Monthly Archives: October 2009

What Kids Think About the “Where the Wild Things Are” Movie

I started a book bloggers club this year partly so that kids who had blogs with me in 4th grade could continue with them in later grades and those from other classes who wanted to start blogs could.  Currently it is a lovely, if small cohort of 6th grade girls. Curious about what they’d think,  I took them to see “Where the Wild Things Are” last week.  Check out their very insightful reviews:



Filed under Film, movie

Another Worthy Best of List

… because I’m on it?  Perhaps, but I do think it is a very thoughtful list of blogs.  The categories are very interesting; for example, I’m in the “From and For the Professionals” section along with editors, writers, and reviewers.

Check it out:  100 Best Book Blogs for Kids, Tweens, and Teens.

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Filed under Other

Revisiting: Little Vampire


At a recent HarperCollins preview I learned about the latest vampire-classic mash-up: Little Vampire Women.   Yes, Louisa May Alcott, who was no slouch herself when it came to a thriller, is collaborating with one Lynn Messina on a new edition of Marmee’s girls’ story, the undead meeting up with pickled limes this time round.

The title immediately made me think of Joann Sfar’s Little Vampire which is another species entirely.  I fell in love with the little fellow some years ago in the graphic novels Little Vampire Goes to School and Little Vampire Does Kung Fu! and was delighted when First Second reissued them and an additional story (Little Vampire and the Society of Canine Defenders) in one volume.  An excerpt from the school one can be read here.


Filed under Classic, comic, graphic novel

Fairy Tales in the Guardian

Via a Philip Pullman fan site I came across his wonderful retelling of Mossycoat, a Cinderella variant. I’d known of this but hadn’t seen it till now.  I highly recommend it as it is witty, clever, and an all around fun telling of this less-familiar variant.

But hold on, that isn’t all; wondering just why the Guardian published the tale I did a little investigating and discovered that they have been doing an ongoing fairy tale series for some time now.   Articles on various aspects of the tales by some very sharp people as well as a whole lot of retold and translated tales.  Absolutely terrific stuff for those into fairy tales (say, moi). Here are links to a bunch of them:


Filed under fairy tales

Thoughts on Newbery: Picture Books

Over at Heavy Medal, Jonathan has raised the issue of picture books and the Newbery.  It is a challenging one because the award criteria state, “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.”   At first Jonathan seemed to be suggesting that “primarily” meant that the art could be considered, but he has now conceded in the comments  that it cannot.  For those unfamiliar with the award, this is important to understand. Being on the Newbery is like being on a jury — the criteria, the process, and such are sacrosanct.  It is an extraordinary experience while being also at times frustrating as in this situation.  This situation being that you can only consider the text of a picture book, not the art, not the text and art as a whole entity.

Jonathan is a force to be reckoned with and has not allowed that pesky criteria to stop him from making a case for one picture book from this year, Ed Young’s Hook. In a second post Jonathan works hard on his arguments and ends by writing, “… if literature strives to explore what it means to be human, I don’t know of any story from this past year that does it as powerfully as this simple one.” So far he has yet to convince me. Hook is a remarkable and powerful book; text and art together create a moving and gorgeous aesthetic experience. I’ve been a longtime fan of Young’s art and admire tremendously this book and other recent ones.  But I’m not convinced that the text alone is as distinguished as other books I’ve read this year.

Jonathan was on the committee that gave a Newbery Honor to Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way.  Now that one I can see, the text is gorgeous poetry and completely stands alone (lovely as the art is).  Young’s text for Hook, spare and elegant as it is, does not for me.  While Woodson’s text doesn’t need the art to soar, Young’s, to my mind, does. And that is as it should be — the aesthetic experience is both.

Is there another picture book from this year that can be considered?  I’ve been wondering about Brian Floca’s Moon Shot, but have yet to look at it carefully without the art.  The difficulty in finding such a book is, as Nina points out in a comment, that while some of the criteria may be covered in the text others (she notes characterization) are exclusively in the art.

It is a quandary.

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Filed under Newbery

On Elephants and Other Wild Things

Some time back I read Kate Dicamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant and yesterday I saw Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.  Both were filled with beautiful imagery. Both had a sort of ironic humorous sensibility that I like. Both respected their main characters. Both had sad moments, funny moments, extraordinary settings, and provided unique viewing/reading experiences.  Both were much admired by me.  And both left me puzzled.

I’d read a few reviews of the Jonze movie before I went. Those reviewers either loved the movie or thought it was a bust.  One felt the beginning was great whereas another thought the beginning was weak.  Basically they all canceled each other out and I was neutral (well, perhaps a bit more on the “show me” side of things) when I went into the theater.  But I was taken in immediately with Max’s “art” during the titles and further engaged by the incredible verisimilitude of the movie Max’s situation and responses. I spend my day with children of Max’s age and can say that the portrayal, the words, the pouts, the tears, the comments, the energy, everything was spot on.

I found the movie to be beautiful, moving, and I enjoyed it very much.  For what it was — a story of an angry boy named Max.  Not the same angry boy of Sendak’s book — that Max has his own life on the page and his own adventure in and out of anger.  Some of the terrain and characters may overlap, but each Max has his own story and I recommend valuing each on its own.

Decamillo’s book is also full of beautiful and moving images and language.  It has the feel of something from an earlier century — not just the setting, but the style too —in the tradition of certain sorts of literary fairy tale writers —   say Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. There is the developing of an unconventional family by the end that reminded me of one of my favorite books, Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and his Child.

The two works of art are completely different, but with both I wondered about audience, especially child audience.  Will children enjoy the movie?  I’m thinking if they are old enough, but not too old, they will.  For they will appreciate what Max is experiencing; it is so raw and so real.  They will be captivated by the wild things, by what they do, by what happens.  And many adults (like me) will be too for a variety of reasons.

As for The Magician’s Elephant, I’m trying to get a better handle on it still, months after I first experienced it.  I started reading it aloud to my class last year, but they didn’t care for it.  I’ve got a new group this year and want to try again.  But who knows?  I’ve never even tried to read more than a few pages of The Mouse and His Child to my students. Much as I love it, I’ve never figured out the child audience. Just as I’m not sure about audience for the story about the elephant.

The bottom line?  For me, there is none for these two.  Both had beautiful and moving moments,  provoked a few tears and a sniffle or two, were filled with witty lines, and both are enigmas for me.  My recommendation — read and see both for yourselves.


Filed under Other

Throwing and Catching Voice

Mr. Rey was plump, in a brown suit; he wore glasses and was balding and round-faced and kind. He knew about the stars; he took me into the back garden and pointed out the constellations in a way that made me see them; he had a manner with children that was easy and unforced. We joined the party in the living room, and he stood off to the side. Suddenly, I heard a high voice squeaking, saying “Nicky. Help! It’s Curious George and I’m stuck in the chimney, just here inside the fireplace. Come help me get out won’t you please?”

Nicholas Delbanco considers voice by way of his childhood memories of Hans Rey.

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Filed under Writing

A Few Things

Will Self on Roald Dahl and the new Fantastic Mr. Fox film.

“Eoin Colfer has achieved the best post-mortem impersonation I have ever read,” writes Mark Lawson in his review of And Another Thing.

Where the Wild Things Are and Eleven Other Controversy Causing Kids’ Movies.

The Reading Life: What Makes a Children’s Classic.

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In the Classroom: David Macaulay and Our Year of the Sketchbook


Those are my 4th graders sketching during an assembly with David Macaulay yesterday. Yeah, that David Macaulay.  And, yeah, I’d be jealous too.  That is, of a school that had him coming once a month for the whole year as a visiting artist.  You see, we’ve this terrific program called Original Mind where, well, original thinkers come and work with us in all sorts of ways all year long.  David is the third, following Sarah Sze and Natasha Trethewey.

He’s doing all sorts of things, but for me one of the coolest is that he is getting us sketching.  We’ve all got sketchbooks and are using them in so many different ways; check out this great blog to see some of them.  It is still early in the school year and so I’m still considering all sorts of ideas of how to use them in my classroom, but the kids are already loving them.    You can see their beautiful covers and a few of the sketches they’ve done  here. More, much more to come.


Filed under In the Classroom

Big and Friendly or Big and Scary?

Children, even young children are different. Some, even young children, like the scary and frightening, others do not. At a preliminary screening of Jurassic Park I saw some children, boys and girls, preschoolers to early secondary having a grand time. Others, both boys and girls and across the same age range were crouching in their seats, hiding their eyes.

David Elkind and other experts weigh in on scary movies for kids.

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Filed under Movies