Monthly Archives: February 2014

SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books at the Nerdy Book Club Today

For those wanting a good overview of SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, I’ve a post on it up at the Nerdy Book Club today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Battle of the (Kids') Books

Yuyi Morales on Winning the 2014 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award

1 Comment

Filed under Other

Africa is My Home: Interview

Recently, Debbie Glad at Smart Books for Smart Kids interviewed Robert Byrd and me about Africa is My Home and you can now read it here. I enjoyed doing it immensely. Thanks, Debbie.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa is My Home

Markus Zusak on The Book Thief Movie

The biggest hurdle for the film-makers was what to do with Death. In the book, and it makes me so grateful to be a writer of books, you make it all happen on the page and it costs nothing. In the film the hardest decision was whether to have someone on screen or not. Effectively, in a book 99% of the book is voiceover with dialogue in between. You just can’t do that in a film. So the first thing they had to do was pare back Death and try to achieve that effect in different way, such as quite high camera angles. Choosing the right voice was another issue and I didn’t envy them that task! Every reader of the book has their own version of Death and its voice – in my case, Death speaks in an Australian accent.

From this very interesting interview with Marcus Zusak about turning The Book Thief into a movie. 


1 Comment

Filed under Other

In the Classroom: Rum is for Funerals

As part of a year-long exploration of immigration, I’m currently teaching a unit on African Immigration at the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  And thanks to Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos’s Sugar Changed the World, I’m much more informed about sugar’s place in all of this,  notably in the West Indies, today better known as the Caribbean. Thus, my wary interest in “On the Caribbean Rum Trail” in today’s Travel Section of the New York Times. At first there seemed to be next to nothing about the hideous history behind rum’s creation in this part of the world, but then as the article goes on, the reporter shifts gears, focusing more on history.

Nearby Saint-James [a Martinique distillery], the biggest, was overrun by French tourists lining up for rides through the cane fields on a Disneyesque “sugar train.” In its museum in a 19th-century Creole house, I pondered rum’s iconography: old ads depicting happy plantations with cheerful slaves, women with madras headwraps and seductive smiles.

My musings led to a dialogue with Michel Fayad, distillery manager and former history teacher. “Our whole history is wrapped up in this alcohol,” he said. “But what is it? Depends who you ask, yes? For the European visitors, it’s holiday. To the bekes” — white Martinicans, colonial descendants who still run the bulk of the island’s economy and all but one of its distilleries — “rum is pride. To blacks, locals, it’s also colonialism, slavery, alcoholism, sadness. We drink Champagne at weddings. Rum is for funerals.”

And powerfully ends it with this:

But during an audio tour that thoroughly covered rum history and production — maps, diagrams, photo exhibits, French-accented voice-overs — I decided that here lay the educational apex of distillery-hopping. I wandered through the plantation’s sculpture garden and, reflecting on the legacy of the liquid I’d been trailing, spotted something remarkable: blood on the leaves. A massive red statue of the word “Blood,” poised before a picture-perfect cane field. It evoked, of course, the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in a pastoral Southern landscape: “Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,” she sang. This scene, stunning yet haunted by perennial pain, struck me as perfect homage: Behold a spirit whose legacy contains all the paradoxes and complexity of the wistfully beautiful region that gave birth to it so long ago.

Leave a comment

Filed under In the Classroom, Teaching

Learning About Africa: Volunteerism

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about traveling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.

Indeed. From “The Problem With Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist.”

1 Comment

Filed under Africa

Housing Works’ New Book Group for Middle Grade Kids

Housing Works, a terrific NYC organization that “provides housing, medical, prevention, support services” does all sorts of out-of-the-box things. One of their latest is “Face-to-Face: A Middle Readers Book Group.” Here’s the scoop:

When we read together, we connect. Together, we see the world. Together, we see one another.” –Kate DiCamillo
Face-to-Face: A Middle Readers Book Group
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is proud to offer our newest book group, and our first one for young readers! Face-to-Face: A Middle Readers Book Group is a monthly reading group for kids ages 8-12.  Explore the world of books outside of school, meet fellow readers, and discover new titles and authors. All members of the group will help pick the books we read and determine the direction of the club. Come early or stay late to grab a treat in the cafe and browse the shelves. (Special 10% discount on Children’s and Young Adult books for reading club members!)
Join us:
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg,
Sunday, April 6th at 11:30 am
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
In our first meeting, we’ll discuss Konigsburg’s classic, talk about our favorite books and the kinds of titles we want to read together, and pick our third book!
Purchase a copy of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg from Housing Works Bookstore Cafe before the first meeting, or borrow a copy from the NYPL Mulberry branch down the street.

1 Comment

Filed under Other

Patrick Ness’s Hogwarth’s Story

I am not sure who started #MyHogwarthsStory , but Patrick Ness ran with it on Twitter yesterday. Here’s a taste:

@Patrick_Ness I’d have been a relentless, nauseating suck-up to MacGonagall. She’d have reluctantly written me a college recommendation #MyHogwartsStory

‏@Patrick_Ness  I’d have gone to that winter ball thing, platonically, with a socially-awkward centaur. We’d have left early to read. #MyHogwartsStory

@Patrick_Ness After graduating, I’d have emigrated, probably to Canada, and humblebragged constantly about going to Hogwarts #MyHogwartsStory

Leave a comment

Filed under Other

Edgar Eager, Yes!

From this week’s NYT’s By the Book with Laura Lippman:

Sell us on your favorite overlooked or underappreciated writer. 

Edward Eager wrote a series of children’s books that are in danger of being forgotten. But they’re divine, stories about ordinary kids who stumble on magical things — a coin, a lake, a book, a thyme garden, a well. The magic changes them, they try to change the magic, the magic moves on. Great female characters, too — strong, smart, capable, not killjoys. “Half Magic” is his masterpiece, but I have a soft spot for “Knight’s Castle,” which is set in Baltimore.

Leave a comment

Filed under Other

In the Classroom: Not Mine This Time, but Lolly’s

There is a terrific new blog out there, Lolly’s Classroom. Here’s how the blog creator,  Lolly Robinson, of the Horn Book who also teaches a course in children’s and adolescent literature at Harvard’s School of Education, describes it:

Lolly’s Classroom will look at books and reading from a teacher’s perspective — but we’re hoping to get plenty of non-teacher readers as well. There’s no question that book discussions become richer when the people discussing them come from a variety of backgrounds. So really we’re calling on all of you to come over and join us in the Classroom.

Two interesting posts are already up; one on the books Lolly uses in her class and another from first grade tacher Whitney Gruenloh on her pairing of Martin’s Big Words with Freedom Summer . There is also this welcome post with more about the blog and a suggestion box too.

While they already have a  wide variety of teachers set to blog on their use of books in the classroom, they have a call out for more so if you are interested email  a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Lolly Robinson (lrobinson at



Leave a comment

Filed under Other