Monthly Archives: March 2011

App Story Time: The Three Little Classics

There was once an old storyteller whose library was full of the most beautiful books, some of them a bit worse for the wear only because they’d been so lovingly enjoyed by generations of young readers. But the old storyteller started to become worried — what was she to make of all the talk of ebooks and apps? Fearful she called three of the most familiar classics to her and said, “All of you are beloved by generations of children. No matter how they remake you, your stories stay true. And so I’m sending you three out to see what is out there in that new e-book and app world.”

The first that went off was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  “I’ll have no problem finding a way to make my story relevant and appreciated by children today.” thought the little classic to herself.  “After all, everyone knows my story.” Before she’d even gone more than a few steps she was stopped by an eager Ipad app developer who quickly outlined his idea. A bit dubious as he did seem to want to cut an awful lot, she decided to go for it. “After all,” she thought to herself. “Walt Disney and Tim Burton did some changing too and I still am here intact and appreciated.”  The app came out, the reviews were glowing, and the little classic was just about to return to the old storyteller when an old blogger came along.  “You don’t scare me!” she quavered.

The blogger simply glared at her and said, “Then I’ll blog, and I’ll blog, and I’ll blog your story away.” So she blogged

This app is full of bells and whistles, but what does it mean in terms of Lewis Carroll’s story?  Does it add anything to it?  Enhance it?  Have a whole lot to do with it?  I don’t think so.

and blogged

The movement is fun (I do like the growing and shrinking especially), but I think it was done far better by Robert Sabuda in his actual physical pop-up book.  His paper engineering seem to enhance and bring out the story in a way the app barely does. Rather, it seems ephemeral, something to be done a few times perhaps, but no more.  And some of the actions aren’t that well-connected to the story itself.  I mean, “Throw tarts at the Queen of Hearts”?  I mean, yeah, there are tarts and there is a Queen, but this seems more like looking for action rather than thinking about it in terms of the story in any major way.  Sabuda’s pop-up, on the other hand, does bring out the story in clever ways.

and blogged the app away.

Sorry, I’m still waiting for an app (and movie, for that matter) to do Carroll’s story justice.

The second little classic was Peter Rabbit.  He was even more confident than the first little classic of success.  “I’m everywhere. Babies, new parents, everyone loves me dearly.”  And he was just about to hop into that lovely garden with the carrots when an app developer waylaid him at the gate.  “You can see to it I get all the carrots I want?  I’m in.” said the little classic.  And so off the app developer went and soon returned with a lovely little app and the reviewers again were ecstatic.  The second little classic was just about to head on back to the old storyteller when the first little classic came racing along.

“Watch out!” she called out. “The big bad blogger is after me!” And sure enough, huffing and puffing after her was indeed a blogger.  The two of them clung to each other and the second little class said bravely, “You don’t scare me!”

The blogger stared at him for a moment and then said “Humph.  I don’t care.  In fact, I’m going to just blog and blog, till I blog your story away.” So she blogged

The Peter Rabbit app feels very similar to the Alice one. That is, it is pretty to look at and has movement, but doesn’t seem to do much to really bring out the story.

and blogged

People tend to have this vague idea that Peter Rabbit is some sort of twee story when it is actually nothing of the kind.  It can be seen as rather subversive, in fact, as are many of Beatrix Potter’s stories.  And that is what makes it so much fun.  And I also have to put in a plug for the lovely tiny little books themselves.  There is something about handling them physically that is part of their charm. Seems besides the point in the app which is more about fun ways to play with a book app than the inherent nature of the book itself.  I’m being churlish, I know, but …

And blogged the app away.

…I think the potential is big for books and stories and this isn’t it, yet.

The third little classic had gone no farther than down the lane when the first and second little classics ran up to him.  “Watch out!” they yelled at him.  “The big bad blogger is out to get us!”  And sure enough, right in front of him was indeed that big ol’ blogger with an enormous frown and stance that suggested she was not happy at all. The first and second little classics shivered behind the third little classic as he stood and just stared silently back at the blogger.

Finally he spoke. “I’m not afraid of you.  There have been a ton of apps about me already. It seems my story lends itself to digital storytelling better than my two friends here. And I actually think you may change your mind with this app.”  And he tossed it at the blogger who grabbed it, studied it, and then went off. The three little classics looked at each other, waited, and waited some more before finally heading home.

As they walked in they were very surprised to find the blogger there first, sitting with the old storyteller and having tea.  “Come, come,” the storyteller said to the three of them. ” I know, Alice and Peter, that our blogger-friend here didn’t much care for your apps, but I am so happy to say that she very much liked your latest, Little Pig.  Isn’t that lovely?”

And the blogger settled in and blogged

I don’t claim to have seen many apps at all and, since I don’t yet own an Ipad (although I have access to one and do have an Iphone), figured I wasn’t going to review any of them.  But due to a post I did on others who are doing reviews quite a few app creators got in touch with me including Nosy Crow.

and blogged

Having read a bit about them already I was curious and so I took a look at their first children’s book app on my Iphone of The Three Little Pigs and was…

and blogged

…totally charmed.  The art is bright and engaging, the narration (by children) also compelling, and the way the app is set up simply encourages children to both read (I especially liked the way you could click on the different characters and get different little speech bubbles and speech each time) and play (make a character do a somersault, for instance).  It is a contemporary version of the story, but that is totally fine — it works in just the right way. It is a book app in the sense that it will, I like to think, have kids do more than just move objects around (as I feel is somewhat the case with the Alice and Peter apps).  I can see them enjoying this one over and over and over in a more substantive way than the first two apps mentioned. In fact, I am quite eager to see what Nosy Crow does next!

and blogged

Given my very narrow background of having just seen a few apps so far and read about more of them, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on book apps. Far from it. However, these three highly praised ones did give me a small taste of that ever-growing world. And I’m glad that Nosy Crow is on the right path. I look forward to what they and others do next.

blogged them a very happy ending.



Filed under Classic


Sylvia Vardell, an unceasing advocate for children’s poetry, and Janet Wong, a well-known children’s book writer and poet, have put together a very clever project — the  First Paperless Poetry e-Book — available this Friday, April 1. I’ve seen a draft and it is delightful! Here’s more from their press release:

Just in time for National Poetry Month, look for the first ever electronic-only poetry anthology of new poems by top poets for children (ages 0-8), PoetryTagTime, compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong and available for only 99 cents at Amazon on April 1. This collection of 30 new, unpublished poems range from the humorous to serious, about tongues, turtles and toenails, in acrostics, quatrains, and free verse written by 30 of our best children’s poets: Children’s Poet Laureates Jack Prelutsky and Mary Ann Hoberman; Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman; NCTE Poetry Award winners X.J. Kennedy, J. Patrick Lewis, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Nikki Grimes; popular poets Douglas Florian, Betsy Franco, Jane Yolen, Alice Schertle, Helen Frost, Carole Boston Weatherford, Calef Brown, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, April Halprin Wayland, Leslie Bulion, Avis Harley, Joan Bransfield Graham, David L. Harrison, Julie Larios, Ann Whitford Paul, Bobbi Katz, Paul B. Janeczko, Laura Purdie Salas, Robert Weinstock, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, and Pat Mora. And the “connections” between poems as the poets voice how their poems are interconnected adds another layer of fun and meaning. You’ll be able to share brand-new poems and poetry tips with children all month long for pennies a day!

How do you play tag with poetry? In PoetryTagTime each poet has tagged the next poet and explained how her/his poem connects with the previous one, in a chain of poets, poems, and play. PoetryTagTime encourages appreciation of children’s poetry by making it an affordable 99-cent “impulse buy” that is easy to find, easy to own, and easy to read aloud (whenever the mood strikes and an e-reader, computer, or cell phone is handy). A teacher might read a poem aloud to start each morning. A family on a road trip might read poems aloud to pass the time. Some estimates say that 10 million Kindles have already been sold; there were over 10 million Kindle ebook sales last December alone. We bet that at least a tenth of those Kindles belong to adults who spend a significant amount of time each day with children. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could bring a million Kindle readers to children’s poetry?

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for a number of devices, including your Windows or Apple computer, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android-powered phone. Also, be sure to check out our web site ( and companion blog (PoetryTagTime.Blogspot) for strategies for sharing each of the 30 poems in the book, rolling out one per day throughout the month of April.

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Troy Howell’s The Dragon of Cripple Creek

Dragons and gold. Done and done, right?  But how about a dragon in a Colorado gold mine? That is just where Troy Howell puts his in The Dragon of Cripple Creek, a uniquely American literary fairy tale.

It is the story of Kat Graham who grew up insisting on gold everywhere: golden bedroom walls, a gold-bedecked bed, gold shoes, gold-rimmed eyeglasses, a golden-colored pony named Goldie, and even — when she was four and into pirates — a broken front tooth capped in gold.  And so of course when gold-besotted Kat sees an ad for tours of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine she won’t rest until she goes. The ad is on the side of the highway Kat, her older brother Dillon, and her father are on, heading to a new life in California, their old one in Ohio having collapsed completely after a freak accident put her mother in a coma and caused her father to lose everything.

Shortly after starting the tour Kat lags behind, takes one false step, and falls Alice-like deep into the mine. Bruised and bleeding she stumbles her way through the dark looking for a way out when she sees the glint of a gold nugget which she pockets. Shortly after that she comes upon something extraordinary — a living and smoke-blowing dragon. His name is Ye and he is, she learns, the last of his kind in the world.  Smart, erudite, and philosophical, Ye tells Kat what that glittery mineral she loves so much really is and the two of them forge a strong emotional connection. Despite this, Kat’s lingering love of gold causes her to keep that gold nugget hidden from her new friend even though she has learned from him that it is not hers to take.

Back on the surface, the media is out in force as everyone looks for the missing girl in the mine. And when Kat returns and is recognized, she and the gold nugget end up on television, setting off a raging twenty-first century gold rush. Horrified that Ye might be discovered and guilt-ridden that she has taken his gold, Kat is then determined to return the nugget to the dragon and keep his secret.

Filled with playful language, quirky characters, and plenty of excitement, this is a delightfully unusual tale. Like Frank Cotrell Boyce’s Millions, it takes on big topics and ideas — say the nature of greed and avarice as well as the contradictions and complications of wealth. And like Boyce’s story this one has a thread of sadness underlying the lighter moments. Witty and tender this highly original tale should engage a wide range readers.


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Diana Wynne Jones: An Appreciation

One of the great, great, great writers of fantasy is no longer with us. For so many of us who love this genre, there was no one more esteemed than Diana Wynne Jones.  Not only did she explore a wide range of the genre, but she did so happily, wittily, intelligently, and most uniquely.  There was and will be no one like her. I haven’t read all that she wrote, but those stories of hers that I know and love tend to involve bumblings and mix-ups, domestic complications, cranky yet endearing magicians, and a completely original and wonderful view of the world.  In her stories,  the fate of the universe may be at stake, but humanity still blunders about. It is this endless imagination, creativity, wit, and warmth that make her one of the greats in my pantheon of writers of any genre.

I’m sure there will be many more articulate appreciations to come, but for those unfamiliar with the brilliant work of this woman, here are a few of my favorites.

For whatever reason one of my go-to comfort books is Howl’s Moving Castle. There is that marvelous floating castle filled with the sort of magical domesticity that Jones excels at.  There is a heroine I completely identified with — capable Sophie who spends most of the story transformed into an old woman. There is the wonderful Calcifer, a fire demon, and of course the remarkable wizard, Howl, one of the great romantic heroes of fantasy literature.  Smart, irritable, and ultimately capable too, Howl is a brilliant and utterly Jones’ hero. The plot is also typical Jones, complicated and intriguing and difficult to summarize so I won’t bother. Instead I urge you to read the book for yourself. The great Japanese filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, made a film version which is gorgeous, but very much its own thing, distinct from Jones’ book in numerous ways.  There are also two subsequent books with many of the same characters, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.

I’m just a tad too old to have encountered Jones as a child so it was as a young teacher that I first did by way of her divine Chrestomanci books.  While there is a chronology to the stories (the first being Charmed Life), I read them out of order and it mattered not a whit.  They are based around Chrestomanci, a powerful enchanter, and often set in his castle where a sort of school for enchanters exists (long, mind you, before Hogwarths existed).  Also set in a magical educational environment are The Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Year of the Griffin, both of which show Jones at her most playfulness when it comes to fantasy land tourists.  And since tourists need guidebooks Jones saw to it that there was one — the hilarious and spot-on The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

I love reading aloud to my class “Chair Person” and “The Four Grannies” from Stopping for a Spell and loved, for their similar domesticity The Ogre Downstairs, Archer’s Goon, and Eight Days of LukeHexwood, more science-fiction-y than many of her works, is terrific too.  And I love knowing that there are still many I have not read.  It is reassuring that this extraordinary writer will stay alive for readers through her most wonderful and wondrous works.

Also at Huffington Post


Filed under Fantasy, Huffington Post

Books EVERY Child SHOULD Read

I confess that anytime I see some sort of urgent recommendation that you MUST or HAVE TO or SHOULD read/view/see/do anything I get grumpy.  And so I was glad that the Independent’s The 50 Books Every Child Should Read, a response to the British Education Secretary recommending that all kids be required to read 50 books a year, stayed clear of that sort of language.  Rather they wrote:

We asked three of Britain’s leading children’s authors and two of our in-house book experts to each pick 10 books, suitable for Year 7 students.

The authors chose books that have brought them huge joy, while expressing their outrage at the “great big contradiction” of Mr Gove’s claim to wish to improve literacy while closing libraries across the country.

Among the recommendations are many I love and know kids still appreciate today too. Say Philip Pullman’s suggestions of the Alice books which he calls “Indispensable.”  He also recommends two childhood favorites of mine: Eric Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives and Paul Berna’s One Hundred Million Francs, but I have to admit I haven’t recommended them myself to any of my students fearing they’d not take.  He also recommended any Moomin book and I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been able to turn some of my students on to this delightful series.  I wish I could also get them to read another recommendation of his, one of Joan Aiken, also a childhood favorite, but so far no.

Michael Morpurgo has some interesting choices including another favorite of mine, Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child.  But he also writes of the Just William books, “These are a must for every child.”  Hmm…there are many around the world who are doing just fine without reading them.  He also suggested another childhood favorite of mine, Kate Seredy’s The Singing Tree, but do kids read her today?  Again I wonder.

Among others Katy Guest also recommends the Moomin (yay) as well as Diary of a Wimpy Kid (double yay for a douse of reality).  I was also tickled by John Walsh’s recommendation of Geoffrey Willams and Ronald Searle’s How to be Topp.  An old favorite which reminds me a bit of How to Train Your Dragon in tone and look and style.

The great range and minimum overlap (I believe the Moomins may be the only one) is fascinating and also telling — how can any one person possibly make a definitive list of what EVERY Child SHOULD read?


Filed under Reading

Andrew Lane’s Death Cloud

If you were the right age in 1985 you might remember the movie Young Sherlock in which Nicholas Rowe channels Indiana Jones rather than a young Basil Rathbone.  My main memory of it is a scene in which the sweet-loving schoolboy Watson hallucinates an attack of pastries. So let me say straight off — no homicidal eclairs, drugs, or for that matter any sort of Watson populate the latest envisioning of a young Sherlock Holmes: Andrew Lane’s Death Cloud.

Instead there is a melancholy fourteen-year-old forced to spend his school holidays with remote relatives since his mother is unwell and his father off to India.  An ominous housekeeper, a scruffy canal-boat friend, a pair of intriguing Yankees, some scary evil-doers, and a very-Conan-Doyle-like mystery keep our young hero on his toes throughout this very entertaining work.  Since I’m currently making my through the Holmes canon (I find Victorian writing perfect to listen to while running), I was a bit skeptical at the outset, but quickly won over.  While no Sherlockian, my impression is that Lane has done a nice job dusting his novel with elements from the actual Holmes tales in addition to providing a seemingly (there’s a bibliography at the end) well-researched window into British life under Victoria. Certainly, the story itself is as compelling as any of Conan Doyle’s.

My one slight raised eyebrow came when one of the Americans said that we rebelled against the British “Not by tricks and schemes and secret plans.”  Hmmm….Boston Tea Party anyone? Since the next installment, Rebel Fire, is set across the pond I’m curious if this is in keeping with similar historical mishaps by Conan Doyle himself or wishful thinking on the part of Andrew Lane. However, that’s just me; young readers won’t care a whit (nor should they) and will just eagerly turn the page to see what happens next.  And when done, like me, they will be impatient for the next in the series as Lane leaves many tantalizing threads unfinished.


Filed under Review

Some Interesting Thoughts By Way of the Tournament of Books

History is necessarily inaccurate; we only can comprehend it based on the information we receive, and only can relate it to the best of our recollection.

So reflects Andrew Womack about Anne Carson’s Nox, one of the books in his Tournament of Books bracket, the other being Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule.  Ever since first hearing about Nox I’ve been fascinated by the whole idea of it — a folding collage of material housed in a box.  And so I appreciated very much Womack’s thoughts on it in his ToB decision, especially those questioning the ideas of history, reading, and books.

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James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead

James Patterson started ReadKiddoRead to encourage kids to read for fun. And over the past few years of its existence it has successfully provided an enormous range of reviews of books for all ages and interests that kids are bound to like as well as other book-community opportunities.  Recently I began reviewing for them and my first two reviews are now up.  They are (no surprise for those that know my recent book crushes) reviews of Frank Cotrell Boyce’s Cosmic and Barry Deutsch’s Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword.

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SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books

The battle is nigh.

On Monday, March 13th, sixteen acclaimed 2010 books for young readers will go head to head in School Library Journal‘s third annual Battle of the Kids’ Books. Inspired by The Morning News Tournament of Books these literary contenders are paired off bracket-style and judged by a distinguished group of writers.  R. L. Stine, Richard Peck, Karen Hesse, and Laura Amy Schlitz are just some of the remarkable decision-makers in this year’s exciting event. Every weekday over the next few weeks you can read their smart and thoughtful match decisions.

While seeing which book a particular judge decides to advance is understandably exciting, it is what they have to say about the two they are considering and how they say it that is most enthralling.  Understanding the serious play that is involved, each one is considerate and clever and it is their elegantly penned decisions that are the heart and soul of the Battle.

This year’s contenders are:

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
Keeper by Kathi Appelt
They Called Themselves the K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
Trash by Andy Mulligan
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One of the creators of the event, here’s what I had to say in a recent press release:

Each year I’m completely energized by the Battle of the Kids’ Books. The judges always outdo themselves in smart, witty, and insightful decisions getting me to look at each contender in new ways. It is just fun to work together to keep the Battle of the Kids’ Books entertaining, stimulating, and most of all—fun.

Sponsored by HarperCollins Children’s Books and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Book is shaping up to be the best one yet.

Also at the Huffington Post


Filed under Battle of the (Kids') Books, Huffington Post

Debating Nonfiction

Marc Aronson, in his Horn Book Magazine article “New Knowledge”, has provoked some interesting conversations by arguing that there is a distinctively new and different kind of nonfiction for young people, something that involves original research and speculation. He concludes:

Just as we have both realistic fiction and speculative fiction, maybe we ought to split up our nonfiction section into books that aim to translate the known and books that venture out into areas where knowledge is just taking shape. See you on the borderline.

I’m definitely on the side of those who do not see such a sharp distinction between old and new. I’ve read older works of nonfiction for children filled with original research and am wary of speculation in nonfiction writing in general, be it for an adult or child audience. And so I appreciated Jim Murphy’s response “The Line of Difference” as well as Laurie Thompson’s “Drawing Lines in Nonfiction: ‘Old’ vs. ‘New’.” Marc’s responses to them on his blog are here and here.  Be sure to read the comments too — lots to mull over here.

ETA As Marc and others know, I’m a big fan of many of the new books that introduce new ideas, say his and Marina’s Sugar Changed the World, a SLJsBoB contender. But I still read it more than once carefully, critically and, yes, warily.


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