Category Archives: Other

SLJ’s Day of Dialog

I’m very honored to be moderating a YA panel at School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog next Wednesday, May 31st. This is a stellar yearly event that is held in conjunction with Book Expo, one I have attended many times. It sells out quickly, but this year they are offering something for those who can’t be there in person — live streaming! More about that here.  If you need more encouragement to do this, here’s the schedule:

Opening Keynote
Gene Luen Yang, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

Panel: To Interstellar Space and Back: Nonfiction for Everyone!
R. Gregory Christie, A Time To Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech (NorthSouth)
Sue Macy, Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly into the Twentieth Century (National Geographic)
Michelle Markel, Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books (Chronicle)
Steve Sheinkin, Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team (Roaring Brook)
Alexandra Siy, Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space (Charlesbridge)

Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles

Panel: The Sweet Spot: Captivating Middle Grade Readers
Tracey Baptiste, Rise of the Jumbies (Algonquin Young Readers)
Paul Griffin, Saving Marty (Dial)
Katherine Paterson, My Brigadista Year (Candlewick)
Jason Reynolds, Patina (Simon & Schuster)
Karina Yan Glaser, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Listening Library

Luncheon Speaker
Megan Whelan Turner, Thick as Thieves (HarperCollins)

Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles
Macmillan Adult
Macmillan Children’s
Penguin Children’s
Random House Children’s

Panel: Imagination on Steroids: Powerhouse YA Fiction
M.T. Anderson, Landscape with Invisible Hand (Candlewick)
Gregory Scott Katsoulis, All Rights Reserved (Harlequin Teen)
Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Warrior (Viking)
Mitali Perkins, You Bring the Distant Near (Macmillan)
Maggie Stiefvater, All the Crooked Saints (Scholastic)

Hear straight from the publishers about their biggest Fall titles
Simon & Schuster Children’s
Sleeping Bear Press

Panel IV: The Expansive Picture Book Universe
Hervé Tullet, Say Zoop! (Chronicle)
Sean Qualls & Selina Alko, Why AM I Me? (Scholastic)
Sydney Smith, Town Is by the Sea (Groundwood)
Philip Stead, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine (Doubleday)
Brendan Wenzel, Life (Simon & Schuster)

Closing Keynote
Kwame Alexander, Solo (Blink)

Announcement of the 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winners
Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of the Horn Book, Inc.
Kwame Alexander, Solo (Blink)

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Considering the Classics

Long, long ago I wrote a professional book for Scholastic called Fantasy Literature in the Classroom. After Harry Potter, they had me update it and then retitled it Using Beloved Classics to Teach Reading Comprehension.  Both books feature my E. B. White author study, my teaching of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and other works of classical fantasy literature for children. Since writing the book I’ve been attentive to others who write of the problematic nature of many beloved classics, especially in terms of diversity. Most recently I appreciated Padma Venkatraman‘s Nerdy Book Club post, “Classics, Colonization and a Call for Change” in which she relates her own experiences with certain classics and urges us to carefully consider if and how we share them today with children.

While I’m clearly still a fan of teaching certain classics, I also think we need to vigilant at examining the ones we share with children to be certain that they aren’t problematic. Repeatedly. Just this weekend I visited a dear former colleague to whom I had at one point suggested do something with Kipling’s Just So Stories. (I illustrated “The Elephant’s Child” when I lived in Sierra Leone and remembered the stories fondly, thus my recommendation.) She was game until she read them and encountered some seriously racist language I’d completely forgotten and there was no question that it wasn’t suitable. (For those interested it is “How the Rhinoceros Got Its Skin.” Often editions edit out the n-word so you may be unaware of it. I just came across this thoughtful post by a parent on reading the stories to his child.)

Padma reports:

Despite all the amazing recent work that the organization We Need Diverse Books is doing, despite the many dedicated individuals who have been working for decades to raise awareness about the need for diversity and multiculturalism in children’s books, I’m sorry to report that my daughter has been given The Secret Garden and A Little Princess as gifts; not once, not twice, but an astounding seven times all in all. This gift has always come from thoughtful individuals who remembered that the stories had something to do with India; I am sure, however, that they didn’t quite realize how Indians (and other people of color) are portrayed in these (and so many other) classics. After all, I’ve even heard some librarians and authors of Indian origin say they’ve never come across a poor portrayal of an Indian person in a book.

I am so glad Padma wrote this post for the Nerdy Book Club audience. It is a large one and I suspect some in it are as unaware as those who kindly gifted those seven copies of Burnett’s book to Padma’s child. I just hope it is widely read. My audience here is far smaller, but I’m pointing it out hoping others will pass it on as well.

I still love many classics and will continue to teach favorites in my classroom. However, I will also point out issues such as those Padma highlights when necessary. For more on my thoughts around classics here are a couple of posts:

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Celebrating Rick Riordan

I’ve been a fan of Rick Riordan‘s kid books from the very beginning and of the man as well. (He previously wrote books for adults.) After reading and loving The Lightning Thief and checking out his teacher guide, I wrote him of my admiration for both. At the time he was either still teaching middle school or had only very recently stopped and the guide was one he’d developed himself for his own classroom. Happily it is still available on his website here. He wrote me a lovely handwritten letter back (which I, sadly, no longer have) and sent me an extra-large Camp Half Blood t-shirt (which, I believe, he may have been making on his own dime at the time).

A few years later we were fortunate to have him speak at our school and since then I’ve seen him here and there. One of my favorite times was at the Brooklyn Museum for his launching of The Kane Chronicles. Of course, going through the Egypt galleries with Rick was awesome, but I got a kick out of something so totally out-of-context that I have never forgotten it. Alex McCord, one of the original Real Housewives of New York, was there with her family and it was so …odd.. that I couldn’t get over it. She just loomed over all of us frumpy sorts in her heels and tight blue sheath and told me her children loved Riordan’s books which is no doubt true. (She has since moved to Australia and become a psychologist — not the life of any of the other original ladies, that is for sure.) I was amused to see Riordan in his usual tweed jacket with leather elbow patches in a photoshoot with them. Along with everything else, the man is incredibly generous.

Riordan is also a model for how to do it right as a white writer in terms of diversity, LGBT, and #ownvoices. He has included characters of various ethnicity and race in ways that feel real and never forced. When someone on twitter questioned him about a problematic line about spirit animals in The Sword of Summer and Debbie Reese asked if he could have it deleted in future editions, he apologized immediately and said he’d asked his editor and it would be done.  His superb rendering of a gender-fluid character in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor was recognized by the 2017 Stonewall Committee. And he’s started a new imprint Rick Riordan Presents that will

… publish great books by middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage.

This post started out as I wanted to put down some thoughts about Riordan’s latest, The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, #2). Plot-wise it offers many of the same thrills as earlier ones — cliff-hangers, prophecies, battles, obstacles to overcome, tests, etc. But Riordan elevates these tropes into a different reading realm from most. This is because of his stellar writing. There is wit, stuff to make you think, and an economy and tightness that keeps everything moving briskly along. Riordan’s characters are well-drawn and nicely varied diversity-wise in a way that feels authentic and not forced. And then he manages to make it funny, perhaps closer to the way Terry Pratchett does than anyone else I can think of. I suspect I noticed this particularly with this book having recently read one by someone else trying to do similar things. To be honest, I don’t find plots that resemble games (lots of tests, etc.) especially compelling unless— as with Riordan’s works — there is more to enjoy.  There is here and I can’t wait for his next book.  (And there is one delightful thing to see before you begin — Riordan dedicated the book to the great Ursula K. LeGuin.)

Kudos to Rick Riordan for doing such great work.


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Independent Press Update

In order to make it easier for visitors to check out the ever-growing list of independent presses that I started on my “Amplifying Diversity: Independent Presses” post, I’ve created a page featuring them and added it to the menu above. Please continue to let me know of presses to add. (FYI I will only add international presses that have US distribution.)  I will also be continuing my Indie Press Spotlight series — two so far and many more to come.

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Thinking About Identity Labeling

A few days ago I was struck by Lisa Selin Davis’s New York Times Op-Ed, “My Daughter is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.” It captured for me the need we seem to have to get young people identified and then label that identity. Often kids who, in my experience, are exploring and trying out identities as they figure out what they want to be.

Then a few days later I read Chase Strangio’s thought-provoking response, “An Open Letter to Those Praising the New York Times ‘Tomboy’ Piece.” And I realize yet again how incredibly complex our current world is as we work to support evolving identity from every side.

I’m still reading, listening, learning, watching and thinking about all of this. Hope you all are too!

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Not Your Nice Little Bunny Books

Seeing all the sweet bunny books being touted for Easter makes me think of those that aren’t so, er, nice. Here are few that came quickly to mind. By all means suggest more in the comments.

You may be surprised to know that one of the first is Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  Potter’s Peter and other animal characters (she’s got quite a few bunnies) in her books tend to be selfish, silly, and not particularly nice.

A recent subversive one is Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers’s Battle Bunny. I wrote about reading aloud here. That is NOT a nice bunny!

I’m partial to Emily Gravett’s Wolves which is from the point of view of a bunny. Things may or may not go well — depends on which ending you prefer.


Another oldie, but goodie is “The Story of the Wild Huntman” from Heinrich Hoffman’s brilliantly subversive Struwwelpeter.

As for the one in Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back,  hmm….


Jules Danielson just recommended this one. You can get a taste here and here. Boy oh boy is that one bad bunny!


Roxanne below reminded me of this “bopping them on the head” bunny.  I knew the rhyme, but not that it was adapted as a picture book.


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Impressions of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2017

Last year as I began planning my spring term sabbatical  I realized that I would be free to check-out the legendary Bologna Children’s Book Fair. And so I convinced Susannah Richards to join me and on Friday, March 31, off we went for a week at the fair.

While I had heard a lot about the fair from others, got plenty of advice, I still went with few expectations other than that it seemed to be more for buying foreign rights and not so much for the likes of me. I quickly discovered that while it was indeed mostly for rights, it also was rich in learning opportunities of all kinds. I wandered the halls in awe of the range of publishing from throughout the world, sat in with editor friends while they met with foreign publishers, went to some wonderful panels, saw amazing art and books, and met old and new friends from all over. Add in the marvelous city of Bologna and it was all in all a fantastic experience.

We arrived on Saturday, giving us the weekend to sightsee before the start of the fair on Monday. Wandering the streets of Bologna, stopping into bookstores, libraries, and more was wonderful. Everything I ‘d heard about this city was correct. Then we spent the bulk of Monday-Wednesday at the fair itself. It was incredible wandering the halls, setting in on panels, seeing art, meeting people, and more. A truly wonderful experience; I’m so glad I went. I realize now I didn’t take very many photos at the fair itself — probably feeling it would be too intrusive — but there are plenty elsewhere, say from at the fair’s site,  PW (I was quoted in this article of theirs), and here.  Here are a few I did take as I wandered the city and the fair.

The warm colors of Bologna are marvelous.


Bologna is known for its food. Here is a storefront featuring its famous tortellini (which deserves the accolades).

The Piazza Maggiore at night.

On Sunday there was a huge architectural annual competition on the piazza. This year the challenge was to create a thirteenth gateway to add to the twelve already around Bologna.

There were exhibits all over the city featuring children’s books. The fair’s guest of honor for the year included Catalan children’s book creators and there was a delightful exhibit of their work at the gorgeous Biblioteca Archiginnasio.

New York Times children’s book editor Maria Russo moderated a terrific panel featuring books on artists.

It was great fun being at the announcement of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Wolf Erlbruch whom I first encountered long ago via this book.

Looked for African publishers and found Golden Baobab. Representation was sparse for the continent and so I hope there will be more as years go on.

Aspiring illustrators were everywhere.

We visited the remarkable public library, Biblioteca Salaborsa.  There was a delightful exhibit, Rules of the Game, that cleverly allowed for interacting with books. Saw the Horn Book Magazine among their periodicals and was mighty impressed with their range of book offerings in so many languages.

It was a wonderful and most worthwhile experience, one I’m still processing.



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