Category Archives: Other

Alexander’s 2017 Very Bad Day

There was quinoa for dinner and I hate quinoa.

For any one like me who is old enough to have read over and over Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, you are likely to get a kick out of Mark Remy’s update at the New Yorker: “Alexander and the V Bad, FML Day.

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Amplifying Diversity: Independent Presses

The ongoing and hugely important conversation featuring #ownvoices, diversity, and equity was most recently centered around an unfortunate WSJ journal article which Allie Bruce unpacks in her RWW post, “Why ‘Rock Star Librarian’ is an Oxymoron.”  I highly recommend reading the original article (tricky as it is behind a paywall — need to go to a library perhaps!), Allie’s post, and the ongoing conversation going on in her post’s comments.

One aspect of this that I think gets overlooked is that some of the best books featuring #ownvoices come from presses other than the biggies, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Little Brown, Penguin, or Random House. I would urge all of you, but especially those with big social media platforms, those with massive followings, some of whom were featured in the article, as well as working to celebrate and feature more #ownvoices, also make greater efforts to do so with books from smaller presses. While I see a sincere effort to bring out more voices, they tend to be from the afore mentioned publishers.  There are great books coming out from other places as well and those of you with big platforms could do a lot to bring them to the attention of your followers.  (By the way, for those who are fortunate in having books sent by publicists, this may involve the seeking out and buying of books rather than just waiting for them to come to you.)

A terrific resource is the CCBC’s list of Small Presses Owned/Operated by People of Color and First/Native Nations. Also, I recommend attending to recommendations by WNDB, RWW, Debbie Reese, Edi Campbell, Brown Bookshelf, Latinx in Kid Lit, Africa Access, Betsy Bird, Travis Jonker, Jules Danielson, USBBY, and the CCBC among others who celebrate books by independent presses regularly. (I’m sure I’m leaving many out so please tell me in the comments and I’ll add them in here.) Whenever I see mention of an independent press book that might work for my 4th grade students I order it immediately. I was delighted when serving on the New York Times Best Illustrated books jury to learn of many more outstanding independent presses. And when at conferences I come across still others at the exhibits (but many can’t afford to be there so it is important to look everywhere not just there).

Here is a collection of those I have come across over the years, some of which may be already familiar and some not. Please do mention others in the comments and I’ll add them here. (I’m leaving out some of the bigger and more familiar independents like Abrams, Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Lerner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Holiday House, Scholastic, and Chronicle as I see their books already celebrated on social media by those with big followings. I do it myself.:) I recommend checking out their websites and, if something catches your eye, buy it. And if you like it celebrate it on twitter, facebook, your blog,  your podcast, and/or whatever your platform is.


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“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” an English Rugby Anthem? Evidently, Yes.

“It’s really the song of England rugby,” said Josh Rice, 25, a fan from Nottingham.

Arthur Jones, a music history professor and founder of the Spiritual Project at the University of Denver, said the situation reminded him of American sports teams who use Native American names and imagery, in that a group of people seemed to be free-associating with imagery largely disconnected from its history.

“My first reaction is absolute shock — and I actually understand it when I think about it — but that’s my first reaction,” Jones said. “I feel kind of sad. I feel like the story of American chattel slavery and this incredible cultural tradition, built up within a community of people who were victims and often seen as incapable of standing up for themselves, is such a powerful story that I want the whole world to know about it. But apparently not everyone does.”

When told about the awkwardness many Americans feel upon learning of the song’s repurposing, John M. Williams, the director of the Center for the Sociology of Sport at the University of Leicester in England, said, “I can understand that, and the only thing I could give them as a kind of strange reassurance is that I suspect the vast majority of people singing it have no idea where it came from, or even that it’s American at all, or that it has a black American heritage.”

From the jaw-dropping article,  “How a Slave Spiritual Became English Rugby’s Anthem.”

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New New York Times Children’s Book Live Illustration

There is a cool new feature at the New York Times Book review — Children’s Live Illustration.

Visual artists have always had an important place in children’s literature. Watch some leading children’s books illustrators draw, paint, collage, and talk about books with The Times’s children’s books editor, Maria Russo.

It started January 6th with Christian Robinson and went on, as of this writing, with the following (for the ones without links the videos are all here):


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Back from the Farthest Reaches of the Globe (More or Less)

I am just back from a fabulous journey to the south, far, far, far south. Patagonia and the Atacama desert, that is. It was an extraordinary trip that I’ve documented on facebook so friend me there if you want to see the photos. Now, I’m still getting resettled back home in NYC.

I was mostly focused on the mind-blowing nature, but I did stop into a couple of bookstores very briefly.

In Buenos Aires I had time to browse and bought two Alices:


(This is a smaller paperback version of a larger edition I already own.)


This was new to me. They also had a very cool edition of The Wizard of Oz.

In Santiago I only had time to zip into a bookstore long enough to peruse the shelves, but not much more. Was delighted to see a bunch of familiar titles including these. Wish I’d had more time to explore that books store as it looked great, but nature awaited!



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The Remarkable, Unique, and Beautiful Ashley Bryan: An Appreciation

Many of us in this small world of US children’s literature have been fortunate enough to have encountered Ashley Bryan (who, a few weeks ago, at age 93, received a long-over-due Newbery, an honor for Freedom Over Me).  And none of us who have will ever forget this intelligent, courtly, warm, and creative man. But as for the rest of the world?  Those outside are regularly surprised by this incredible man. Case in point: at the 2009 Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet where Neil Gaiman, a rock star in the world of comics and fantasy for adults, received the Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book, Ashley received the Wilder Award. Knowing what was coming and figuring Neil did not, I watched him with amusement as Ashley roared out “MY PEOPLE BY LANGSTON HUGHES!” and then got us involved with his usual call and response to recite the poem, a smiling uber-cool Gaiman along with us. Bet he will never forget that experience!

MY PEOPLE BY LANGSTON HUGHS. I will never think of that poem without also thinking of Ashley and I will never think of Ashley without that poem. I’ve seen him present to adults and to children and that poem is his touchstone. I wasn’t at this particular conference, but this is exactly how he does the poem with any audience.

Ashley had been an art teacher at my school before I arrived and came back regularly to do artist-in-residency activities with our students. It was much later that I first saw him with adults at the memorable summer institutes run by CLNE. For some golden years I saw Ashley regularly, with children at my school, and then with adults elsewhere. Always, he was amazing. And this was as a teacher, performer, person, and icon. There is also his art, his writing, his books. You don’t need to have seen him, to know him, anything to love these. Folktale retellings, poetry, and more — they are original and wonderful. (I should say Ashley is an artist far beyond the children’s literature world. For example, he is currently being honored at the DeCordova New England Biannual.)

It is very hard for me to select just a few of Ashley’s books as I so appreciate them all, but here are a few to give you a taste.


I am a huge fan of this lesser known work from 1976 as Ashley does such a beautiful job retelling these West African folktales and illustrates them in a form inspired by the colors of the area. Having been there I can assure you that he is spot on.


This is another wonderful collection of African folktales. It is impossible for me not to read them without Ashley’s voice in my mind.


Who doesn’t adore Louis Armstrong’s song? This is Ashley’s joyful take.


Love, love, LOVE Beautiful Blackbird. At a book party we held for him at our school for his autobiography, Words to My Life Song, l played a recording of my students enthusiastically reciting this delightful book.


Photo taken by Ashley’s editor Caitlyn M. Dlouhy last week.

And then there is his latest, the outstanding and rightly lauded Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life.  It is wonderful that this work, one that he cared so much about, has been so honored. Hopefully it will move out beyond our world so that more will know of this man and all his gifts to the world.

Thank you, Ashley Bryan, for your steadfast commitment to all that is best, the beauty you have brought to our world. You have made my life and countless others better, even in the darkest of times.


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Yesssss…Kinderguides hit a serious road block

When I first read of the Kinderguides I couldn’t believe they were real, but they were (just like  that 45th guy in DC is, sigh, real). In addition to finding the premise ludicrous I wondered how they could get away with what they were doing legally. Well, seems they can’t. Writes Alexandra Alter at the New York Times (who also wrote the earlier Kinderguides article in which I was quoted) in “Author Who Turns Classics Into Children’s Books is Sued:”

The estates of Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway, with the publishing houses Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, have filed a copyright lawsuit against Mr. Colting and his partner, Melissa Medina, for releasing illustrated children’s books based on those authors’ works.

Go get ’em!

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