Monthly Archives: January 2016

Frances Hardinge Gets Her Due!

US Frances Hardinge fans have been continually frustrated that she is not better appreciated on this side of the pond. On the other side…well, here’s a lovely bit of news — her latest book The Lie Tree has just been awarded the Costa Award’s Book of the Year. She is the first children’s book writer to win the overall award (over adult finalists) since Philip Pullman over a decade ago.

Happily The Lie Tree is coming out this May in the US thanks to Abrams. I can say that it is fabulous, my favorite of all her books to date, and well deserving of the award. It is historical, mysterious, creepy, engrossing, and wonderful. Now I am just hoping Abrams will bring out an earlier book of hers I also liked very much, A Face Like Glass.





Filed under Other

Lewis Carroll’s Caucus Race

As we in the US await the results of the Iowa caucuses, here’s a look at Lewis Carroll’s take on caucuses. (First part inked and illustrated by moi):


and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

‘But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

‘Why, she, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, ‘Prizes! Prizes!’

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

‘But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse.

‘Of course,’ the Dodo replied very gravely. ‘What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.

‘Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.

‘Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.
Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying ‘We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could.

If want to see more of my Alice illustrations go here.


Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books 2016 Edition

We’ve announced the contenders and later this week will begin revealing this year’s judges (who are yet again awesome). The Battle Commander (myself, Roxanne Feldman, and Jonathan Hunt) and our SLJ operator Shelly Diaz can’t wait for this year’s battle to commence. Meanwhile please read Shelley’s “Primed for a Fight: SLJ’s 2016 Battle of the Kids’ Books Contenders Revealed” for an overview and a comment from me about the possibility of this year’s YMA honors changing the game going forward.


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Filed under Battle of the (Kids') Books

Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Sit-In and Martin & Mahalia

Some weeks ago I was preparing a lesson for our 4th graders as part of our Martin Luther King, Jr Day observances. The school (grades 4-8) was focusing on the music at the March on Washington and I thought of Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney’s Martin & Mahalia.  When I talked about it this week I mentioned that a recent book Andrea had edited was getting negative attention. The kids remembered she’d been to the school a few years earlier to share with them Sit-In. I then read both books to them and we all relished the history, the art, the design, and the poetic language. Aware that Andrea might need a pick-me-up several kids were inspired to write to her about these two books. You can read their thoughts here.


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Coming Soon: Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale

Kate DiCamillo burst onto the children’s book world with a flash, receiving a Newbery Honor for her very first book, the realistic and much beloved Because of Winn-Dixie. Ever since she has explored different genres, piling up well-deserved honors along the way; her books include witty stories for early readers featuring a toast-loving pig, a fairy tale celebrating a sensitive and brave mouse, fables of elephants, tigers, and (china) rabbits, and her most recent Newbery winner — a delightfully surreal story that opens with a vacuum cleaner turning an ordinary squirrel into a poet.

In Raymie Nightingale, out this April, this uniquely talented writer has returned to her roots, to the Florida of her childhood, centering on an imagined small town that feels just down the road from the one in Because of Winn-Dixie. It is the summer of 1975 and Raymie Clarke’s father is gone, run off with a dental hygienist. Now Raymie is at Ida Nee’s to learn how to twirl a baton so perfectly that she can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition and get her photo in the paper for her father to see, wherever he is. Also at Ida Nee’s are Louisiana Elefante who has swooning tendencies and rough and tough Beverly Tapinski.  Over the course of this gorgeous spare novel, as the competition draws near, these girls — each with fears and pains of her own — become unlikely friends.

In tight chapters that are sometimes barely three pages, crisp paragraphs (DiCamillo is the master of the one sentence paragraph), and elegantly crafted sentences, Raymie Nightingale is a book to savor, to read and re-read. Fans will recognize DeCamillo’s unique wry voice as it gives readers vivid images, dizzying ideas, humor, heart-wrenching emotions, and gorgeous, gorgeous language.  You all have something to look forward to this April, I promise.


Filed under Review

For Fans of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief Series….

…. a little bird told me the next two are in the home stretch of being finished and coming out some time in the not-too-far-off future.  First the publisher will reissue the original four to bring a new generation of readers to them and then….numbers five and six.  Excited moi?  Just a bit.




Filed under Other

Thoughts on Newbery: A New Day After

Yesterday was quite a day. Boy oh boy, was it! Congratulations to all the honorees and everyone involved. What follows are a few personal responses to all of it.

First of all, it is important to celebrate the committee members — they worked hard all year and this past weekend to come together to honor a group of books. The process is intense, well-designed, and carefully led and I’m sure each committee member will remember this experience as unique and like no other. Bravo to all of them.

Secondly, score for diversity! What a trilled to see it recognized by committee after committee in form, genre, age, gender, ethnicity, and race. Last year’s committees threw down the gantlet with reaching high age-wise for Caldecott and beyond traditional text with graphic novels for the Newbery. But more important was the clear attention to this year’s important, difficult, and needed conversations about race — responding to the horrible things happening in the world along with the call within our small community for greater diversity — the result this year is spectacular, not just for Newbery and Caldecott, but for all the awards. All of this makes for a clear open path for future committees. To think even more broadly and critically, following the lead of this year’s committees.

Thirdly, mea culpa for my repeated rule-bound insistence about art and text for Newbery. While I was a huge advocate for El Deafo last year, I had thought this year’s equally delightful Roller Girl was far more dependent on the art. Clearly I was wrong. Since I think it is a terrific book (and coincidently very beloved by my 4th grade students) I obviously need to recalibrate my way of reading such titles in terms of the Newbery criteria. And that is wonderful indeed. It makes me so happy to think that more works with art and graphics that advance the story can be honored by the Newbery this way.

Fourthly, while I was startled by the announcement of Last Stop in Market Street I’m not surprised, but delighted. It was certainly always one of the books I had hopes of for a Caldecott (for which it was also honored). But I realize that I pay more attention to text in picture books for older kids and so managed not to recognize the text of this one for younger kids as distinguished as it is for its intended audience. I can’t wait to read it to my 4th graders this morning — I’m sure they will be thrilled with it and it will let us all know just how grand the text is.

Fifthly, I will admit that the announcement of the selection of Sophie Blackall’s terrific Finding Winnie for the Caldecott medal had me in tears. This was not a rational response, but a completely emotional one related to the painful and challenging fall involving the discourse around Sophie’s other book, my part in it, and the important learning process it has taken me — no doubt one that I will always be doing and that we all should be doing.

Lastly, while the winners are no longer interviewed on the Today Show, they got a far better interview yesterday by the distinguished journalist Lynn Neary who actually knew something about them and could even pronounce their names correctly (just check out this 2008  Today Show video with Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Selznick to see what I mean). Go here to listen to it. Thank you, NPR!


Filed under Newbery

Thoughts on Newbery: My Personal Druthers (for More Than the Newbery)

The announcement for this year’s ALA’s Youth Media Awards is this coming Monday, January 11th and as is true every year there are a large number of potential and worthy honorees, some having received more public scrutiny and attention than others. Having served on the 2008 Newbery committee I know how hard the members of all of this year’s committees will have worked — not just those days coming up that they will be spending together making their selections, but all year long — reading, rereading, thinking, considering, and learning. Whether I end up agreeing with them on Monday, I will respect completely their choices knowing the care, thought, and time they took to reach them. (See this post I wrote a few years ago for more about the Newbery criteria and process.)

As for what might get some ALA sticker-love this time around, the field seems wide open this year. I’m especially excited at the possibility of more boundary-breaking selections like last year’s This One Summer and El Deafo while still wondering what is possible given the current Newbery criteria. Happily, recent discussions are really helping me, especially the comments here.

So here you are, among the many eligible titles I liked, twenty special favorites:

Drowned City by Don Brown.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.
Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle. My thoughts here.
Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia. My thoughts here.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. My thoughts here.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. My thoughts here.
The Marvels by Brian Selznick. My thoughts here.
Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin. My thoughts here.
My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson. My thoughts here.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Rhythm Ride by Andrea Davis Pinkney. My thoughts here.
The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell.
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson.
Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli.
Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier. My thoughts here.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. My thoughts here.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. My thoughts here.
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. My thoughts here.




Filed under Newbery

Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama

Ah, sisters…for all of us it is complicated. I have one who is two years younger. Because we traveled and moved a lot when we were children, we depended on each other for playmates and more. We fought, physically and emotionally — when we annoyed each other, when we wanted something the other had, for space, and so on; we played intensively, I remember an ongoing story we told each other on long car trips where I got to be the younger for a change (interesting how we both felt the other was more parentally privileged than the other); and today, decades later, we still look out for each other in every way. As I am certain will always be the case for the sisters in Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama, the finale of her trilogy centered on the Gaither family.

Let me state up front — I’ve been a huge fan of this series. I gave One Crazy Summer a rave New York Times review and was beside myself with joy when it received a Newbery Honor. I was delighted with the next book, P.S. Be Eleven and so happy that it, like its predecessor was honored with a Coretta Scott King award. And so now here we are with the final book giving this family, these sisters, and most of all Delphine Gaither, a satisfying send-off.

Crazy. It is in the title of the first book and the last one. Rightly. For the first book is crazy when the girls have their lives and understanding of life turned upside down during a, yes, crazy summer with their mother and the Black Panthers, in Oakland — the other side of the continent from the only world they’d previously known in Brooklyn. And so for this final book it is the next summer — another crazy one for some completely different reasons and some the same. Different because it is set in Alabama where there are no visible Black Panthers, instead there are very visible aspects of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and family history. The same because it is about love, about hate, about reason and unreason, about family, learning and growing and becoming no matter your age.

The plot is complicated, full, and rich; I suggest going elsewhere if you want to know about it in detail. It involves the three sisters — Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern — going to their grandmother in Alabama for the summer. Big Ma pretty much had raised them until their father married someone who is not going to just sit home and take care of him, something very much not to their grandmother’s more old-fashioned taste. In Alabama too are their great-grandmother and her half-sister who have been feuding forever.  Their uncle who betrayed them so horribly is there too — will any of them ever forgive him? The girls are all growing older and changing — what does that all mean for each of them?

While for me the heart of the book is the relationship between Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern it is also about each girl’s evolving self. Since I adore E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web I won’t easily forget Fern’s use of it in her efforts to save her beloved chickens. There’s angry, angry Vonetta who is not one to forgive — will she stubbornly refuse to for decades like her great-grandmother? For Delphine, her sisters are growing up and able to fend for themselves. She’s watching and considering the older women, her father’s new wife, and her own mother and thinking about the woman she is going to be. Williams-Garcia’s way with characters is superb — she can give you sense of a stance (Fern balling up her fists), a feel (Vonetta’s glare), or an oddity (Big Ma’s obsession with ironed sheets) like few others.

In contrast to the three girls is the puzzling feud between their great-grandmother and her half-sister. With care, Williams-Garcia lets us know what is behind it — history that makes the racial dynamics of the past, present, and future all the more complicated. It isn’t simple — life never is. There are some harrowing moments — both from the past and from the immediate time of the book — in particular what happens when Vonetta disappears during a tornado. All in all, it is a fabulous read, one that can be appreciated in its entirety whether or not you’ve read the previous books (hint: Newbery Committee:).

Gone Crazy in Alabama is just crazy good.



Filed under Newbery, Review