More on Those KinderGuides

“On the Road,” with its recurring references to sex, drugs and domestic violence, might not seem like an ideal bedtime story for a child. But that’s precisely the point of KinderGuides, a new series of books that aims to make challenging adult literary classics accessible to very young readers.

That is from Alexandra Alter’s New York Times piece, “Forget ‘Pat the Bunny.’ My Child is Reading Hemingway.”   Back in August I read with disbelief PW’s KinderGuides piece and wrote a snarky blog post giving my…er…strongly negative response to them. Today you can learn more about them and various responses to them (including mine) in Alter’s article. Two small bits of good news: they seem to have dropped consideration of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and James Joyce’s Ulysses, the latter “because we haven’t read it.”

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Coming Soon: Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief

Elizabeth Wein’s books offer so much. The worlds she creates are remarkable in their textures; whether they are set in actual historical pasts or fantasy historical pasts, they are rich with touches large and small that bring the worlds alive for readers. She does something similar with characters, making them complex, flawed, and vivid whether they are the ones we care deeply about, those that terrify us, or simply those a bit more on the fringe of the story. All of them feel fully rounded, ones we readers inhabit fully as we read. Then there is plot — Wein is a master at creating complex, driving, tangled, twisty, and unpredictable plots.  Lastly, there is emotion, and not just for the characters — these are books that set readers’ hearts pounding, produce gasps of astonishment, smiles at the wit, and tears of joy and sadness.

Among Wein’s works are two novels set during Word War II: the jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing Code Name Verity and the equally dramatic and heartrending Rose Under Fire. Now we have The Pearl Thief, a prequel to Code Name Verity, featuring a much younger Julie. I admit I was a bit wary starting the novel, wondering if Wein was pushing too far with the same characters , but I needed have worried. This work is marvelous, as fully realized in all its facets as all the others. While the book isn’t out for a while yet, I wanted to get my thoughts down now (in a spoiler free way of course) so as not to have them drift away and to, hopefully, excite those of you waiting for it.

It is 1938 as the story begins and we meet fifteen-year-old Julie heading home to her family’s Scottish estate from her Swiss boarding school for the summer. The death of her grandfather and the need to pay off his extensive debt has meant that the estate has been sold and is being turned into a school. And so Julie’s return is bittersweet, her family occupying a few rooms of the place temporarily until they move out for good. Shortly after her arrival she lands in the hospital, having been hit on the head by an unknown assailant and then saved by local Travelers. Things and people go missing, mysteries pile up and Julie, her brother Jamie, and the Traveler siblings Euan and Ellen try to get to the bottom of it all.

While it has some of the delicious attributes of a cosy mystery, this is far more rich, a highly complex narrative featuring Julie’s coming-of-age (emotionally, sexually, and intellectually), the unpacking of family histories (Julie’s and the Travelers), direct presentations of period prejudices, all within a riveting plot full of Wein’s trademark twists and turns. As in her previous books, Wein creates a rich past world, fascinating characters, dramatic scenes, and great emotional depth. While it is not necessary to have any familiarity with Code Name Verity, those who have it will enjoy the younger Julie, observing her developing into the young woman that she is later on. Finally, in addition to everything else, Wein is just a wonderful wordsmith. I love her sentences, her dry wit. Say this brief bit on page 47.

Mother got up again, with an air of determination.

“Perhaps I’m a witness!” I said relishing the idea.

No one else relished it.

The Pearl Thief is a complete delight. Highly recommended.

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R.I.P. John Glenn

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New Trailer of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Netflix Style

So excited! Cannot WAIT for January 13th.  For those who know the books, there is a lot here. (And, for one person who complained to me that Violet lacked ribbons in one of the teaser trailers — they are clearly here, just as I figured they’d be.)

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Maurice Sendak’s Prescient Opinion on our President-Elect

sendakonnewpresident

From We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993). Many thanks to Michael Patrick Hearn for bringing it to my attention.

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New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2016

Congratulations to NYTBR children’s book editor, Maria Russo, and all the creators of these fabulous books. Go here for the complete list with annotations.

 

Picture Books

DU IZ TAK? Written and illustrated by Carson Ellis. (Candlewick, $16.99.)

FREEDOM OVER ME. Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life. Written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, $17.99.)

I AM PAN! Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. (Roaring Brook, $18.99.) .

THE JOURNEY. Written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna. (Flying Eye, $17.95.)

LEAVE ME ALONE! Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol. (Roaring Brook, $17.99.)

MY NAME IS JAMES MADISON HEMINGS. By Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Terry Widener. (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99.)

WE FOUND A HAT. Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. (Candlewick, $17.99.)

SCHOOL’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. By Adam Rex. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $17.99.)

THE THANK YOU BOOK. Written and illustrated by Mo Willems. (Hyperion, $9.99.)

THEY ALL SAW A CAT. Written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. (Chronicle, $16.99.)

THIS IS NOT A PICTURE BOOK! Written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. (Chronicle, $16.99.)

THUNDER BOY JR. By Sherman Alexie. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. (Little, Brown, $17.99.)

Middle Grade

THE BEST MAN. By Richard Peck. (Dial, $16.99.)

GHOST. By Jason Reynolds. (Atheneum, $16.99.)

THE INQUISITOR’S TALE; Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. By Adam Gidwitz. Illustrated by Hatem Aly. (Dutton, $17.99.)

MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY. By John David Anderson. (Walden Pond, $16.99.)

PAX. By Sara Pennypacker. Illustrated by JonKlassen. (Balzer&Bray/HarperCollins, $16.99.)

RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE. By Kate DiCamillo. (Candlewick, $16.99.)

WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER. By Grace Lin. (Little, Brown, $18.99.)

Young Adult

THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER. By Tim Federle. (Simon & Schuster, $17.99.)

THE PASSION OF DOLSSA. By Julie Berry. (Viking, $18.99.)

SALT TO THE SEA. By Ruta Sepetys. (Philomel, $18.99.)

THE SERPENT KING. By Jeff Zentner. (Crown, $17.99.)

STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO. By A. S. King. (Dutton, $17.99.)

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR. By Nicola Yoon. (Delacorte, $18.99.)

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In the Classroom: The Critical Importance of Teaching and Learning History

The people in the country now who are spouting hate-filled words don’t seem to know their own American history. There is enough blame to go around as to why. But when it comes to fixing what’s wrong with America, one of our priorities should be making more of an effort to put our history into our classrooms in the earliest years, and to educate our teachers, too. I want all of our people—even the haters—to know why we have needed that armor and how we can, while wearing it, remain open to one another.

That is from Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s TALKING TO YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT TRUMP, WITH LESSONS FROM GWEN IFILL, an article that resonated with me because I’ve always thought teaching and learning history is so important*. Young people need time in school to engage with the past, grapple with it in all its complexities, and develop their own tools to think historically. While I use fiction and nonfiction children’s books in my teaching of history, I also use primary sources, and structure experiences for my 4th grade students to be  historians themselves. For example, right now they are completing a study of the Europeans who came through Ellis Island in 1900. Next they will be considering those who came from China through Angel Island before and during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After reading books, studying photographs and other primary sources, they will take a position on the statement often bandied about at the time that, “Angel Island is the Ellis Island of the West” and defend it with reasons and evidence. (Spoiler: they always say it wasn’t.)

*I’ve written two books (Seeking History and Far Away and Long Ago) on the teaching of history, articles (some listed here) and done presentations on the topic.

 

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