Category Archives: Children’s Literature

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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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.

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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.

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Filed under Art, Children's Literature, Picture Books

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

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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.

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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.

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2013 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts

This wonderful list of thirty titles is selected by a committee of NCTE’s Children’s Literature Assembly. Congratulations to all the honored book creators and to the members of this year’s committee for their fine work: Tracy Smiles, Chair; Donalyn Miller, Patricia Bandre, Yoo Kyung Sung, Barbara Ward, Shanetia Clark, and Jean Schroeder.

43 Cemetery Road: the Phantom of the Post Office, by Kate Klise, illustrated by Sarah Klise, published by Houghton Mifflin.
A Leaf Can Be, by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija, published by Lerner.
and then it’s spring, by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead, published by Macmillan.
Bear has a Story to Tell, by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead, published by Macmillan.
Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis, published by National Geographic.
Cat Tale, by Michael Hall, published by HarperCollins.
Chopsticks, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon, published by Disney/Hyperion.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, published by Penguin.
Encyclopedia of Me, by Karen Rivers, published by Scholastic.
Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer, published by Scholastic.
Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It: False Apology Poems, by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Matthew Cordellpublished by HarperCollins. 
Hades, Lord of the Dead, by George O’Connor, published by Macmillan.
His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, by Louise Borden, published by Houghton Mifflin.
House Held Up by Trees, by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick. 
I Have the Right to be a Child, by Alain Serres, illustrated by Aurelia Fronty, published by Groundwood.
I Lay My Stitches Down, by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood, published by Eerdmans.
Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine, published by Penguin.
Moonbird, by Phillip Hoose, published by Macmillan.
No Crystal Stair, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, published by Lerner.
Obstinate Pen, by Frank Dormer, published by Macmillan.
Sadie and Ratz, by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Ann James, published by Candlewick.
See You at Harry’s, by Jo Knowles, published by Candlewick.
Snakes, by Nic Bishop, published by Scholastic.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, published by HarperCollins.
Unbeelievables, by Douglas Florian, published by Simon & Schuster.
Unspoken, by Henry Cole, published by Scholastic.
Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky, by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, illustrated by S.D. Nelson, published by Abrams.
Water Sings Blue, by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So, published by Chronicle.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, published by Random House.
Z is for Moose, by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky, published by HarperCollins.

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The YA/MG Turf Wars

Some may recall my rant “Stop Calling Books for Kids ‘Young Adult‘” and the place I created to document the most egregious errors,”It’s a Children’s Book (Not Young Adult!).”  Some time after that the New York Times recognized the difference by creating distinctive children’s middle grade and young adult best seller lists. And now we’ve got Penderwick author Jeanne Birdsall taking up the gauntlet in  “Middle Grade Saved My Life” (with a quote from me, no less).  Perhaps we can start a mini-Occupy movement?  

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Bunnies and Butties

The IBBY Congress offered several pre and post tours and I was delighted to see one for the Lake District, long a place I’d wanted to visit for all its literary sites.  The group was also an attraction as it was full of children’s literature enthusiasts from all over the world: US, UK, Australia, Thailand, Japan, Russia, and Finland.

On the first day we headed up to Windermere and took a boat ride across to Ambleside, a pleasant little village.  The next day we went to Coniston and visited the eccentric and fascinating Ruskin Museum. In addition to a very edited version of his life (nothing on his sad marriage to Effie Gray for instance nor even a label for his children’s book, King of the Golden River) there were exhibits on Arthur Ransome (of Swallows and Amazons fame as it is set in the Lake District), mining, and a water speed racer who died in his final attempt also in the area.

From there we went on to Grasmere where I had a lovely time in William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage.  At the top of the garden was a lovely little spot to sit and look over the village and bucolic landscape.  There was a book where visitors were encouraged to write or draw their responses.  The one below was amusingly unimpressed.

And then there was this lovely little four year old who chose to draw a dinosaur.

We took Wordsworth’s favorite footpath along the River Rothey to Rydall where there is Dora’s Field of “I wandered lonely as a cloud” fame.  I couldn’t stop thinking of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair where the protagonist Thursday Next gets stuck in the poem and, adding insult to injury, is hit on by its creator.

On our final day we headed to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm which was predictably charming (with the obligatory collection of bunnies) and I took a pleasant walk in the area. Hearing a clarinet rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” I turned the corner to see this shrewd young busker.

We finished up at Bowness-on-Windermere that has a very British holiday feel to it.

And then we headed back to London, stopping on our way (as we had on our way up) at a place that had a Starbucks with these.

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