Monthly Archives: April 2013

Coming Soon: Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk


After receiving an advance reader’s copy of Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk, I asked my class if they’d like me to read it aloud. Now keep in mind that while Neil Gaiman may have a huge adult fan base, he isn’t particularly well-known among young kids. Actually, I’d say he isn’t known at all. My 4th grade students were way too young when The Graveyard Book won the Newbery. As for Coraline which is even older, a couple said they’d found the movie scary and none knew the book. And so they were wary. At their request I read aloud the flap copy which intrigued them and so they decided I could proceed.

The author rightly describes the story as “very silly.” That it is! The basic premise is that a father goes out to get some milk for his children’s cereal and has a spot of trouble ….well, quite a bit of trouble to be honest…before making it home. There are dinosaurs (and I was very appreciative of those students who helped me to correctly pronounce their names), bodily fluids, a Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier, wumpires, aliens, and a very intrepid dad.

The class really liked it. Many of them really, really liked it! Enough to beg me to read more and more of it over the next few days until I was done. (It was a quick read — I believe it took three or four sessions to finish it.) I had thought it might be a little young for them, but I was wrong. In fact, this shaggy dog of a tale ended up being perfectly calibrated to read aloud to nine and ten-year-olds. Not that they would notice or care, but it felt a bit in the tradition, humor-wise, of Dr. Who, Douglas Adams, or Terry Pratchett while being very much its own thing.

I tweeted to Neil that I was reading it and he asked if they were laughing and I was able to assure him that they were. There were chortles, snorts, and bursts of glee. And so I can say for sure that it is loads of fun. (And this was without the art as the ARC has mostly sketches.) For some enthusiastic student responses please go here.



Filed under Fantasy, Neil Gaiman

Jane Adams Children’s Book Awards

I was thrilled to see that two of my favorite books from 2012 have won the 2013 Jane Adams Children’s Book Awards: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by E. B. Lewis and We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson.  Great honor books too. Congratulations to all!

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Old Cult Movies

I’m fascinated by how and which films and filmmakers become underground hits. That is, not mainstream movies generally, but indies and such that become embraced and then recommended and screened in off-beat places.  For example, decades back when I was at Columbia, there was an organization that showed weekly art movies (the organization had a name that had something to do with a zoopraxiscope, but I can’t remember exactly what it was).  I recall Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s bizzare Un Chien Andalou, Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, Tod Browing’s Freaks, and Philip de Broca’s King of Hearts.  There were other cultish movies out and about at the time that I avoided because I suspected I couldn’t take their creepiness, say David Lynch’s Eraserhead, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, and Alejandro Jodorwsky’s El Topo.  It took me a while to finally attend a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Pictureshow, but I must say I had a great time when I did.

One of my personal favorites is Lindsay Anderson’s  If… (you can read a bit more about my feelings about it here) and I was thrilled to see that it seems to be a favorite of Neil Gaiman’s too as it is one of the films he has selected to screen in a brief series he and his wife Amanda Palmer are doing. And was further tickled to see that she had selected King of Hearts. I haven’t see it in years and wonder how I’d respond to it today.  I have seen If.. and still love it (partly…er…mainly…because of the young Malcolm McDowell), but do wonder how others will respond to it today what with the horror of school shootings.

What  movies speak to you this way?  I’m suspecting the films of John Hughes, perhaps?  Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings?  I’m curious.


Filed under Film, Movies

The Brilliant E. L. Konigsburg

Claudia, so completely prepared, and  Jamie, so careful with the budget.  They are still and will always be two shrewd suburban kids who run away to a timeless Metropolitan Museum of Art to bathe in its elegant pool and sleep in its famous historical bed while investigating the mystery of the angel in the remarkable children’s book  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  This American classic was penned by the wonderful writer E. L. Konigsburg who passed away this past week.

While she is probably best known for that marvelous story of two resourceful siblings in a New York City museum, Konigsburg wrote many other books for children, often featuring art and history. She is the only person to have won a Newbery medal (for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) and Newbery honor (for her first book  Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth) in the same year, 1967.  She received another Newbery Medal in 1997 for The View from Saturday.

I was fortunate enough to meet Mrs. Konigsburg a few times. My favorite memory of these was at a late evening drinks reception where I sat with her and a handful of others on bar stools around a small high table, quite starry-eyed to be included.  She was definitely one of the classiest and smartest people I have ever read or met and I hope that her books will continue to provide the same intellectual and aesthetic pleasure for others that they have for me.


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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Musical

I wrote my first post about the Matilda musical back in 2010 right before the original RSC production opened — the various videos and the RSC trailer (on my post) had me smitten and so the first thing I did when finalizing a trip to London last August was to get a ticket to the London production.  Now  I’m planning another summer trip to London and. while it is still all very mysterious, I’m planning on getting tickets to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical, which begins previews next month.  Why?  First of all, Sam Mendes is directing and he did one of the most memorable shows I ever saw, a production of Cabaret with Alan Cummings as the MC and Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles.  The rest of the creative team looks impressive too, say the choreographer Peter Darling who also did Matilda and Billy Eliot. The recently released teaser trailer below is just that, a tease, with no sense of anything at all.

A little more poking around and I found a British Vogue article with costume sketches by Mark Thompson.

He admits that creating the costumes for the oompa loompas was the biggest challenge.

“I can’t tell you why yet, but there is a lot of puppetry involved,” he said. “It’s about tricks of the eye. The whole thing has a feeling of yesterday, but there’s no specific time or period. I don’t know if I’ve captured the whimsical, magical nature of the plot yet – we’ll have to see how it’s received, but I have worked at capturing the wit of it all.”

That’s it so far!


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The Thing About Voice

At its core, writing is about cutting beneath every social expectation to get to the voice you have when no one is listening. It’s about finding something true, the voice that lies beneath all words. But the paradox of writing is that everyone at her desk finds that the stunning passage written in the morning seems flat three hours later, and by the time it’s rewritten, the original version will look dazzling again. Our moods, our beings are as changeable as the sky (long hours at any writing project teach us), so we can no longer trust any one voice as definitive or lasting.

From Pico Iyer’s thoughtful essay, “Voices Inside Their Heads.”

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The Picture This! Festival

For those in the New York City area, the French Consulate has a wonderful festival underway celebrating creators of book art.  Upcoming events include:

Alex Alice & Ron Wimberly

Dates: April 15, 2013 | 6 pm

Place: Columbia University Butler Library (Room 523)

Alex Alice and Ron Wimberly are graphic novelists who retell classic stories in contemporary comic book style. Join these two pop culture savvy storytellers for a conversation at Columbia University’s Butler Library.

Boulet & Gabrielle Bell

Dates: April 25, 2013 | 6:30pm
Place: Society of Illustrators

With a good mix of humor and pathos, Boulet and Gabrielle Bell both write webcomics inspired by anecdotes from their own daily lives. These short stories take on society and contemporary life, travels, travails, and preoccupations.  Sit down with these witty and incisive authors at the Society of Illustrators for a conversation moderated by Karen Green, graphic novel librarian at Butler Library – Columbia University.

Olivier Tallec & Oliver Jeffers

Dates: May 1, 2013 | 6pm
Place: NYPL, Berger Forum

Olivier Tallec and Oliver Jeffers are both avid world travelers and authors whose bold and colorful children’s books are bestsellers in the US. Join them for an animated conversation at the New York Public Library, moderated by Pamela Paul, Children’s Book Editor of the New York Times Book Review.

Blutch & David Mazzucchelli

Dates: May 7, 2013
Place: McNally Jackson Books

Blutch and David Mazzuchelli are creative chameleons whose books weave together story, formal play and lush colors. So it’s no wonder Mazzuchelli was chosen to design the cover for the American edition of Blutch’s So Long Silver Screen (PictureBox, May 2013). These masters of contemporary cartooning will meet face to face for a conversation at McNally Jackson.

Antoine Guilloppé & Istvan Banyai

Dates: May 13, 2013
Place: School of Visual Arts Theatre

Antoine Guilloppé and Istvan Banyai transform each page of their books into a fully realized scene by playing with light and shadow. Their work carefully considers the medium of the page and pushes its boundaries. Step outside the book with these two authors for a lively conversation at the School of Visual Arts Theatre with children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus.

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The Watsons Go to Birmingham starts filming

The Hallmark Channel this week began production of a civil rights era film “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” in Atlanta for a 19-day shoot.

The film, based on a 1995 historical fiction novel of the same name by Christopher Paul Curtis, was created byNikki Silver and Tonya Lewis Lee, Spike Lee’s wife. Lee also wrote the script and spent nine years trying to get it to air.

Atlanta’s acclaimed Kenny Leon will direct, as he did last year’s “Steel Magnolias” remake for Lifetime. Walmart and P&G are co-sponsoring the film.

More in this accessatlanta article (via @randomhouse)


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Congratulations to New New York Times Book Review Editor, Pamela Paul

I was delighted to see yesterday’s announcement that Pamela Paul was assuming the editorship of the New York Times Book Review.  Two years ago she became the children’s books editor and,  knowing many would be curious about her as she was coming from outside the children’s literature world,  I interviewed her for a blog profile, beginning:

Recently, Pamela Paul, the new children’s book editor at The New York Times Book Review chatted with me about her background, books, and some of her plans. In the course of our communications, Pamela asked me how I found the time to blog as a full-time teacher and I responded that I wondered the same about her. The author of three well-received books, and articles for a variety of publications including The EconomistTime Magazine as well as the New York Times, Pamela is also the mother of three very young children. Count me as impressed.

Count me as even more impressed two years later. Pamela has done so much for the world of children’s books — introducing weekly online picture book reviews, expanding the scope of books reviewed, adding in special sections such as one on Back to School books, upping the number of the Times’  yearly notable children’s books, and more.  In the midst of this exciting work, she expanded to features editor and continued to write articles on a variety of topics for the Times and elsewhere. Pamela is smart, thoughtful, a terrific editor from the point of view of a reviewer, and I can’t wait to see what she does in this new role.

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Remembering the Holocaust Through My Family

Last week I applied to have my German citizenship restored.  This is because I would be German if not for the Holocaust. That is, everyone in the generations before me on both my mother and father’s sides were German and Jewish. Some of them stayed and survived for various reasons (say because their ancestors had converted a few generations earlier and according to the various rules of the Nazis they were no longer Jewish), some (my grandfather for one) were killed, and some left in time for Brazil, Israel, England, and the United States.

So I’ve provided the necessary documentation and expect to get my German citizenship before long.  Why?  It may surprise some, but I feel very German. I was raised with German food, German activities, and so forth.  My father was a specialist in German politics and I spent a lot of time in Germany (years, in fact) as a child. I speak German fluently. My family was assimilated and so I have German relatives who are Christian because their ancestors converted and in 2005 I met many of them for the first time when the University of Frankfurt celebrated my great-grandfather who was a famous brain specialist and started the Edinger Institut there. As for my mother’s family, they were from Berlin and managed to get out so late because of our cousin Lotte Passer who was already in London. Lotte died last month at the age of 99.  You can see a moving interview with her here.  I’ve always been fascinated that my parents were interned as enemy aliens on the Isle of Man because England was at war with German and they were, after all, German. Another cousin Werner Isler, came to the States. An avid music lover, he passed away last month as well; you can hear his lovely piano playing here.

Over the years I’ve done many posts related to the Holocaust. Here are a few of them:


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