Monthly Archives: July 2013


Just discovered that you can see several pages of Africa is My Home, the author’s note, and the selected sources page by clicking on Amazon’s Look Inside feature.  (For more about the book as well as a more detailed bibliography go here.)

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Thalia Book Club Camp

Here in New York City is a unique venue called Symphony Space where you can see a recording of Selected Shorts, go to a screening of the National Theater Live, watch dance and musical performances, and get involved with a range of educational activities.  They have a special commitment to children’s literature with awesome events and a very special summer camp — the Thalia Book Club Camp.  This is a summer program for kids who love to read and love books.  The activities are extraordinary. They take their campers on field trips — one last week was to Scholastic and another was to the Metropolitan Museum with George O’Connor (who does those terrific Greek god graphic novels). They have an author every day, not just talking about their books, but doing stuff with the kids too. Last week, for example, Laura Amy Schlitz got them started on shadow puppets and yesterday Chris Grabenstein did improv!

I visited last Friday and have to say I’d have been in heaven as a kid had I been able to do such a program. Each day is carefully organized, a nice mix of activities that get these book worms up and moving, creative opportunities, time to read, and time to listen and interact with a book creator. Writer Matthew Cody oversees the kids, suggesting fun activities, and keeping things moving along, assisted by a number of young adults.

Director of Education Madeline Cohen and the Director of Literary Programs Katherine Minton plan, prepare, and also are there with the kids. Madeline told me about some of her plans for their upcoming week for 12-14 year olds including a trip to the New York Public Library to see their wonderful exhibit, “The ABC of It.” Madeline visited and is preparing something to stimulate and engage the kids as they go through the exhibit.  She and Katherine also told me about the campers — some of whom come from all over, even overseas!

Their visitor on Friday was the award-winning nonfiction writer Steve Sheinken. In preparation the kids had read Lincoln’s Grave Robbers and done some historical picture research so they were primed when he began.  The children loved his stories about how he got into writing and the untold historical stories that he had come across and wanted to tell.  At the end he read a final section from the book involving a grave robbery and then the kids went off and wrote something taking off from it — one wrote from the point of view of a nearby dog, another from the corpse, and still another chose to do her scene as a comic.  They then headed off to lunch at nearby (and appropriate) Grant’s Tomb.

My great thanks to Katherine for inviting me to observe and kudos to all involved for a truly remarkable camp.  Do check out the camp blog for detailed posts about their days.


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Uma Krishnaswami’s The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

Divi is back in this sequel to the delightful middle grade novel,  The Grand Plan to Fix Everything She’s in DC briefly, after a year in India, for the American premier of the latest movie starring the irrepressible diva Dolly Singh, whom we first met in the first book. Of course, as in any Bollywood movie worth its salt, nothing goes as it should. Eager to see her best friend Maddy, Divi finds that someone new has arrived on the scene and wonders if they are still the BFF they were before she went away. Within hours of their arrival Dolly’s passport goes missing, not that she is worried. Nothing seems to faze that bubble-headed star! But Divi, Dolly’s new and adoring husband, and her morose and long-suffering agent are all kept on their toes trying to do what Dolly wants for the premier, say finding the right caterer, sufficient rose petals and an elephant. As in the first book, there are multiple plot threads that all come together in a very happy and celebratory ending complete with cake and dancing.  As charming as the first, I hope there are more to come!

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Happy 90th Birthday, Ashley Bryan!

Living in New York City as I do, I’m regularly invited to seasonal publisher previews. While these are centered around editors presenting upcoming books, sometimes there is a fun extra — an author or illustrator makes a brief and interesting presentation.  As enjoyable as these what happened yesterday at Simon & Schuster’s fall preview was pretty special for it began and ended with a celebration of Ashley Bryan whose 90th birthday was July 13th.

Ashley Bryan is absolutely one of the most remarkable, intelligent, creative, and kind people in the whole world (not just in our small children’s literature world).  I’ve been fortunate to know and have seen him at work with children (at my school where he used to teach and returns for visits) and with adults (most notably at the glorious CLNE children’s literature institutes). If you haven’t yet discovered his books, please seek them out as they are as special as special can be.  And if you have never seen Ashley present and an opportunity comes along — go, go go!

In 2009, as the winner of that year’s Wilder Medal given  to “…an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children,” Ashley followed that year’s Newbery and Caldecott winners at the Banquet with his speech — beginning as he always, always, ALWAYS does by inviting us to do a call and response of Langston Hughes’ “My People.” Now many in that audience knew that was going to happen, but not everyone. Certainly not Neil Gaiman, that year’s Newbery Medalist. And so being part of that recitation of “My People” while watching Gaiman’s delighted face is something I will never forget.  Nor will I forget yesterday’s celebration.

Ashley opened by having us (of course) recite “Our People” and then read his new book, Can’t Scare Me, with our involvement.  My friend and colleague Roxanne Feldman filmed a couple of minutes of this:

At the end of the morning, after the preview, Ashley returned with some of his friends and we celebrated his birthday with a big card we all had signed, poetry, singing,  and cake. What a special, special day.  Kudos to Simon & Schuster for doing this.

ashley, roxanne, and me


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Ms. Rowling Explains About Mr. Galbraith

I’m listening to Robert Galbraith’s Cuckoo’s Calling and enjoying it very much. And I’m one who absolutely loved that Rowling did this as she did. For those who want to know more from her about just why and how and so forth go to the Galbraith website  and scroll down to the FAQs.  Smart lady, that Ms. Rowling.

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In the Classroom: Authors as People

Two teachers in recent blog posts had some interesting points to make about meeting authors.

In “Fangirl” Donalyn Miller writes about often feeling starstruck when coming into contact with her favorite book creators.

Meeting authors isn’t like meeting Cameron Diaz to me—it’s like meeting Picasso. Writing is an art. Authors are artists—painting images with words, sculpting worlds to explore, evoking emotions that make me feel more alive. When you are a fan, reading is art appreciation.

In “Authors Demystified” Katherine Sokolowski writes movingly about how and why her meetings with Katherine Paterson were so special and distinctive from meeting other authors.

I think that when I was a kid authors were removed from us. I never for one moment believed that I could be one – that was something revered and special reserved for a chosen few. I didn’t know how you got to be that lucky, but knew that would never be in the cards for me.I didn’t know any authors. None ever came to the cornfields of Illinois so I assumed authors lived in magical worlds – or at least not rural towns like mine.
My entire goal as a teacher is to change this for my students. I want them to know authors, and illustrators, as I do. To demystify this profession. To make them cherish their words – and beautiful illustrations, but also see them as people.

Like Katherine I too did not meet any authors growing up. But I have to say I wasn’t  interested in them, just in their books. Say Madeleine L’Engle. In 5th grade I desperately wanted my own copy of  her now-rather-forgotten  And Both Were Young.  I was besotted with this teen novel which involved a Swiss boarding school (I’d spent time in European schools), a shy protagonist in a new school (I so identified with her having moved a lot), and a sweet romance. And so, after taking the book out of the library over and over, wanting to own it I started copying it out into a notebook, giving up after three chapters. (I don’t believe there was a bookstore in East Lansing with children’s books at that time, certainly the idea of buying it never occurred to me.) Yet for all my love of the book I never thought about its creator. Not once. Never thought to write a fan letter or find out anything about her.  

Things are different and the same today.  Different in that the Internet has made virtual connections between readers and book creators much more likely. As a result of my online connections I’ve met a number of book creators in real life and consider many of them friends. And so while I admire what they do I also think of them as regular people who have ups and downs in life as we all do. I want my own students who have access to information about authors in a way I never did to appreciate them as artists in the way Donalyn describes, but also to know that they are just real people as Katherine notes.

But what makes me happiest is what is still the same for my students — falling as deeply in love with a particular book as I did at their age. While they can easily get a copy and don’t have to resort to my crazy attempt to have my own, they still love books to tattered shreds, read them over and over just as I did.  Sometimes I’ll suggest to such a kid that they might want to write to the author, but generally they aren’t interested. They just care about the book.



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How To Promote your Book While Using a Pseudonym

I just finished reading an article related to the recent revelations about the author of  The Cuckoo’s Calling, and was amused by Jody Picout’s comment:  “She wouldn’t have been able to go out and promote the book.”   But, taking a cue from Lemony Snicket and Daniel Handler, maybe she could.

Scene: the event section of a book store.  There is a happy buzz as an enthusiastic crowd of mystery readers wait  for the author, a debut writer, to arrive.  Their conversations are about the writer’s intriguing background, how much they enjoyed the book, and what might be next for him.  The book store owner comes to the front and the crowd stops their discussion to look expectantly at him.

“I am delighted you are all here tonight. I have bad news and good news.  The bad news is that Mr. Gailbraith is unable to attend tonight (groans and cries of dismay from the crowd).  The good news is his representative Ms. R. is here in his stead. “

There is stunned silence from the crowd as an attractive blonde woman makes her way to the front. “I am so sorry that Mr. Gailbraith couldn’t be here. His current work as an independent contractor in civilian security means that his safety and that of his clients could be compromised if he was seen here. However, I am very close to him and can answer any questions you might have about him.  You sir, in the first row.”

“What are Mr. Gailbraith’s favorite books?”

“Well, he likes a great variety — mysteries (of course), thrillers, classics, and even children’s books.  A book he recently read and enjoyed was  “The Vanishing Point” by Val McDermid.”

“Where does Mr. Gailbraith get his ideas?”

They pop into his head on long train journeys.”

Has he read Harry Potter?

“I believe his children have. He was overseas when the final book came out though so I don’t know if how he felt about the ending.”

The bookstore owner comes back.  “Thank you for those questions. Ms. R will now sign books on behalf of Mr. Gailbraith.  She will ONLY sign The Cuckoo’s Calling — one per person.”

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Barbara Robinson’s The Best School Year Ever

While I was familiar with other books by the author Barbara Robinson, who passed away last week, it was The Best School Year Ever that meant the most to me.  There was a period when I started each school year reading it aloud and I always made sure to tiptoe my whole class past the teacher’s room so they could decide if it fit the one described by Robinson.  The book was funny then; the kids always loved it. More than ever after September 11th which was the first day of school for my NYC 4th graders that year. Here’s what I had to say about it in an article I wrote that year:

The following Monday, as we moved into a routine, I watched the children carefully. I wasn’t going to assume anything. I barely knew them. As we went about our day, I found quiet ways to let them know I was there if they needed to talk or needed a hug. I knew how daunting our crowded, 12-storey building, filled with much older children, could be to new fourth-graders. It was easy to forget where the bathroom was and be afraid to ask; to get lost on the way to music and not know how to get back to the classroom. Such minor problems could easily be magnified in the wake of the disaster.

And indeed, that day after science, a group of girls dashed in to tell me that one of their friends was crying hysterically in the bathroom, complaining of a stomach ache. I retrieved her, hugged her, and took her to the nurse, who sent her home. Later her dad told me she was still scared.

I wondered that day about the book I had planned to read aloud, Barbara Robinson’s The Best (Worst) School Year Ever, about the outrageous Herdman children, which was off-the-wall funny. My class the year before had loved it, but I wondered now if it was appropriate. On the internet I’d seen lists of books to help children cope with disaster: books about natural disasters, books about riots, wars, and other tragedies. For many, it seemed, these were helpful. But still sad and fearful, I didn’t see them that way. And knowing how badly my students had wanted to get back to plain old school, I suspected they would feel the same.

And so I settled into my reading chair with the story of the Herdman children of Woodrow Wilson elementary school. I began, but worried immediately when the Herdmans were described as similar to outlaws who would have “blown up” the Wild West if they’d lived back then. Would those words be frightening? I discreetly looked at the faces around me, but they just looked intrigued.

I read on and was relieved when I got to a description of Imogene Herdman’s science project (something unknown scratching in an oatmeal box) to hear a few giggles. Before long there was more laughter and by the time I stopped, halfway through the first chapter, I had relaxed. It seemed a good choice.

Thank you, Barbara Robinson, for your books and especially for those Herdmans.

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More About Roxanne’s and My Caldecott Banquet Attire

See a bunch more Red Carpet interviews (with some pretty awesome types) here.

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Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

How about a contest in a new-over-the-top-cool library? The one in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library involves a wealthy wacky Willy Wonka-like game-maker (and creator of the library), a varied bunch of kid competitors ( a la those in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but, with one exception, much nicer), and a completely awesome library (textual eye-candy for book lovers). Locked-in to the library overnight, the kids race against the clock to find their way out using clues of ever sort —rebuses, codes, research, and more. While I did wonder how many of the clever references to children’s lit titles would be known by the intended kid audience, I’m guessing that even if they don’t they will eagerly want to read on to solve the various clues and vicariously win. A very entertaining read indeed.

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