Category Archives: Other

In the Classroom: the Irma Black Award


The Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature (Irma Black Award) goes to an outstanding book for young children – a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole. The Irma Black Award is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book.

The finalists have been announced. They are:

  • Blizzard by John Rocco (Hyperion)
  • Elizabeth, Queen of the Sea by Lynne Cox, illus. by Brian Floca (Schwartz & Wade)
  • Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
  • Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (Candlewick)

And now classrooms and libraries throughout the country can participate in the voting process. More about how to do so here.

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Diverse Thinking from Diverse Folks About Diverse Books

Roxanne Feldman (AKA fairrosa), who is originally from Taiwan, and I are longtime close friends; she was an early and very important sounding board for me as I worked through how to tell the story that became Africa is My Home. For both of us the topics of diversity and identity have long been important, ones we constantly discuss and reflect upon in terms of our practice at school and outside in the children’s book world. Roxanne has now started a blog series in which she thoughtfully and carefully considers these topics. Anyone who knows Roxanne is aware of how thoughtful and passionate she is on these issues and how much we always learn from her. I highly recommend reading the following first three in the series and following her blog so as to read the rest.

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Celebrating The Bank Street Book Store

There are two major independent children’s bookstores in New York City’s borough of Manhattan, the downtown Books of Wonder and the uptown Bank Street Book Store. Both are important and wonderful to visit, each offering distinctive sensibilities. Today I want to celebrate The Bank Street Book Store, an important part of the venerable Bank Street College of Education, an institution that started  downtown on Bank Street (thus the name), but long ago moved uptown to 112th Street where it still is. As for the bookstore, it began in a tiny lobby space in the college building, then spent many years on the corner of of 112th and Broadway, and has now moved a few blocks south to 107th and Broadway.

Living nearby, for years I’ve walked by the bookstore daily with my dog, sometimes dropping in to see what was new, to chat with the managers (firstly the great Beth Puffer and now the passionate Andy Laties) and employees, to buy something as a gift for a friend or for my class, to attend an author reading, or just to browse. The bookstore kindly invited me to celebrate the release of my book last year and I go often to their events — these feature all sorts of authors — everyone from the parodic Stephen Colbert to book experts like Betsy Bird.  There are also free puppet shows, story times, literature discussions, and more. And this coming Saturday they’ve got a grand opening festival going on all day with an exciting array of authors.

On Friday they had a party introducing their gorgeous and warm new space and it was a lovely event with many recognizing the important history of the college and the bookstore in terms of children and their books. Below is the bookstore’s tweeted photo of many of the authors who came to the party including Fran Manushkin, Robie Harris, Peter Lerangis, Chris Grabenstein, Carol Weston, Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Arlene Hirschfelder, Susan Milligan, Selene Castrovilla, and me with my dog Lucy*.


And so if you are in New York City and are checking out all our wonderful bookish places, be sure not to miss this excellent bookstore.

* I told the young bookstore employee tweeting the event that Lucy was a “retro dog” being a traditional miniature poodle. I’ve now learned from her subsequent tweet that retro=disco these days.

Author of AFRICA IS MY HOME shows off her disco poodle Lucy!

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Heroes Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Rachel Kadish has some interesting observations on the nature of heroes in children’s books of the past versus today in “Childhood Heroes: Once Self-Made, Now to the Manner Born.”  She feels that heroes of the past were often suffering from PTSD (really!)

With a few notable exceptions, the formula is identical: Trauma is the mechanism through which superpower is acquired. It’s the very act of surviving hardship (often cataclysmic in scale) that shapes those gloriously intimidating figures into something they never were before.

Whereas she posits,

Today’s new heroes are to the manner born, and while they may spend a few scenes living in obscurity, they’re soon unveiled as members of the elect.

I think it is an interesting observation. What do you all think?  (BTW, there are some good points made in the comments, e.g. Katniss being self-made.)


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Take a Class in Fiction Writing with Rebecca Stead

Advanced Fiction with Rebecca Stead at the 92nd Street Y begins February 17th.

A workshop for writers of fiction for children and young adults.

The writing process is not just putting down one page after another—it’s a lot of writing and then rewriting, restructuring the story, changing the way things come together.

In this class, we discuss published work and student writing, giving particular attention to voice, character, dialogue, interior monologue and world-building.

Manuscript Submission Required


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Guest Post from THE STORY OF OWEN author, E. K. Johnson

As part of a blog tour celebrating this year’s Morris finalists, here is a guest post from E.K. Johnson whose The Story of Owen is not only a Morris finalist, but an SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books contender and the recipient of many other accolades.  And without further ado, here’s E.K. Johnson:

Why does THE STORY OF OWEN appeal to younger readers?

I took a quick poll on Twitter to answer this question, and it was decided that the reason my book is appealing to younger readers is:


There’s one on the cover and everything!

Dragon stories are great. I started reading Anne McCaffery the summer I was ten, and have never looked back. In recent years, largely thanks to Toothless and Hiccup, dragon stories have become easier to access, from board books right through to epic fantasy. It’s a great time to be a dragon-reader.

But there’s something you should probably know about The Story of Owen:

Trap Akbar

It’s a trap because it’s not really a story about dragons. It’s not even really a story about dragon slaying. It’s the story of a dragon slayer, and of the town he has decided will be his home. I wrote The Story of Owen thinking that teenagers would read it, except I didn’t put in any kissing, so all of a sudden it became a book for younger teens, despite all of the politics and history I crammed into it.

There is something else you should know aboutThe Story of Owen:

Trap Parks and Rec

It’s a trap because it looks like it’s going to be the story of a boy. Even before I started to write the book, I had several people tell me, based on the title, that it was a great idea because boys need books about boys, or they…shrivel up, or something, delicate flowers that they are. Honestly by that point in the conversation, I was usually giggling quietly to myself and didn’t hear the end of it. Owen was always the protagonist, more or less, but he was never the main character.

So far, no one has really seemed to mind. I’ve had enthusiastic emails from 10-year-olds and septuagenarians. I’ve done classroom visits where the boys jostled amongst themselves to get into the front row, and writing seminars with girls who add swords to everything for much the same reason I do (because swords are cool).

The dragons help reel them in, I’m sure, but something else keeps them there. I think what it comes down to is that I, like others before me, wrote a book that takes kids seriously, and so kids like it.

Trap Gandalf

Though I am sure the practical tips about how to pass driver’s ed. don’t hurt.


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This Year’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival

If you are not familiar with the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival I encourage you to change that situation now. The brainchild of James Kennedy, the competition and festival has been going strong for several years now.  Among the many clever trailers created by children from all over the world and of all ages are:
  • The reimagining 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web as a horror movie. A must-see. These teenagers from the Schaumburg Public Library are on to something: after all, the book’s first line is “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”, the plot hinges around a spider using unnatural powers, at any moment our hero might get butchered/devoured, and it ends with thousands of spiders monstrously spawning . . .
  • A Claymation adaptation of 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Made by an ambitious girl scout troop from Urbana, IL, this is resourceful and awesome!
  • A special effects extravaganza of 2009 Medal winner The Graveyard Book. All that green screen work! And how many kids did it take to operate that terrifying giant “Sleer” puppet?
  • A stop-motion version of 2013 Honor Book Bomb. Made by a lone teenager Jennings Mergenthal in Tacoma, WA, this is seriously impressive, funny, AND informative.
  • The 1987 Medal winner The Whipping Boy retold in all-question format. High schooler Madison Ross and her friends retell the adventure story in the style of a verbally dextrous, fast-paced theater game:
To see more check out the following screenings. In addition to the trailers themselves, there are games, special guests, and a whole of fun. What’s more, they are free — you just need to reserve a seat.
  • Sunday, January 25, 2015 The CHICAGO screening at Adventure Stage Chicago (Vittum Theater, 1012 N Noble St, Chicago, IL). With co-host Keir Graff (The Other Felix). 3-4:30 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 7, 2015 The OAKLAND, CA screening at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library (5366 College Ave., Oakland, CA). 12-1 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 7, 2015 The SAN FRANCISCO screening at the San Francisco Public Library main branch (100 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA). With co-host bestselling author Annie Barrows (Ivy and Bean). 4-5:30 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 21, 2015 The TACOMA screening at the Tacoma Public Library (1102 Tacoma Avenue South, Tacoma, WA). 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Sunday, February 22, 2015 The PORTLAND AREA screening at the Troutdale Library branch (2451 SW Cherry Park Rd, Troutdale, OR). 5-6 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 28, 2015 The MINNEAPOLIS screening at the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN) in Pohlad Hall. With co-host Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy). 3-4:30 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, March 7, 2015 The MANHATTAN screening at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY), in the Bartos Forum. With co-host Ame Dyckman (Boy + Bot, Wolfie the Bunny). 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Sunday, March 8, 2015 The BROOKLYN, NY screening at the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library (10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY) with co-host Peter Lerangis (The 39 Clues, the Seven Wonders series). In the Dweck Auditorium.2-4 pm.


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