You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2007.
Okay, prepare to laugh out loud.
Check out this video post on Brotherhood 2.0 by author and funny-man John Green, (the genius behind An Abundance of Katherines, and Looking for Alaska).
You will never look at your bookshelf the same again.
A hearty shout out to the fabulous wit-ress A Fuse 8 Production for catching this gem.
Sold, by Patricia McCormick
Hyperion; September 2006; 288; $15.99 HC
Core Audience: Girls ages 12+
Strengths: Compelling story; spare poetic writing; honest treatment of a difficult topic
Inevitably during awards season, the discussion is as much about books that didn’t get an award as about those who did. Everyone has a short list of favorites that they love and feel should have gotten additional recognition. Here’s one of those books. Sold was a National Book Award finalist, and if I were handing out awards, it would be at the top of my list for more kudos.
Lakshmi is a 13 year-old Nepali girl living in a small mountain village. Her life mostly revolves around the agrarian cycles of her home, like helping her mother and taking care of her pet goat. Although the family is poor, her life is rich with simple pleasures. When the monsoons come and wipe out her family’s rice plantings, her never-do-well stepfather declares that she must go to work to support the family. He negotiates with a glamorous stranger who says that she will take Lakshmi to work for a rich family in the city. What Lakshmi does not know is that her stepfather has just sold her into prostitution. After a long and confusing journey into India, her life descends into a nightmare from which there seems no escape. However, deep down inside her there is a spirit which refuses to be crushed, and she finds a way to endure and ultimately triumph over the situation she finds herself in.
This book is remarkable on many levels. First, there is the story which is meticulously researched, and which has the authenticity of voice to pull a reader right into the heart of Lakshmi’s experience. Then there is the writing, which accomplishes that rare thing: the kind of spareness and poetry that speaks as much in the silences as in the words. Subtle and nuanced, it finds grace in subject matter that could so easily descend into voyeuristic or maudlin melodrama. Thirdly, there is the character of Lakshmi herself, so vulnerable yet so strong. Patricia McCormick has invested her with such humanity that well-cared for readers can really understand her strength, resilience, and her drive to be a good person in the face of unbelievable cruelty. McCormick’s sensitive treatment of Lakshmi’s abuse focuses on her internal narrative, rather than a blow-by-blow recital, making palatable a truly horrific situation.
According to the end notes, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold into sexual slavery in India, and nearly 500,000 children are trafficked in the sex trade globally every year. This is a world-wide problem that needs our attention, and Patricia McCormick has created a moving and lyrical call to arms for readers who may otherwise never hear about it.
For those of us in the children’s book world, today is a little bit like the Academy Awards. The American Library Association has announced their 2007 awards, including the two biggies: The Newbury and the Caldecott. There is always much discussion about whether or not the choices reflect the reality of what young readers are actually excited about. I’m sure there will be lots of fodder for discussion, but I have to say, there are some awesome books on this list. Some of my favorites of the year, in fact…..
John Newbery Medal Winner
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
978-1416901945, Simon & Schuster
Newbery Honor Books
Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm
978-0375836879, Random House
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
978-0385733137, Random House
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner
Flotsam by David Wiesner
978-0618194575, Clarion Books
Caldecott Honor Books
Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet, written and illustrated by David McLimans
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Robert F. Siebert Informational Book Award
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
978-0618507573, Houghton Mifflin
Siebert Honor Books
Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement written by Ann Bausum
978-0792241744, National Geographic
Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop
978-0618496419, Houghton Mifflin
To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel written by Siena Cherson Siegel, artwork by Mark Siegel
978-1416926870, Simon & Schuster
The Coretta Scott King Award
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
978-0689821813, Simon & Schuster
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award
Standing Against the Wind by Traci L. Jones
978-0374371746, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
The Printz Award [for Literary Excellence]:
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
978-1596431522, First Second/Roaring Brook
Printz Honor Books:
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v. 1: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson
978-0763624026, Candlewick Press
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Surrender (Candlewick) by Sonya Hartnett
978-0763627683, Candlewick Press
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
978-0375831003, Knopf/Random House
ALEX awards (Cross-over adult titles for teens):
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), has selected 10 adult books that will appeal to teen readers to receive the 2007 Alex Awards.
The 2007 Alex Awards are:
- The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly; Simon & Schuster/Atria. (0743298853)
- The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig; Harcourt. (0151012377)
- Eagle Blue: A Team, A Tribe, and A High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska by Michael D’Orso; Bloomsbury. (1582346232)
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Algonquin. (1565124995)
- Color of the Sea by John Hamamura; Thomas Dunne. (0312340737)
- The Floor of the Sky Pamela Carter Joern; University of Nebraska. (0803276311)
- The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis; Norton. (0393061239)
- Black Swan Green by David Mitchell; Random House. (1400063795)
- The World Made Straight by Ron Rash; Henry Holt. (0805078665)
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield; Simon & Schuster/Atria. (0743298020)
Mararet A Edwards Award (Lifetime Achievement):
Lois Lowry, author of “The Giver,” is the recipient of the 2007 Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her outstanding lifetime contribution to writing for teens.
There are a number of other awards also given away, and I encourage you to check them all out.
A quick heads up that I built a new resources page today in response to a reader who was looking for books and other places to explore as she started a collection of great kids books.
Feel free to e-mail me or comment if you have other suggestions to add.
Barkbelly, by Cat Weatherill
Knopf; June 2006; 320 pp; $15.95 HC
Core Audience: Readers 8+; GREAT family read-aloud
Strengths: Unusual premise; precise and imaginative use of language; unpredictable story arc
Every once in awhile a book comes in that begs to be read simply because as a reader you have no idea where it’s headed. It looks and sounds interesting, and it just keeps on going. This is one of those books.
It starts with a shiny wooden egg that drops from the sky, and lands in a field where it is destined to taken home by a kindly farmer after it knocks him on the head. Of course, the egg is not what it seems, and neither is the story.
Cat Weatherill is a performance storyteller in the UK, and the richness and folksiness of her written language bespeaks her profession. This is the tale of Barkbelly, a wooden boy who springs from the aforementioned egg, and then spends the rest of the novel on an adventure of self-discovery. Strong, and seemingly indestructible, Barkbelly approaches life with enthusiastic curiosity and candor. Although on the surface it seems like there might be some obvious overtones of that other famous wooden boy with the long nose, this story is more imaginative and less preachy, and it sets out for new ground immediately.
Equal parts fairytale, archetype, and adventure, Barkbelly is full of wonderful character names like Anvil Allsop, Candy Pie, Mop Mallory, Farmer Muckledown, and Sir Blunderbuss Tything, as well as marvelous place names like Ashenpeake, Pumbleditch, and Pebbleport. And then there are all of the other whimsical elements that keep unfolding like the giant Golden-Spiked Far Forest [Hedge]hogs with magical powers, the sparkly cast of Carmenaro’s Circus, the giant pots of boiling jam, and the attack by the Pirate Captain Lord Fox. During the course of the story Barkbelly discovers that there are more wooden people like him in the big wide world, but his starry-eyed expectations of finding family do not match the reality he encounters. Each of Barkbelly’s adventures is full of juicy, tongue-pleasing language that just begs to read aloud, and plot twists that fire the imagination.
At its heart, Barkbelly’s tale is really a fable about a boy who runs away from a past mistake, and discovers after much trial and error that the solution to his problem— and his true self—lie back where he started. The journey is necessary to find it out for both the character and the reader, and in the end we all celebrate the humble blessings that are right under our noses.
This, my friends, is what it looks like when you bounce 250,000 superballs down the streets of San Francisco.
These incredible stills are from an even more incredible commercial shot to advertise the Sony Bravia line of high-def televisions.
Apparently, there is no CGI, and the main sequence was shot by a 23 man camera crew who had only one chance to get it right. The whole thing took two days.
The balls were shot out of an air cannon and dropped by earthloaders, and the entire street was closed down. All of the cars are props, because the balls can do some major damage, apparently. (You can even see shingles flying off a house in one shot.)
You can have all your questions answered and watch a featurette on the making of the commercial at the Bravia website.
As an extra bonus, check ot the amazing music of José González, whose song provides the goose-bump inducing soundtrack.
This, of course, has nothing to do with children’s books, except to remind us all that amazing things still happen.
Many thanks to Liquid Sky Arts for turning me on to this!
Lemonade Mouth, by Mark Peter Hughes
Delacorte; March 2007; 352 pp; $15.99 HC
Core Audience: 14+ readers of both genders
Strengths: Nice blend of characters; told in both male and female voices; good feel for the trials and tribulations of small town high school life
Remember that famous scene in the Breakfast Club? The one where they’re all hanging out in detention? A bunch of kids from all areas of the high school food chain, brought together by circumstance for one fateful moment. Okay—now imagine what would happen if everyone in that room was musical. Including the teacher.
That’s the unexpected jumping-off point for Mark Peter Hughes’ new novel, which chronicles the unlikely rise of five students from the freshman ghetto to teen rock visionaries in a small-town RI high school. Told in the alternating voices of the various main characters, both male and female, this is a story of some students who improvise a song one day in detention out of boredom, using whatever they have on hand. The teacher hears it, and contrary to everyone’s expectations, suggests they try playing together. The five students, who prior to that day have never had much to say to each other, decide to give it a try. In the process they manage to create a band—the aforementioned Lemonade Mouth—that is so original and genius that it starts a little revolution in the school and unseats the popular hierarchy in the process. All of the classic high school archetypes are here: the shy and misunderstood poet, the rebellious transplant, the overachiever, the insecure funny guy, and the bohemian hipster to be, but Hughes manages to flesh them out with thoughtful writing and some very honest situational comedy.
For those of you who read Hughes’ wonderful first novel I Am the Wallpaper —(which I adore, by the way. The paperback is coming in February from Random House- 978-0440420460)—you may recognize Wen, who played a peripheral but important role in that story. Here he is front and center, dealing with the discomfort of having a crush on his Dad’s curvaceous new girlfriend, and trying to get through his days in the grind. Although there are passing references to the previous story, this novel is fully independent, but it’s fun to see him in his context if you’ve read the other one.
I’m pleased that Hughes turned in such a strong effort for his second novel. His writing has an offbeat honesty that will put him in the pantheon of great YA writers if he can keep it up. I am especially impressed with his ability to write spicy and believable girls’ voices. This story has just enough teen angst and edginess in it to ring true without crossing any discomfort lines. This is one of those unusual novels that you can recommend to every reader with a clean conscience.
I am amused by this snipet that appeared in today’s Shelf Awarness. I want to know if they will all look like Kid’s Republic, which I have already drooled over in a past post.
If so, I am moving to China. Tomorow. (Okay, maybe next week….)
Book Store 200,000, Near and Dear to Its Customers?
“The Xinhua News Agency announced that over the next five years China intends to open 200,000 bookstores to serve some 900 million people in its rural areas. My broken calculator tells me that works out to four and a half books per person, if each store serves an audience of about 4,500 readers and stocks a thousand titles, as planned.
“Then, I wonder, could there possibly be 200,000 bookstore names in China? New York City stopped naming schools and went for P.S. 1, P.S. 2, and so forth. China could name new bookstores B.S. 1, B.S. 2 all the way up to B.S. 200,000.”–Tony Miksak, former owner of Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle’s Children’s Books, Mendocino, Calif., speaking on his radio show, Words on Books, on KZYX and KZYZ-FM in Philo, Calif.
One day recently I walked into my office and sitting on my bright red couch were copies of 365 Penguins and Cat and Fish Go to See. Two great books that looked great together. It made me wonder if I could come up with an Essential Dozen list of books that do awesome things with black and white illustration. The criteria for the list were pretty basic: 1) Great content; and 2) Great art. As a designer this was too good a challenge to pass up, so I spent some time thinking about it and perusing my bookshelf, and finally obsessively culling through the work of my favorite illustrators. And lo and behold, I had a FABULOUS list when I was finished! These books would ordinarily never wind up on a list together, so it was fun to pull them into a collection. Each and every one is a worthy addition to any book lover’s—or design lover’s—shelf.
365 PENGUINS by Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet
978-0810944602; Harry Abrams; November 2006; Ages 3-8; $17.95 HC
I wrote extensively about this wonderful book in a full review a few weeks ago, so let me just say that this is one of my favorite books of last year. It has the magic trio of great eye-popping art, fun concept, and hilarious writing.
A FARMER’S ALPHABET by Mary Azarian
978-0879233945; David R. Godine; October 2005; Ages 4-8; $19.95 HC
I could have chosen any of Mary Azarian’s work for this list, because her woodcuts embody the very definition of great use of positive and negative space in illustration. This book was commissioned by the Vermont Board of Education, and it depicts scenes from rural farm life in a series of 26 alphabet scenes. From Apple to Barn and Cow right through Zinnia, each illustration is a masterpiece of design and execution.
ALPHABET OF BOATS by James Dodds
978-0939510726; Mystic Seaport Museum; July 2002; Ages 3-7; $9.95 HC
This is probably the most obscure book on this list, but it is one of my treasured favorites. With a petite 5”x 5” trim, this book features lovely black and white woodcuts of 26 different kinds of boats from around the world, one for each letter of the alphabet. This little book feels like a prize left over from a salty old captain’s sea trunk.
CAT AND FISH GO TO SEE by Joan Grant, illustrated by Neil Curtis
978-1894965392; Simply Read Books; November 2006; Ages 4-8;$16.95 HC
This book is one of the most striking examples of black and white design that has crossed my desk in quite some time. Evocative of the illustrations of M.C. Escher and the batik designs of Southeast Asia, every illustration in this book pops off the page. The story is a lovely parable of friendship between two unlikely pals who are curious about where the waves go. Their journey of discovery is a wonderful tale of friendship, adventure, and the pleasures of being true to oneself.
FIVE FOR A LITTLE ONE by Chris Raschka
978-0689845994; Athaneum; June 2006; Ages 2-5; $16.95 HC
The “five” in the title refers to senses, and the “little one” is the very cute floppy eared bunny who is at the center of this sweet tale from Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Chris Raschka. With bouncy rhyming text, and good use of strong ink lines and cheery color accents, this book is a perfect introduction to the concept of senses for the youngest readers.
KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes
978-0060588281; Greenwillow; March 2004; Ages 2-5; $15.99 HC
What to say about Kevin Henkes? Aside from being one of the most brilliant children’s book writers working today, he is also a genius when it comes to illustration. This gentle tale about a little kitten who mistakes the full moon for a bowl of milk won a Caldecott Medal, and deservedly so. The simplicity of the story is a part of its brilliance, as are the luminous black and white drawings with their effective use of line and shading.
LOOK, LOOK! by Peter Linethal
978-0525420286; Dutton; September 1998; Ages 1-3; $6.99 BB
The high-contrast papercut artwork in this bold board book, along with the striking use of red letters on a black and white ground make this title perfect for catching the attention of the very youngest readers. The images, like a cat stretching and flowers blooming are a surprise, and take this book out of the predictable run-of-the-mill offerings of board books for babies.
SCRIBBLES by Taro Gomi
978-0811855099; Chronicle; April 2006; All Ages; $18.95 PA
Taro Gomi is one of the most prolific illustrators on the international scene, known as much for his design of clothing and other consumer goods as for his more than 300 books for readers of all ages. This book is a magnificent 368 page invitation to creative exploration, with chunky lines and loose free flowing shapes. Part coloring book, part design study, and fun for children ages 2 to 102. Make sure you have some crayons handy.
THE RAVEN (Visions in Poetry Series) by Edgar Allen Poe, Illustrated by Ryan Price
978-1553374732; Kids Can Press; August 2006; Ages 12+; $16.95 HC
Part of the excellent Visions in Poetry Series, this handsome edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s brooding masterpiece is perfectly illustrated with Price’s shadowy dry point illustrations. The narrator’s decent into madness over the refrain “Nevermore” is a visceral, terrifying vision. I would also encourage you to check out the other titles in this series, including Jabberwocky, Casey at the Bat, The Highwayman, and the Lady of Shalott. Each poem has been given a striking illustrative reinterpretation that will appeal to YA readers.
THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson
978-0670674244; Viking; January 1936; Ages 4-8; $17.99 HC
One of the most beloved stories of all time. Ferdinand would rather smell the roses than fight, but when he is stung by a bee, his stomping and snorting convince everyone that he is the fiercest bull around. When he is carted off to Madrid for a bull fight, hilarity ensues. Robert Lawson’s classic black and white illustrations have been updated with some subtle watercolor washes, but they retain all the wonderful charm that have made them a favorite for countless readers since 1936.
WHAT IS BLACK AND WHITE? By Petr Horacek
978-0763614607; Candlewick Press; June 2001; Ages 2-5; $4.99 BB
With inventive pairings of opposites and bold expressive artwork, this book is a great introduction to the concept of color opposites for the very youngest readers. What I love about this book is the way that the black and white stripes at the edge of each spread get tighter and tighter until the last spread reveals what is black AND white—a zebra of course! Fun and playful.
WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein
978-0060572341; HarperCollins; January 2004; Ages 9-12; $17.99 HC
“If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer,
A wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er,
A magic bean buyer . . . Come in . . .”
More than any other title on this list, this book holds a special place in my heart. It was my first experience of falling in love with poetry as a child, and the writing and offbeat illustrations are just as fresh today as they where when this book was first published in 1963. No good children’s book collection is complete without this infectious and brilliant anthology.
I have already stared hearing from readers about additional B&W faves that belong on an essentials list so I will add them below. The truth is, I could probably come up with another dozen! (Feel free to e-mail me your sugestions.)
- Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
- Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
- The Spider and the Fly by Tony diTerlizzi
- Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClosky
- Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky
- Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge by H. Swift, illustrated by Lynn Ward
- Biggest Bear by Lynn Ward
Hello faithful readers!
I’ve been away for a little R&R, but now I’m back, so look for many new posts in the weeks to come. Here’s something new for the New Year. Enjoy!
Much ado has been made about the demise of the book with the rise of the digital age, and to be sure, e-books are one of the strongest areas of the publishing market. As a confirmed bibliophile, I see e-books as a convenience product that supplements rather than replaces books, and in the children’s realm they now work best for reference applications. As far as children are concerned, the printed book-as-a-perfect-technology is hard to beat.
What I have been watching for in the last few years are cross-over projects which capture both the narrative quality of a book and the multi-media potential of digital technologies. Children today are growing up in an increasingly sophisticated environment, and I was sure that sooner or later someone would begin to publish for this. I think digital enhancements to printed books are inevitable—like book related websites and tie-ins—but this is something different.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about a game or a virtual environment. I’m definitely not talking about a toy or a movie. I’m talking about a new medium that integrates the narrative form of a book with new ways of telling the story which are digital. And now I think I’ve found the first completed instance of it.
This is the dark and moody story of Alice who is eight when the narrative begins. Alice has a problem. She keeps losing her parents. Her mother is an artist, and her father does something covert and shadowy that may have to do with the oil industry. As the series is conceived, Alice progresses from age eight to her 20’s through ten episodes, each set in a different location. Episode 3 was just released in December. There is a tense and suspenseful undertone to the completed installments, set in China, Italy, and Russia. Each episode gets more complex narratively and visually as Alice’s sophistication grows. The sense of menace grows with each episode as well.
What distinguishes this project, and qualifies it as something “new” as opposed to a game or interactive movie, is that the narrative moves in one direction. The interactivity of the experience is confined to advancing the story by clicking a forward command, (think turning the page), and some simple games that Alice has created and shares with the reader within the context of the story. Unlike a game or CD-rom, there are no choices to be made on the part of the reader. Unlike a movie, the story must be read in words in addition to its visual elements. Like a picture book, the visuals exist to support the narrative, not the other way around. The reader reads and controls the advancement of the story. It shares more with a book than other forms of digital media.
In an excellent 12/7 interview in The Guardian, Pullinger talks about what her narrative intentions were. “For me, the kind of gameplay in Inanimate Alice is the kind of interactivity I’m interested in as it’s part of the story, not a diversion from the story,” says Pullinger. “As a reader I’m not interested in choice, I’m not interested in having to make decisions as I’m being told a story. But I think that anything that involves interactivity involves a different mindset than reading a piece of fiction.”
This project has garnered an incredible number of awards in Europe, and just by reading the press and reviews, it’s clear that people are having a hard time figuring out what to call this new medium. “Kinetic novel”, “digital drama”, “online movie productions”, “digital fiction”, “new media objects”, “blook” (which I hate), “flashfiction”, and the terribly pedantic “Ergodic literature” have all been thrown around.
Kate Pullinger acknowledges the complexity of this problem. “I think that when a new form emerges, part of the problem is how to figure out what to call it, how to describe it – but what I do know is that I like to make it and people like to read it when they find out about it…” She has more to say about it in a recent blog post.
This isn’t Pullinger’s first foray into digital narrative, but it is the first for children. A previous project The Breathing Wall (2004) tells the story of a man incarcerated for the murder of his girlfriend. Part mystery, part dreamscape, the two-hour CD story is told through two types of narrative, alternating between day-dreams (flash movies), and night-dreams. The night dreams are told with an experimental software program called the Hyper Trance Fiction Matrix, which allows the story to respond to the listener’s rate of breathing via a headset with microphone. (Wild, right?)
Clearly, this whole thing is in its infancy, but I for one am interested in seeing where it goes. Right now there are fairly rigid barriers between what is being conceived as a “book”, and some of the more amazing technological innovations in the video game and digital design industries. As these fields merge more closely under the heading of “new media”, I think we’ll see more and more of this type of project. Pullinger and Joseph are both involved in writing programs at DeMontfort University in the UK, which has a new Institute of Creative Technologies program.
Is there a commercial future here?
No one has figured that out.
Will these kinds of stories completely replace the book?
Are they intriguing?
Many thanks to Read Roger for first bringing this to my attention.
Bonus: Check out an online version of US author/illustrator Jean Gralley’s passionate argument in favor of digital children’s books that first appeared in the January ’06 issue of the Horn Book. She also has a very cool flash animation piece called “Books Unbound” that demonstrates the potential of digital picture books.