Monthly Archives: June 2012

Revisiting: Chris Raschka’s Arlene Sardine

Then she was smoked, delicately. She was delicately smoked. Delicately smoked was she.

Those are my favorite lines from dual Caldecott Medalist Chris Rachka’s Arlene Sardine. When this story, about a little fish who wants to be a sardine, was published way back in 1998 it created a fair amount of controversy given the fact that the title character dies mid-way though the book. Some thought it hilarious (count me among them), some thought it dreadful, and some were simply perplexed. (You can listen to Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon read and discuss it here and you can see several pages of the book by clicking on Amazon’s Look Inside feature.) I adore it partly, no doubt, due to having seen Chris do his puppet show version where he blew powder over the can for the lines above and involved the audience which delighted the children, as you can imagine. But I also love the art work and the smart, witty, and spare text. For me, it is part of a genre of subversive children’s books that we adults can never quite figure out — are they meant to be straight serious or straight humorous?  Strewelpeter very much fits this tradition for me; I see both books as tongue-in-cheek funny as well as meant to get readers thinking. In the case of Arlene Sardine I’d say the thinking part is about death and about our food. Chris has explained that the genesis of the book came from his eating sardines and wondering how they ended up in the can. Seems to me we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think kids wonder about that too.


In the Classroom: Chris Rashka

Deliciously Demented Books

Pets and Other Fishy Books (This is an article I did for Horn Book in which, among other things, I describe a class of mine not getting Arlene Sardine. Classes since then have loved it in the same way they love the snipping of the bunny tails in Bunny Days and other such books. More on my thoughts as to why here.)

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Interview with Chris Rashka

Chris Raschka and His Round-the-World Sardine “Arlene” (Found in the comments to this post. Pinkwater weighs in too.)


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ALA Moments 3

This is really a coda featuring Long Beach Airport, an unusually small airport given its proximity to Los Angeles. That is, somehow you just don’t expect something that has the feel of the tropics more than that of the airport of media moguls and the like.

The afternoon before we left I stopped by the Hilton cab stand to check about when we needed to leave for the airport. A tall dud (he epitomized that term) in a black suit and an earpiece immediately told me I could “arrange” for a cab for the next morning. After some unintelligible talk of freeway numbers we scheduled things and I smugly took off and told my roommate that I’d gotten everything ready. Long story short — we figured out he was not legit, cancelled, and took a regular cab. The thing was sketchy from the get go (he fumbled about claiming to be looking for his badge when I wondered if he was a  Hilton staffer) and being a veteran traveler who is usually hyper vigilant about scams I’m  still red-faced at having been so gullible.

At the airport I ran into Lane Smith who was waiting for the same flight and we hung out together. Lane and I first met many, many years ago when I tagged along with a 4th grade student of mine to his then-in-NYC-studio where she interviewed him for a little self-published newspaper of hers. If you like Lane’s work, especially the more subversive stuff and don’t know it yet, do check out his Curious Pages. On the plane he gave Roxanne a delightful drawing for her daughter drawn on a barf bag (how’s that for alliteration?).

What else? For days I (and many others) had been seeing #printzaccordian tweets from Victoria Stapleton related to the accordion she was literally lugging cross-country for Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman’s Printz speech.  Much as I wanted to see the actual speech I wanted more to spend some time with far-flung friends so had to miss what I heard was a fantastic evening.  But then at the airport, there was stalwart Victoria and the accordion.  And here is my final shot of her at JFK, shortly before the accordion headed to Brooklyn and the hashtag to oblivion, no doubt to Victoria’s pleasure — that instrument is heavy!


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ALA Moments 2

Was surprised by how much I enjoyed the readers’ theater at Scholastic’s Sunday Brunch.  The deal is that a group of writers each present a snippet of each of their books. This time I learned that Sharon Flake can do some very convincing wiggles, Sharon Cameron‘s got  loads of good humor, David Shannon is ready to try out for High School Musical, Trent Reedy can do earnest with great conviction, Raina Telgemeier acts with her whole body, Eliot Schrefer is most convincing, and James Dashner can pull off every sort of British accent from cockney to Downton Abbey.  Great fun!

Then I was on to an S &S illustrators lunch where Raul Colon spoke of how he managed to work nonstop for days to complete the illustrations for Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless the Troops, Denise Fleming spoke of her fascinating process making paper for underGround, Loren Long spoke of his development of the small bat character in Nightsong, Ashley Wolff spoke of her printmaking process for Baby Bear Sees Blue, and Peter Brown showed how he developed his art for Creepy Carrots!.  Fascinating stuff.

Then on to a very good panel on the New Nonfiction where there was plenty of passion and conversation.  Panelists included my good friends Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt (of Heavy Medal fame), Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Then it was time for the one and only Newbery Caldcott Banquet where Chris Rashka and Jack Gantos gave splendid speeches. If you get a chance, be sure to read and view them. Both were so heartfelt and genuine while also very much the sum total of each man, Chris’ being pensive and intriguing while Jack’s was outrageous at moments (as in his books), funny, and caring.  What a great night (even if my dessert was brought to my table and removed before I ever saw it. Darn you, Marriott servers!).

On Monday I went to the ALSC awards, had lunch with the delightful Lisa Brown, and a giddy (as we were so overtired by then) dinner with Starr LaTronica, Linda Perkins, Nina Lindsay, Roxanne Feldman, and Melissa Sweet (who did something way, way too kind at the end — we seriously owe her).

Now it is Tuesday morning and I need to get up and get ready to fly home.  Thanks once again to all the publishers for hosting me at so many wonderful events. Great, great conference!


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ALA Moments 1

Went to Disneyland for the first time ever four years ago so this time I had some sense of what to expect.  We started in Fantasyland intending to do a few story rides. Got to the Alice one only to hear them announce that there was a problem and those on the ride should just relax as it would be repaired in 30 minutes. 30 minutes!  That meant a lot of very small children in very dark tunnels in very small vehicles.  We turned and did Small World instead. Came back later and did Alice, Peter Pan, and Toad.  Had a very relaxing lunch of fake BBQ and watched fake cowboys yodel (sort of). Pet a donkey and a horse. Relaxed at a fake New Orleans square (remembering we’d been at the real thing a year ago) and then went on the more eye-opening of all rides — the Jungle Cruise.  Scary headhunters shaking spears along with roaring animals. Really?  In 2012?

Delightful dinner at Catal Restaurant with Chronicle celebrating author Ellis Weiner and his new book The Templeton Twins.  Great food and conversation — Ellis wrote for National Lampoon and Spy Magazine back in the day and it was a lot of fun to reminisce about those iconic publications. Ended the evening at Macmillan’s dessert reception and saw lots of folks.

Garth Nix was very gracious as I gushed over him at the HarperCollins breakfast. May I now take a moment to recommend A Confusion of Princes — an extremely entertaining romp of a space opera.

Top secret meeting about the 2013 SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books….shhh.

Outstanding presentations at a Penguin lunch for Middle Grade Readers. Four authors spoke, three of them discussing their process with their editors.  Excellent — more of these sorts of things, please. The authors were: Adam Gidwitz (In a Glass Grimmly)  Sheila Turnage (Three Times Lucky), Sheila O’Connnor (Keeping Safe Stars), and Joan Bauer (Almost Home).

A wonderful reunion with Laura Amy Schlitz, some of her Candlewick peeps, and a healthy number of my fellow 2008 Newbery Committee members.

Met Tao Nyeu at Penguin’s cocktail party and was able to let her know how much I and my fourth graders adore her books.  Bunny Days was a touchstone book for them, but I think her new friendship book, Squid and Octopus may be its equal.  Hurray to those boots, socks, and mittens!

And then there was Little Brown’s dinner with …. the truly one and only Lemony Snicket, or rather his representative, Daniel Handler.  Managed to spill red wine all over the white table cloth (but fortunately not on anyone), converse with the always-witty Mr. Handler and his delightful wife Lisa Brown, and had an overall wonderful time.  Can’t wait for the new book, Who Could That Be at This Hour?

Got to hold William Joyce’s Oscar (it is heavy!) at S &S’s dessert reception and express my love of Fake Mustache to Tom Angleberger.

Thanks to all the publishers and friends for such a great time so far.  Now on to Sunday.  Jack Gantos and Chris Raschka await!

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More Regarding Maurice Sendak

Only a few people have been both great writers and great illustrators of children’s books. In the nineteenth century there was Edward Lear, and in the twentieth Dr. Seuss and—perhaps the most gifted of them all—Maurice Sendak, who died in May at the age of eighty-three.

Alison Lurie is her usual perceptive self in “Something Out of Almost Nothing” at the NYRB.

And then here is a reading of Where the Wild Things Are that I hadn’t seen recently (say since the episode originally ran, to be honest).  Via Michael Patrick Hearn.

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In the Classroom: Why I Teach

School ended last week. Now I’m what tends to be termed a “veteran” classroom teacher. That is, I’ve been in the classroom since the mid 1970s. Many years. Decades in fact. Happily, unlike many of my generation, I’m not the slightest bit burnt out. I still love teaching. I love classroom teaching. I love spending a year with a group of children, helping them grow and learn, inspiring them and having them inspire me.

This is no doubt partly because I teach at a private school not under the yoke of government mandates. A place where I can be creative and not be oppressed by tests, standards, and other outside demands. Ironically, I had every intention of teaching in public schools at the start of my career, having attended them myself, but there were no jobs available. (Instead there was that iconic New York Post headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead“)  And so I grabbed a position at a failing private school, moved to a better one for a few years, and eventually landed at where I’ve been for almost thirty years now. I have to wonder where I’d be if I’d been in public schools — perhaps not in the classroom any more, maybe doing something else, maybe thinking retirement. Kudos to those who do continue the good fight after decades in public schools — from what I know I’m not sure I could do it.

This school year was a challenging one for me for non-school reasons and so I wondered if I’d been as successful with my class as I’d liked. Happily, the comments and notes  that I received last week reassured me that I had nothing to worry about.

But the best thing that happened was at graduation. We are a K-12 private school and so faculty from all levels are encouraged to attend. Some years families and graduates are touched to see me and other years they seem to have forgotten me. I mean, 4th grade is a long way from 12th after all. This year it was the former. So many families and kids reminiscing about their time with me. One in particular. This was a young person who had been a major presence that year and thereafter for others as well.  Eccentric and intense, I’d adored him.  And as he made his way through the school I would see him occasionally and hear about him through others. Last week he was in the front row in graduation facing me and I wondered what he was thinking. Afterwards I wandered about trying to find my old students and their families. I’d given up on finding this student and was about to leave when suddenly there he was, right in front of me. “I have been looking everywhere for you!” he declared. And with that we hugged and talked about his time in my classroom so many years ago. We talked about things he’d love then, still loved, and was going ahead to learn more about in college. It was wonderful. Clearly I’d had something to do with his learning; I was remembered as a significant teacher; I had done well with him. This, I thought, is why I teach.


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On Father’s Day I think of mine…

educating alice

My father, who passed away three years ago, continues to be a major inspiration for me.  In honor of him and the day here is a post from a few years back that captures a tiny bit of what he was all about.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1922, my father Lewis J. Edinger fled with his mother to America at the age of fourteen; his father chose to stay, hoping to ride things out, but was deported and killed. Years later, as a newly minted PhD, my father took whatever jobs he could find; one of those was in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of the bus boycott.  I was reminded of this at yesterday’s event with Claudette Colvin and so here are some excerpts from my father’s memoir about that time in his life.

I got my haircuts at Maxwell Air Force Base from a black barber with…

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