Monthly Archives: May 2013

Queen for a Day

Africa is My Home isn’t out till October, but marketing and publicity for it revved up yesterday with Candlewick featuring it at their NYC fall preview and having me do a signing of advance copies at BEA.

I’ve been going to various publisher previews for years, but not as a featured author!  It was strange and wonderful.  They saved Africa for last and my editor Sarah Ketchersid did a wonderful job presenting it. After that I spoke a bit, several attendees who have been part of my long journey to publication did too and there was applause and a few tears, not all of them mine. I will say again, it has been a very long road to get here and I will never be able to thank enough all those who were there along the way.

Sarah and I then zipped over to the Javits Center. She went to meetings and I went to wander the exhibits until it was time for my signing. I’d been to BEA a few years ago, but it sure has changed since then in that most of the bigger publishers no longer have any books on display. That was mighty strange, but I’m not a bookseller so perhaps this works better for them and the convention is for them, after all, not for the likes of me. I happily spent time at some smaller publishers who DID have physical books on hand.

And then it was time for my signing. I arrived at Candlewick’s booth to discover this big poster:


They asked me what sort of pen I wanted to sign with and provided me with an assortment to choose from. Then the line began to form…


and I began to sign. And sign. And sign. I was incredibly touched by those I knew who came, but the majority were people I didn’t know at all. And many of them said such kind things about the book and the idea of the book. I so didn’t expect many to come to this signing so I was overwhelmed and very, very happy!


Thank you, Candlewick, for my day as queen!



Filed under Africa, Africa is My Home

SLJ’s Day of Dialog 2013

I had an excellent time at SLJ’s Day of Dialog yesterday. First of all, it was held at Columbia University’s Faculty House, a place familiar to me as my father was a professor at Columbia. And, another plus is that I live within walking distance. (Though it felt a very l-o-n-g distance walking home with a large bag o’ books at the end of the day.)

Secondly, and most importantly, all the speakers were outstanding.

The day opened with a keynote by the distinguished Kevin Henkes. Moving, smart, and  great start to the day.  And because I have already marked Penny and her Marble as one of my Newbery druthers (as Kevin nails the emotion in absolutely pitch perfect prose) and because his new book is The Year of Billy Miller*, I tweeted (as did others as it wasn’t particularly original):

The first panel of the day was on Informational Picture Books, moderated by my old friend Kathy T. Isaacs (who has a great book on information picture books) with Jim Arnosky,  Jennifer Berne, Elisha Cooper, and Jonah Winter. (A couple of my tweets:

  • @medinger I agree with Jonah Winter on the need to leave out, combine, etc etc. in inf pb.
  • @medinger Again, feel we need a genre that is in the borderland of fiction/nonfiction for this.

Caroline Ward moderated a panel on middle school (not, I should point out, middle GRADE) books with Ayun Halliday, Josh Farrar, Gordon Korman, Holly Sloan, and Linda Urban.  Afterwards I chatted with them during the break and my day was made by a complement Linda made about this blog. So, thank you, Linda!

Lunch was with Elizabeth Wein. We’d met years and years ago at a conference, but not since and given my admiration for Code Name Verity and the forthcoming Rose Under Fire, it was fantastic to have a solid amount of time to talk.

The post-lunch talk was by Holly Black and was fantastic!  I don’t believe I’d ever heard her speak before and I would run now to any chance to do so again. Some tweets:

  • @medinger Holly Black is incredibly brave to read a 7th grade poem of hers featuring her beloved vampires. “teeth and teeth…”
  • @medinger Holly Black now working on a fairy book, something about darkness and forest.
  • @medinger Holly recommends  for secret stuff.

Then Karyn Silverman (of this fantastic blog) moderated a panel on Real-World Horror in YA with Julie Berry, Adele Griffin, Elizabeth Scott, Matthew Quick, and Elizabeth Wein.  It was excellent (and I’m not generally a fan of this to be honest). Some tweets:

The final panel of the day was on Visual Storytelling moderated by Rita Auerbach and featuring Lizi Boyd, Oliver Jeffers, Matt Phelan, Chris Raschka, and David Wiesner.  My final tweets:
  • medinger Rilke from Lizi Boyd and true stories (embellished perhaps) from Oliver Jeffers begins the Visual Storytelling panel.
  • @medinger @MattPhelanDraws on the power of “silent panels.”
  • ‏@medinger @MattPhelanDraws now on graphic novels, “…economy and precision…pacing that you inspire in the reader.”
  • @medinger Chris Raschka mentions a study that indicated that wordless picture books improve child’s vocabulary.
  • @medinger “Every inch of the book can be used.” says David Wiesner.
  •  ‏@medinger David Wiesner** uses borders to differentiate aspects of the Mr. Wuffles! story
  • @medinger David Wiesner** asks a great question: Is Mr. Wuffles! really a wordless pb since there is alien language after all?
Excellent, excellent day!  Thank you to everyone at SLJ who worked on this.

*Keep calling it The Year of Billy Martin. Sigh.

** To be brutally honest I misspelled it as Weisner. Double sigh.  (Managed to misspell another author’s name earlier yesterday as well.)

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Nimble Artistes

I was one of the fortunate 100 who recently received a brown paper package tied up with string and was completely charmed by both the handmade nature of the mailing and the enclosed book, Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall‘s The Mighty Lalouche.  A longtime fan of Blackall (going all the way back to her  hilarious collaboration with Meg Rosoff, Meet Wild Boars) I was delighted with this elegant Cinderella story of a mild mailman who became a celebrated boxer.

Yesterday I read it aloud to my 4th grade class and was pleased that they enjoyed it too. So first of all, to those who wonder if it is a book with a too adult sensibility, I can say that these ten-year-olds were captivated by the story and the art. But sometime else occurred to us as we enjoyed the story — something no doubt very particular to us.  And that is how much the images and verbal descriptions of the small and speedy boxer Lalouche reminded us of Charlie Chaplin (with whom, for those who don’t know, I’m a bit…er.. obsessed). Chaplin was incredibly capable on his feet too. He could dodge, feint, and dance around his opponents with an elegance and speed that seems not unlike that of the Lalouche of Blackall and Olshan. Not only did he do that in just about every one of his silent comedies, but he actually ended up in a few boxing rings. Perhaps most famously in City Lights, but also in an earlier short, The Champion.  Take a look below (start at 2:58 for his ring performance) and see if you can see any similarities between the Little Tramp and the Little Lalouche.

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Africa is My Home: The Cover! The Book Trailer!

While I can’t show you Robert Byrd‘s gorgeous interior art for Africa is My Home (coming out this fall from Candlewick), I can show you the cover in the following book trailer. And if you are at BEA, do stop by Candlewick’s booth for a more comprehensive look or, even better, come to my Thursday 3:30 signing of lithos (stapled F&Gs) of the complete 64 page book. (ETA: if the following intrigues you, the book is available for preorder hereherehere, or at your favorite local bookstore.)


Filed under Africa, Africa is My Home

Joydeb Chitrakar and Gita Wolf’s The Enduring Ark from Tara Books

After seeing many tantalizing mentions of Tara Books over the last few years, I was delighted to receive Joydeb Chitrakar and Gita Wolf’s The Enduring Ark and get a firsthand look at one of their creations.

It is said from time to time, the world is re-made. Ancient stories talk of an age when a huge flood destroyed the earth, leaving nothing behind. … You may have heard it before, but great tales must be retold – and so I will tell it now in my way, as I have heard it said.

So begins Gita Wolf in her version of that old story in The Enduring Ark, but even before we read this text we’ve seen a huge eye seemingly merging into water signaling to us that this will be a retelling like no other. That is because of the unique accordian-style book making and Joydeb Chitrakar’s vivid illustrations done in the West Bengali Patua style of scroll painting. Readers can immerse themselves in Wolf and Chitrakar’s intertwined words and art by conventionally turning the pages or by opening the book to view them all at once. Water flows through the book from that first enormous eye of warning, tinkling through the gentle stream at Noah’s home, on as he collects his creatures, rising with the flood, and ending with the water merging with a rainbow of hope. The Enduring Ark is a spectacularly gorgeous book, one well worth reading again and again.

Enduring Ark_0005

Enduring Ark_0002

And Tara Books is a remarkable publisher, a co-operative founded by writers and designers and committed to feminist and egalitarian principles and gorgeous visual bookmaking. Based in Chennai, South India, many of their books are completely handmade and they are focused on celebrating the range of Indian art. For a fascinating look at how their books are made and more I recommend taking a look at their blog.


Filed under Art, Children's Literature, Picture Books

BEA and Me (Signing AFRICA IS MY HOME)

BEA is, as many know, the premier bookseller trade show, which has been held in NYC for the last few years. Years ago I made it to the floor and remember it as incredibly big and wild, getting coveted ARCs, crazy guys in costumes promoting books, tasty treats, swag, and being completely blown away by it all.

And so when Candlewick contacted me about doing a signing for my forthcoming book at this year’s show I was thrilled and nervous. Thrilled, as it is making the long road to publication real, and nervous, as I remembered that autographing hall full of long lines for the famous and the rest just…er…sitting there. Fortunately, I’m doing an in-booth signing rather than one in that intimidating autographing area and will be supported by all the great Candlewick books and folk. And so for anyone who might be there, I will be signing on Thursday at 3:30 stapled full-color F & Gs of the 64 page book.

Finally, I have to say that seeing my name on the BEA website is very, very cool!



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Coming Soon from Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers: Battle Bunny


I am a big fan of subversive books, say the “recommended inappropriate books for kids” featured in Lane Smith’s Curious Pages.  That said, I also have observed that kids respond better to some of these more than others, an issue I explored years ago in a Horn Book article “Pets and Other Fishy Books.” So when I ran into Jon Scieszka a few months ago and he excitedly told me about the forthcoming Battle Bunny, I was intrigued but also wary — was this a book kids would get or would it be something more amusing for adults? Then an advanced copy of the book showed up in the mail and I took it to school to see what my students thought.

First of all, let me try to explain just what it is (and how tricky it was to read aloud). If you look at the cover above you can perhaps see that it appears to be a sweet book of the Golden Book sort, originally titled Birthday Bunny, that has been erased, scribbled on, and reworked by…someone. I began by showing the cover to the kids and we discussed what that original book was; some of them knew Golden Books, but all of them appreciated that it was meant to be one of those sweet little journey books they’d all read when very small. Next we explored the scribbles — evidently someone named Alex had received the book from his grandmother for his birthday (there is an inscription on the inside front cover), wasn’t too happy, and decided to make it into a completely new story. And so he thoroughly erased the original title and put his own in instead. As for the interior, he crossed-out text, added new words and art, and turns the story into something completely different.  

The first day I tried reading the book aloud on my own— alternating between the original text and Alex’s. The next day I invited one child to join me, reading Alex’s story and then had the kids take over completely — one reading Birthday Bunny and the other reading Battle Bunny. They had a great time!  It may well be that the best way to take in the book is solo or with one other child, but I still think it was a blast to read this way. The group reacted, pointed out small things to one another, and just had a lot of fun. Jon tells me they are planning on providing a copy of The Birthday Bunny online for kids to print out and rework just as Alex did.  Great idea!

So for those like me who go for this sort of thing (and not everyone does, I know),  Battle Bunny is an excellent addition to the world of subversive books for children.


Filed under Children's Literature, Classic, Picture Books, Reading Aloud, Review

Posting the Old-Fashioned Way

Betsy Bird has a charming contest inspired by Sophie Blackall’s remarkable mailing, of hers and Matthew Olshan’s book The Mighty Laloucheto a bunch of folks in the old-fashioned way — wrapped in brown paper with string accompanied with a letter sealed with wax. Having received one of these lovely, lovely packages I’m not going to participate in Betsy’s contest, but urge others to do so. And even if you don’t wish to do so, I highly recommend reading the contributions there already. They are varied and all so moving!

My own memories of packages are many. First of all, as a child living in East Lansing, Michigan where my father was a young professor, I recall the periodic packages that would come from my grandfather in New York City, filled with food that my parents loved and could not find in the Midwest — largely German as that is what they were.  And then there were the packages my parents sent to me when I was in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone in the 1970s. I think there was also food in those, but most of all I remember toothpaste, the brand I liked which was unavailable in Freetown.

I need to ask my 4th grade students about their experiences with packages. Maybe at camp?  Certainly, they aren’t receiving letters the way I did as a child.


Filed under Picture Books

Children’s Book Art Online Auction


The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, an organization committed to fighting censorship, will be holding its 19th annual Children’s Book Art Auction at BEA, an event that is always a highlight for attendees, on Wednesday, May 29th. In addition to their wonderful array of offerings, they are having a special Maurice Sendak Memorial with artists paying homage to the great American artist.

And this year, they’ve something new: an online auction for those who can’t come to the live one in person. It begins this coming Sunday, May 18th, and runs for a week. You can preview the art here.  I’ve always heard of booksellers’ excitement about purchasing original art at the auction and now the public can too!

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My NYT review of Shirley Hughes’s Hero on a Bicycle

Historical fiction has an interesting place in the world of children’s literature. Regularly celebrated by adults with awards like the Newbery, these books nonetheless raise the question of whether the intended audience feels the same enthusiasm. What I’ve observed as a classroom teacher is that while not in the multitudes that flock to the goofy fun of Wimpy Kid or the wild fantasies of Percy Jackson, there are still plenty of young readers who can’t get enough of the past.

Those among them who find the excitement and anguish of World War II especially fascinating, along with others who enjoy a gripping wartime tale whatever the time period, are going to relish Shirley Hughes’s realistic adventure, “Hero on a Bicycle.” A much-lauded British creator of picture books like the Alfie series, the octogenarian Hughes was inspired to write this historical novel for older children by a family she met during a postwar visit to Italy.

Read the whole review here.

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