Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lynda Barry is Again Awesome

If there are stages of grief and steps to recovery, isn’t the act of reading a complicated, evolving thing over time? 

Lynda Barry: The 20 Stages of Reading

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Gary Soto’s Harsh Decision About What He Writes

“Keep cool” became my mantra in December 2005, when the phone rang for the third time and I knew a short message would be left expounding the caller’s disappointment in me. The first two calls had been surprising rants that made my invisible antennas, not unlike the antennas of ants, start vibrating. I, a poet, was suddenly controversial over my chapter novel Marisol, a 140-page story of a little girl (Marisol) living in Pilsen’s mainly Latino area of Chicago.

That’s Gary Soto’s lead in his disturbing post, “Why I’ve Stopped Writing Children’s Literature.”  I urge you to read the whole thing. Thanks to Maia via child_lit for the heads-up.




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Deborah Wiles’ Revolution is on its way!

I was a big fan of Deborah Wiles’ Countdown (my review is here) and have been eagerly awaiting the second in her Sixties Trilogy. So how terrific to read just now her blog post mentioning, among other things, the completion of the new book, Revolution. Deborah writes:

REVOLUTION is the title of book two of the Sixties Trilogy. It takes place in 1964 Mississippi during Freedom Summer. Sunny Fairchild is 12 years old. I can’t wait for you to meet her, and her step-brother, Gillette, his little sister, Audrey, and the town of Greenwood, Mississippi, which was the headquarters of SNCC in 1964.

Lots went down in Greenwood during the civil rights movement years, and Sunny lives through the summer of 1964 with a whole lot of grit and even a little bit of grace. Or maybe it’s the other way ’round.

You’ll meet Jo Ellen again, in REVOLUTION. She’s one of the one-thousand souls who came south to Mississippi for Freedom Summer, to register black voters and open community centers and Freedom Schools. Jo Ellen and Sunny meet and sparks fly.

There’s also a mysterious boy named Raymond who lives on the other side (literally) of the railroad tracks, in Baptist Town. I fell in love with Ray, and I hope you do, too.

Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to read this!


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An Edward Lear Musical: Coromandel

Here’s something intriguing:  Coromandel “… a vibrant musical odyssey for children and adults… a journey through the mind of poet Edward Lear” that is going to be presented October 3-6 at Here in NYC.

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CBC’s Diversity Blog

With every post I become a bigger and bigger fan of the CBC Diversity Blog.  It is one of several initiatives by the CBC Diversity Committee of the Children’s Book Council, the national nonprofit trade association for children’s publishers. They’ve got a good page of resources for those “interested in producing, promoting, buying, or writing diverse books for children,” provide links to various news pieces, and do a weekly round-up you can subscribe to,  Best of all, they get some thoughtful people to write wonderful posts on all aspects of this complicated topic. They’ve invited people to write about  Books That Changed My Life, others to write about How I Got Into Publishing, and have an ongoing series I especially admire: It’s Complicated.  In this last, they’ve looked at book covers, “writing outside your perspective,” and most recently “authentic voices.”  It has become one of the first blogs I look at because I can count on the posts being thoughtful, complex, and ones that add immeasurably to what I think I already know. HIgh recommended.


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Thoughts on Newbery: The Age Problem

Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.  

That is directly from the Newbery criteria and can be one of the hardest to sort out.  At least it has been for me.  I teach 4th grade in a 4th-8th grade middle school and since my students come back to me as they get older for book suggestions as well as for an after-school book club, I have some sense of how kids at the upper end of that age range respond to eligible books. Our middle school librarian, Roxanne Feldman, who was on last year’s Newbery Committee, has an even closer ear to the ground for this.  We both see many incredibly sophisticated readers who totally appreciate and get books that are for adults and/or are clearly YA. And they certainly get those books on the cusp, the ones we struggle with when trying to figure out if they fit within the Newbery level or are beyond. The question though is just because these sophisticated young readers get such books, are they within the broader cohort of their age group? That is, are these books that they are getting, but others their age are not especially –within the age range of the award?

Even harder for me as a 4th grade teacher is fighting against my personal desire to see the award go to a book for the age group I teach —  9 and 10 year olds.  I really, really, really want that, but I also want the best book to win.  And sometimes that book may be too old for 9 and 10 year olds, but just right for 13-14 year olds.

Nina Lindsay over at Heavy Medal has just posed this perennial question with her post, “The Age Question*” and I’ve already written the following comment. I look forward to others weighing in and helping us all with this complicated issue.

When I was on the Committee I consulted with our school psychologist (I’m in a 4-8 grade middle school) about development when dealing with cusp books. He was incredibly helpful at helping parse things out with such titles.

My feeling is that there are always going to be kids who can read completely anything. Kids who are sophisticated, who have a personal depth that results in their “getting” what they read in a remarkably adult-like way. I come across kids like that now and then at my school. I think of one of our students who at age 13 adored Mal Peet’s LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM which many saw as a book mostly adults would appreciate. (He has been one of our two Kid Commentators on BOB — RG—and you can read his enthusiastic pick for LIFE to win it here: But that doesn’t convince me that the book is for his age group. He and his cohort read more as adults do, they have developed quicker than their peers. That they love and appreciate these books does not convince me that they are for their chronological age group.

This year I’d put Tom McNeal’s FAR FAR AWAY in this category. I don’t know what you and Jonathan think about it and whether it will be on your discussion list, but it is getting Newbery buzz and I’m trying to work out if it is within or above the age range. The reason I lean toward above is that while there are certainly kids 14 and younger who will read and enjoy the book (always are, after all) it seems to me that the darker elements in the latter part of it will be better understood by those older with slightly different orientations on life, more experience so to speak. That is, I think that you can truly get the whole gestalt of this book if you are beyond 14 by and large.

Nina, I actually think you are on to something similar with HOKEY POKEY — in my experience, those who enjoy it and seem to get it are out of childhood, be they 50 or an 8th grader. So it may be out of Newbery age range. (That said, someone here — can’t remember who, sorry — wrote that it is being very much enjoyed by younger kids around her. That hasn’t been my experience, sadly.)

* Nina sees this as a “question,” but it has been definitely been a knotty “problem” for me.

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Some Slippery Poems Selected by Lemony Snicket and Illustrated by Chris Raschka

The poems contained in this children’s poetry portfolio are not made for children. Poetry is like a curvy slide in a playground — an odd object, available to the public — and, as I keep explaining to my local police force, everyone should be able to use it, not just those of a certain age.

So begins Lemony Snicket’s introduction to “All Good Slides Are Slippery,” a delightful selection of poems that he thinks may appeal to children despite not being specifically written for them.  Charmingly illustrated by Chris Raschka and annotated in Snicket’s unique way (“‘Sensible’ is a word which here means ‘full of common sense.’ Poetry usually isn’t.”), this is a lovely collection.  Whether the poets are familiar or not,  their poems, Snicket’s notes, and Raschka’s illustrations are very likely to be appreciated by a verse-loving child.

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In the Classroom: Middle School as Considered By Someone Who Just Finished It

There are many books out these days written by adults about social aggression — novels for children and teens and others, often nonfiction, for concerned adults. And sometimes there are firsthand accounts from children and teens themselves. Say by a former student of mine, Natasha Lerner, who has just started high school.  She is a blogger at Huffington Post Teen and has just written a remarkably insightful blog post about her just-completed and often painful middle school years: “Middle School.”  Highly recommended.


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AFRICA IS MY HOME is starting to get reviews

My babe’s coming-of-age* publication date of October 8th is getting close and so reviews are starting to appear. Below are links to the ones I’ve come across so far. It is fascinating and a bit nerve-wracking to be on this side of things for a change.

Starred Review in School Library Journal
Betsy Bird on Fuse#8
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus (Full review is up at B&N)
Teri Lesesne

*Since I began work on this in 2000 coming-of-age seems more appropriate than birthday.


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Too Nice? Not Nice Enough? Two Novelists Weigh In

Interesting essays and comments on this knotty issue: “Are Novelists Too Wary of Criticizing Other Novelists?”


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