Monthly Archives: October 2008

Five Poems by Nina Lindsay

Five lovely poems by Nina Lindsay are here: Mudlark Poster No. 77 (2008).  Nina was my Newbery chair, but is also a very accomplished poet.  Her first collection was Today’s Special Dish, published in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. Recent poems of hers have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Columbia Poetry Journal, Fence, Shenandoah, and Northwest Review. She was a recipient of a 2007 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize.



Filed under Poetry

Little Brown and Big Alexie at Yale

The Little Brown librarian previews are always delightful.  Now they are at the venerable Yale Club which makes them even more fun — just coming into that august place is fascinating. The food is terrific, the information interesting,  the dress code extensive*, the elevator buttons amusing (squash court, etc), and it is very entertaining to see so many of the other YC guests looking like George Plimpton.

At yesterday’s event, surprise guest Sherman Alexie pointed out that his audiences are generally filled with middle-aged white women librarians (and he made a rather telling sweep of the hand to the room at that point). Certainly, whether we were or not (and not all of us were), we did all seem to be well within the Yale Club dress code.  (Well, there are  MC Victoria Stapleton remarkable shoes, but I guess they still are “pumps” not so?)  We heard about all sorts of cool new books (and I have no doubt that Betsy Bird will blog about them before long so I won’t), saw wonderful original art, and had a grand time all around.

We were also informed that Big (in the sense of status, mind you, as I’m not making any judgment about the man’s size) Alexie had come into town to be on the Colbert Report that night and, boy, was he great! See for yourself here.

* Here is what I had to keep in mind:

For women this includes: shirts (collared) or blouses with sleeves, turtlenecks, sweaters and sweater sets, skirts or tailored pants, and flats, pumps or boots.

Inappropriate attire includes but is not limited to: denim (jeans and jackets), shorts, tee shirts (sleeveless shirts, tank tops, halter tops, crop tops), sandals (beach sandals, Birkenstocks, flip flops), athletic wear of any kind (sweatshirts, rugby shirts, sweatpants, leggings, stirrup pants, jogging suits, spandex, lycra, athletic shoes or sneakers, caps), torn clothing (clothing with holes or frayed ends), clothing with offensive or profane language, and provocative or revealing clothing.

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Filed under Children's Literature, YA

The Ambassador, the Poet, the Composer, and the Illustrator

I spent Saturday in the company of a bunch of Carrollians at the fall meeting of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Wait! Don’t go yet!  Before you decide you have no interest in them, let me tell you that this meeting had speakers that might even interest those with no affinity for Alice and her friends.

First up was Jon Scieszcka, our most honorable ambassador of children’s literature.  I’ve long felt Jon has a Carrollian sense of humor, best manifested in the clever parodies in Science Verse and since his retelling of the Disney Alice (in a picture book for the very young with terrific artwork by the movie’s conceptual artist, Mary Blair) is just out he was game. Jon spoke about some of the challenges he experienced doing the retelling, his strong feelings about children and their need for humor, and various amusing anecdotes related to his ambassadorial duties. (He willingly did a photo op wearing his new medal.)

After lunch we heard from the remarkable Nancy Willard, author of the Newbery-award winner, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn.  (I must admit that I feel our choice of last year, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, is in the tradition of Willard’s book, being equally unconventional, and was delighted when Nancy told me how much she liked Laura’s book and how she had it on reserve for her students at Vassar. Hope you read this, Laura!)

Nancy spoke about two kinds of teachers: the visible and the invisible.  And then she spoke of how Carroll was her invisible teacher and how she learned about writing unconsciously from her many readings of the Alice books.  She described her vivid memory of reading the book when she was eight (and I too remember having the book read to me by my father when I was that age).  She then went on to show us the power of dialog, the way Carroll brilliantly used it to tell the story.  She felt then and now as if a real person was speaking to her and reminded us through excerpts of that ironic and witty voice. The voice of the storyteller which Carroll was.  There are so many wonderful asides to the reader throughout the book; often these tell us more about Alice than she can herself.  (Say when he describes her boxing her own ears or talking to herself.)

Nancy marveled at the way Carroll uses conversation as a storytelling device.  She also referenced the etiquette books of the period she also had read when age eight and how they emphasized the importance of being able to converse well.  This explains Alice’s constant efforts to engage the other characters in sensible conversations and her frustration when they can’t or are rude.  Carroll also turns conversation into a game and repeatedly reminds us of the power of play, especially word play.  A remarkable talk that needs to be published — most likely will be in the society’s journal, The Knight Letter, but perhaps it can then be reprinted elsewhere.   Roger Sutton, are you listening?

We then heard an intriguing talk by the composer Peter Westergaard on his Alice opera.  I was very impressed by how Peter used Carrollian structures and motifs as he composed the music for this opera. He gave us several excerpts, a complete libretto, and showed us an extended clip from the Tea Party scene.  Fascinating stuff!

Our final speaker was Mahendra Singh, an illustrator, graphic designer, and art director who is doing a remarkable graphic novel version of The Hunting of the Snark. The presentation was tremendously interesting.  Mahendra is taking a Surrealist slant to his interpretation of this poem and fills each of his panel with literary and artistic references galore. Rather than telling you about them I suggest you go see them for yourself.  Mahendra is putting the panels on a blog as he does them here.  You can also download it here.

An excellent day. I mark it with a white stone.


Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Sunny, funny nonsense for children

8. Which New England author, cartoonist, and illustrator, accused of being predictably drawn to the gothic, responded, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children – oh, how boring, boring, boring.”

a) Maurice Sendak
b) Lewis Carroll
c) Eric Carle
d) Edward Gorey

Go to Maud Newton for the answer and more questions.  (The rest are literary, but not children’s book related that I noticed).

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Filed under Children's Literature

Mitali Perkins On Writing Race

Very, very thoughtful post: Ten Tips On Writing Race in Novels.

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Filed under Writing

A River of Words

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams is a pitch-perfect picture-book biography.  Illustrator Melissa Sweet has visually captured the art of this spare yet gorgeous poet.  Author Jen Bryan simply yet eloquently presents William’s life in a way that is perfect for young readers.  Not just the typical picture book audience either. This is a book for anyone who loves Willams’ work, wants to see a fabulous illustrator at work. an elegant writer of biography for children, or just wants to learn about a remarkable American.

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Filed under Poetry

New Kids on the Block

YA Superstar Librarians Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan have just started their blog, Bookends.  They’ve already got posts up about many of my favorite books of the year.

Then there is my neighbor, the terrific Bank Street Librarian Lisa Von Drasek with her new blog, EarlyWord.

Welcome Cindy, Lynn, and Lisa to this wonderful virtual world!


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Filed under Children's Literature

Duck, Pigeon, Attolia for President?

Leda Schubert started a terrific thread on child_lit. After seeing a “Pigeon in 2008,” button she began   “…wondering which character from a children’s book– picture book up to YA–I would really vote for.”  Among others, Tracy Barrett suggested Harold (of the Purple Crayon), Roger Sutton suggested Janie Gibbs, fairrosa suggested “Cimorene and Morwen from the Enchanted Forest series”, Farah Mendlesohn suggested Snoopy, and I suggested the King and Queen of Attolia.  So for those not on child_lit, who do you nominate?


Filed under Undefined

Dr. Snicket and Mr. Handler

Terrific interview with Mr. Handler (chair of this year’s National Book Award for Young People committee) here.  (And before you comment, I’ll give imaginary characters PhDs if I feel like it. And Lemony strikes me as one of those bookish erudite types perpetually getting one degree after another.)  Here’s a taste:

Writing a book is always a tightrope walk, and always feels strange — one must care about something so thoroughly, in an embryonic state, that one has made up to begin with. It was actually fairly easy to write the last volume of A Series of Unfortunate Events — it was the twelfth volume, in which the stage had to be cleared for The End, that proved difficult. The Penultimate Peril is more of an ending, with the recurrence of many characters from previous volumes, a few secrets revealed, and a finale of sorts. In The End I simply wanted to open up the story a bit, so that the lives of the characters would feel like lives, while the story would feel like a story, but the lives would move past the story, carrying their own questions. It’s always difficult to talk about books this way without sounding like an idiot.

I don’t think you sound like an idiot. I think that answer was a great success. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the lack of news suggests there won’t be a sequel to the film anytime soon.

Believe it or not a sequel does seem to be in the works. Paramount has had quite a few corporate shakeups, widely documented in articles I find too stupefying to finish, which has led to many a delay. Of course many, many plans in Hollywood come to naught, but I’m assured that another film will be made. Someday. Perhaps.

Whoa! I don’t even think about movies being based on your books very much, but in googling you, it comes up constantly. In your dream cast, who’s Flannery from The Basic Eight?

Oh, I’m lousy at casting. I pretty much got thrown out of the Snicket movie casting conversation by insisting on James Mason as Count Olaf, his death notwithstanding.

I also learned that Mr. Handler’s high school graduation speech is on youtube and nothing for him or Dr. Snicket to be ashamed of at all.

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Mile High Club

* On the flight, as we all buckled our seat belts, the woman and man in the row in front of me introduced themselves to each other. She was thin and dramatic — in her late forties, maybe, or early fifties — and she held forth, largely uninterrupted, through takeoff, drinks, the meal, and the better part of a movie, about her daughters, her vocal training, Sarah Palin’s relevance, Meryl Streep’s unwillingness to be photographed in shorts, and sundry other, equally scintillating topics.

I tried to sleep but had no luck until suddenly, inexplicably, the theatrical and very nasal voice trailed off. I opened my eyes to confirm that he’d finally throttled her, but no. The two of them were kissing. And soon their hands were shifting rhythmically under blankets.

Thirty or forty-five minutes later, the lovers were deterred by the emergence, from behind the gauzy curtain that separates first class from steerage, of a man who looked a great deal like, but was not, Al Franken. “Remember me?” he said, stalking down the aisle. “I’m your husband.”

Read the rest of Maud’s truelife extraordinary story here.

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