Monthly Archives: May 2011

Reflections on BEA and SLJ’s Day of Dialog

BEA has come and gone here in NYC. It is a trade show not really for the likes of me — a teacher and blogger — but for those who sell the books we love so much. (BTW, those em dashes; yep, I overuse ’em.) Still, if not for my day job hanging out with fourth graders, I’d have been on this year’s floor in a shot. (I went a couple of times when it was on the weekend as seen in this photo of Jon Scieszka helping me with my loot.) Certainly I very much appreciated reading reports from those who did go and enjoyed enormously the social events I went to outside the convention center itself.  In particular it was wonderful meeting and chatting with booksellers and booklovers from all over the country as well as seeing in person some folks I mainly know online. (And my apologies for blanking on faces  — in one case I chatted with a major reviewer I’d met once before in person a few years back, but know fairly well online and then didn’t remember her when we met again an hour later. So embarrassing!)

The day before the trade show started SLJ held its annual Day of Dialog and kindly arranged for me to attend. Betsy Bird has just done a great write-up of the event and there is also a report from the SLJ staff here. I was particularly eager to hear Katherine Paterson as I knew she would be splendid. Years ago we met at the annual summer Children’s Literature New England conferences and we’ve seen each other occasionally since then.  She is a completely remarkable person and any time you have a chance to hear her speak — go, go, go.  This time she focused mostly on The Flint Heart, a book she and her husband John Paterson “freely abridged” from an older book by Eden Phillpotts.  Having read the Patersons’ version as well as the original I was very curious about this project and Katherine did a wonderful job explaining it.  I’ll have more to say about it in another post as it is very much up my alley for a number of reasons.

As for the rest of the day, Betsy does a superb recap. The panels were all terrific, the publisher pitch sessions highly informative, and post-pranial speaker Daniel Handler was hilarious.  (I did notice that, by referencing other speaking situations, he pretty much acknowledged being that mysterious writer Lemony Snicket.  The two other times I saw him speak he always said he was filling in for Mr. Snicket who, for one reason or another, was indisposed.) That said, I do admit I was especially looking forward to the final panel of the day as it featured debut writers,  among them Adam Gidwitz who had done such a great job at my school as a “fairy tale writer in residence.” He acquitted himself beautifully as did all the others.  A wonderful day indeed.

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“One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter”

Until now I thought the only way to experience Alice’s size changes in Wonderland was by playing her as an avatar in a computer game, fooling around with fun house mirrors, or the traditional way — losing yourself in her book. But thanks to a tip from Tobin Anderson I’ve learned that a Swedish scientist has successfully created another way.  In his lab at Karolinska Institute  Henrik Ehrsson is exploring illusions, one of which causes its subjects to feel they have changed size. According to this Discovery Magazine article:

In a typical experiment, a volunteer is being stroked while wearing a virtual reality headset. She’s lying down and looking at her feet, but she doesn’t see them. Instead, the headset shows her the legs of a mannequin lying next to her.

As she watches, Bjorn van der Hoort, one of Ehrsson’s former interns, uses two rods to stroke her leg, and the leg of the mannequin, at the same time. This simple trick creates an overwhelming feeling that the mannequin’s legs are her own.  If the legs belong to a Barbie, she feels like she’s the size of a doll. If the legs are huge, she feels like a 13-foot giant.

Van der Hoort performed this illusion on almost 200 people. Questionnaires revealed that they did indeed think of the mannequins as their own body parts. Familiar objects didn’t break the spell. When van der Hoort threatened the mannequins’ legs with a knife, the volunteers’ skin broke into a worried sweat, as if their real bodies were in danger. If he touched the doll’s legs with a pencil or his finger, the recruits thought they were being prodded by giant objects. Rather than feeling like dolls in a normal world, they felt like normal people in a giant world.

Sounds pretty eerie to me, but given the chance I’d try it anyway.  Wouldn’t you?


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Ratty, Mole, and Toad All Together Again?

Again, again?  But certainly interesting.

From PW’s Children’s Bookshelf:

Laura Godwin at Henry Holt has bought a sequel to Kenneth Grahame’s classic novel The Wind in the Willows, with the working title of The Willows Redux. It will be written by Newbery Honor author Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate), and illustrated by Clint G. Young, who has a debut picture book under contract at Feiwel & Friends. Publication is scheduled for fall 2012, the same time as a Wind in the Willows movie, though the projects are not related. Kelly was represented by Marcy Posner of Folio Literary on an earlier deal for the text; Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency represented Young.


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A New York Moment

Yesterday as I was zipping down New York City’s Westside Highway in a cab, we passed the Intrepid and I thought about the night before when I’d been on it for the first time at a Random House BEA party. How magical, I thought dreamily, to have finally been on that remarkable vehicle I’d passed by so often, a real-life sea-based version of how I imagined Philip Reeve’s Traction Cities.

“There’s the real one.” my driver pointed out. And indeed, just beyond the museum aircraft carrier where I’d watched the sun set, was the still-active USS New York which had just arrived for Fleet Week; I could see all the sailors in their dress whites standing formally at the rails. Two of these massive “islands” of the sea (as my driver termed them and I concur) next to each other — wow was my inarticulate reaction.

“I was picked up by that one,” my driver went on.  At age twelve, he told me, he’d been on a boat along with his younger sister and 100 other people fleeing Vietnam in the early 80s when the carrier picked them up.  It was like an island, he kept saying, bigger than the ones they passed on their way to the Philippines. His parents? Oh, they came a few years later, he told me.  After a few more gentle exchanges I was at my destination and we parted ways.  But boy oh boy oh boy.


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The Very Cool Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry’s PA Rob Wilkins: There are a couple of words we aren’t allowed to use in our office.  One of them is fun so I hope you aren’t all having fun. And the other one is awesome, but I walked out here and, I’m sorry Terry, but I’m going to have to use it. This is awesome.

Terry Pratchett: Rob, you know very well. I’ve told you about this a million times. It’s not awesome unless you see God, Jesus, and all His works. Descending from Heaven. Everything else is cool.

One of the top writers in my pantheon of greatness is Terry Pratchett. And anyone who has heard him or met him knows that in person the man is brilliant, witty, hilarious, and profound. You can see for yourself in  Imagination Not Intelligence Made Us Human, a recording of  a recent program at the Sydney Opera House which features Garth Nix interviewing Terry and includes Rob reading an excerpt from Terry’s forthcoming Discworld novel Snuff, plenty of banter, teeth throwing, birthday singing, and much more that is brilliant, witty, funny, and simply completely worth viewing.

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In the Classroom: Alice versus Dorothy

Every year I read aloud Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to my fourth grade class and then have them read on their own The Wizard of Oz. Along the way we learn about the books’ authors and illustrators, something of their publishing history, and perhaps view the most well-known movies associated with the two.  This year, rather than doing an elaborate project with either book as I’ve done before, (as we’ve already got another elaborate project underway — a silent movie homage to Charlie Chaplin) I had the kids do blog posts comparing the two books.  Now I’ve always found them connected for various reasons and so it was interesting to see what the kids had to say. Here are links to some of their posts:

Thanks to Anita Silvey whose Almanac entry yesterday inspired this post.

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Tiny Things

When tiny ourselves my sister and I were obsessed with tiny things. When living in Germany we used our allowances to buy small plastic animals from a local toy store.  At one point we lived over a pharmacy and discovered that if we asked they would give us miniature versions of products —  bitty boxes, teeny bottles, and perfect wee versions of detergent boxes, and such.  We also collected small stuffed animals, dolls, furniture, and played with all of it as well.

Sensibly, our parents made sure to take us to the real-life tiny Dutch village, Madurodam when on holiday in Holland (where my mother also decided to get us wooden shoes for muddy days — this was in the late 50s and the friends we were visiting like some other Dutch still used them this way — and insisted we use them back in Michigan…but I digress).  At one point I fell madly in love with Rumer Godden’s books, among them Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and I still have my versions of those two dolls along with their things (a scroll, flowers, and other objects that I made myself) in a matchbox.

My students today are equally captivated by the small — Japanese erasers, writing materials, and other little objects periodically pop up on their desks and begin to collect and accumulate small thing by small thing. And so how lovely to see Imogene Russell Williams’ Guardian piece on the appeal of tiny living things in children’s books.  I’m curious though — much as I loved The Borrowers as a child I don’t see it gaining a lot of young readers today.  Does anyone know of kids who love it?  Or Rumer Godden’s books for that matter?  I hold them too close to my own nostalgic heart to recommend them to kids today as I fear they will be quickly abandoned unfinished.  But perhaps I’m wrong to feel this way?


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Watching the Chimps

Two delightful new picture books biographies of Jane Goodall, Patrick McDonnell’s Me … Jane and Jeanette Winter’s The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With the Chimps, are reviewed in this Sunday’s New York Times accompanied by a lovely video featuring the two creators, a sample of art from their books, and Ms. Goodall herself.

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Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus Books

I am overdue writing this post about the remarkable, amazing, and wonderful Anna Hibiscus books by Atinuke. After reading Betsy’s review last summer I requested the books and fell completely and totally in love with them. Since then I’ve been delighted to see others in America become equally smitten, say the folks over at Horn Book who have just given two in the series well-deserved stars. My special thanks to reviewer and teacher Robin Smith who just now reminded me of them as she mentioned them on the ccbc-net discussion list as exemplars for raising issues of economic differences for children.

For those still unfamiliar with this charming series, the books are from the point of view of a young biracial child, Anna Hibiscus who lives in “… Africa. Amazing Africa.” In each of these early chapter books mostly set in an unnamed city, professional storyteller Atinuke gently, authentically, and lyrically strings together a series of episodes that present life for one extended Nigerian family.  There are threads tying each set of stories together — Anna’s anxiety about having to sing in front of an important audience or her visit with her Canadian grandmother — but it is the individual little stories that make these books so powerful.

Having lived and taught in Sierra Leone I’m fairly obsessed with bringing material to American children that communicate an authentic viewpoint of life in West Africa.  While she does not identify Anna’s home country, author Atinuke’s background is Nigerian and I can only say that what she describes rings true to me from my own experience a few countries to the west. (I’m going back to Sierra Leone this summer for the first time which will be quite an experience!) Like Robin, I too admire Atinuke’s deft handling of the class and economic issues that are familiar to me from my time in West Africa.

I’ve heard some complaining about the author’s decision not to identify Anna’s home country and I have to say I disagree. The choice to begin each story with a lyrical storytelling trope — that Anna lives in “amazing Africa” is lovely and clearly an artistic choice. Yes, some Americans have trouble understanding that the continent of Africa is not a country, but that doesn’t mean every book written for children and set in Africa must identify the country in order for American children to get the right idea. Even without naming the country, Atinuke does one of the best jobs I’ve seen giving a feel and sense of what life is like for one West African child. And because of that I’m looking forward to her new series, The No. 1 Car Spotter, this one from the point of view of a young boy living in an African village. 


Filed under Africa, Learning About Africa

A Cosmic Video of a Cosmic Visit

Recently my class had the wonderful experience of a Skype visit with Cosmic (and Millions and Framed) author Frank Cotrell Boyce.  We videoed it, edited it, and the result is available to view at my school’s website here.  (For anyone interested it also gives a sense of my classroom and students — they asked wonderful questions!)


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