

While I can see why someone might compare it to The Mouse and his Child because of the journey aspect of the story, the setting, and the sentiment within (and the illustrations as Small also did an edition of the Hoban book), it seems different to me. Another book this reminded me of was Kate DiCamillo‘s The Tale of Despereaux. The darkness, the multiple plot threads (from different points in time) all coming together slowly, the allegorical qualities, the magical elements are in both. But DiCamillo’s like Hoban’s has humor. Be warned that Appelt’s book is deadly serious. Another one I thought of after reading this book was Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. But it truly is a book of its own, strikingly original.

What is it about? Hard to describe. It takes place in a deep Southern bayou — a place full of sentient trees, of intelligent animals, of shapeshifting creatures, a place of misery and mystery, a place of magic and myth. Within this magical yet hyper real place are two twisting and intersecting groups of beings. There is the bad man, an abused dog, a calico cat and her twin kittens. And then there is the other group. The magical and mythical one. The story threads swirl and twist around each other, a mix of the past and the present.

Just writing this makes me get all hyperbolic. Sorry! Suffice it to say I recommend it and look forward to hearing what others think about it.


Filed under animal stories, Children's Literature

The Rise in Self-Published Books

Rachel Donadio’s essay, “You’re an Author? Me Too!”, interested me because I wondered last year, as I received a number of self-published books for Newbery consideration, if there were more now than in years past. According to Donadio’s essay the answer is yes and, in the Paper Cuts Blog, she gives high marks to one self-published book, The Slave Families of Thomas Jefferson.

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Jon J Muth’s ‘M’

Jon M Muth, most familiar to us in the children’s book world as the creator of Zen Shorts and Zen Ties as well as many other books, evidently did a comics adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M, in 1990. Evidently it is being republished by Abrams and you can see an exclusive taste of it at Vulture, the New York Magazine Blog. For more about the history of the project go to this PW article.

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“The People” Read

By way of the Guardian, I came across “Poll The People,” a completely idiotic site that didn’t deserve mention by any paper of record in my opinion. If anyone thinks this site will give us a true sense of the top five books of the globe (or the top five of anything else) they are sorely mistaken.

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Deliciously Demented Books

Adrienne of WATAT and Jules of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast are having a Straight Talk About the Food Chain involving “slightly demented picture books.” Adrienne defines these as “…books that we love and that kids love that make other adults uncomfortable.”

Right up my alley! Years ago I wrote an article for Horn Book, “Pets and Other Fishy Books,” in which I considered child reaction to such wonderfully subversive books. Like Jules and Adrienne, I celebrated Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, and Molly Leach (designer extraordinaire) for their ground-breaking book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and went on to consider the mixed child-reactions I’d gotten from their then-latest work, Squids will be Squids. Trying to tease out why one child thought the book was hilarious (never mind what adults thought) and another didn’t I finally concluded:

Scieszka and Smith’s latest collaboration, Squids Will Be Squids, presented a new wrinkle. A send-up of Aesop’s fables, these twisted cautionary tales are all about life for a typical American kid: homework, moms, name-calling, TV, being grounded, science projects, and the like. But rising above the chuckles and requests that I read just one more was Jennifer’s plaintive voice, “I don’t get it. What’s so funny?” Stymied, I wondered, how does one explain funny? Jennifer was not amused by “Elephant and Flea,” one of the fractured fables. She and I were equally frustrated; both of us wanted her to be in on it, to join those of us who already found the book funny. Unsuccessfully, her peers tried to explain the story to her. Earnestly, they told her about the adage “elephants never forget,” pointed out the size difference between Elephant and Flea in the illustration, and referred back to the earlier fable in the book, “Elephant and Mosquito.” Of course it didn’t work. Not only can funny not be explained, but Jennifer had evidently reached her limit for dry humor.

One of my all-time favorite of this genre is Chris Raschka’s Arlene Sardine. It predates by many years, the similar Tadpole’s Promise mentioned by Jules. In the article, I describe my students’ being stymied by the book, but later groups have totally gotten it and found it roll-on-the-floor-hilarious. (Anyone who got to see Chris do his puppet show of this book was fortunate indeed.)

Another favorite (from my childhood) is the often misunderstood Struwwelpeter. It was both funny and weird to me. I always show it to my class when we reach this part in Alice in Wonderland:

It was all very well to say `Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. `No, I’ll look first,’ she said, `and see whether it’s marked “poison” or not’; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

I was personally most taken by Paulinchen who burned to death after playing with matches (as I was phobic about fire myself) and could tease my little sister relentlessly with poor Conrad’s story (involving thumbs and a tailor, if you don’t know it).

Finally, what about The Cat in the Hat? I guess it isn’t really a picture book, but it sure is pretty darn demented nonetheless!


Filed under Children's Literature, Picture Books

Neil Gaiman on Fair Use Et Al

Lots of emails from people asking me to comment on the JK Rowling/ Steve Vander Ark copyright case. My main reaction is, having read as much as I can about it, given the copyright grey zone it seems to exist in, is a “Well, if it was me, I’d probably be flattered”, but that obviously isn’t how J.K. Rowling feels. I can’t imagine myself trying to stop any of the unauthorised books that have come out about me or about things I’ve created over the years, and where possible I’ve tried to help, and even when I haven’t liked them I’ve shrugged and let it go.

From Neil Gaiman’s post: Fair Use and other things.

(Scroll down past some of his other musings for his comments on this issue.)

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David Macaulay

Recently I was at a lovely lunch for the launch of David Macaulay‘s forthcoming book, The Way We Work. It was pretty amazing to be there as the company was august, including GalleyCat which is where I sto-borrowed–took the above image. You can read their report and more on the two covers here.

It was interesting to return to my 4th graders who were pretty fuzzy as to who this David Macaulay was. A few of them knew The New Way Things Work and had fun pointing out the woolly mammoths sprinkled throughout.

I then pulled out my copy of Black and White and read it to them, delighting and confounding them. We talked about his Motel of the Mysteries which many of them had come across during their archaeology unit the year before.

I’m such a fan! Years ago I used his wonderful books, City, Cathedral, and Castle in my teaching of Rome and the Middle Ages. (My kids “built” a Roman city using Macaulay’s as a guide). And I’ve got to find Unbuilding to read to my class. It is a witty fantasy about the UNbuilding of the Empire State Building. The man absolutely deserves his MacArthur.


Filed under Children's Literature, Undefined